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Goodbye Dad

January 11, 2008 Site Info, Travel 35 Comments

Mom&Dad_1 About 90 minutes into 2008 we got the call from the hospital, my Dad went into “code blue.” My Dad, 78, passed as my brother and I arrived. I got to Oklahoma City the afternoon of the 31st and was able to spend a couple of hours there in the hospital with him. He never recovered from surgery on the 12th of December and although his vital signs were up and down daily it was becoming clearer that he would not recover. I think he was waiting for me to arrive and say goodbye before he checked out.

While I had time to prepare myself for this natural ending I was not prepared to see my father, always a tough man, very thin with so many tubes and such. He was unable to open his eyes or speak. Perhaps he didn’t know I was even there? I talked anyway knowing his mind was stronger than his body. His time suffering in the hospital was over. They had tried to resuscitate him as he had not signed anything indicating otherwise. Even though, had they been able to keep him alive they’d have done additional damage in doing so.

Regular readers will recall that I started this blog on October 31st 2004 after my Dad had a massive heart attack on October 1st, 2004. He was hospitalized most of that month. We were fortunate that a CPR instructor had missed the highway exit he originally wanted so that he was there to see my Dad’s van cross three lanes of traffic on a side road as he had his heart attack. This stranger kept him alive until paramedics arrived. It was not his time.
Following my mom’s passing in late June 2006 (see post) my dad was eager to begin remodeling their home, the only home I’d ever known. My two older brothers had lived in other houses but not me. Nearly every room got painted, new flooring went down and my old bedroom became an office complete with a reused set of French doors my Dad had been saving for a few years for just that task.

My Dad was always a hard worker. He spent the bulk of his working life (50+ years) as a carpenter after starting off as a truck driver for a local produce distributor in Western Oklahoma. At the height of his carpentry career things took a quick turn for the worse. My oldest brother, not quite 17 when I was born, explains from a testimonial he wrote for the services:

Our lives changed dramatically on a Friday evening in July 1967 as we were returning from work when a car crossed the centerline and hit us head on. Dad’s leg was crushed so badly that the doctors were ready to amputate his leg or at least fuse his ankle from movement if the leg could be saved. Dad, determined and stubborn as ever told the doctors that he would hobble out of the hospital if they tried either option. His livelihood depended on use of his leg and he demanded that they fix it so he could walk and climb ladders. Dad was unable to return to carpentry work for almost a year, which left it to me to keep his business going. I tried to sell my car and even quit school to help out, but dad wouldn’t have any part of it. He would not let me jeopardize my future, even if times were hard. Dad worked at a lumberyard in a cast, returning to working long before he should have to support his family.

Here are a couple of images of the van after it has been towed the few blocks back to our house.
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My brother had turned 17 the month prior and my Dad had just celebrated his 38th birthday. My brother hit is head on the windshield, giving him many cuts from the glass. I’m told that when my Mom got the call she grabbed my other brother, then 7, and me, less than five months old, and we headed in the Plymouth Valiant to the scene less than a half mile away. When my Mom saw my brother covered in blood she nearly passed out. The ambulance driver, Vondel Smith, grabbed me and my 7-year old brother from my mom. Smith was a funeral director but at that time in Oklahoma City they drove ambulances, a conflict of interest if you ask me. Once my oldest brother was cleaned up and bandaged he was OK (well, except for that high school photo with almost no hair — in the 1960s). My Dad, as the above indicated, was not doing too well. The rest of his life he visited a chiropractor.

Vondel Smith, the funeral director that held me during this time later built a new home at some point in the late 1970s. My Dad did the outside carpentry trim and I was there to help out. Services for both my parents were held at his funeral home, now run by his sons.

The red Valiant, parked next to the van in the above photo, was my Mom’s favorite car. I think it was a 1963 — it had been a dealer demonstrator model. About a year or so after the accident with the van my Dad was taking me somewhere. A driver ran a red light and plowed into the passenger side of the vehicle. So I was still in diapers at this time and interestingly enough in a car seat. Well, what qualified as a car seat in those days. The home builder my Dad worked for over many decades, Dean and his wife Virginia, had purchased this car seat for use with me. I was bundled to it but it simply sat on the front seat of the car. The impact of the other driver caused our car to spin, hitting another car and smashing out the rear window. After coming to a stop my Dad looked to his right to check on me and I wasn’t there — the car seat and me had landed in the back seat among all the broken glass. I was fine. Mom’s favorite car, however, was not. For many years later my Mom would tease my Dad about wrecking her car.

From my oldest brother again:

My dad was undoubtedly the most honest and ethical person I have ever known. Of the countless examples, I remember several occasions after I started working with Dad related to working on difficult jobs during inclement weather. Dad was performing this particular job on an hourly basis for his time and mine. We were working in absolutely miserable weather and while we were making progress on the job, it was much slower than normal. Even though working was extremely difficult under these conditions, Dad would not charge the man for all of the hours, because were not accomplishing what we could have in ideal conditions. My dad could not cheat someone if his life depended on it and I will always remember that trait in him.

Dad took such pride in doing things that others deemed too hard and could then make it look easy. I knew that he worked extra hard on many details and even though he was incredibly smart and capable; he loved it when things were hard, difficult, and complicated. He stood out from all others in this regard, in my estimation.

And he would do all sorts of projects. My other brother describes one incident on the way home after work one summer day:

We crossed 89th Street and my dad began honking at the car in front of us, which happened to be a black and white. He kept honking until he successfully pulled the police car over. When the officer got out to inquire as to the problem, my dad pointed out that the exhaust was dragging the ground, and that he would have him fixed up in a jiffy. While the law officer and this young boy stood wide eyed with our jaws hanging down, dad commenced to slide under the car, on the dirty shoulder, and use bailing wire to secure the tail pipe before instructing the officer to get it checked at the mechanic and then sending him on his way after the officer answered, “yes sir”.

Yes, my Dad stopped, and then repaired, a police car on the side of the road. He swapped engines in another van as well as in a Ford Fairmont Future that I had in high school. He built countless projects around the house as well, like the alligator bird feeder he carved out of a piece of old wood:

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Dad’s great-grandson, my great-nephew, was running around the back yard after the services but always coming back to the alligator. Or was it a crocodile? The little one thinks it is a dinosaur. My oldest brother got this handiwork, where you put the bird feed in the mouth, for his backyard in Northern California. They named him Irwin after Steve Irwin.

Dad was always willing to drive up to St. Louis, with or without my Mom, to help me out with a project. His work exists in several properties in St. Louis in addition to the many in Oklahoma. After 40 years of having a very skilled carpenter around, I’m going to have to learn how to do some things for myself.

Every time my folks would visit me my Dad would joke about one of his favorite things about St. Louis — that the buildings were older than him. Born in 1929, in a small town in Texas, he had an older step-brother and over many years six younger siblings. They grew up in a very poor area of Western Oklahoma during the Depression and dust bowl days. Of the eight, he was the second to pass.

Being 17 years younger than my older brother meant we had very different parents. On one hand, the older two had broken them in a bit but on the other they got set in their ways. While I was never the good carpenter’s assistant my two older brothers were, I was the one that my Dad would talk to about projects he was working on. We’d sit and talk about what he was trying to do (such as a new lake cabin, an addition to a home, etc…) and I’d sketch out ideas. We disagreed as much as we agreed. Mom would
yell in from the other room, “Stop arguing in there.” Dad and I would respond, in unison, “We’re not arguing, we’re discussing.” We’d then resume bantering back and forth over whatever it was we had been debating. This routine became a running joke.

My Dad was not a religious person but he proved that you didn’t have to go to church to be a good person. He demonstrated, on a daily basis, that hard work and attention to detail was very important to doing a good and lasting job — regardless of the task. I hold this close today and try to follow his example. As you can imagine there are so many stories of a personal nature, not really appropriate to share here.

The day after the services my brothers and I were in the house. Two of us were flying out of town in a couple of days and we wanted to remove those items that held special memories for us. As we and other relatives poured through closets, cupboards and under-bed boxes we shared memories. Some of the stories told were the first time I had ever heard them, being so much younger. Old photos brought up good and bad times. Neighbors, some since day one, stopped by to share more memories.

In all of this I realized that not only did I lose my Dad but that now both parents have passed. I stopped at a good place to have a cry, the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial.

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While I still have numerous relatives in Oklahoma City my strong connection is now gone. Facing the fact that our family home will be cleared of all our possessions and that it will be sold, I suddenly realized that St. Louis is my home. Yes, I’ve lived here for nearly 18 years now but “home” was always back with Mom & Dad — in my old room with that dated furniture and so on.

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I’m trying to simplify the “things” in my life but I did ship back a few boxes of items such as a few bowls my Mom had used my entire life. One, I recall, was the one she’d use to mix cake batter. I’d sit on the kitchen floor and clean out the bowl of every last bit of cake batter. Yeah, uncooked eggs and all. I rode my bicycle all over the place without a helmet too. I got one of my Dad’s old hammers as well as his well worn carpenter’s folding rule. Old report cards and class pictures are now something I need to scan and save. I like the pictures of me prior to getting my big 1980s glasses. Like when I was around age 5 (at right).

Goodbye Dad, goodbye Mom.  Thank you for the wonderful life lessons and all the memories.  Thank you to all of you reading for allowing me to take this time and space to stroll down memory lane.   – Steve


 

Currently there are "35 comments" on this Article:

  1. Margie says:

    Steve, What a lovely tribute to your dad. I confess that I don’t always read your longer posts all the way through (especially those with planning jargon or acronyms!), but I appreciated every word of this one. I’m only sorry that I never got to meet your dad, who was clearly an amazing person and a wonderful force in shaping who you are and will continue to become. He may be gone, but he lives on in your sense of right and wrong, and your willingness to do the right thing. Thank you so much for sharing this set of memories and for continuing to address important issues while you were dealing with all of this. Welcome home.

     
  2. Bridgett says:

    That was beautifully written.

     
  3. a.t. says:

    I am very sorry for your loss. Interesting, the things I have that remind me most of my mother (who has also passed) was her favorite mixing bowl and rolling pin which I still use………

     
  4. MS says:

    …. but the best tribute of all to your father – without a doubt – the best tribute – is his best work of all — his children and more specifically you, with an endless dedication to improve all our lives.

     
  5. rl'e says:

    Dear Steve,
    My sympathy to you and your family for your loss.

    I agree with what the others have said, what a wonderful tribute.

    I don’t think any parent would ask for more from their children than to go out into the world and try to make it a better place, a tribute one can make everyday.

    Sincerely,

    RL’E

     
  6. Mike says:

    Steve, I’m really sorry to hear of your loss. You’ve once again given this reader an important lesson on paying attention to things in life I have a tendency to overlook. I’m planning on setting a date to hang out with my dad in the near future after your beautifully written tribute to your dad.

     
  7. John V says:

    Steve

    Sorry for your loss……the part that struck a chord in me was that your dad was “always a tough man……” I’m sure we all feel the same way about our dads. Its tough to let go, but your memories will carry you through.

    jv

     
  8. barbara_on_19th says:

    Steve, I’m so sorry to hear about this. After reading this, I’m going to call my dad and catch up. Our family also had that old Ford Econoline with the mono-brakes, and an old Ford Fairmont as well. My dad is completely versed in that old art of swapping out the engines with cherry picker. My deepest sympathies on your loss.

     
  9. Matt says:

    Steve–

    That was a beautiful, dignified response to your loss. Thank you for sharing. Michael and I wish you our deepest sympathies. Sincerely, Matt

     
  10. john says:

    It is a lane we all must travel. With sympathy and best wishes, john.

     
  11. Dole says:

    Steve, Your father sounded like a wonderful man. I am sorry to hear of your loss.

     
  12. Dan says:

    Wonderfully written, and I’m certain he was drew great joy in his later years from seeing how his children turned out.

     
  13. dude says:

    Sorry the loss Steve. I can see why you’re opposed to automobile traffic.

     
  14. Adam says:

    my condolences, steve. your parents certainly did good by you. and we’re lucky to have you in STL.

     
  15. Dan Icolari says:

    An amazing testimony and tribute. Thanks, Steve.

     
  16. Lyda Krewson says:

    Steve…

    I am so sorry for your loss… I know this is a painful time.

    The Tribute to your Dad is beautiful, thoughtful and very touching!

    From your account of him I would say you got a lot of his great qualities. Like all parents… I know they are very proud of you !

    Fondly… Lyda

     
  17. constant change says:

    That was a very nice stroll. Thank You for letting us read.

    workin’ man about the craft …
    selfless, intelligent, Dad, indeed …
    a well worn carpenter’s folding rule …
    alas, a dying breed …

    Sounds like he was a good man, Steve. My condolences to you and your family.

     
  18. Scooterjo says:

    Steve

    What a loving tribute to your father. He sounds like he was a mensch.

    Thank you for sharing a bit of your dad with us.

    MJ

     
  19. Dionna says:

    Steve-
    This is such a nice series of stories of your father and mother and of growing up.
    I feel really honored to have met both of your parents, and your father on a few occasions-
    I always told you how sweet and cute I thought he was, and I always told him how incredibly cool
    it was for him to drive up herefrom Oklahoma and help you out on special projects- what a guy!
    He seemed to love every moment of it.
    I’m sure you will miss him terribly- what a sweetheart.
    I’ll never forget that cute white beard.

    xooox
    Dionna

     
  20. John W. says:

    Beyond the excellent storytelling and openness with the readers of this blog, I think this reminds us that we work hard for what we believe is important in our lives, and ensure that our children and other relations have are not only shaped by that hard work but pass it on. Life on Earth is great.

     
  21. Jim Zavist says:

    A loss, but a life well lived – my condolences.

     
  22. Steve, condolences from the Affton Mayor’s office. I lost a friend my age (33) Christmas morning and it reminded me to count my blessings.

    John OB

     
  23. Lisa says:

    Steve, my sympathies on the passing of your dad. It sounds like he was quite a man. That he leaves a legacy of devoted, determined and loving family to carry on his integrity and spirit says a lot about him. Condolences to you and your family…

    ~L

     
  24. that was a beautiful tribute. i’m sorry for your loss.

     
  25. LisaS says:

    Steve …. you’ve written a wonderful, warm farewell to your father …. condolences …..

    –lisa

     
  26. Steve, please accept my sincerest condolences on your loss. A lovely tribute to a father who really loved his son.

    best,

    mary

     
  27. ex-stl says:

    he may not have been able to respond, but he heard you.

    my condolences.

     
  28. DeBaliviere says:

    My condolences, Steve.

     
  29. Mark says:

    Steve,

    A fitting tribute. Thanks for sharing and bringing back some memories of my own father. Take care.

     
  30. Thor Randelphson says:

    Wonderfully written. My condolences Steve on your loss.

     
  31. Jeff Vines says:

    Steve, I’m so sorry to hear the sad news. I hope all of us (your loyal blog readers) will be a support for you.

     
  32. colleenb says:

    Steve:

    So sorry to hear of your loss.

    I always think of my parents when I cook, too. Most of my kitchen items were the ones I grew up with as a kid.

    And just like them, I let my son lick the bowl and spoon, even with raw eggs, just like Grandma and Grandpa!

     
  33. SIG says:

    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself through this experience. I’ve experienced much anxiety at the idea of losing my parents, and your post helps me glimpse the other side – after the loss. There are big voids in losing parents – loss of friends you’ve known all your life, but also loss of a big part of yourself and who you are, your origins and development.

    I wish you much strength as you work to fill those voids through your life.

     
  34. Gucci bag says:

    Goodbye Dad, goodbye Mom. Thank you for the wonderful life lessons and all the memories. Thank you to all of you reading for allowing me to take this time and space to stroll down memory lane. – Steve

     
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