No Blue Monday post today. It doesn’t seem appropriate.
Early last Friday morning, my Dad passed away. He was 94. A few weeks ago, he came down with an acute gall bladder blockage and infection; they operated, removed his gall bladder and some stones, but the surgery weakened him badly. Pneumonia followed and last Friday, at 4:30AM, he faded peacefully away in his sleep.
I will not mourn my Dad. He wouldn’t have wanted that. He would have wanted us to remember the man he was, to remember all the lessons he passed on to his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. He would have wanted us all to move ahead, to look to our futures, to our work, to our families. He would have wanted us to remember how lucky we were to have shared our lives with him for so long.
So, this morning, I’ll tell you what kind of man he was, because he is the reason I am the man I am.
In summary: Dad was the finest man I’ve ever known.
Dad was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1923. He grew up on a small farm until he was 16, when my Grandpa took a job as a Ford mechanic in Cedar Rapids. He met my Mom when he was 13 and she was 8, at the wedding of Dad’s older brother to Mom’s older sister. Mom and Dad were happily married for 71 years.
Like most of his generation, Dad served in World War 2, a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps, a navigator in B-25s before making the transition to B-29s, a transition he was still making at war’s end. His father had served in World War I and I served in the late Cold War years, including in the first Gulf War; Dad was very proud of our three generations of service. He spent the rest of his life navigating the way forward for our family.
When he came home from the war, he took up a small farm near Independence, Iowa. He and Mom were married in March of 1947 and started a family that was to include my three sisters, my brother
and myself. They farmed near Independence for only a few years before moving to a larger farm near Fairbanks, where they stayed until 1965. At that time Dad was climbing the ladder at the John Deere works in Waterloo and couldn’t see the logic in trying to keep a big farm going on top of a full-time job, so they moved to a house in Cedar Falls.
Living in town appealed to neither of my parents, so after a few years they bought 60 acres of timber in Allamakee County and built what I have always considered my childhood home there. One of the Bear Creek homestead’s primary appeals was also its weakness, that
being Bear Creek itself, a beautiful trout stream that ran only steps from the front door. After the floods of 2007 and 2008, Dad was 85, and determined that he could no longer rebuild after such damage, so they moved again to a house in Cedar Falls, where Dad spent the rest of his life.
Dad was a farmer, a quality engineer for a major manufacturer, and an artist of some renown who for years had his own space in the Iowa State Capitol where one of his paintings always was on display. More important, he was a good husband, a wonderful father and grandfather, an old-fashioned country gentleman, one of the finest wingshots I’ve ever seen, a self-educated man conversant in subjects from particle physics to paleoanthropology to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. He was a wise man, a fine man.
That’s the what. But more important is the who, and I’ll tell you about that by passing on some of the bits of wisdom he gifted to me over the years:
- Work comes first.
- Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
- A man takes care of his family first, then himself.
- There are no lousy jobs, just lousy people.
Dad taught me how to find my way in the woods, how to fish, how to shoot, how to do so many things I couldn’t possibly list them all.
More important, he taught me how to be a man, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. One day I hope I’ll be as good at those things as he was.
Now he’s gone, but his family, in accordance with his wishes, will pick up and move on. We will look to our futures – even Mom, who will be 90 in October. We will all miss him, but we will all feel gifted, knowing we are better people because of him.
I’ll spent the rest of my life trying to live up to him. I have to – because, now, I’m the Old Man.