Friday, June 6, 2008

Dad's Family Remembrance

Below is what I ended up writing about my dad on behalf of me and all my siblings. It turned out okay under the circumstances.

"Our dad was a one of a kind guy and nearly defies description. There are lots of interesting individual characteristics that made up the man. However, when someone described him as a steel coated marshmallow- rock hard on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside- that seemed pretty fitting.

Dad was raised by a mother who was frequently described as a saint. Many of dad's finer qualities come directly from her. Over the years, we occasionally saw him get choked up when he talked of her, particularly of the final years of her life. He adored her as a son should adore his mother and always respected her memory.

He learned a lot from his father too- a strong work ethic and the understanding of the value of a dollar. But, he was also dealt some unfair lessons from his father. While dad could have easily taken what he saw and acted the same way, he didn't. Instead he became a business man who was unfailingly fair in his dealings. He also became a faithful friend. While he lived by the idea that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, he always helped his friends who needed his help. Sometimes it was money, sometimes it was just plain hard work, but our dad always helped. He was always looking out for the little guy and was ready to defend the honor of his friends.

Dad worked hard. As kids, we didn't see a lot of him. He woke up early and was often gone long before we were up for school. He was home in time for dinner and the evening news, then fell hard asleep in his recliner, only to reset and start the same routine the next day. Most weeks, this went on seven days a week. The result was a successful trucking business and a working farm. We can't think of anyone who would try to balance that today. You might think he worked those long hard days to get away from us, although none of us would blame him for wanting to get out of that noisy house. He was working hard for us and we never wanted for much. He certainly could have helped our mother around the house more in those days. However, he was a product of his generation in which men worked outside the house and women worked inside the house; and despite the difficulties that produced, they survived.

Though we didn't see him much, don't think that we don't have great childhood memories of our dad. Dad loved kids. He lit up when kids were around. He was often playful with us and had a goofy sense of humor that always made us laugh. He also gave us opportunities to raise some farm animals up at the house. As we mentioned, dad was always looking out for the little guy. That carried over to animals too, which meant that dad frequently brought home runt pigs and lambs for us to bottle feed and raise until they were ready to go back to the farm. He even brought home five baby racoons whose mother had been killed on Locust Road. We raised them in a chicken pen until they were ready to go back into the wild. Once when many of our outdoor cats had died of distemper, he took one of the remaining kittens down to the vet to get a distemper vaccination. The cat went on to live for years and he often referred to it as the $6 million dollar cat, not because it survived a bad situation, but because he had paid a whole $6 for the distemper shot.

Dad knew what a dollar was worth, although he never really adjusted for inflation. He was the consummate tightwad. He was horrified when a cup of coffee went up over 50 cents and balked at using fresh insulin syringes every day because, by God, they cost a few cents a piece. He wore his clothes until they were truly worn and beyond. In his pickup truck he started coasting to stops signs at about a quarter mile because he didn't want to have to change the brake pads. It was a source of frustration for us kids and also much humor. Dad was cheap and darn proud of it. Dad often broke the Third Commandment (thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain), but never so much as when he talked about the cost of things. Particularly now, we're grateful that God is a forgiving God.

When our mom got sick with cancer, we got to see the love and devotion our dad had for her put in to action. Although he was so afraid of losing her, he faced his fears and took her to her appointments, helped her more around the house when she let him and was there for her always. We all gained a new sense of respect for dad during that time. Mom's illness also opened a new door for our stoic Norwegian-German household. We began to hug each other and say "I love you," something that never happened before that time. Dad was at first very awkward with the hugs, but accepted them and, we think, came to welcome them. If Dad ever replied to the "I love yous" it was always very quietly. While Dad had a hard time showing affection, he showed us in other ways, with generous gifts and more recently meat. It was a nice surprise when he would tell us to call the butcher to let him know how we wanted our pig cut up. Not quite an "I love you" but enough for us to know what he meant.

Dad was devastated after Mom passed away. He was lonely, but kept himself busy on the farm and with trips to Barb's or the Family Table for coffee with old friends. He suffered a stroke in 2004 that caused some major life changes. After recuperating in the Aase Haugen home for many months, Dad returned to live in the house that he and Mom had built. He was determined to be as independent as he once was, but the stroke and vision problems from diabetes limited his ability to resume the life he had before. He needed help around the house and to get around town. We hired several people to help him around the house and take him to appointments. Two caregivers, Britney and Courtney Bakken, virtually adopted Dad as another grandfather and included him in many of their family activities. And when he dished out crap to them, they could give it right back. They were angels for him these last few years and we are honored that they are sitting with us as family today. Dad also had good friends. Lee Naley and Howard Johnson were true and faithful friends to dad, often playing cards with him and taking him out and about. He will be missed by all the guys at the Family Table and McDonalds.

Dad left us suddenly on Sunday June 1st. The day probably started out just like any other day for Dad. He got dressed, put in his hearing aid and made a breakfast for himself. It was one of the first really nice days of spring and Dad decided to go outside to sit and enjoy the day. On the way out of the house, he likely stopped to say hello to the mother cat and her two kittens that had made a home in the broken down wheelbarrow on the porch. He situated himself in a lawn chair and looked out at the flowers on the rock wall that mom had planted years earlier. He could feel the sun and wind on his face and hear the birds calling. It was a lovely day. We won't know for sure what took him, but we are certain that on that lovely day, he was greeted by our mother, his mother, and those he loved that had gone before who came to take him home. Though we are so terribly sad that dad is gone, we know that his physical suffering is over, and, most of all, that the loneliness he felt since our mom's passing has been relieved and he is surrounded by love. And to that all we can say is "Well done, Dad! We love you and are proud to have had you for all these years."


Mnmom said...

Oh Michael . . . . .

Madame Leiderhosen said...

That's just beautiful, Darling. Well done. He sounds like quite a guy.

kirelimel said...

What a wonderful tribute. You are a good son. I hope you find peace in your own words- they are beautiful.