My Dad, George Michael and Me

I was a 20 year old summer intern at IBM when I received the phone call.

My dad had suffered a heart attack.

Never one to stress, I was as anxious and worried as I’ve ever been, although thankful that he was alive. I’m glad someone recognized my hurried state, took the keys from me and drove me to the hospital.

He would later admit that his massive heart attack was the most painful experience of his life. And this comes from a man who never complained and took no novocaine with his root canal. “If not for the grace of God” he said, his life would have ended in his early fifties.

Fortunately, he was getting into his car when it happened and colleagues drove him immediately to the hospital. Often, timing is everything. My father was lucky not to be driving.

I never forgot that day or his age – 53.

Throughout my life, that day would be a constant and gentle reminder to take care of my health. My dad was a smoker and moderate drinker, although his eating habits weren’t ideal. He was incredibly stressed at work and also at home (to a lesser degree though), due to the years of marital struggle with my mother - which made him ripe for a health disaster.

He wisely stopped smoking after his triple bypass surgery, yet never adopted quality eating or exercise habits. Cooking most of his food at home was a good thing, yet he enjoyed those evening snacks far too frequently and wasn’t nearly as active as he should have been. My dad would go on to live another 20 years – the majority of them quality ones; most likely due to his positive spirit.

He succumbed to a stroke at age 73. That may seem young but I’m surprised he made it that long as he had significant artery blockage the last ten years of his life.

Over two decades later, ‘53’ came roaring back into my mind.

I was sitting poolside in Honolulu, Hawaii when I got the news.  One of my favorite singers, George Michael had passed away. His voice and music played an invaluable part for me during two years in the early 90’s, when I was primarily focused on figuring out my career and life direction.

The shock of him dying on Christmas day in 2016 (at age 53) was a big blow to many of his fans around the world. I knew he had battled addiction and drinking for a long time, but never thought he would see such an early death.

I instantly thought of my dad and the scary day back in 1984.

Being 52 at the time of Michael’s death, I couldn’t help but wonder what it all meant….as I was creeping up quickly on 53. Was it a sign to be even more diligent about my health? Maybe, although I was in the midst of numerous years of living well, so I knew I was on the right path.

What it did make me do was appreciate the blessings of my past years even more, along with savouring the moment of my blissful current state. In 52 years, there had been very few times when I didn’t feel good and only a few days when I experienced slight sickness (stomach virus). That gave me great comfort.

I’m 54 now and the moment that gave me pause back in 2016 is a distant memory. My almost flawless health for over half a century is something I’m grateful for and keeping that streak alive is my top priority.

I make sure nothing comes between my health and general well-being on a daily basis. There are many distractions and temptations that attempt to throw me off course, yet my goal continues to be keeping my stress low, attitude positive and healthy living habits high.

Nothing is (nor should be) more important than our health.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

My dad at my 2003 wedding in Sweden. He died less than 2 years later.