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A Warrior's Tale

William W Cantwell

My father is an incredible man. Much of who we are is a result of how we were raised. In many ways, his illness has been a blessing—I don’t take my health for granted. I grew up raised by someone who, through countless spills and unimaginable physical and mental agony, always declared “it’s only pain” and “it could always be worse.”

I wrote my college essay about what it was like growing up with a father who has multiple sclerosis. One of my favourite moments occurred during a St. Lawrence/Harvard hockey game in Lake Placid at the 1980 arena. Since dad went to St. Lawrence and played on the JV team, we grew up avid fans. For this game, we arrived early, eagerly anticipating the warm ups to get a sense of how the teams stacked up against one another. We parked dad’s wheelchair directly behind the net on the main concourse. I was about 10 years old at the time and knew the disease was worsening as his physical dexterity seemed to deteriorate daily.

After grabbing some popcorn, I decided to sit a few rows down from Dad probably thinking at the time that it wouldn’t be “cool” to be seen hanging around with my parents. With a few minutes left in the warm up, a Harvard player picked up a puck inside the blue line and let a slap shot go. The cross bar rang out as the puck rocketed high into the air headed directly towards us. Someone shouted out from above “HEADS UP!” As I tracked the puck over my head, I turned to see where it would land. Unable to move in time or defend himself with his hands, the puck parked itself directly between my fathers’ eyes. Blood began cascading out of his forehead. Horrified, I screamed and panicked. Scrambling up the arena stairs I cried for him. Blood sprayed out of his head and made its way down his face. As I ran to him a sobbing mess, he smiled with blood-soaked teeth and laughed at how dramatic I had become stating, “TOM! It’s only pain!” He refused to go the emergency room because he didn't want to miss the game. The local event volunteers thought he was crazy. Instead, he proposed that the St. Lawrence team doctor stitch his face back together. The team doctor obliged and William Cantwell only ended up missing the 1st period of that game, watching the remaining two periods with fresh stitches protruding from his forehead.

When I think of my childhood it’s hard for me to ignore the impact the Boy Scouts had. This was kind of forced upon me. Given my father and all my uncles were Eagle Scouts (the highest rank one can achieve), I didn’t really have a choice as the only Cantwell boy. I didn’t end up making Eagle as he had hoped but I walked away with something more valuable and impactful. The Scout Law states that a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. I tried to be all these largely because I see them in my idol. The Scout slogan is “do a good turn daily.” I try to do this daily because I see dad do this. My experience with the Boy Scouts would not have been the same if it weren’t for a father figure at home who has these values embedded in his DNA.

I’ve seen him offer to pay for meals to those in need, invite strangers to our home, donate to local churches, offer shelter to those in need, crack jokes about his disability to make those around him feel more comfortable and stare down the fate of his disease with inconceivable courage.

You are my role model, you make me laugh and you are a good person . What I admire most of all is your resilience and perseverance. I love you and thank you for the blessing you are. I try to honour you every day and hope that you’re proud of who I’ve become and all that lies ahead.

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