I miss his laughter and smile. I very seldom watch home videos of him because it just makes me miss him so much more. The last years that we had with him were fun. Dad had the time and desire to be with his children and grandchildren then, and enjoyed each one of them as individuals.
My father worked hard when I was younger. He worked two jobs for many years—at the post office and on the railroad. He was not around as much as he would have liked to have been, I am sure. There are things, though, that like mental snapshots, remain in my memory (poor as it is) of my dad and me. Memories of my father running alongside as he taught me to ride a bike. *** Building me a pair of stilts and showing me how to walk on them. *** Helping me make a robot costume out of cardboard boxes, silver spray paint and dryer tubing. *** Watching hockey on TV and eating sardines (!) together. *** Taking me fishing. *** Finally making me bait my own hook. (It didn’t work. When green yucky stuff squirted out of the bug as I put it on the hook, I refused to do it again. I fished all day with an empty hook and didn’t tell him. He probably knew, anyway.) *** Rowing a boat alongside me when I wanted to try swimming across a small lake. *** Sitting next to me at the lunch counter at Walgreen’s after school every day when we’d go out for coffee and a coke. *** Walking a couple miles together through two and a half feet of snow when we were snowed in and had to go for groceries.*** Going to football games with me at Hammond High on Friday nights. *** Teaching me to drive. *** Handing me the car keys the night I got my license and allowing me to go out as long as I replaced the gas I used. (No one was more shocked than I! Oh, and that was back in the day when gasoline was about 33 cents a gallon! I would put in a dollar or two at a time.) *** Not yelling at me when I scratched up the new paint job on his car. (Well, actually, he didn’t speak to me for three days, but at least he didn’t yell, and he never took the car keys away!) Hmm, I just realized that in so many of those memories he was right there by my side…
There are fun childhood memories of Dad that we have as a family, as well, such as begging him to sing “My Mommy Said” or “Mansion Over the Hilltop” at the dinner table when we had finished eating. *** Carving pumpkins with us. *** Wandering around a Christmas tree lot on a cold winter’s night looking for the perfect tree. *** Bringing home a big bag of White Castles for a special treat. *** Taking us to Wisconsin for a family vacation in a fishing cabin. (It was rainy and cold every time.) *** Pedaling a pontoon boat with us. *** Listening to him play “Red River Valley” on the harmonica. (Sometimes when I feel lonely for him, I will stand in front of his picture on my bookcase and get out my harmonica and play "Red River Valley" like he used to play for us.) *** Helping us do sparklers on the Fourth of July. *** Telling us, "It'll feel better when it stops hurting!" when we'd get a bump or bruise. (We'd get ticked at that and he would laugh!) *** Taking us to the Lake County Fair and buying us corn dogs and cotton candy. *** His “regular” look. (You know that look dads get when they are a little cranky? Well, he claimed that was he was not being cranky—that was his “regular” look.) *** The drama (funny!!!) when he stubbed his toe. *** His favorite saying, "Of all the things I've ever lost, I miss my mind the most!" *** Sitting on the back patio with him, identifying the planes and birds that flew overhead. *** His Archie Bunker chair. (To be fair, after Archie Bunker came out, Dad no longer kicked us out of his chair but would say, “No, no, just stay there!) *** His favorite verse, Romans 8:28, and his favorite hymn, "Victory in Jesus." *** I’m sure my siblings have a thousand other things they could add about their childhood memories of Dad. They are precious little things that are treasures to us now.
Dad loved his kids when we were little, but he was working long hours and I think he could really enjoy and appreciate us even more as we started growing up. He was proud of each of us (even as teenagers!) and let us know it. Then, as we began to marry, have children and careers of our own, not only was he proud of his kids, but he really delighted in us. I’m so glad he took an early retirement. It meant that he could relax and enjoy his family. He had fun with each grandchild and great-grandchild in ways that he could not do so much when he was a young hard-working father trying to provide for his family. Walking at the mall, or in a park, or going out for lunch with them, attending “grandparents day” at the elementary school or the children’s programs at church, taking them out for ice cream, checking out the progress of his tomato plants or roses with them or trailing them in the toy store—those will always be special memories these kids will have of Grandpa (or “Grampy,” as the great-grandkids called him.)
My father loved my mother. Someone has said that that is the greatest gift a father can give his children. We never saw them fight. In fact the one memory I have of them having an argument will probably always stick with me simply because it was the only one I can remember ever hearing when I was a child. Oh, I know they had their ups and downs, as every couple does, but in the end they had a good life together despite the tests and trials along life’s pathway. I still smile when I think of him painting my mother’s toenails bright red in those last years, and taking care of her when she broke him arm, and laughing when she would try to get in the wrong car in a parking lot simply because it was the same color as theirs.
Dad’s body lingered here for three days after his final massive heart attack. God was so gracious to us during that time. We do not believe he suffered at all, but the Lord allowed us that time to adjust to the fact that he was leaving us and to welcome his home-going as the far, far better choice for him than a life confined to a hospital bed for the rest of his time here on earth. There were so many blessings during those days that made Dad’s passing into eternal life a time of rejoicing in the midst of our grief. The final memory of being with my father is of the family gathered around his bed in the hospital as he breathed his last breaths. We held hands and sang some of Dad’s favorite hymns and the childhood songs he had sung to us so many years before. We prayed together and told him that we loved him and that we would see him again in Heaven. There was peace and comfort in that room, and great thankfulness for the father God had given us.
I never thought I would be one to visit the cemetery after my loved ones had passed away. I know my dad is not there. He is in Heaven, just as alive—no, even more alive—than he ever was when he walked with us. There is something about standing beside his grave, though, that makes me feel close to him again. It is a feeling of honoring him and the memories I hold dear; of remembering with a smile the good times; of feeling thankful that I had him in my life, running, walking, sitting, standing beside me. I will visit the cemetery today and leave some flowers in memory of my dad and to honor him. Thank You, Heavenly Father, for the wonderful earthly father you gave me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Ephesians 6:2, 3 Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.