April 6, 1956, the greatest man I ever knew was born with his twins cord wrapped around his neck cutting off his oxygen. His twin was still born, but somehow, he survived. He was born black as the ace of spades and his entire life was filled with mental and physical disabilities. He was epileptic, had asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic migraines, chronic joint and muscular pain, and when he died in October of 2008, he also had emphysema from smoking most of his life. He never had beyond an 8th grade education, but he taught me more about myself, the world around me, and the differences between right and wrong and what I should do with my life, then anyone else I know.
This man’s parents were told when he was born that he wouldn’t live past the age of 2. When he was 2 the doctors said he wouldn’t live past the age of 6. At six they told him he wouldn’t see his 16th birthday. When at 16 the doctors told him he wouldn’t live to see 21, he told them that he would not only live to see 21, but that he would live for many years after and have a child and watch that child grow into something spectacular. At 21 he was told again that he wouldn’t live very long, the doctors told him he would be lucky to see his 30th birthday and that he would never have children. Much to their amazement and his pleasure at the age of 23 he was the proud father of a little girl. When his 30th birthday rolled around the doctors finally gave up telling him he wouldn’t live long and just told him to enjoy the time that he would have with his daughter. Then in August of 2007, the doctor told him for the last time that he would not live another 5 years.
Even with as many times as this man was told that he would not live to be a certain age, or that he would never be able to do something, he never gave up and he did what he was told he wouldn’t be able to do. At 16 years old he had already visited 25 of the 50 states in the United States. He was driving limousines in New York, and had already been into a bar multiple times and been in a bar fight at least once. By the time he was 19 he had held down 15 different jobs, even with his mental disabilities, the worst of which being paranoid schizophrenia, which kept him from doing a lot of things in his life, but none of the things that he wanted to do. By the time his child was born when he was 23 he had been to 45 of the 50 states and was working a mining claim in Eastern Oregon.
When he was 35 years old his child was taken from him and put into State custody, but he never gave up, and within 3 years she was returned to his care, though it is sad to say that it was years before she was grateful for the time she got to spend back with him. Now I won’t say that it was easy for the two of them, that they never had their fights, all children fight with their parents, but he was the one person that she could depend on for anything, whether it was just a shoulder to cry on or to rescue her from a bad relationship. He showed her what unconditional love truly was and taught her through the years to always treat everyone with unconditional love, no matter how much you might disagree with them. He also shared with her a major love of music, through the entire time she was growing up, his passion for music was passed on to her, and to this day she holds dear to the memories of the times with him and music.
He gave her a love of animals and the outdoors. A sense of purpose, a need to be the best that she could be, even though in her heart she thought and in some ways still believes, that she failed him. He gave her the passion to live her life to the fullest and whether she does it for herself, her family, her friends, or his memory; she will live that life to the fullest and remember him every day of that life. She is grateful for the time that she got to be with him, even though it was cut short by disease and hardships. She holds his memory close to her heart every moment of every day. Even now, when she looks into the face of her own child and sees her father’s eyes looking back at her, she knows that his memory will not fade and that he is with her still.
Throughout all of history there are people that show you with what they have done, or have not done, how to live your life, what the difference between right and wrong are, how to respect yourself and others. But it takes a truly great man, to give of himself so completely that he never gives up and instills in you the hopes and dreams that make you who you are. For me that man was my father, Lawrence A. Thomas, better known to me and all of my friends as “dad”. Because he showed me that no matter how you are born, or what you have to go through in life, if you never give up, never give in, then you can do what you dream of doing. From April 6, 1956 to October of 2008 is all the time that he got to spend in this world, and the saddest part for me, is that I only got to be there for 29 years of that life. There are things about him that I will never forget, and things that I will never know, but I do know this without a single doubt in my mind, he was the greatest man I ever knew.