I kept hoping that it was a bad dream. That I could scream and yell and wake myself from this terrible nightmare and he would still be here. But it’s not a dream. It’s real life, and pain unlike I have ever felt before.
My father died last night, surrounded by those that loved him, and I guess you can say it was a surprise. Sure, he was sick, but we all felt like we had a bit more time with him. Cancer can be cruel and strike without warning, and change a man who was strong and hopeful one day into someone struggling to live.
But I prefer to not think of my father at the end. He was much more than that.
Of all the things my father did in his much too short 72 years of life, there are two roles that he should really be remembered for: he was a husband to my mother for over 50 years, and a father to his six children for 47. Everything he did in his life, it was to be the best at those two things.
He often felt that he failed along the way somehow, that some misstep he took had somehow made him less than a perfect husband or father. This was farthest from the truth. No matter what he did, he made it a priority in his life to ensure that we had enough, that we felt loved and cared for.
When my mom went back to school to be a nurse, with long hours studying and going to class, many times at night, my dad quietly shifted roles, coming home from work to make us dinner and help with our homework when needed. Because my mom was able to focus on school and not really worry about us kids, she was able to achieve her lifelong goal of becoming a nurse, a goal she had postponed in order to raise a family. At the time, it was him just doing what was needed to be done, but it was also showing through actions what it meant to be a loving and supportive spouse. Little did I know that these examples would be filed away in my teenage brain, only to be used again later when I was married.
However, it was his actions as a father that had the most impact on me and my siblings. I hope that I am not speaking for them, but I think that we all have our stories that prove this, and these anecdotes will live long into the future as memories of a great man.
I still vividly remember heading down to Provo on a Saturday afternoon to go to a football game. I don’t remember exactly which one, but my memory likes to think it was the game in 1991 when the Miami Hurricanes came to town. We walked up to the ticket window to purchase our tickets, only Dad wasn’t prepared for the inflated college ticket prices at the time. No longer were they the $5 he paid while a student at the school in the ‘60s, but instead were close to $40 a piece. He offered to buy me a ticket so I could watch the game alone, while he would go sit in his truck and listen on the radio.
This was ridiculous obviously, so instead we went and got hamburgers, probably from Arctic Circle, and listened to the game as we drove back home instead. We got home just in time to watch Ty Detmer and crew finish their victory over the Hurricanes, which at the time was a pretty big deal. Watching that game on TV, and many others like it, were some of my favorite Saturday afternoons spent with my father.
Many people know that my dad served in the Army, first on active duty, with service culminating as a warrant officer, and later in the reserves, getting his 22 years completed and earning that pension. I was always impressed as a kid by his dress uniform that hung in the closet, looking at the ribbons and asking what they meant, finding unit patches in boxes from his years of service that truly told a story of service to our country.
When I turned 16, I started thinking of following in his footsteps, considering first going to West Point, and later enlisting and heading off to Germany. Though that plan failed to fully come to fruition, I eventually followed him to the reserves, serving 10+ years and left with a longing to go back. I finally had my own rack of ribbons, but it still pales in comparison to the one he wore proudly on his chest all those years ago.
He quietly mentored me throughout my life in more ways than I can count. Many little lessons along the way have added up to a lifetime of knowledge, knowledge that can only be paid back by setting the same examples in my life going forward. He was the man that taught me how to be a loving husband, even though it wasn’t through parables or stories as often shown on television. He quietly showed me how to be a father, how to struggle through adversity for the sake of your kids, and how you can always get away with not ordering food for yourself because the kids will never eat it all. While he won’t have the pleasure of meeting my children, at least here on Earth, they will feel the impact of his life through me, and I will be a better father because of the example that he set.
To the very end, my father quietly went about his life. When he raised his voice, it was mostly when the current Cougars quarterback made a stupid throw, or when the opposing basketball team was scoring too many baskets in the paint. He wasn’t one to openly show emotion, but you could see love in his eyes when he looked at my mom, or when his children achieved something.
I can only hope to be half the father he was. If I do that well, I can consider myself a success. The initial wound is still fresh, and I will miss him for the rest of my life, but I am thankful for the time that we had together. He was the best father a son could ever want, and he will be with me always.
I love you, Dad.