Excerpt: 'Lessons for Dylan'

In his 2003 book, "Lessons for Dylan" (PublicAffairs), Good Morning America's Joel Siegel passes on life lessons to his son, Dylan, who was born just as Siegel began his battle with cancer.

Siegel was 54 when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Only two weeks later, he found he was going to be a father for the first time. "I knew my father pretty well; I was almost 40 when he died," Siegel said. "I faced the very real possibility that Dylan would never know me unless I wrote a book."

Now, Siegel shares all the things he wants his son to know — about life's pleasures and sorrows, his Jewish heritage, and the challenges of growing up — in case he's not around to tell the story.

Of course, having a movie critic for a father has some advantages. Lessons for Dylan is punctuated with great stories, featuring Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, Brad Pitt, Stevie Wonder and the Beatles.

Siegel candidly addresses the end of his marriage to Dylan's mom and other difficult passages of his life. He offers wit and wisdom, favorite holiday recepies, and some fatherly advice on sex ("Ask your mother.").

The Following is an excerpt:

1: The Cure Can Kill You

DEAR DYLAN:
They are words you don't easily forget, "I don't have good news." Especially when they're said by a doctor who's just finished giving you a colonoscopy.

It was the summer of 1997. One week before we'd had very good news. The in vitro had taken. Ena, your mother, my wife of one year, was now officially pregnant. The baby, that's you, Dylan, was due in February. The American Cancer Society said, all things considered, I had a 70 percent chance of being alive to witness the birth.

I had surgery one week after the diagnosis. It was supposed to be easy. It wasn't. The lesion (the word even looks like a euphemism) was lower than the doctors anticipated. To lose the cancer they had to tie off my colon. They gave me a colostomy. There were nodes; the cancer might have spread. The protocol would now include simultaneous radiation and chemotherapy. The odds of my seeing you born dropped to 60 percent.

One day, as Ena was leaving my hospital room I noticed, for the first time, that she was starting to show. I started to cry.

I remember looking out the hospital window at a tree, a tree that had somehow managed to grow large and lush even though its seed had somehow taken root on a two-foot wide spit of land between the FDR Drive, one of the busiest highways in America, and the East River, one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world. And I remember thinking about the impossible coincidences that come together to create the miracle of life.

I began charting the coincidences that had brought me, in the words of a Jewish prayer, to this season. I thought of the things I'd been able to do, the places I'd been able to see. My grandmother crossed the same river I was looking out at each day to work in a sweatshop, I'd been invited to the White House and met three Presidents — and hadn't voted for any of them. If whoever had given this to me wanted to take it back, I decided, I could do it. I could give it back. And somehow knowing I was able to give life up gave me the strength to hold on. As for miracles, until I saw you being born, Dylan, I didn't have a clue.

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