I’d like to think that one of my bravest moments happened ten years ago this week, when I stood behind the microphone at my dad’s funeral with a lump in my throat and my heart pounding in my chest. His passing will always be a defining moment in my life, which is probably why I talk about it as much as I do. In February of 2007, before hundreds of family and friends, this is an excerpt of what I said:
. . . I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do him justice, but I’m going to try. A lot of you know, as he does, that I wouldn’t let an opportunity go by without telling people what I think about something.
He was a patient person, which made him a good dad. I was out mowing the lawn one time and I ran over the barbed wire fence that was tangled in the weeds. I went in the house and told him what happened, and he said ‘Okay’ and came out and fixed it for me so I could finish. He took the time to show us how things work, and tell us why he did things the way he did. I never heard him say “Just let me do it.”
The maddest I ever saw him was when he would stub his toe. He’d yell out ‘Dammit you kids, there’s always so much stuff laying around.’ Yeah, Dad, sorry we left that doorway there.
When we were little our favorite thing was for him to be on his hands and knees so we could ride him around like a horse. And he let me sit on top of the recliner while he ate popcorn and put barrettes in his hair.
He loved hugs. He loved to hug more than anyone I know, and as a result we all love hugs. Even when I didn’t know how much I needed it, he did.
He wasn’t afraid of anything, and he was so tough. He did typical dad things like get rid of spiders that were dangling above my bed, take out the occasional bat that let itself into the house.
When the weatherman said take cover in the basement immediately, he went walking down the driveway to take a closer look. He ate burritos out of the car trunks of people selling them on the roadside in Laredo. He walked in the house one time after a chunk of his thumb got taken out in a piece of machinery, and he said “Maybe you should call somebody.”
He didn’t want us to be afraid of anything, either.
He would roll up some money in his hand, and tell us we could have whatever was in his hand if we would eat something we said we didn’t like, such as a bowl of coleslaw, or a Subway sandwich with everything on it. When we said no, he revealed a hundred dollar bill. Every time.
He thought it was important that we were comfortable around animals. We grew up with cows, pigs, a horse, mules, dogs, cats, ducks, geese, chickens, turkeys, guineas, and pheasants, and whatever else wandered into our yard. He would tell us what he thought the animals were saying when they’d bump into us or make noise. He taught us to feed the mules sugar cubes with open palms, because they might bite our fingers off, which wouldn’t be their fault.
Everyone knows he was funny, and that’s an understatement. He liked to tell funny stories, and have fun wherever he was. We were all eating breakfast at a hotel restaurant one morning. As the waiter stood near, Dad reached around a 4-year old Adam and stuck a wet finger in his ear. Adam got wide-eyed and looked at the waiter and said ‘Hey, he gave me a wet willy!’ He loves that story.
One of his favorite things to do as a family was go grocery shopping, and he told everyone that Hy-Vee was his favorite store. He said it was the only way to get mom to buy what he wanted. He enjoyed putting groceries in other people’s carts and watching them be confused at the registers.
On Sundays he liked to drive through the car lots when no salespeople were there to bother him. One time we backed our van into a vacant spot and giggled as people drove past, interested in our car until they realized we were sitting in it laughing at them.
When he went through the drive-thru he would ask in a Jeff Foxworthy voice “Can I have an apple turnover?”, and then tell them he’d like his order to go.
When Jesse finally came down to meet my family, he brought me flowers, which I promptly went to show my dad. Jesse walked in behind me and my dad asked very plainly, ‘Where’s mine?’ After we decided to get married Dad told me he needed a 10-year guarantee on my marriage or he wanted his money back, and after that it was pro-rated. I thought he was kidding, but he probably wasn’t.
I called him to say there was a tornado 12 miles north of Albert Lea, and he said ‘well, we’re 14, so we’re okay.’
He did not like Regis Philbin, because he had so much work done and his face doesn’t move when he talks. He enjoyed movies with John Candy, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, and John Travolta. He does not like to watch movies that he has already seen.
We used to come home with movies and say ‘Dad, this movie is so funny, you have to watch this.’ As soon as the 20th Century Fox logo would come up he would start laughing hysterically. We would say ‘That’s not the funny part, Dad’. Then he says ‘Oh, I’m just warming up.’
He liked waking up early in the morning because he said no one had a chance to screw up his day yet.
He could whistle like no one else I know. I could hear him when I was mowing lawn across the yard with headphones on. And he always made a point of whistling at me if he knew I made a point of looking nice.
In a truck stop he met that farm boy from Wyoming who beat the unbeatable Russians and won an Olympic Gold in wrestling. He thanked him for representing our country so well. He was pretty excited about that.
He loved sitting in the hot tub, and would often fall asleep. He’d be snoring in the corner, and then you’d find his swim trunks lying on the floor. Yikes!
He wanted to move somewhere different every January and rent an apartment just for that month, so he could be a local all over the world. He said Mom could go if she wanted, it was up to her.
He loved telling people about our farm, particularly the barn and the house. The barn was ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalog and put up in 1907, and he wanted to restore it now that it’s 100 years old. He loved to tell everyone about the kitchen, and how we designed it together and the wood came from the grove. There’s a spot on one side where you can see the buckshot the original kids here used as target practice.
He loved my mom, and their example of marriage left me believing almost unrealistically about how good it can be. He said he could always remember mom’s anniversary because it was the same day as his. He introduced us kids as his favorite daughter, favorite oldest boy, and favorite youngest boy.
Losing my parents has always been my biggest fear, and I guess now I’m only half as afraid. There will never be anyone like him. There are six uncles who will remind us of him, and three kids who will try their hardest to live up to his name.