As we came closer to the check out at Publix, you could feel the emotion of the woman working behind the register. She made eye contact with my dad, and her eyes immediately began to well up with tears:
“Dr. Birken, you probably don’t remember me, but you saved my son’s life. He had a tumor on his kidney and you took care of him. I thank God every night that you walked into our lives.”
He replies, “Of course, how is he feeling?”
She then proceeds to break out every picture of him from the age of 3 until his current age of 11, crying while thanking my dad for all his dedication – and of course his brilliant hands.
The Best Dad Ever – Our Father, The Hero
This experience wasn’t unusual for us growing up. Whether the mailman, a teacher, or a family friend, there are so many people our dad has touched and given life to. It can be intimidating as a child, to be exposed to such raw emotion. But it taught us lessons about human emotion, struggle, and happiness. Growing up, we watched firsthand our father dedicate and sacrifice his life to saving children, and it has been our biggest lesson in hard work, sacrifice, selflessness, and love.
He would spend late nights in the hospital so that he could make it to our dance recitals, sporting events, and award ceremonies. There were too many nights to count when we would wake up at 3am to go to the bathroom and he was leaving for the hospital. Many vacations he left early to ensure one of his patients was well. Many holidays that he wasn’t with us because of a child that needed him.
We can remember clearly our dad asking each of us to pick out one of our gifts to give to his patients to make them smile on the holidays. When we had Birthday parties, he would invite some of his patients to make them happy.
As busy as he was building his career, our dad had this magical way of balancing everything and everybody. A talent we only hope and wish we are able to achieve with our own children. He is not only our dad, but a figure to so many sick and injured children and we love him so much more for that.
The media capitalizes on the glamour and adrenaline of being a trauma surgeon – but the reality is that it is hard. Parenting is hard, period. Work-life balance is hard for everyone, but he made it look easy to us.
There are many days that aren’t good days. Days that you lose a patient you have been trying to save for years or have to tell a parent that there wasn’t anything more you could do. We never knew his struggles.
Looking back on it, I could not imagine dealing with life and death and then coming home to a screaming toddler and his twins fighting over the newest barbie. He did it day after day and never once let us feel his stress or disappointment.
He was and still is the best doctor when he is at work and the best dad when he is home.
Some people say that as you age, the magic of your mom and dad start to disappear as you learn they aren’t perfect. For us, it is completely the opposite! We can now appreciate and understand just how magical and amazing he truly is.
We have had the honor of not only watching all those lives he saved and helped, people he has positively impacted, and the amazing contributions he has made for our community, but we were also fortunate enough to be raised and guided by him. Our father taught us hard work, dedication, and the will to succeed always overpower self doubt. He raised us to be good people, selfless, strive for greatness, and never give into your competition. Our father taught us that anything is possible if you set a goal for yourself and you are willing to work for it.
I encourage all the parents out there to be a role model and strive to be the the best for your children. We watch you, we admire you, we emulate you, we adore you, and we strive to be like you. You mold us into the adults we become and the parents we are and will be to our own children. Our father raised us to be hardworking, honest, true to ourselves, and dedicate our lives to children, animals, and the arts. We only hope to instill those same values to our own children. Being a parent is an honor and a privilege. We are so lucky to have the best to model ourselves after and will forever be grateful.
Love your children,
Katie, Alison, Matt, and Carrie