Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Happy Birthday Dad
Today is my dad's birthday. I want more than anything to call him and tell him Happy Birthday, but I can't. My dad passed away in the evening of February 1, 2003. Earlier that day, the world watched as CNN reported the space shuttle disaster. I happened to be in the tv room next to my dad's hospital room, taking a break from the constant family presence in his room, when I saw the footage. The two events are inextricably connected in my memory. I have been trying not to dwell on thoughts of that day, but with the now-scrapped launch of the next space shuttle in the forefront of the news this whole week, it has been impossible not to think of. Dad slipped away from us after falling into a coma while in hospital to see a respiratory therapist.
Dad had A.L.S. (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. I found out that there was something wrong with Dad when I called home from Pakistan on September 12, 2001. I had just spent the entire evening before (the evening of Sept. 11/01--10 hour ahead of EST) watching in horror as the situation in New York and Washington continued to unfold. I called to tell them that we were alright and that it didn't seem to be affecting us there (yet) when my mom told me that they had bad news.
I don't want to just tell you the story of my dad's last years. That part of his story points out how great a man he was, he was strong in his faith, courageous, full of humor until the end. My last conversation with him was the day before he fell into the coma. He joked with me about one of the nurses flirting with him. Looking back at that conversation, I am glad that we laughed together, but I wish I had known that I would never get to talk to him again. I would have said more. I would have listened better.
I want to tell you about my DAD. He was the kindest, most generous man I have ever known. When I was little, he helped some strangers get their car out of the ditch (they had slid in in a snowstorm). When they got back to our house, Dad gave the man his boots because the man didn't have any proper winter footwear. Winter footwear was very important to my dad. His feet were always cold, so of course everyone else's feet must likewise be cold. In fact, if he was here with me right now, he would ask me where my socks are, since I'm sitting with my feet tucked up under me, they must be cold.
His generosity was not just in monetary or material things, although he loved to give gifts and he financially supported more missionaries than I could name right now (myself included). He was generous with his time, with his talents, with his knowledge and with his compassion.
Dad only went to school until 8th grade, and I think even that was a stretch for him. He was a farmer from the moment he was born. He loved his land. I grew up on the farm that he grew up on. My first 10 years were spent in the house that he grew up in. When I was little, if we went on vacation, he would be itching to get home. He couldn't be too far from his fields. We would travel and he would look at other people's crops. He loved to drive, and it was a blessing to him (and to us) that, until late fall/early winter 2002, he was still able to get himself into his truck and drive, very slowly, around the farm and to town. He wasn't able to help with the harvest work that year, but he ran errands for my uncle and my brother as they continued on with the harvest. the picture at the top is of my dad in his truck. Dad's truck only drove well for him. The steering was really loose, it was slow and clunky, but he loved it.
Dad was one of the funniest people I know too. More often than not he was funny unintentionally, but he had his moments where he had us crying with laughter on purpose. He had this bit he did when he would imitate flawlessly one of the older men in our town. He (the man Dad imitated) has this funny way of talking, like he never really lost his German accent, and Dad would get going with it and have Mom and I sprinting for the bathrooms. He would tell jokes and when we laughed, he sometimes wasn't sure if we were laughing because he got it wrong, or if the joke really was funny. Which, just made it funnier, of course.
Dad was smart in ways that mattered so much. He often put himself down, but I think of all the things he knew, and there is no way that he wasn't intelligent. He didn't have a lot of schooling, but he knew so much about the land, about grain and finances, and politics. He was very smart.
My dad was a born grandpa. My oldest nephew's birthday was the day after my dad died. They were so close. I have a picture of my dad holding Ty when he was a newborn and you can see then that they would be that close. There are 5 grandkids that my dad got to know, the youngest was a baby and didn't know my dad very well, but my dad would have been so thrilled with him. For, you see, the youngest came out of the womb a farmer. He is 3 1/2 and he knows all of the farm equipment by sight, he spends the whole day out in the tractor with my brother, he talks non-stop about farming. Dad would have loved to see that. He had infinite supplies of patience, energy and time for all of them. My younger brother and his wife are expecting twins. I can't imagine how hard it is for my brother that my dad won't ever get to see them, or that they won't get to know my dad.
My dad loved my mom.
I think that is one of the best statements I can make about him. He looked at my mom like he was the luckiest man alive, that she had chosen him. They were married in 1967 and I don't think they ever spent more than a few days apart in all that time. When my mom had breast cancer and was going through chemo and radiation, he drove her to appointments and cared for her. He loved her and he loved us. He had this way of making everyone feel equally important to him, no matter what was going on.
I could go on, and on, and on. I won't. I just wanted to talk about him today. Thanks for letting me.
**sorry about the crappy photo quality. I didn't have digital pics of Mom and Dad, so I took pictures of photos.