For those of you who aren’t aware, my dad, who turned 70 a few weeks ago, passed away two days ago. Yesterday was my sister’s wedding, so we were mostly trying to keep it low key, but she posted about it today so now I feel comfortable posting about it.
My dad was not perfect. He had many faults as anybody who had been cornered by him could tell you. Conversationally he was like a runaway train, and until about ten years ago we struggled to find ways to end conversations with him. That was when he finally realized it and adopted the policy of “when someone says they need to go, I will let them go.” So you would say, “Well I need to get going” and he would instantly say, “TalkToYouLaterBye” and hang up. Anything you wanted him to know would have to be said before that point.
My dad was never wrong. Well, almost. He would stand by what he thought with the tenacity of a thing that is really tenacious, and take all comers. Only once did I get him to admit he was wrong (it was about whether a curse word was in the dictionary. It was. He had to buy me chocolate milk because I was right). Sometimes he would do what most of us do and switch from defending HIS position to mocking yours. That hurt. Most of us developed kind of a “shell” so that when Dad was talking to us, we just nodded most of the time.
My dad was abusive. I don’t need to go into detail, and I’m sure some will get upset that I mentioned it, because you know, you don’t speak ill of the dead, but it’s a fact that my life would have been very different if my dad had made different behavioral choices in regards to his family. But as I talked to my wife about this, God reminded me of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) from the Bible. This man was horribly abused by his brothers, thrown into a pit, sold into slavery where no matter how good he was he was also abused by others, falsely accused and thrown into prison where he lived for several years. When he finally talked with his brothers about what they had done, they thought he would punish them, but he said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” God was able to use their sinful choices to bring about good things. And as I think back, I realized that if my dad had made different choices instead of the ones that led to the breakup of our family, he probably never would have married my stepmom and had my three youngest siblings. I would have a huge hole in my life because I love those four people. God took my dad’s sin, and brought something beautiful out of it, just like with Joseph. It doesn’t excuse what he did, but it does make me feel better about it.
My dad worked to send me to a good school when I lived with him. He tried to instill good values in me, including a sense of responsibility and completing the work you have been given. I remember one time when I was about 11 and he told me to feed the dogs before bed. I forgot. Evidently he got home and knew somehow that I hadn’t fed them. He came to my room, woke me up and told me to go feed the dogs. Five minutes later I hadn’t fed them, but had gone back to sleep, so he repeated the command. I started to put my shirt on, so he left, and I fell back asleep. I have no memory of this because I was not actually conscious for any of that. All I knew was that I was peacefully sleeping, when suddenly I was covered with ice water that he had dumped on me to wake me up so I could do my job. He was yelling at me, and I didn’t know why. We laughed about it years later but I learned that completing your work is important, and you put others’ needs in front of your own.
My dad contributed to my love of board games. I looked forward to those Friday nights when he would get home from work at the post office, and we would stay up playing Axis and Allies or Conquest of the Empire. He taught me to play cribbage the hard way: by declaring “Muggins,” which meant that if I made a mistake, he profited from it in the game. I got better faster that way. He made me competitive, and I love to win, but by being good at games himself, I learned how to be a good winner and a good loser. Usually.
My dad paid for me to learn to play the classical guitar, and it’s my fault, not his, that I’m not a professional. He cultivated a love of history and the US Navy in me that I still have even though I never served. He enjoyed telling the story of when he “conned” (or was in charge of) a naval destroyer because he was fixing the rudder. I remember that when I was obsessed with planes he and my stepmom took me to see Top Gun in the theater, and it’s a good thing that the Navy recruiters in the lobby wouldn’t take 12 year olds, because I would have caught the first arrestor cable there. I remember when he took me to a restaurant, just the two of us, for my 13th birthday and I informed him that my favorite plane was the F-15 Eagle, and so I wanted to join the USAF. He joked, “Air Force? I thought you LIKED being in this family!”
My dad took me fishing, and he took me hunting. He bought me a 410 shotgun which I was allowed to carry unloaded when I acted as the dog, flushing out the quail and pheasant for him. Maybe this is why I still don’t like bird hunting: I was always the dog. He taught me how to fool a squirrel, and how to clean them after they got fooled. After my father-in-law introduced me to deer hunting, my dad let me hunt deer on his 100 acre farm in Missouri, where I hunted almost every year for 20 years. He told me I was doing him a favor because the deer were eating all the corn, and I said, “Dad, you have a hilly forest where nobody ever goes that practically touches the corn fields, there’s a pond way in the back, and a few private meadows…you don’t have a farm you have a deer preserve!” I did my part, though, and he always listened to my stories about how I got each deer. He used to tease me that if I hunted fairly I should just go out there with a knife and hide in a tree, waiting for the deer to walk underneath. I said, “You first.”
My dad was a writer, among other things. He loved to write, and I enjoyed reading some of the things he wrote. He instilled in me my love of reading, and I remember how sometimes my punishment for doing something wrong was that I wasn’t allowed to read for several hours, a day, or whatever. Agony. He had custom bookshelves built in his house that he filled with so many books. When other kids were collecting baseball cards, I remember that I saved up my money to buy a set of Time Life books (on planes, of course) that I wanted. Reading changed my life.
My dad was complicated. It’s hard to put into words how I feel about the fact that he’s not here anymore. He has had early-onset Alzheimer’s-type dementia for the past several years, which was gradual at first and then got faster. He contracted COVID-19 a few weeks ago and the damage caused by the virus was too much for his body to overcome. His greatest tool was his mind, and he had already lost most of it. I am thankful to God for my dad, because if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I woudn’t exist at all, come to think of it. I miss my dad, but I also miss what might have been in our relationship. I sincerely hope that his profession of faith in Jesus Christ was legitimate and he is now in the presence of the Lord, sinless and finally aware of how many times in his life he was wrong. He had many faults, but at the end of the day, he was still