Our Dad's birthday is tomorrow. The first one he won't be on this earth for in 84 years. Last September 6th, he said, "Now how old am I?"
I said "You're 83 Dad!
To which he replied "I did pretty damn good!" And puffed his birthday cigar.
Dad was born in Fargo, North Dakota in 1939, a few days after Hitler rolled into Poland as the world rumbled with war. He went to school in a one room schoolhouse in Cascade, Colorado-on Ute Pass off of Pikes Peak highway- carrying buckets of water daily from the school to the train tracks nearby to put out sparks left by the coal trains.
Dad learned to drive, and race, on Pike's Peak highway when it was a dirt road and he knew it like the back of his hand. He grew up without a lot of surveillance and got into a good amount of trouble as a kid in the 40's and 50's. He grew up with his older brother Jon and they enjoyed many adventures together where they played hockey in the winter and held snowball fights using trashcan lids as defenses and hiking in the summer. He was affectionately known as "Pee-Wee" as a kid as he was the youngest among those in the group. At age 11, he was knocked backwards during a hockey game and cracked his head on the ice which resulted in a skull fracture and 3 days in a coma. He had to train himself to learn to walk and write again, and took a full year to recover.
Dad earned his Master's in Psychology from Arizona State University, while working as the bartender at "The Library" (a bar near campus) and being a member of the Delta Chi Fraternity. He then earned his Doctorate from the University of Northern Colorado. There he met our mom Barbara, a teetotaler, a girl who was smart and funny as well as beautiful in 1965. He was smitten, but also taken aback as she would paint flip flops on her feet so she didn't have to wear shoes on campus. They were polar opposites. After a bit, he asked her what she thought about getting married and Mom answered that she had given it a little thought. He replied "I meant to me!" Hence the next 58 years of misunderstandings, adventure, and family with a good dose of humor.
As soon as he could, Dad got to a job In South Texas, they moved to a place by the ocean and there he taught himself how to sail in a 13 foot sailboat. When a job came up in the middle of Kansas as an administrator at the Mental Health Center, Mom and Dad settled with my brother and I and he immediately found Cheney Lake, the windiest lake in the U.S. (no lie). Sailing was an integral part of life growing up, and our Dad's greatest pleasure and passion aside from family and... smoking his ever-present pipe.
In the early 70's, after going to Emmanuel Lutheran Church, the pastor, H.O Lindeblad, asked if he could come over to visit. He was a World War 2 vet and drove over on a 1940's motorcycle. Dad, who had not grown up in a religious home, but had a fondness for Lutherans because of his Norwegian relatives, proudly offered the pastor some of his home brew, which they drank together. A few months later, Pastor Lindeblad baptized my Dad along with myself and my baby brother at church. My Dad was a private person and religion was no different, but he became a Christian partly because of the unlikely connection forged that day.
Dad worked in private practice for years before deciding to apply to a job opportunity and the Central Intelligence Agency where he was an integral part of the Office of Medical Services. While at the CIA he received OPS training, traveled throughout Central and South America recruiting for the Agency and in 1993 following the mass shooting outside of Headquarters, he was awarded the highest honor for speaking to the entire agency employees, who had been gathered together hastily shortly thereafter, and for his role in visiting the survivors and each of the affected families that very day. Dad had left for work early that morning, or he too, would have been in the line of fire.
In 2002, after retirement, Dad decided that he would fund a family business, a dream of he and mom's for a long time. We opened the Metropolitan Coffee Shop and had several meaningful years of working together, drinking coffee together at sunrise and building community around the idea of a coffee shop where people feel welcomed and known.
Our Dad was many things to many people. One constant was his humble service and empathy for his fellow humans. He wasn't one to complain, wasn't one to brag, and probably didn't talk enough about the things that weighed on his mind, but was always there as a compass and caring guide when people in his orbit needed kindness and direction. Even at the nursing home, several of the nurses and aides talked about how they enjoyed their conversations with Dad and how he was always there to listen when they needed to talk.
To me, Dad was a hero. He was a person whose intelligence, strength and gentleness I always relied upon and admired. He taught me to rise early, to watch an incoming thunderstorm, to listen to silence in a snow filled landscape, to experience freedom in the wind and water.
To my brother, he was a great teacher of many things: Carpentry, hunting, sailing, fixing just about anything and the toughest person he has ever been around. Not complaining when injured and forging ahead even when not feeling well. He also remembers his having him remember the Lord's Prayer by having him recite it nightly.
We have some notes of my dad's, found in his bible. One is Isaiah 40-
" The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of weak. Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall. But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not grow faint. "
The second is Phillipians 4-
"Rejoice in the Lord. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near . Do not be anxious about anything. But in everything, by prayer and petition and thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your heart and minds in Jesus Christ. "
And finally, he quoted an old Celtic poem:
"May the Road rise up to meet you,
may the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand."
When inevitable sadness suddenly overtakes me, like an afternoon rainstorm, I try to think of his comforting hand on mine, his calming voice that was always like a balm for whatever was bothering me, and the way he walked forward steadfastly and with kindness no matter what obstacles he faced.
Daddy, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand. I hope there is sailing in Heaven. We love and miss you more than you could ever know.