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Words about my father

Friday, May 29, 2015

I had the pleasure of sharing at my fathers memorial service last Saturday. It was an exhausting task to gather and orchestrate my thoughts on a this man... my father. He had a profound impact on so many lives. I miss his voice.    

Thank you all for coming here to celebrate the life of a really great man. He was a special part of so many lives and we will all miss him for our own unique reasons… but also for a lot of the same reasons. A few weeks ago my sister started gathering stories and memories from friends and family. It has been a pleasure reading through those notes, and (as it turns out) all of you loved my dad for many of the same reasons that I did.

His bright smile, his encouraging words, his booming laughter, his passion for life, his commitment to his family and friends and his wonderfully engaging personality. As one neighbor said “He had the ability to be the life of the party without being the center of attention.”

Our dad had a delightful curiosity about people. He struck up conversations everywhere he went. With new and old friends, with family, co-workers, janitors, bikers at the oyster bar, nurses, DMV attendants, waitress’, mechanics, high school boyfriends, traveling salesmen, soccer coaches, customers at the soup kitchen, youth leaders, museum curators, conference speakers, cruise boat captains, loan recipients in Rwanda, chefs, teachers, and on and on…

He genuinely liked people. He liked all of you. He liked our quirks, our pride, our frailty, our confusion, our brokenness, our humor, our success, and our failures. He had a gift for connecting with people and bringing out the best in them. He also understood the commonality between seemingly very different people… We all have stories – and they shape our lives.

My dad’s story started in December of 1946 in Rochester New York. His father Herbert, mother Margaret, and sister Ellen welcomed him into their lives on what I imagine was a very cold day. He spent his childhood and youth in Marysville, Ohio – shooting arrows, catching frogs, playing sports and teasing his sister.  He had a pet skunk named Rosie. She was rescued by the town surgeon, Doc Samsel. John and his friend Jim Samsel assisted in the surgery to remove her stink glands. At age 14, he eagerly applied for a job at the local cemetery as a gravedigger. After an “initiation” he was hired on as part of the crew. After high school he went on to study business at Ohio University. In his second year of college he lost his father to a sudden heart attack. following college he joined the Navy Reserves. Shortly after that, his mother remarried. Dad gained a step-sister, named Ellen Dodge - whom he affectionately referred to as his “other sister Ellen.”

Dad later began his career in sales with Union 76. He met my beautiful mother in 1972 and in 1975 they married. Our family started growing in 1980 when I was born in Elgin, IL. A few years later, my sister Maggie was born in Pittsburg, PA. We spent our formative years in St. Charles, Illinois and later years in Houston, Texas. My sister and I both attended college in Texas and then we met and married wonderful men. Together we brought five beautiful grandchildren into this world. My parents adore them. In 2013 they moved to Keowee Key fulfilling their life long dream of “living in the Carolinas”. They’d never been happier.  

My parents facilitated a beautiful childhood for us. They were a great pair. We felt their love for us and for each other. Our home was filled with good humor, delicious food, and welcomed company. Both of my parents are curious learners.  Maybe more than learning my dad loved to teach. He would write notes on napkins at the dinner table, explain concepts while driving, and make small talk about the things he was learning.

Growing up we took wonderful family vacations to beautiful places like Glacier, Yellowstone, Arcadia, The Gulf Coast, The East Coast, Badlands, Gunnison, Grand Tetons, The Blue Ridge Mountains, The White Mountains… we almost always drove. My mom would caution at the beginning of those LONG road trips, “We hope for quality time, but know it will be quantity time, so let’s all get along.” For me, family road trips were perhaps the most transformative aspects of my childhood. On those trips, my sister and I became acutely aware of our fathers deep love for the great outdoors. Being in nature and sharing it with us, was something that clearly gave him life.

My dad loved fishing, hiking, kayaking, biking, he enjoyed all aspects of nature. He was and a strong and masculine outdoorsman. But he also had an incredibly tender side. He was never too proud to cry or express his feelings. Now (as a mother, and a wife) that characteristic has come to be one of the things I value most about my father. Consequently, my sister and I both married men that are much like our father in that regard.
My dad’s ability to be vulnerable in the final months of his life, made his untimely death a bit easier for all of us to process and accept.

In the book of James it says “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

In times like these, when we are sharing about our “dearly departed”, we tend to leave out the trials and share only the best part of their stories. In doing that, we fail to acknowledge how critical struggle is to the human experience. How much it shapes our lives and develops our stories.

My dad (like all of us) faced his share of trials. There were challenging seasons of self-doubt, disappointment, unfulfilled dreams, marital discord, spiritual doubt, and ultimately he succumbed to a disease that destroyed his mind and body. Even still, in the final months of his life, he was able to attest (with enthusiasm) to the goodness of our God. I can almost hear his voice “It is just astounding Liz - we are so incredibly blessed”

My dad understood (from years of engaging with very different people) that trials and tribulations are part of the journey. He wasn’t bitter or angry about the misfortune of glioblastoma. He chose (right up until his death) to share his life in a way that impacted others. To gently guide us, with humor and kindness, towards the goodness and beauty on this earth. Knowing my fathers passion for life - it was a strange blessing to witness his acceptance of death. He welcomed it with dignity and grace.

1 Peter 5:10 says “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

My dad is restored.
He is strong firm and steadfast.
His joy on earth did not go unseen
and his suffering was not in vain.
His life was a blessing to all of us
and we will miss him for the rest of our lives.

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