As I was thinking about writing a tribute to my Dad I thought -- How can I say a few words that do justice to all of the years of love and strength that Dad gave us? I hope that the real tribute to Dad will be the actions of my (our) lives -- that we are a testament to the love and lessons that he instilled in us all!
Before I tell a story about my Dad I wanted to relate to you a bit about the strength behind my Dad – my Mom (Dolly). As a son I never realized the dedicated love that she had for my father – we always knew the love she had for us by all of the selfless things she did for us without ever fussing or even letting us know what she was doing – but we did Mom – and that love was always there! What I just realized this past week during my Dad’s stay at the hospital was that same dedicated love for my father that I never saw – but knew was always there. To see my Mom care for my Dad this last week – from the gentle cleaning of his face, to the constant adjusting of his bed sheets (and sometimes MANY layers of blankets), to the up and down and back and forth to the bathroom, was to see that love demonstrated in action. That made me realize the quiet, selfless, caring loving way of affection that my Mom had for my Dad that I never really knew or appreciated – THANKS MOM!! – but this story is about my Dad so ...
As I’ve been thinking about my Dad this past week, finally coming to grips with the inevitable, I thought “How can I tell a story of my Dad that conveys the message of what his love and strength has meant to me (and us ALL). Like my Dad, I guess I’ll do it by telling a story whose underlying message teaches the lesson of his life to us.
This past week I sat reading one of the Chicken Soup books – of course this time the Chicken Soup for the Father’s Soul – when a particular story hit me with its message! I’ll paraphrase here and hope you hear the same metaphor I heard about the strength of a father’s love. The story is ‘Riding Tandem’.
A father and a son went out to take part in the Vietnam Challenge – a sixteen-day, twelve-hundred-mile bike ride. The son was blind, so he and his father rode on a tandem bike. They rode in the same outfits and were therefore ultimately linked together tightly on that bike for those sixteen days. During those sixteen days the son learned much about his father – a rather private man whom he didn’t really know. He learned of his dedication to his country, of his service in Vietnam, his optimism, his faith in country and so forth. The story continues with the father and son’s trek to the point of the most grueling part of the ride; the Hai Van Pass, which was a mountain pass of over 3200 feet out of the coastal plains below. It was a physically demanding stretch that required the father and son to work together as a team. Well, as the story continues the son comes to this realization; (I’ll quote) “In the past, it had always been my father putting his hand on my shoulder. … On the back of our tandem bike, facing the steepest section of the Hai Van Pass, this would be my chance to do something for him. I wanted my legs to be the force that would power our small team up the steep switchbacks to the top. We’ll go as slow as you want, but we won’t stop, the son commanded. But hearing his father’s heaving breaths he backed off. We can stop if you want and he (the son) kept pedaling.” They, as a team, were getting close to the top and as they neared it the father kept telling the son how far they were – another half mile, then only a hundred yards. The son maintained the rhythm of his pedaling, hoping to have the strength to bring them to the top of the pass and over. As they neared the top the bike toppled over; the son got up quickly and went right over to his father, who was a little dizzy. They walked the bike the rest of the way to the top as the crowd of people, who had gathered, cheered them on. When they reached the top the father said (I’m quoting again) “I have lived through a war, I watched my son go blind. I saw my wife die in a car accident. Some people think I’m unfeeling. But what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to act? Should I have given up? Should I have quit? Life is too precious, and all I can do is live it.” So, as I relate this story, I’m sure you can hear the metaphors and messages of my Dad’s life as I did while reading this story. My Dad was always steering the bike with me as the blind kid behind following his lead just giving a bit of my physical strength to his leadership and guidance. Over the years I may have fought with his authority – him leading my bike where I didn’t want to go – but finally realizing the reason and conviction behind his direction – his faith. As we reached the ‘top of the pass’ this last week I was hoping to be the legs for my father to help him get to the top. All I could do was pedal as hard as I could (or use my legs to bring him to the bathroom). We would fall short of the top – but not really. We did reach that mountain pass – with all the people cheering us on – the many visitors and friends that helped us through this last (if you will) push to the top. We did reach that top with my Dad ‘a little dizzy’, but accomplishing the goal of getting him to that pass – the pass into God’s eternal life. We are all here today ‘cheering him on’ and thanking him for his love and strength through all of his 72 years.
If I get to this point without breaking down too much, I hope I can relate some of the simple, happy things that Dad brought to our family and friends. You all know of his wit and teasing – especially his grandkids. Mary, Diane and I knew of his teasing ways growing up, as did his many nieces and nephews. Of course we all loved his tricks, from Karen and Terry all the way to Michael and John (and how could I forget, Rachael) with all of us in between. How many times did we have a simple ‘Bizza’ together or a simple spaghetti meal that just the beginning of the fun, kidding and card games to come? We watched as these fun rituals were repeated with our own kids – Joe, Marissa, Kara, Robert, Michael, John and last but not least, Rachael. Oh how Grandpa loved to tease them with the card games and ‘beating’ them even when he had only four cards from a game of war!! I could go on and on but I’ll never finish, so I just wanted to close with a request. When you think of my Dad, think of all of the good times he gave each one of you please continue to tell your own stories of how they affected your life. I’m sure that would be the best tribute to my Dad and that would be what he would want.
THANK YOU FROM ALL OF US!