Friday, January 23, 2015

An Ode to My Dad

Good Afternoon Ladies & Gentlemen,
Today’s entry is going to be… a little bit of a departure from my usual happy-go-lucky kind of rant. Basically, it’s going to get a little real. Sure, there’ll be cute little stories, probably a few puns, & life-learned lessons mixed in… but it’s also going to be dealing with some legitimate subject matter. Not just beer, pandas, horrible movies, crazy dreams and vacations. So if that’s not what you’re looking for in your life right now, I completely understand & suggest that you just move on to the next entry. You see, today would have been my dad’s 56th birthday. I saw would of course because he passed away just under four weeks ago in a sudden & unexpected way… as most people under the age of 75 do. With that in mind, I’m going to use this forum to just shed a little light on one of the greatest men that I’ve personally known & hopefully get a few things off my chest in the meantime.
I guess his story starts back about fifty-six years ago in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He was one of eight children. About the time that he was 8, they moved to beautiful Ogden, Utah and he grew up in this modest home (previously in this latest Christmas post) during his teenage years. In high school, he played baseball, basketball & football… but wasn’t really recruited as it was the late 70’s & there really wasn’t much prospects for scholarships, so he entered the Army. There he spent about three years in the service as Military Police, including a year stationed in Germany. He became an expert marksman & upon completion of his service, he because a sheriff deputy back home in Ogden& used his G.I. benefits towards an Engineering degree from Weber State College (now University, you may have heard of it now thanks to Damian Lillard). Along the way, he also met my mom, they married shortly after his return to the states, and a year or so later, their greatest achievement was born. Followed 15 months later by my baby brother. I know that’s a real quick summation of the first 22-23 years of his life but, hey, I didn’t really know him before that.
Obviously I don’t remember a whole lot until about the time my brother joined our family, but I remember our house in Ogden that we lived in from about that time until I was eight years old… and it was your standard reminiscent story. House with a porch, quiet neighborhood, neighbor kids you played with, little basketball hoop in the driveway, all that stuff. What I remember about my dad is him sleeping mostly, but never being too tired to play with us really. See, he worked the night shift as a county sheriff while my mom worked during the day… so he usually got home from a long day at work, right about the time my brother & I were getting up. He’d be there for breakfast, play a little bit, and then he usually took us to one of our aunts’ houses for free babysitting while he slept. Then when school started, we didn’t really need babysitters as much, so he slept while we went to school… and then we would see him at dinner as he’s on his way off to work. On his days off though, we barbecued, played hoops, went on hikes & adventures, rode bicycles, went to the gym to swim with him, all that stuff. He really liked working out & keeping in shape… and of course, being a police officer, he wanted to be at the top of his game… because that can totally mean the difference between life & death… and besides, it was good quality time with his sons while doing what he would have to do anyway. We totally dug it too.
An added bonus/deterrent of having a cop dad who slept during the day… was he would be the contact if something happened at school. Sure, if we did something bad, he was right there to intimidate & correct the behavior. More often than not though, he was kind of on our side. Once I was accused of cheating on a Math test… so they called in my dad… about two hours into his nap/sleep before work. He showed up, probably in a Harley Davidson, and the teacher explained the situation. He knew that I was pretty exceptional at math… so he looked at me quizzically, “Son, did you cheat?” No. To the teacher, “Why do you think he cheated?” She explained that I just had the answers & didn’t show my work. I often did the calculations in my head, so I didn’t show a lot of work (if any) on the paper. He waited a few seconds, “Is that it? Just that there isn’t anything else on the paper except the answers?” Yes. “Do you have another test handy or would you mind writing down a few problems?” After a few minutes, she wrote some algebra down… and it basically took me less time to answer it than for her to write it. To the teacher: “Are those correct?” Yes. “Son, show your work.” Okay. “Thank you, now I’m going to go get some f**king sleep before I’m up for twelve hours protecting the innocent” and he was off…
Another incident in the 3rd grade I think, we were cleaning up from break time & we had a substitute teacher. She told everybody to get to their seat, but a few of my friends & I had a board game out… so they went to their seat & I started cleaning up the game to put back on the shelf. Well, as I put it back on the shelf, the teacher grabbed a handful of my hair to pull me away… so I instinctively turned & punched her in the stomach. Well, needless to say, this was principal’s office material… and my dad was called in, probably with a message like “Your son $teve was in a fight… with a teacher” and he was just getting dressed for work… so he showed up in full regalia complete with full-holstered utility belt. The principal & teacher told him that I had punched her in the stomach, I explained that I was just cleaning up after myself& she basically dragged me by the hair (I was 8!). He looked at the teacher, “Is that true? Was he cleaning up?” Well… he was supposed to get to his seat. “But instead he was cleaning up his mess & helping you out in the process… and instead of saying thank you, you pulled him by his hair? Frankly, I’m not sure he was wrong for hitting you.” She started talking & he just kind of stared at her… then turned to me, “Son, don’t ever hit a woman… even if she’s a stupid c**t who would strike a child knowing full well the legal ramifications of her actions.” To the teacher & principal: “We’re done here… and if you ever touch my son again, I will make it look like an accident.” Okay, the exact wording is a little off… but the message was clear. He was a 6’7” athletic guy that looked like a Lorenzo Lamas with a moustache, aviator sunglasses, a cop uniform, brandishing firearms legally & usually had a German Shepherd for a sidekick. He was an 80’s action star… so you didn’t f**k with him or his family.
About the time that I was 13, my parents got divorced… and I just started junior high… and hitting puberty, so that’s a lot of sh*t for a kid to happen all at once. I had my rough patches… but my dad was having a rough patch himself. We had moved to a larger house when I was 8, so obviously there’s always financial troubles… but there was also a fatal road accident out in front of our house one 4th of July weekend during a barbecue (I was at another one) but he of course was right there & saw the driver die (after he kept calling him “Jesus” because of his long hair & beard at the time)… and then a few months later, during work, he had pulled a little girl out of a nearby reservoir… and apparently, he realized that he didn’t want to be a cop anymore. However, through all of the rough patches, my parents were always there for me. We never went wanting. If I needed somebody to talk to (or just cry at), they were there… and my dad was always willing to give sage-like advice (with wisecracks of course) and help out in any way that he could… even though I can’t even really imagine the hell that he must’ve been going through at the time. After they separated, my brother & I visited him at his apartment on weekends… but both of my parents remarried within about a year to great stepparents. Through high school, I lived with my mom… and my brother lived with my dad most of the time.
My dad started taking jobs in packing plants, substitute teaching, and eventually as the maintenance man at a call center where to this day, even though he hasn’t worked there in over a decade, people still ask me about him. He was great at what he did… and he was just so much happier doing it. He would sing whatever song was on his mind (thanks to KBER in SLC) while he walked through the halls & greeted people with a baritone “How you doin’?” Power drill in hand, singing “Silent Lucidity” or “Thunderstruck” or whatever to whoever would listen. It was a breath of fresh air that people needed in a fairly bland place like that… and people loved it. He was always kind, charismatic, energetic & most of all, dependable… which many people have told me are among my greatest qualities, so I’m pretty sure I picked up a LOT of that from him. Oh, I also started working at the call center as a summer job during high school & then full-time once I started college… so I got to see the man work. Everybody loved him there. He often told me it was 8 of the best years of his life… but eventually he had to move on, for a number of reasons… mostly an incompetent coworker who may have tried to kill him a few times, but it was just time.
I lived with my dad for about five years while I went to college (yes, I changed majors a few times) because I hadn’t seen much of him the few years before, it was convenient, and renting the basement was affordable on my budget. All in all, it was a great time. I usually had a cooked meal (leftovers) waiting for me after school & work, during weekends I would do homework and take breaks to watch football with my dad, we were getting to know each other a lot better than in years past, since he had an engineering degree he was able to help with a few concepts (though apparently a lot had changed in 25 years from when he got his degree), I was traveling the world a lot because of my job, and you know… I was in college… so good times were had. Sigh… everybody used to comment that I looked exactly like my dad… and I would pass it off as old people reminiscing… until they would show me a few pictures of him in his late teens/early twenties… and I looked EXACTLY like my dad… well, if he had Coke bottle glasses… I'll have to share those with you someday when I can scan them from wood carvings to jpeg.
About the time that I was 22, my dad was drinking more & more… and then it culminated when he basically ate nothing but Evan Williams whiskey for about two weeks… and after a few discussions on deaf ears, we basically had to call the paramedics to come get him & help clean him out. It was one of the hardest days… mostly because it was probably the day that my iconic image of my dad, this sweet, intelligent, athletic God among men… who had overcome everything from massive neck, back & knee surgeries to shootouts throughout his life with little to no problem… had quickly turned into a mumbling, enfeebled, naked man who couldn’t even bath himself because of an addiction to alcohol. On top of that, the morning that we finally called the paramedics, I was heading to the airport for a week-long trip to Miami with work… so I wasn’t even going to be there to help him. I mean… it’s probably better that way, especially the first few days that they’d basically be force feeding him or whatever but still… he would’ve been there for me… like he was when I was in my car wreck at 16. Well, I guess that was mostly my mom as I was living with her at the time, but he visited me in the hospital of course. I was there for him when I got back from the trip, but by then, he was rehydrated & just now realizing that alcohol was a major trigger for him… so I wouldn’t bring it up in front of him or anything. I didn’t really drink then anyway.
About a year or so after that, I was finishing up school & decided that it was time to move out on my own… at least to my own apartment where I could bring a girl to… you know, study or whatever. I still went to visit from time to time obviously… and he would always ask what the next step was for me. I was graduating soon… but he knew that I liked my job (especially back when I was traveling) and wanted to know what my goals were. He always had a very pragmatic & logical approach to things. When I was in school and wanted to be a professional basketball player, he was always like “Okay, you’re going to have to work really hard at it… but I believe in you. Just make sure that you’re getting A’s in school because you don’t want to pay 30% of that money to somebody else, right? Handle your own business, get educated, and that way if something happens, you’re not just a broken horse. You get to use your mind too.” He knew I was a Caucasian American… and I was under seven feet tall (by a good four inches). How many of them are in the NBA right now? Name me three! I dare you!!! But he knew that an education was key, maybe because of his own experiences growing up a little. Anyway, it was about that time that I told him my plans… and that it probably involved moving out of state. Though he was sad that we wouldn’t get to see each other as much, he wished me luck. So after that is when I started bouncing around the Western U.S. to places like Denver, Lake Tahoe & eventually here in San Francisco where I’ve been the past four years now (almost to the day). He helped me move when he could… and he was in his fifties. He came to visit the first year that I was here & we hit up a Utes game AND a Chiefs-Raiders game (Utes & Chiefs were his teams). Unfortunately he didn’t get to come out more than that because of financial troubles, even when I offered to fly him out. His health had started to deteriorate with various ailments, plus a knee replacement surgery, and medications aren’t exactly cheap in this country. However, he always maintained high spirits in front of me (and from what I understand, everybody else too).
This last Christmas, I spent a little time with him, mostly watching movies & helping with the radiator hose on his pickup (a 1979 Ford Ranger that his dad Grandpa Love bought off the showroom floor & he had spent the past few years restoring to its former glory). He mentioned a few times how proud of me he was… and that he missed me immensely. I told him the same in return. I missed him every day. I called him every week or so to catch up on this & that, mostly football and stuff like that because otherwise it was “Work is work… nothing unusual… how about you?” Occasionally he would tell me about a road trip on his Harley through the mountains of Utah with his buddy Charlie & that was his escape. We had a great Christmas with all of the family together, so that was fantastic… but he was obviously hurting. He had overcome a LOT of adversity and was still fighting… the most recent setback was a slipped disc that he suffered about two weeks before I went to visit, and he told me that it was like “an open root canal all the way up his leg” which… I can assume would be absolutely horrible.
Unfortunately, it just all seemed to come to a head that morning on December 28th and… well, he passed away. The man who always taught my brother & I (and anybody else who would listen) that “Pain is temporary. Glory is forever!” and to “Never give up, never surrender” like he was starring on Galaxy Quest years before it came out… his body had given in… quite suddenly & unexpectedly. Family& friends all came together to pay their respects & share stories… and I guess that’s kind of what I’m doing here too.
What I remember most about him… I guess… it’s that he was a man that didn’t want to hurt anybody unless they wronged another. He was an adamant protector, loving father & husband, craftsman, and just had a Passion for life that I hope to maintain in my own. Of course he wasn’t without his flaws, but who among us is without them? Basically, he’s a man who worked hard, played hard, lived hard & loved hard… so I guess it only makes sense that he died hard (“Yippee ki-yay, mutha f**ka!!!”) and it’s going to be hard for the rest of us left behind to overcome it. I’m not sure if it has really hit home for me yet… but I’m told it comes in waves & you really won’t see it coming usually… but hey, I’ll be prepared, I guess. What else can you do? My dad is gone. Period. He ain’t coming back. On paper, I totally get it. That’s what happens when people die. Then again, a few months from now, I’ll have to head back to Utah to help clean up his house & stumble upon something that triggers a fit… or next Christmas somebody will say something… whatever, it all happens. The important thing is to remember the lessons that he taught me, even the ones that he didn’t know he was teaching by leading by example… even if that example is what NOT to do sometimes. Everybody copes in their own way… but one thing’s for sure… I’m going to miss you, Dad. Happy birthday!
So, my brother Kiel and my buddy C-Rock are coming to town this weekend to hit up the sights & sounds of the Bay Area… and also bring me my PS4 so that I can start playing that. It’s their first time coming to the Bay in a few years… and I have no idea what they’ll want to do… so hopefully they came prepared. Worst case scenario, we’ll have a few video games, movies & a sh*t ton of homebrew… so until then, have a great weekend everybody!!!

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