Lyons: Knowing where you’re supposed to be

This column wasn’t supposed to be here.

It was supposed to be a note saying I was taking some time off. Here it is anyway. Lucky you.

This time last week, our family was preparing for our first international trip. While my wife and I had been to Playa Del Carmen a few times, this was a first for the kids.

We know the stress-free world of the all-inclusive resort but could only fantasize about how much easier it would make a family vacation.

You plan a fortunate break for a long time. But you rarely get to plan for a tough break. Nothing could prepare us for this one.

Last week, my father-in-law was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. The tumors in his bones brought the excruciating pain that led to his diagnosis. While gentle, he’s a tough guy – a Vietnam vet and a brilliant engineer and inventor who’s traveled to all corners of the globe.

He’s also a terrific father, husband, uncle, brother and grandfather, business owner and many wonderful things to many wonderful people.

It was time to pack for a different trip significantly north of Mexico –  to Detroit to be with my wife. My mom came to Woodstock to watch our children. I braced for the reaction I might get from the 8-year-old whose Caribbean jungle paradise would have to wait.

“I’m just sad for Grandpa Jim,” was his only reply. Sadness, without a hint of selfishness. “Grandpa Jim is more important than Mexico.”

In a hurricane of emotions, there was clarity in his eyes. Whatever happens in life, I’m going to be proud of this kid. Hopefully, I have a long time to be his dad and there’s much parenting left to do, but he’s on the right track.

Then I thought of Jim McCandless. While he’s accomplished much professionally, his greatest success was raising two daughters to be kind, empathetic, strong and independent.

This was no small request when I asked to marry his daughter. She’s the bravest person I know, and it’s no secret from whom she inherited it.

I got to Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe last Thursday evening. One tendency Jim and I share is not wasting many words, but what we don’t share is a love of sports.

To give you an idea, Jim bought his grandson a Red Wings sweatshirt one Christmas. Little did he know, my son was as likely to wear it as I was likely to get a Henrik Zetterberg tattoo.

Jim didn’t care about it, but we all watched the first two periods of Game 4 of the Blackhawks and Red Wings series in the hospital room where his wife, Kathy, stayed.

My wife, Maria, her sister, Kelly, and I needed dinner. Only fast-food joints or taverns were open. Feeling lucky? Hit a Detroit fast-food spot around 10 p.m.

We settled for a Red Wings bar near my father-in-law’s home in Grosse Pointe Park. Watching the Red Wings victory, accentuated by bar goal lights and horns, was the perfect ending to a miserable day.

Jim had morphine for his real pain. All I needed was one neat Maker’s Mark and a dose of perspective for my fan annoyance. I cared more about a hockey game than a grown man who can’t skate should. Like vacations, they’re temporary diversions from life.

What’s permanent is family. And like any family dealing with cancer, for the past several days, next several months and hopefully years, it’s figuring out when to be a husband, when to be a father, and when to be a son-in-law.

For the moment, I’m back to primarily dad, while Maria remains mostly daughter. I’m learning that God tells you where you are most needed if you listen.

This column wasn’t supposed to be here. But because of family, we’ve been able to be right where we’re supposed to be.

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH. 

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