Everything. That’s what I remember most about you, Dad. Every. Little. Thing.
The sound your cowboy boots made as you walked across the floor. Strong, steady, purposeful footsteps. You were not a man who treaded lightly.
The smell of your leather jacket, and the Vitalis you used to slick back your hair. You always kept a comb in your pocket, and a clean hankerchief just in case I needed to blow my nose.
The endless cups of coffee. “Just black,” you’d tell the waitress. Real men didn’t need cream and sugar.
The smell of fresh sawn wood, and the piles of wood shavings on the floor of your shop. The square carpenter’s pencil tucked behind your ear. Cans of Watco oil and turpentine on the shelf, and squares of sandpaper.
Countless fishing trips on Siltcoos., and the methodical, careful technique you used to clean a fish. The way you put a worm on my line and told me to “keep an eye” on my red and white bobber.
The unique slant of your handwriting, and the notes you wrote me.
Singing “Bill Grogan’s Goat” while you played the guitar. Sometimes Mom would join in on the accordion and we’d have a family sing-a-long. I always loved to hear you sing.
The way you always grabbed a toothpick and cleaned your teeth after a meal.
Saturday morning wrestling and tickling matches, you on one team and Wes and me on the other. You always won, and we were glad.
French toast breakfasts. Split pea soup with ham hocks. Penuche in a pan lined with wax paper and scored with a knife. Bacon gravy. You were a marvelous cook, but you sure made a mess in the kitchen.
Having lunch together every Thursday throughout my high school years. Every single Thursday, because I was that important to you. You picked me up in front of my school in your big boat of a car and off we’d go to the Black Angus. Or Brails. Or the Treehouse. You’d ask me about my life, and you’d listen. Oh, what a marvelous listener you were, always. “Hmmm,” you’d say, with rapt attention. “That’s fascinating. Tell me more.” And I would.
The way you introduced Wes and me to your associates and clients, and anyone else we’d meet. You were proud to be our dad. Not just anybody’s dad, but OUR dad.
The stories you’d tell. Stories full of humor, family history, and moral lessons. Stories about Paul the Apostle and the wisdom of Solomen. Stories about your mom and dad and your dog, collecting cascara bark for extra money as a boy and the only time you ever cheated, how you met my mother … I never tired of hearing you talk.
The way you loved Mom, and the oneness of the two of you.
You were stern sometimes, and serious. I always knew when you meant business. So did everyone else. I feared your anger, and your disappointment. And I craved your approval.
You knew your shortcomings and faults, and you never made excuses. You had regrets. You made amends.
You were The Great Encourager, the man who saw possibility and potential in everything and everyone. You believed in people, and you told them so. You knew your own strengths and were confident in your capabilities, and you instilled confidence in others. You led with humility. You were true.
You made people feel safe.
On this seventeenth anniversary of your death, I find that some memories remain fresh and others have faded. I can still hear your voice and your chuckle. I can close my eyes and still feel the strength and comfort of your presence. There was a time when I could not imagine a world without you in it or how I would navigate without you as my compass. The grief of those early years has mercifully receded and the abyss created by your passing does not seem so great as it once did. Except for those moments when it does.
“Grieve for me however you must,” you told me. “But then move on.” You didn’t want a marker. And so each year, on this day, in the quiet of my heart, I breathe these words in memory of you:
There once was a man who walked humbly with God. He was my dad, and I am grateful.