You may not know Daryl Banazwski. He's not a big-time politician or a candidate for elective office. But he had a profound impact on my life, and it's safe to say this column wouldn't exist without his love and support.
Daryl was my father-in-law. He died Wednesday, more than three years after being diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer.
"Mr. B," as I called him, was part of my life for the last 14 years. It was in early 2005 that I started dating Sarah, who's now my wife, and began to spend more time with her family.
It wasn't long before Daryl became a major figure in my life. He welcomed me into his home and introduced me to camping and NASCAR. I assisted him with grilling. We both loved the major Buffalo sports franchises.
When my dad died in November 2008, my mother-in-law told me Daryl had something to say. He approached me hours after my father died, shook my hand and offered his condolences. It was then I knew that while I lost my father, I gained another father figure. His care for me in my darkest hour is something I will never forget and speaks to his character. He was a kind, decent man who put others first.
Less than two years later, I nervously asked for his blessing to marry Sarah. It was a prerequisite for the wedding. Sarah adored her dad, and if I was going to marry her I needed to seek his blessing first. During that conversation, I told him he was like a father to me. It wasn't BS. It was true. He gave his blessing, and I proposed to Sarah the next day.
On June 25, 2011, I married the love of my life. Daryl later told Sarah that his happiest day as a parent was walking her down the aisle. "The pictures still make me smile," he told her. There's a great photo of him shaking my hand. As he shook my hand, he joked with me that Sarah was "on loan."
There were a lot of memories made over the last seven-plus years with Daryl as my father-in-law. Some of the highlights: Taking him to the New York State Fair to see the band Chicago (one of his favorite bands); playing countless games of euchre with him, Sarah and my mother-in-law; spending weekends home in western New York grilling in his front yard; and going on trips to visit my brother-in-law and nephews in Virginia.
Our lives changed in 2014 when Daryl was diagnosed with kidney cancer. After surgery later that year, we thought the worst was over. He had a kidney removed and the cancer, we thought, was gone.
However, in 2015, we learned the cancer was back. My wife found out during the day and didn't tell me because I had to moderate a forum that night. I thought something was off during the day, but chalked it up to her having a rough day at work. It wasn't until after the forum that she shared the news: Her dad had stage IV renal cell carcinoma. His remaining kidney wasn't affected, but the cancer spread to his lungs. Doctors told him he had three years to live.
It's easy to reflect on these last three years and say they flew by, especially now that Daryl is gone. But I don't believe they did. I truly cherished the time I spent with him because I didn't know from one year to the next if he had any more birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings or Father's Days left.
Most importantly, though, is the valuable lesson he taught me — and hopefully others — over the past few years. He taught us how to live.
For three years, he didn't let this disease define him. He lived his life. He embraced becoming a grandfather. He continued to grill. He went to races with my brother-in-law. He and my mother-in-law would visit me and Sarah in Auburn. Earlier this year, the four of us traveled to Virginia for my godson's baptism. It happened to coincide with Daryl's 63rd birthday. We had a lot of fun on that trip. I feel blessed knowing we spent his last birthday together as a family.
Through it all, Daryl maintained his humility and sense of humor. He would repeatedly say, "Don't worry about me." He didn't want us to obsess over him or miss work because of any of his health setbacks.
Even when his condition worsened in December, he wondered why we rushed home to be with him. What we learned is that the cancer spread in his right lung and to his liver. We didn't know how much time he had left.
He spent his final days in the intensive care unit at Roswell Park Comprehensive Care Center in Buffalo. That meant he was in the hospital over Christmas, which is a time of year my wife's Catholic family usually has big dinners over a two-day period. Instead of those events this year, we spent Christmas with Daryl in the hospital. It wasn't an ideal setting, but I will forever cherish those final moments with him.
His last gift to me was a card. In it, he told me I am "a great son-in-law." I don't know if that's true, but if I am, it's because I had the greatest father-in-law.
The pain of this loss is just settling in. I already lost my father, and now it feels like I've lost another. Daryl was a great example of what a man should be: diligent, faithful, humble and selfless. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather and father-in-law. I have benefited from that love, and it's made me a better person.
God bless you, Mr. B. Your memory will live on forever. To borrow a line from you in one of our final conversations, I'll see you on the other side.