I felt my fists curl into a ball as I prepared to cold cock my father’s care giver across the face for her insensitive remark.

“What do you mean he’s an old man?” I hissed.

She took my hand, smiled and replied, “Jackie, your dad is 94. He IS old.”

Stepping back, I re-evaluated the situation. Seeing that he was incapable of caring for his own basic daily needs, anyone might question how I could be insulted upon hearing someone call him “old.” Lame from a stroke he suffered 26 years ago, he no longer has the use of his legs and left arm. His hearing is weak and his eyesight is fading. On his head, a crown of snow white hair gleams in the sunshine and deep winkles that start on his brow zig-zag down his entire body. But this is not the way I truly see the first man I ever loved.

John Madden is a member of the “Greatest Generation” that ever lived. As a young boy, he helped his family survive the Depression by bringing home whatever pennies he could from odd jobs. He would go on to serve our country as a Commander in the Navy, but his most profound call to duty was as a parent to four children.

While he rarely had time to play, his impact on my life has been immense. For the past 57 years, he has loved me unconditionally, even though I can be as big a pain now as I was in the teenage years. He has been my mentor, my cheerleader, my spiritual counsel and my friend. My dad taught me the value of education, of having an open mind to the opinion of others and, most importantly, to live a life of faith.

A devout Catholic, he believed all men and women were to be honored, no matter what color or creed. He trusted that good would always prevail and that there was a reason behind all life’s hardships. Above all, he trusted that no matter how difficult or painful things became, he would never be abandoned by our Heavenly Father.

My father has been my pillar of strength, my “go to” guy whenever I’m suffering. As he graciously and cheerfully maneuvers through life in his wheelchair, I’m reminded what true integrity and dignity looks like. So of course I took umbrage upon hearing this woman call him “an old man.” This was no old man. He is the greatest thing since to sliced bread, Tivo, smart phones, and even my curling iron.

I prepared to leave, stood in his doorway, and for a brief second found myself saddened. I watched him sleep peacefully in the hospital issued bed, his gnarled fingers clutching his rosary, and I had to admit it might be true. Physically he’s a shell of the strong, vibrant man I knew as a child, but deep inside the casing beats the heart of an extraordinary human being. Sure, some may call him old, but for me, he will always be my amazing dad , and I his little girl.