Memories of My Dad

My dad passed away on October 15 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. At his memorial service, I shared these memories of him. I put them here on this blog so that those who couldn’t be there could also learn about what a great dad he was. – Eric

In some ways it’s hard to know what to say about my dad. I’m supposed to be sharing my memories, but given his disease, the word “memory” takes on a different connotation. How can we talk about memories when his own memories were lost? And when his memories were lost, his family’s memories of him changed, as he himself did.

So today I don’t want to remember the way he was after the disease ravaged his mind, because that wasn’t him. I want to remember the dad that did a great job raising his two children and had a lot of fun along the way.

While I was reflecting on my memories, I came to the realization that my dad was a “cool dad.” On sitcoms, the standard trope is that kids are always embarrassed to be around their father, and cringe when he tries to hang out with them and their friends. But in my dad’s case, I don’t think that was true at all.

When I was in elementary school, he came in to give a career day presentation, talking about his profession as a commercial artist. I remember feeling very proud, because the other kids loved his presentation. He wasn’t talking about boring adult jobs – he was able to draw things for a living! And all of his pictures that he brought in to show were quite impressive both to the class and to me, with their precise lines and accurate renderings of real objects. It was also pretty cool to see his work out in the real world, whether it be in the newspaper or on the album cover of this little local bluegrass band named the Dixie Chicks.

Since he was self-employed, he was able to serve as a chaperone on many of my field trips. Rather than be annoyed that he was around, I was happy, because I thought it was fun to spend time with him, and I thought my classmates did too. His goofy sense of humor helped him fit right in. The most impressive example of this was when he came on a multi-day trip to Big Bend, driving a van full of rowdy teenage boys all the way out to West Texas. Those of you who have been to Big Bend know how far that is from here, so that was quite a feat!

My dad also helped lead the youth group at our church for many years, and here also his affable style was a great fit for the group. In our many Sunday night sessions, we became quite a bonded group, led by his caring and friendly style, with a lot of laughs mixed in. I also have very fond memories of the two of us driving back from those youth group meetings, listening to the “Beyond Bows and Arrows” radio show of Native American music which we both found fascinating.

On a hike with the youth group

We shared a lot of inside jokes as well. Every morning, we would both read the Mark Trail comic strip and then laugh at the unintentional irony of the adventures those characters got into. Also every morning, my dad would drive me to the bus stop for my bus into school. We would always listen to the Musers on the Ticket, and their fake characters and other hijinks would be a constant source of jokes between the two of us. My dad and I listened to the Ticket from basically its beginning as a station, and would go every year to the first night of Ticketstock to get the free t-shirt and see the hosts. I still listen to the Ticket today even in Denver, and get a smile on my face when I hear something that I know would have made my dad laugh.

Matching Ticketstock t-shirts

My dad wasn’t the cool dad just because he was funny – I was also in awe of his bike riding habit. As often as he could, he would go out riding with his friends, and pretty serious distances too. I was impressed if I could just make it around White Rock Lake, and he was able to do rides like a 100 mile ride in the summer heat of Wichita Falls, all without complaining about the difficulty!

He was also a brave dad – he beat prostate cancer when I was in college. I remember visiting him in the hospital, where he didn’t ever want to make a big deal out of it. And then, as he recovered, we spent the summer catching up on old seasons of The Sopranos together, back before binge-watching was a thing.

He was a natural at getting to know people around him. When he was self-employed, I would visit him at his office occasionally, and often on Fridays he and his officemate would go out to the hamburger restaurant Chips for lunch. Going to Chips with him felt like we were going to visit with his group of friends – he and the cashier called each other “Cookie” and would exchange the same coupon back and forth each visit. He got to know one of the cooks well enough to learn about his family back home – which had a nice benefit for me, because whenever I ordered a grilled cheese, it would come to me as a double decker because they knew I was Steve’s son.

When I would visit him at his last job at Central Market, again it was like he was friends with everyone in the store. When we walked with him through the store, he would be greeted warmly by people from every department. He even became friends with the Sudanese refugees who helped bring the carts in.

Dad made the chalkboard lettering and art

After he retired from Central Market in 2009, he came out to Colorado to join me and Della on a raft trip with her family. On this trip, the two of us shared a tent, and one night, after a few beers, he confided in me the fears about what was happening to him – “my brain is turning to mush” was how he put it. So when I think about his passing, I am not sad for him, because I know the fear and confusion I heard in his words that night has now gone for him. What I mourn for is that so many people will not have a chance to get to know the Steve that I knew growing up, including his grandchildren. So I hope all of those here who have those memories will help keep them alive.

My dad’s favorite movie was undoubtedly “Dances with Wolves.” When I was young, we would watch it together at least once a year. Even as his disease progressed, one of the best ways that caregivers could calm him down was to pop in the dvd of “Dances with Wolves” and play it on repeat. In the final scenes of the movie, the main character has to leave the tribe that he has come to know as his family due to circumstances outside of his control. As he leaves, a member of the tribe shouts from a hilltop at him “Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?” I think that my dad’s passing is kind of like this. Circumstances out of his control caused him to have to ride away from us sooner than he would have liked, and with a sense of sadness. As he rides away into the next life, I am shouting after him “Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?” And I think, now that his mind is once again clear, he knows and remembers that all of us were, and will always be, his friend.