About My Dad
Those That Are Gone
Lately, I have been reminded that life is fleeting and death is all around us. There have been a few such deaths in the neighborhood recently. A mother with children, a grandfather who still had a lot to give.These are people who suffered through long illnesses but left this earth way too early in life. I did not know either of them very well, but enough to get me thinking. Thinking about my father. He died a few years back at the age of 70. He also still had a lot to give but on the other hand, his death was sudden and so he did not suffer. My uncle had died a few months earlier and as I sat at his funeral and listened to his son give that eulogy, I knew that one day it would be my turn. Unfortunately, that day was sooner than I expected.
Talking About My Dad
I prepared my remarks with great care and read them over and over again. Then, when the time came, I walked up to the front of that church and delivered these words about my dad . . .
It was just a few weeks ago that I was sitting in this church, right there in the front row, listening to my cousin talk about his dad. I'm feeling a bit like Jogi Berra - “it’s like daja vue all over again.” Listening to Jeff got me thinking about a lot of things, dads and sons, grandfathers and grandsons, and their relationships – me and my dad. I also found myself thinking that some day, I would need to get up here and do this – I wondered if I could and what I would say. I am often called upon to speak to groups of people; it is part of my job – but this, in front of all of you talking about him – that is truly terrifying. Of course, I wasn't expecting it to be quite this soon.
I think fathers are everything to a child, especially to a boy, that was certainly the case with me. . . . and emotionally, I mean everything - sort of like that Clint Eastwood movie, “the Good the Bad and the Ugly.” You worship them, emulate them – they are teachers, mentors and role models . . . . but as you grow older . . . . fathers change . . . . you start to wonder if they’re crazy; they seem stubborn, old fashioned, not really with-it . . . if you know what I mean . . . . sometimes, they can be down right embarrassing! They get knocked off that pedestal you had put them on . . . . but then as you grow even older and have kids of your own, and you see your dad interacting with your boys, you get that sense, again, of his greatness.
When I was very small, between one and two years old, some neighbor boys came over to our house – I think it was after dinner – and they knocked on the door and my mom answered and they said – “can Dean and Bruce come out and play?” Now you know those boys really didn't come over to play with me. That, in a nutshell, sums-up my dad. We've all heard the term superdad or supermom – it describes the crazy things parents do for their kids these days. It is not, however, a term usually associated with past generations of parents. I can tell you with all honesty that my dad might have been the first superdad – long before anyone came up with that term. Heck, he wasn't just my dad, he was a part time dad to half of my friends, to neighborhood kids, cousins, anyone he coached, taught, or chaperoned on countless different activities ranging from coaching baseball to X-Mass caroling with the Luther League – and this included many kids I never even knew (I know my Uncle Chuck understands what I’m talking about, because there was a time when my father was a part time dad to him to) . . . . and even to this day he still fills the role . . . . I just heard that the little girl who lives next to my parents has volunteered to come over and take down the flag in my dad’s absence. So you see, he never really stopped being a superdad. If it takes a village to raise a child, then in my dad was embodied about half of a town.
There are really two things that I always admired about my father. The first was his ability to do things. He was talented - really a jack-of-all trades. Sometimes learned, usually self-taught and with some trial and error, my father seemed to be able to master most things he set out to accomplish. I was often amazed at how he could keep a piece of machinery running on a cheese packaging line with a little elbow grease and a lot of perseverance. Maybe you remember the ice storm – the day after - my dad was down on main street, up a pole helping restore utility service; later in life, I think he just decided one day to go into gardening and now everyone knows about his gardening talents – I don’t know where they came from, but he had them. Late in her life, I could see a real glimmer in my Grandma’s eyes when he and Pat walked around her garden talking shop. No matter what my father did, be it an important project like putting on a summer frolic or running a convention or simple jobs like picking up a load of cheese or driving a car from out of state to the Chevy dealer, he treated each as equally important and made sure the job got done right. When it came to athletics he was equally talented . . . in any sport he touched he was golden.
The other thing I admired about him was his natural talent with people. He could strike up a conversation with friends and strangers alike and a person would be instantly at ease in his presence as if he had known them all his life. That ease seemed to cross race, gender, social status and generations - seemed to have no bounds. Of course my dad loved to tell a joke, preferably about Lena and Ole and of course he love to tell stories. His jokes generally weren't very funny and by the time you heard the same joke for the third or fourth time, they really weren't funny. His stories, on the other hand where generally interesting, at least the first time. Every now and then, I catch myself telling some story to my boys and they remind me that I already told them that and I have to laugh and think of my dad. One of the last jobs he had was driving people to work after they dropped their car off for service . . . imagine my father, with a captive audience (those unsuspecting passengers) – perfect.
If I had to describe my dad in one or two words, I would say he was an every-man – he was really an average guy living and average life. He seemed very content in that role and, if fact, I think he relished it. I think he was much happier working on a line or driving a truck then he was sitting in an office or attending some board meeting. I think he felt more comfortable wearing a work shirt with the name “Dean” on it then wearing a suite and tie. I think he was often a reluctant boss but a happy worker. I think he was also much happier spending time with his kids then hanging out with the guys. My dad and I used to go on an annual fishing trip and one time I asked him why he didn't go fishing with his buddies anymore. He said, he thought it would be much more enjoyable going with me instead of them. When I was about 12, he bought two season tickets to Badger basketball games. His sole reason for buying the tickets was so that he and I could go to the games together. It was really the simple things like these that he enjoyed and much of those times where spent with his kids . . . rowing in a canoe, sitting at a ball game, pulling plaster off a basement wall, picking up a truck full of sand for the sandbox, planting some bushes. Would you believe the highlight of my son Sam’s visit to Grandpa’s house could be watering the tomatoes? Only Grandpa’s could make that seem like fun.
My dad was not a man of great intellect or intelligence nor was he born with wealth or vast resources. In fact, he had a bit of rough start. There were some curves thrown at him in his childhood that no kid should have to go through. Yet he had a natural optimism that must have pulled him through those times . . . and times did get better. I know he admired his father a great deal and had a special place in his heart for his Grandparents. I truly believe that his Grandparents may have saved his life. Besides them, he admired a lot of people, some that he knew and others that he knew of. He had many role models and many mentors and he also had many natural talents and as I mentioned before, was a gifted athlete. He used all of these resources to pull himself up, make a life for himself and become a successful man . . . and to make up for any weaknesses that he might have had, well he got married. I don’t know if he married my mom for her brains or beauty – for I know she had an abundance of both and he didn't have much of either.
I've already described my dad the ‘superdad’ but there is something else he was for me personally. For me my dad was my connection to the past, to my past. He was my connection to ancestors, living and dead . . . . and not just from his family but also my mom’s. He seemed to know as much about her history as his own and I truly soaked it up. Perhaps the tales where somewhat embellished, maybe a bit of exaggeration but that’s what made them so interesting. I will miss the stories of the likes of Spike Peterson the wrestler and Double Shot Charlie Goldner with his seat on the Chicago Board of Trade and his demise during the depression, and all of the other crazy relatives that, sometimes, make me wonder how I actually got here. I especially liked the stories of things he did and places he went when he was young, like the time his Grandfather took him to Comiskey Park to the all star game, or the time his father took him to Chicago to get him a job (needles to say, that trip didn't quite work out as anticipated and both he and his dad where in the dog house with Grandma for some time) and he may have had a bit of that crazy ancestry in him – you know he ran off and joined the navy because he was having a fight with his parents.
He gave places a sense of importance to me. If I was playing basketball in some old gym somewhere, he would tell me about the game he played there many years before or the guy he played against who’s kid I was now playing against. There was always a connection . . . a thread of history running through every thing and running from him to me. He had a way of grounding a boy in their own existence and making you proud of who you were and where you came from. I was not old enough to ever remember people like my Great Grandfather but I know them through my dad.
It seems that every generation looks at the previous one with some admiration and wonder – we say things like – "they don’t make them like that anymore", "they set the standard" and "those days are gone forever." Those words ring as true today with my Dad’s and my Uncle Bud’s generations as they have since they were first uttered. They really don’t make them like that anymore!
It is also true that in this country, each generation becomes more successful then the last –better educated, wealthier, materially more successful. But are those the best measurements of success? As I look at my dad’s life, I have to say that he reached a level of success that should be the envy of most of us. All you have to do is look at the family sitting in the front of this church, and look at those grandchildren and you see the meaning of success, you see his legacy. My only regret today, is that most of those grandchildren will not remember that much about him or be able to experience him first hand, because, like those ancestors he loved to tell me about, he too is a bit of a character, best experienced first hand. I only hope that I, that we, can tell them the stories.
Dad, I will miss you . . .
June 21, 2006