My father had fairly eclectic pursuits. He marched in the Drum and Bugle Corps, was an all-state linebacker in California for two years, won Best Actor for his performance in the school play his senior year and enlisted in the Marines because he wanted to go to Vietnam. In fact, he did four tours and seriously contemplated becoming a lifer. He ultimately decided to enter civilian life and to get a job in the private sector. When not working, he and his friends would frequent more than a few bars in the Bay Area. You know, it’s funny. They say that no one meets the love of their life in a bar. Well, my parents did.
There were many things I admired about my father. His strength, courage and perseverance. The incredible sense of loyalty he had for his family, friends and country. His amazing sense of humor. He had a knack for always being able to adapt his humor perfectly to whatever situation he was in. He cared about everyone. He could talk to a stranger about his or her problems just as well as he could talk to me about mine. He was always straight-forward and honest when teaching me about life. He would explain how things were in the best way he knew how. He understood how to use tact, but he also understood that using tact is always trumped by facing and explaining hard truths.
Oh…and he made the best potato salad ever.
I could write for days about all the aspects of my father that I admire. He really was a great man. Definitely a man, though. In fact, I think that is what a large part of his legacy is. He helped show my friends and I how men should be. One of my favorite traits of my father was his ability to show love and emotion while simultaneously being perceived as a tough, bad ass. Dad was the toughest guy I knew and he was also the first to tell me that he loved me or to give me a hug and a kiss. He did not care whom he said or did that in front of, either.
He did not think you were less of a man for telling your friends you loved them. He thought you were more of a man for doing so. If anyone questioned that philosophy in a disrespectful manner, he was also happy to prove his manliness to you and, trust me, that is not somewhere you wanted him to go. That’s the thing. He could be incredibly intimidating when he chose to. He simply did not choose to do it that much because he knew it was unwise, but not always uncalled for….
Case in point: More than a few times at my house growing up when my friends and I just may have had the volume up to a questionable level at an even more questionable hour. My father would burst in the door and remind us in an extremely unpleasant way that we should, well, shut the hell up…and that’s putting what he said nicely.
When I am around my friends and their families, I think about my dad often. I see his “style” in the way we all conduct ourselves. He was proud of me for many reasons, but I think what he may have been most proud of were my friends. The people I chose to put around me in my life. He and my mother always preached friendship, love and respect and what that can do for your life if done out of care, sincerity and loyalty. What my parents did for many of my friends, their parents also did for me.
My dad would often ask about my best friends. How are they? What are they up to? How are those incredible kids of theirs? Who’s losing their hair now? He always wanted to know everything and, as many people know, he loved to tease you. In fact, he probably is viewing his memorial as the greatest payback for all his teasing. I cannot think of one thing that would make him more uncomfortable than seeing a group of all the people he cared about most being somber and speaking fondly and sincerely about all his accomplishments.
I can assure you, if it were up to him, he would have wanted his ashes right next to a big pile of beer and liquor and for us to simply cheer him once and then go about our business partying and breaking bread. He always loved being around people, having a great time and really, truly enjoying the company of others. He was extremely outgoing.
When my dad retired from Georgia-Pacific, he still wasn’t done working. So, he took at job with the Bellingham Herald, distributing the paper to the local businesses that carry it. He didn’t really need to take the job, as it was a side gig for him so he didn’t get bored. Why did he take it? To be out and about, interacting with people, mingling with co-workers and having a good time. Plus, he could hang out with my mother more often. Any excuse to do that, he was certainly on board for.
He was also a great husband to my mother. They have the kind of love that they write songs about. It kind of goes back to the whole “meeting in a bar” deal. Those stereotypes exist for a reason. Sometimes, every now and again, the kind of stuff dreams are made of actually does happen. Their love helped make them greater people who had even more care and passion for the world and life.
I mean, the amount of nurses, caretakers, doctors and hospice employees alone that have told me how amazing my dad is speaks volumes about the kind of person he was. At his worst, he still made time to talk to, get to know and care for the people around him.
Many people who pay attention to what I do in social media (posts, blogs, commentary, talk) do not say anything. They just watch and read. Not about my father’s passing, though. The post in which I explained why I wasn’t active has had nearly triple the most response I have ever received. The fact that many people went out of their way to say something is an incredible tribute to his life.
In fact, words cannot express enough the love I have for the amount of support my family has received. It reminds me of not only how loved my father was, it reminds me of how meaningful his life was to so many people. To see and hear stories and feelings from people from different facets and times in his and our lives warms my heart tremendously.
My father was fond of clichés. I catch myself using his old ones all the time. Since he passed away, one keeps popping in my head. I can only assume that I am thinking about it as a way to get through this, phrased in a way that my father would use. When it comes to grieving properly, moving on, processing and remembering, there is only one phrase he would say to describe how to get through all of it appropriately:
“There ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it.”
I love you, Dad.