My skinny twig of dad played rugby. When I was young, my family’s social life revolved around the matches. For me it was all about pretending to watch the games, playing with other kids in the corn fields next to the rugby pitch, post-game chili feasts, and all the general revelry that accompanies rugby. The team was tight; it felt like a brotherhood.
When the Red Cross called our house regularly to schedule blood donation appointments with my dad, it made perfect sense since his Chevy proudly displayed a bumper sticker that read “Give blood. Play rugby.” My kid logic simply connected those two activities; I thought my dad donated blood every six-weeks with his rugby team. Yeah, I have since figured out there was no connection, but I must admit it took longer than one would have anticipated.
My dad never told my why he was dedicated to this form of charitable giving. I never asked. Maybe it had to do with serving in the Navy for five years as a young man. He did brag that he had really good blood, once, in a small attempt at machismo, which was not really part of his personality. When he was diagnosed with cancer and had his blood drawn for tests, his oncologist remarked how healthy he was based on hist hemoglobin levels (or something like that), so even as cancer cells were taking over his body, he blood stayed strong.
He passed away 15 years ago (f#ck cancer), but my sister and have kept up the mantle; we each try to donate blood two to three times a year – neither have been able to match our father’s dedication. Each time I fill out the forms, get the pin prick test, and sit in the recliner and squeeze the ball to plump up my vein – through all this I remember my dad. Specifically I remember him in the small acts of giving from different phases of his life: handing out five dollar bill to homeless, giving his pocket change to buskers, picking up kids with no rides to take to soccer practice, and then taking them home, volunteering at the children’s hospital teaching kids with terminal illness to tie fishing flies, and cleaning up polluted creeks.
After 15 years, the memories of my dad can feel tenuous, but after the donation process is complete and I get to eat the doughnuts (his favorite) and drink the OJ, I feel connected to him. I mentally toast him with my juice. This is my small memorial to him, and I am pretty sure he’d be proud. We can’t all play rugby, but most of can give blood.