Monday, January 30, 2017

Dad

My Dad died on January 22nd after a long battle with congestive heart failure.  The days and hours preceding his passing have been seared onto my heart and finding the words to provide comfort and share a portion of Dad's legacy was one of the most difficult things I've done.

We celebrated Dad's life on January 28th, and I had the honor of sharing my thoughts with the friends and family that came to pay their respects.  Below, is the talk I gave, edited to reflect a blog post.
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I probably shouldn’t have waited until Friday night to finally compose my thoughts with some semblance of clarity for my talk at Dad's funeral on Saturday.  But if I’d done it earlier, Mom wouldn’t have been able to roll her eyes while I was typing at midnight and even as a 39 year old, that’s something I like to experience. 

Dad was sick for a long time.  Longer than any of us realized.  But even when he went into hospice last month, I didn’t really believe that anything could actually take down Dad.  The man that used to throw me through the air at the pool without so much as a grunt?  The man who would let me hang off his bicep as he would lift his arm until my feet didn’t touch the floor anymore?  The man who, on more than one occasion - and once during my wedding rehearsal dinner surrounded by city folk - punched a horse whose attitude he didn’t appreciate?

THIS is no ordinary man.  I didn't believe that anything can take down a tough old bird like that.


Dad was a true miracle who shouldn’t have made it past the age of 5 due to the quarter-sized hole in his heart… which they found when he was 70. 70!!!!  But because of his unbelievable grit and determination, he worked a farm, married the woman of his dreams, raised three headstrong and stubborn daughters, survived the hijinks of hundreds of high school boys in 29-years of bus driving, and lived to see the birth of his two granddaughters.



As I was procrastinating the talk I would give at his funeral all last week -- you know, when the family is tasked with comforting the people who are coming to comfort the family? I thought about all of the things I learned from my Dad.  And thought that would be the best way to honor him and to give everyone a glimpse into the legacy he has left behind. 

Dad taught us to be tough.  He taught us to be fearless.  He taught us how to work hard.  And most importantly, he taught us to stand up for what we believe, even if it wasn’t popular to do so.  

Everyone that grew up on a farm knows that if a horse bucks you off, you get right back on.  I didn’t even really like horses so I felt that when I got bucked off, well, the horse and I were clearly in agreement about this happening so let’s just call it good.  But, it didn’t matter how much I cried or stomped my feet, Dad insisted that I get back on. When I was in the 6th grade, my horse reared up and rolled over on top of me. It was very scary and not at all something I would ever want to repeat. After it happened, the horse took off one way, and I took off the other. Dad caught up with me before I made it to Mexico, made sure that there weren’t any broken bones.  And then made me get back on and sit on that stupid animal.  Just for 30 seconds, but it may as well have been 30 years.  Today, whenever I have a professional or personal setback, I have to decide if I’m going to run to Mexico, or get back on the horse and handle my business.   Mexico would be fun…  and given the winter we’re having right now, I’m thinking Cabo?  But I know I’d always have that horse on my mind if I didn’t get back on.



Humor and laughter were a big part of life on the farm. Dad had a great sense of humor.  The day after that horse rolled on me, it was gone and I decided that my new ride would be our Shetland pony who didn’t buck or rear.  But in the off chance that she did, I could just put my legs down on the ground. And Dad sure got a kick out of watching me run barrels on that Shetland.  If you’ve never seen a Shetland run barrels with a 70 pound, lanky 12-year-old, with a perm, riding sans saddle and holding on for dear life, then you haven’t really lived. 



And for just a second, let me digress and talk about the perms.  We need to talk about the perms. Dad took over hair duties when mom broke her wrist.  We all have naturally straight hair and none of us were known for our ability to do our hair… a trait that has been passed down to my girls.   I’m not sure why dad thought it would be a good idea to cut our hair into mullets and then perm it… but I can tell you that it was a really rough year for the three of us socially.  But everything was a lesson… this one being that if I can get through the perm femullet (female mullet), with any semblance of confidence, I can survive anything.



Dad was determined to make sure that I had every opportunity to excel and be the best at whatever I set my sights on.  When I was in junior high, I found an ad in sports illustrated that said:  “Somewhere, someone is out there training harder than you.  And when you meet her, she’ll beat you.”  I took offense to this ad and made it my goal to outwork anyone I ever came across.  Dad knew this, and decided it was his chance to cure me of this little problem I had of not being able to jump.  We didn’t have a jump rope when I started my little summer jumping workshop, so Dad gave me a straw rope he kept in the back of his old GMC.  I kept getting little slivers in my hands from the rope because it wasn’t exactly for jump roping.  But for about a week, that was my rope.  I had also brought back a workout from one of the many basketball camps I had attended, and one of the things that it called for was box jumps.  I’m sure you’re probably thinking that dad went ahead and built me a couple of boxes to jump on. And that’s cute.  Surely, you are thinking to yourself, surely he wouldn’t have found an old wood-burning stove in the barn - one with two different levels and covered in rust on the very sharp edges - and told her to jump on it. 


When he presented my new workout equipment, I remember asking him with not a small amount of incredulity: “What if I miss???” 

He was on his 4-wheeler and just kind of looked at me and said:   “Well, I would recommend not missing.”   And then he drove off.   


And that’s how I spent my summer… jumping on to a tetanus shot waiting to happen and becoming a great jumper in the process. 


One of the best lessons I learned from Dad was not being afraid to stand up for myself.  If I had a problem with a coach or a teacher, I would tell my Dad about it, with the hope that he would step in, use his size and his scary voice and handle it.  But, he’d just look at me and say:  

“Well, what are you going to do about that?” 

And so, I had to do something about that.  And the sense of empowerment and confidence it gave me to know that my dad believed in me enough to do that on my own?  Immeasurable. 


This also extended to the boys I grew up with.  I don’t think that it was very often that I didn’t get the last word with them… and yet I couldn’t figure out why I never dated.  I blamed the perm.  Dad blamed my tongue.  But again, he got a kick out of every time I handled my own against a boy.  All the same, he was relieved when I finally found one that appreciated this little personality trait, and could handle the tough job that is dealing with my attitude.



Dad believed in his girls.  He trusted me.  And knowing that I had his trust was an amazing and empowering feeling.  Last week when I had to have one of the most difficult conversations that a child will ever have with their parent - when I told him that we needed to think about his safety and that of mom’s, and that I needed him to get into that hospice bed -  well, let’s just say he was less than thrilled.  I didn’t blame him.  

“Dad… it’s not like you’re giving up.  You just have to think about your safety.  It will be okay. ”   

He closed his eyes and I held his hand and asked him:  “Do you trust me?”   

He got that little Kirk-Smirk of his and simply said:  “NOPE”.  

And then we argued about who would have the last say at his funeral.   



One of my favorite memories of Dad is sitting with him on our porch during a storm.  We would look to the east and watch the lightening over the hill.  We didn’t talk when we’re watching the storm.  This was not the place for high school drama, or complaining about my sister cheating at monopoly again.  This was a place for quiet stillness.  I loved that time of quiet reflection and meditation, although I’m sure that he would scoff at the word meditation.  But as I look at it from my grown up, admittedly liberal perspective, that’s what it was.  I’m sure that when Dad went out to the porch during that storm, he was stressed about something.  More than likely, he was worried that the storm wouldn’t bring enough water.  Or, maybe it would bring too much water.  Or maybe he was worried about how in the world he was going to pay for new shoes for all of us girls because our feet grew faster than the crops.   

But usually, sitting out there in that storm brought him a sense of peace that was palpable.  To this day, I love storms and feel a sense of peace when I hear the rolling of the thunder or the howling of the wind.   Because of Dad, I learned to lean into the storm and enjoy it.



Leaning in was something dad was a master of.  Dad was such a strong supporter and advocate of Mom.  I was so blessed to grow up watching how my parent’s marriage worked.  How they were equal partners.  How they would lovingly flip each other the bird when one of them would pull something over on the other.  Which was daily.  And I think that it broke his heart to know that he was leaving her and that’s why he just fought so hard to stay.  He was a fighter.



My parent's marriage taught me the importance of picking the right person to share your life with.  More specifically, watching how my Dad loved and supported my Mom through thick and thin taught me a valuable lesson about how I should expect to be treated. Through his unwavering support and fierce loyalty to my mom, I grew to expect the same of my future husband.   The last week of Dad’s life was rough on him.  It was rough on all of us.  But one thing I’ll never forget was one of the last times he was conscious and lucid.  He was talking to mom while she was holding his hand.  All of the sudden he said:  “How about a kiss?”  And pulled her down to him for a big old kiss.  

That right there… that was everything.   

I had asked Dad on one of his better days what some of his favorite memories from his life were.  He looked at me and simply said:  “Your mom.” 


And then like the Gambler, he faded off to sleep. 



Toughness. Grit. Courage.  That’s what Dad wanted for us.  These are just a few of the great memories and lessons I learned from my dad, and there are just so many more that I could tell you.  Like how he never missed a single game in my high school career.  How he would purposely not sit next to other parents because he just wanted to watch the game and not listen to complaints about the coaching or playing time.  How he would pay me a dollar to sweep the school bus.  How he never listened when I asked him to please stop texting me in all upper case because that meant he was yelling at me.  How he never judged me when I told him I was thinking of becoming a Democrat.  And how he always left me a voice mail with the words:  "This is your dear old Dad.  Call me please."  

I'll miss all of this, and more. 


I love you, Dad.   
Thank you for surviving and giving us life.  For giving your grandaughters life.   
Thank you for being a shining example of perseverance and kindness.   
Thank you for putting up with everything we put you through.   
Thank you for passing on your feet to me because anytime I put on my shoes and woe is me about their size and shape, I’ll think of you. 
Thank you for making sure that our home was a safe place. 


But more than anything, thank you for loving mom. 


"Do you know, you are my sunshine?  Do you know what your smile did to me?  Do you know you are my sunshine and it looks like you’re always gonna be." 

3 comments:

Keicha Christiansen said...

Tears, tears and more tears. What a beautiful post. I didn't know your dad, but I know you, so I'm sure he was as amazing as you described him.

I'm sad that your mind is still haunted by the memories of the last days and hours with your dad. Some day soon I hope those memories will fade away and be replaced with the kind that make you smile, laugh, and even cry, simply because you loved him so much and still do. Take care of yourself in the coming weeks and months. I'll be thinking of you my friend.

Carrie said...

Your dad done good with you ;) Hugs and love.

Jenny Scothern said...

I LOVE THIS!!! ALL CAPS :)