Friday, January 15, 2010

Remembering My Dad

My dad died today. Heart attack. He'd just turned 60 on Christmas Eve. We went over to his house that night after Christmas at Grandma's, for our Christmas/birthday celebration, with his daughter, three sons, the married one's spouses, and a lot of grandkids. 'The Incredibles' was on the TV, the kids were all laughing and playing with the self-inflating whoopee cushion, 'Pee-paw' (my dad) had gotten for Christmas, while dad showed off the almond vodka he'd recently gotten. "Of course, you can just put almond flavoring in regular vodka and it tastes just the same." I declined.

We'd stayed an extra day this time around to work on a family history I was trying to put together. We’d rounded up some relatives and set to work getting started, recording stories and scanning in pictures. I am a big fan of history, but one of my big motivators is that an interest in family history is one of the things my dad and I shared, and writing this history is something I wanted to accomplish with him. Somehow it came up in the conversation that I’d gone to an expensive college, and even after scholarships, there was a lot left over. My dad had paid for the rest. I remember him telling me in passing on a college visit that he’d sold some land to make the payments, and I didn’t appreciate it at the time. A farmer selling off his land is like cutting off his leg. I'd made sure to thank him profusely this time around.

I have regrets, but I have a lot fewer than I would have had I not made some decisions about family relationships some years ago. I wanted my relationships to be as if tomorrow might not come. I wanted the people I loved to know I loved them, what I thought of them, what they meant to me. My dad knew I loved him. I’d only tell him about every third phone call because it made him a little uncomfortable, but he knew. My regrets are of a good nature. For my 9th birthday, my dad had taken down to a Reds game, and we’d tentatively planned on going back this summer. At least we’d gone to a couple MLB games before.

. Old pic of Dad and the boys on the farm.

Tonight, our neighbor Daniel had come over for a bit, and noticed that we had a giant, heavy mirror that needed to be hung up. I caught myself before I said, “Yeah, we’ll get my dad to do it.” I’m the least handy person you’ll meet, and he’s the most. He’d helped us hang the giant mirror at our old house, and made it a point to do handy stuff whenever he came down to Tennessee. Krista would make a list with artwork, light fixtures, and ceiling fans that would sit in boxes for six months, waiting for my dad to put them up. He’d call up to see what we’d need him to do. He loved doing that stuff. At least he got to try to teach me how to do that stuff, but really all I did was hand him screwdrivers. I did install a couple lights over our garage in August, and my dad made me stay on top of the ladder while he ran to his car to get his camera so he could jokingly have ‘proof’ that I’d actually done something handy.

I regret that he didn’t get to find out a surprise that I’ve had for him since I was probably 8 or 9 years old. My first son was going to have my dad’s first name (and my middle name), Stephan, as his middle name. I don’t know when or if I’ll ever have a son, but I’m sorry my dad won’t be around to know that he’d have his name. It wasn’t a very well kept secret (what 25 year old secret is?), so maybe he knew.

The prayer I can remember praying more than any other in my life is for my dad to become a Christian. I remember during prayer time at my little Christian school, I’d give that prayer request to my 1st grade teacher, Ms. Huffhand. And my 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Arthur. And Mrs. Caldwell in 3rd grade, and Mrs. Langreck in 4th, and so on. When I was in college, I started promoting Christian concerts, in part because I’m wired to organize stuff, but also because I knew my dad would come to support me, and he’d hear the Gospel. I talked with him about it, and even gave my old, marked up Bible to my dad in hopes that he’d read it. I wrote out and highlighted the ‘Roman Road’ to salvation.

Romans 3:23- For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 6:23- For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 5:8- But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 10:13- Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Romans 10:9-10- If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

I really don’t know if he ever accepted Jesus into his heart. I know he seemed to be changing, and there’s hope in that. I know God can do anything.

One of the times I was proudest of my dad was years ago during the major flooding in St. Louis. My dad was one of the truck drivers who volunteered their time to drive emergency relief supplies down to them. There’s a newspaper clipping somewhere with the story and a picture of him in front of a semi. I think about tonight that in another emergency area today, Haiti, so many people have lost their fathers, sons, brothers, just as suddenly. Believe it or not, a few days before the earthquake, our 4-year-old Brooklyn decided she wanted to ‘help sick kids and kids who don’t have anything’ in Haiti, and we’d set up a donation website: I’ve had so many people ask how they can help us. Maybe helping other kids who’ve lost loved ones is a way to honor my dad and Brooklyn’s grandpa.

A couple Christmases ago (again, coinciding with his Christmas Eve birthday), we put together what I think would be one of the greatest presents you could ever give someone. A short book called, “Dad stories”. My sister, two brothers and I had spent a couple months writing down and emailing back and forth stories from our childhood up to our present, about fun times we’d had with our dad and things we’d learned from him. My dad’s not an emotional guy, but once he opened it and started reading it, he couldn’t keep his eyes off of it. We were kind of like, “Uh, hey dad, you’ve got more presents to open.”

I’ll share a couple of those stories below.

One regret I don’t have concerns baseball. My parents got divorced when I was 6, and for about a 10-year period, we didn’t have much interaction. But one lesson my dad learned is that no matter how long things are a certain way, you can change them. Since that time, he’s really come through in spades, helping in college as I’d mentioned, getting to know my kids, my wife, me.

That inspired me to do something I’d missed out on doing. I have a foggy memory of one time throwing a tennis ball with my dad when I was a little kid, but never with an actual baseball and a glove. I remember I’d have friends who’d complain about their dads making them go out and play catch with them, and I just wanted to tell them they’re idiots! They were so lucky. If you ever wanted to get me choked up, show me a dad playing catch. Every boy’s favorite scene from ‘The Natural’ was when he hits the ball into the lights and they explode. Mine was at the end when he gets to throw the ball with his son.

One day, well after I’d gotten married and started my own family, I decided I wasn’t going to whine and feel sorry for myself about what I’d missed. I was going to make something of what I had. My dad was coming into town, so I bought him a glove, and a baseball, and we played catch. I’ll put the story below (its actually kind of funny). I’m so glad we did that, that we got to play catch. I have that now.

It was a cool and windy fall day in late October. We were dedicating our two-month-old daughter Brooklyn at church, and several family members had come down from Indiana to celebrate with us.
We'd all come back to our house from church, and Dad and Kathy were getting ready to leave. It was at that point that I remembered something else I'd planned. Growing up, we didn't play catch too much, so I decided to get him a glove so we could throw the ball around at family gatherings. Frank, Eddy and I were there, and we had gloves for all. I grabbed Dad as he was heading out to the car, and we all went out to the back yard. Kelly, who'd played softball in high school, came out to throw as well. It was pretty much a Norman Rockwell painting all around, with Dad standing about even with the Bradford pear tree, and us kids about even with the garage side of the house. And then for reasons unknown, Dad decided to attempt what might justifiably be called assisted suicide.

"Hey, Eddy!" he called out. "Why don't you throw it to me as hard as you can!" Not even a question, really, it was more of an order. Eddy had been brought up to obey his parents, but in this case, he should have just forgotten Commandment #5 and said no.
Eddy has, if not a world-famous, at least a family-famous, arm. One time during a church league softball game he was playing the outfield, and threw the ball on a line to home plate. The ball came in so hard that even though it hit the catcher in the glove, it still knocked the guy over on his back. That was from about 200 feet throwing to a 220
pound college kid. This was from about 30 feet throwing to a 185 pound
grandfather of four who probably hadn't played ball since high school. Also, we had a baseball, which travels a heck of a lot faster than a softball.

"Are you sure?" Eddy asked. "Yeah, throw it on in here." the old man replied.
I started to mentally go over my EMT training for handling blunt head trauma. Eddy, not one to under-do things, reared back and let the ball fly with all his might. Time slowed down. The ball turned a bright blue flame color. Dad seemed to slowly raise up his glove about shoulder high. Would the glove get up to ball level in time? Would it matter? Could the ball actually break through the glove's webbing and embed itself in our father's chest cavity? Or would he amazingly lean back, Matrix-style, while the ball rippled through space and time as it passed over him, creating its own sound wave tunnel?
Then...SMACK! The ball crashed safely into the glove, and Dad rocked back, ever so slightly. He was still alive, but I'm guessing a little bit shaken. Maybe next time he'll try something a little safer and let Frank throw knives at him or something.

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