Day One

It was a dreary, rainy April day as my father and I unloaded our mountain bikes off of the back of my Jeep Wrangler. We were preparing for our first spring DINO racing series event, and discussed how the conditions were muddy and sloppy at Town Run Trail Park. We decided it was a perfect day for a race ~ cool, muddy, and overcast. Gritty conditions that Cotten men generally excel in.

The other racers milled about, breaking away the mud caked to their tires and forming up for each weight class. As we lined up and were about to launch, Dad exclaimed, “When it’s too tough for them, it’s just right for us!”

And we were off!

The two of us cut through the trail at a rapid pace. It was a long race, and as we continued I had broke away from my father. I lost track of him the further in we got, focused on the race. My immediate reaction was that I was killing the course ~ but surely not. Dad should at least be within a quick head turn. So when I approached to lap him on my way through, I realized something was seriously wrong.

As he struggled to ride, I urged him to stop for a moment so we could figure out what was wrong. He explained that he was having severe pain in his stomach and lower back. He insisted I continue on, “One of us need to finish and you are up there near the leaders, go!”. So I did what dad said and finished the race. I quickly tracked my way back once I crossed the finish line to see where dad was. He was slowly walking his bike in, seemingly done for the day.

This isn’t the father I knew. He would never not finish a competition to completion. That is, unless something was seriously wrong.

The Diagnosis

That race day was the first day I felt sorrow and sadness for my father’s illness. We had no idea that it was anything terminal at that time, but by June, my father was diagnosed with Stage IV Biliary Cancer. They gave him a year to live.

He didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it.

We quickly went into ‘game’ mode and were determined to beat this. Dad was young still (47), not in his 60’s or 70’s like most of the patients who were diagnosed with this. He could fight it, maybe even beat it into remission with the right doctors. And so we began our quest to track down the best doctors, treatments, and care we could find. This ultimately led us to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, with the Wisconsin location being our primary care facility. A long trek from my father’s home about 45 minutes east of Louisville, KY.

Universal Mind

As soon as I found out that my father was ill, I began looking for opportunities to both grow my career as well as be able to work remotely. It was important I have the ability and flexibility to travel with my father to his treatments. Miraculously, Francisco Inchauste, a designer I highly respected had tweeted that his company was hiring UX designers. I quickly reached out, and managed to snag a gig! I did not realize at the time how large of a blessing this would become over the course of the following year.

It’s an amazing place to work, with even more amazing people. Without their support and flexibility over the last months, I would have never had the lasting experiences with my father that I was able to enjoy. You can never get back lost time with your loved ones, and I am happy that I regret nothing during my last year with my father. I spent a large amount of time with him and it’s in large part due to the Universal Mind family.

 

My Father’s Legacy

In our lifetime, and especially as we get older, we are often cognizant of our mortality and that moves us to the thought of “what is our legacy”? I have had the chance to meet my father’s friends & business associates. These people had the opportunity to be a part of my father’s life and I realized that dad got it. He understood what the journey was about. It was about people. In every person he met, including myself, he sought to inspire and motivate. The fact that I had such a close relationship with my dad is something I am very proud of. I feel that I had something pretty amazing.

That is the legacy we dream of. Inspiring people and having the relationship with our children that forever leaves them impacted for a lifetime. Lessons that will be passed on from father, to son, to grandson and onwards for generations.

It is not easy in the physical world to process, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there is something more beyond the here and now. While dads journey was short here, his journey eternally is so much greater. His legacy extends well beyond his 47 years of life. It has been multiplied by the family he built.

Now, the coolest gift I received, is to carry on that most powerful legacy that dad created.

There are many things my father taught me. A collection of thoughts and experiences he shared with me over the course of my lifetime. He did this knowingly, so that I might learn from mistakes he made or experiences he wished he would have partaken in. Morals, life rules, and examples that were embedded in our day to day interactions. I’d like to share with you the beauty that is my father’s legacy.

From my father, he taught me how to control my quick temper. And trust me, Cotten’s are gifted with an extremely short fuse.

In his final struggle, my father showed me how his strength of character was one of endurance and tenacity, signifying he was a man with a true Warrior’s spirit.

He embedded in me the value of being a man of integrity. To have no other perspective than that of my own mind; to always be the same man. Unchanged in sudden pain, in lingering sickness, in the loss of a family member.

He showed me that a man can combine intensity and relaxation; and told me never to be impatient in your explanations to others. Dad was observant and clearly regarded that his most important gift was his experience and skill in communicating his philosophical insights ~ something he very much trained and drilled me on to a level of mastery. We became equals in intellectual thought and found enjoyment in sparring about everything from politics to history to the best Fantasy Football draft strategy. We never did come to a conclusion on that discussion…

In my father’s later years, with his many grandchildren at hand, he took on a kindly disposition that had been previously masked by his ‘Tough Tony’ attitude. He valued a household pattern that was governed by the family patriarch, much like the Godfather. He took great joy in leading the family and being able to provide answers when no one else knew what to do. He was quick to point out that “The Strength of a Family, like the strength of an army, is in it’s loyalty to each other”.

Dad always had a heightened sense of concern for those friends he had adopted as family; Grant, Jim, Scott in his early years, and as his journey continued friends like Matt, Sandi, Arty, Jacquelyn, Doris, Charlie and many others. He went out of his way to make and keep these friends close, and enjoy and cherish their company and conversation. This is something I very much have adopted into my own life and live strongly by. Family is who you accept and work to keep in your life, not tied by blood or surname.

Dad’s nature was to have an agreeable manner with all, so that the pleasure of his conversation was greater than any form of flattery. His very presence brought him the highest respect from those around him. Dad taught us all a love of family, love of truth, and a love of plain speech. He was confident in the affection of his friends, and he was frank with those who met his strong disapproval. He openly stated his likes and dislikes, so that his friends and family did not need to guess his wishes. He inspired trust in everyone ~ that he meant what he said and was well-intentioned in all that he did (Even if the outcome wasn’t always how he preferred or planned).

You have a prescribed a limit to your time – if you do not use it to clear away your clouds, it will be gone, and you will be gone, and the opportunity will never return.

He had a ready and open ear for anyone, he rewarded people in an un-biased manner, always giving everyone their due. Even when the sickness got bad in our last week together, he was quick to be sure KC got her fair pay in our imaginary Arni’s pizza venture.

My father taught me that the key to success in life is SELF-mastery, being able to control your own mind and disposition. It is a powerful trait.

He shared with me that it was important to become immune to any passing whim, maintain good cheer in all circumstances; including terminal illness. Maintain a nice balance of character, both stern and dignified but always stow away a pleasant humor. Be tenacious in all your pursuits, in an attempt to achieve victory in all things. He defined this the “Cotten Way.”

In the final days of my dad’s life, he expressed to me how proud he was of me. We discussed how we were blessed with a family whose character spurred us to care for ourselves, and whose respect and affection were likewise a source of joy for the two of us. We discussed the Word of God, and how we are all made up of flesh, breath, and a directing mind.

He stressed to me how *many* times he was given a period of grace by the Lord and had not used it to end petty feuds or arguments. He attributed this to youthful pride and stubborn temperament. Bury the hatchet when you’re given the opportunity.

Saying Goodbye

It is important for everyone reading this to understand the universe of which you are part of. You have a prescribed a limit to your time – if you do not use it to clear away your clouds, it will be gone, and you will be gone, and the opportunity will never return. This is the face of mortality, shared to me by the wisdom of my father who faced that very reality before him. He had a clarity only the dying can truly understand.

You may leave this life at any moment: have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think. Even if you were destined to live for three thousand years, or ten times that long, remember that no one loses any life other than the one he LIVES. Both the longest-lived and the earliest to die suffer the same loss. Make your time here count. I have no doubt that my father certainly made his time here count.

In his final struggle, my father showed me how his strength of character was one of endurance and tenacity, signifying he was a man with a true Warrior’s spirit. I know that this void in my heart will end up being like a scar on a tree, which time, instead of healing, will only help to enlarge. I don’t see how I will ever be the same again. But I don’t see any better gift for my father to leave me than his legacy and the memories of great times. His LEGACY is one that will continue for generations to come.

Thank you Dad for every single thing you taught me. You were victorious in this life.

 

• Obituary for Tony Cotten

• Remembering my Mentor & Friend, by Ginger Truitt