Thank You, Dad


Each June, in the span of one week, my family celebrates Father’s Day, my Dad’s birthday, and my parents’ anniversary. So June is here, and it is time to remember and celebrate my Dad. I want to be honest: I hit the jackpot as far as parents go, but I am a daddy’s girl.

Learning to Pitch In

I grew up on a farm, and both of my parents were farm kids. I learned to enjoy work, especially physical work. If you know anything about growing up on a farm, you know that there is always work to do and you learn how to work hard. You are also required to be a jack-of-all-trades. I loved being outside and working with my dad. Even later, when I was in college, I would come home for the weekend to work (and play) with my dad and mom. We always worked together.

My brother and I were constantly being given the opportunity to learn something new, to be responsible beyond our years, and to be helpful. I mowed our yard with a riding mower at six or seven years old. I helped move vehicles and other farm equipment between the field and home probably by the age of eight. We had the original petting zoo—horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, cats, and dogs—and we were responsible for taking care of them. When I was in the third grade, my dad came to get me out of school to help him fix a part on the combine. He had been working all morning on it, but his hands were too big. Thanks to my small hands, I was able to crawl inside the combine and get the bolt in place, so he could tighten it.

This feeling of pride in being able to contribute in big ways as a kid is something I struggle to give my daughter. It is something I wish we all did a better job of with our young people today. It was such a gift to me.

Learning Grace

My Dad modeled treating everyone with respect. Because of that, I don’t think that he ever met a stranger—he was a friend to all. What else is there to say? People waited for hours outside in line on a cold March night to say their goodbyes. 

He also gave me the gift of grace. Once, while I was mowing with a small tractor and shredder, Dad waved me to stop and walked over to talk to me. I shut off the mower but just put my foot on the clutch—not taking the tractor out of gear. He was standing next to me in front of the rear tire. My foot slipped off the clutch and the tractor jumped forward, climbing him, pulling him down and driving right over him. It happened so fast. I stopped the tractor, took it out of gear, and jumped down to check on him. I was beyond scared. He knew I was scared. I helped him up. He brushed himself off, walked it off and said, “I’m ok, we don’t have to talk about this.” He never mentioned it to me again, or even to Mom.

As an adult, I look back in awe at that pure human example of God’s grace. As a parent, I think I have to talk about all mistakes, so my daughter learns from them. My dad knew differently: he was ok, and I would never make that mistake again. Neither would he. We were blessed and protected that day, and he wiped my slate clean.

Never Too Late

It is never too late to learn something new or take up a new hobby. Looking back, I wonder if my dad’s drive to keep trying new things was because he experienced his first round of cancer at fifty-one—or if it originated a few years earlier and happened to coincide with getting two kids through college and out on their own.

Either way, Dad bought a Honda Goldwing. Most people get their motorcycle license on the smallest bike they can for the license they need. Not Dad. He passed the test on a full-dress Goldwing.

He also took up golf late in his life. In the summer, he would play nine to eighteen holes every week, putting his clubs in the trailer behind the Goldwing, and off he would go to meet the guys.

My Dad lived his life to the fullest, no matter the circumstances. He never stopped, even as bone cancer was having its way. He tried always to greet you with a smile. One week before he passed, we were in Las Vegas for the Daimler Chrysler 400 NASCAR Race. Seeing a NASCAR race in person was a “bucket list” item for him. That trip just turned out to be a bonus—the date we felt would work best between his treatments and his limited was in Las Vegas, a place we had never visited.

Traveling the Trenches

Watching cancer eat my strong, full-of-life dad from the inside out was hard. I was amazed by how he handled the pain and surrendered each day to the new level of help he needed. I have enough medical background to understand what was happening inside as his spine was collapsing and he was losing functions. I think this knowedge helped me in my early grief, as I could never ask or want him to live that way.  

I can only hope I have traveled my trenches half as gracefully as he did. I do wish he had modeled how to have the straight, tough conversations about life’s challenges, or death and dying, while living fully the way he did. Maybe the two just can’t coexist in the same place. I think both sides are trying to stay strong for the other—and any crack in the dam, maybe it can’t hold.  

Dad passed just three months shy of his 58th birthday. Heaven has been his home for fifteen years now, and I miss him more than ever. This loss is very different than my early grief. Today, I miss his wisdom in traversing my own trenches. I miss him loving my daughter, teaching her, and spending time the way a grandpa does. I miss him walking alongside my mom as she ages alone—and some days the farm is too much for her to care for by herself. I miss his strength and his joy for life.

Thank you, Dad, for all this and so much more. I love you!

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