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For the Russerts, caring for Dad is a team effort

NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert shares his story of how he cares for his aging father, as part of the 'NBC Nightly News' series 'Trading Places.'

My Dad, Big Russ, is a fiercely independent man — always has been.

He left high school to fight in World War II and was badly injured when his B-24 Liberator crashed.

Back home in Buffalo, N.Y., he raised four kids with my Mom, who sadly, died a year and half ago.

He always met every challenge, working round the clock with two fulltime jobs, but living alone is hard.

Big Russ: It gets lonely, but I have a lot of people helping.

Tim Russert: You got a great team.

Now, at 83, Dad has slowed down. Still, he won't ask for help and won't consider a retirement home.

Russert: When I tried to talk to you about going to the assisted living place, you wouldn't get out of the car.

Big Russ: Nah, nah, don't get them going. They'll be calling me up.

A lot of responsibility falls on my sister, Kiki, who lives nearby. Things like replacing batteries and solving the problems of daily life.

Neighborhood friend Mike Shea can be over in a matter of minutes if the power goes out.

Shea: I know when he needs something even if he doesn't need it. I'm a step ahead of him a lot of times.

My sisters and I call several times a day, too many times according to Dad, and there is a frequent care package from me.

Lunch and dinner are lovingly prepared by neighbor Jean Passafiume.

Big Russ: It's enough to feed two.

Passafiume: You have to feed the soul and brain. You feed both and you have a good life. Remember that.

My Dad's favorite — corned beef and cabbage at the Blackthorn Club, where old buddies raise their glasses once a month.

Patrick the poet (reads a poem to the men): When you are young, it's not hard to write, but as the years pass along sometimes words, that once were there, are just not right.

Russert (to the men): I want to thank you so much for embracing him. It means everything to him and everything to me.

On this night, all I had to do was help Dad with his coat. But tomorrow it's support from a team who gives my Dad the love and dignity he deserves.