Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | October 16, 2012

Remembering Dad

No matter how much you think you have prepared, you are never ready when the call comes. And when that call comes, it will be as the first time… as it is always a first time for whomever we’ve lost… and it is our first and only loss of this person. And for those of us who remain, it is as much a beginning in new life as it is for the person we have lost. Perhaps it’s as busy for them as it is for us… I don’t know. But I do know time seems to rush by for at least a week, and the number of new things you find yourself caught up with… seem to run a long list of either horrible or terrible. But then… in the midst of this bustle, your grief begins as you lay in bed one night, and the weight of the world falls upon your lungs so that you can scarcely breathe. And you can feel your mind and heart stretching out into a darkness you haven’t known before… as though it were your hand and seeking that last touch. And so there without air or sleep, with little food and much stress… you realize you’re doing too much and must let God take charge. Turn it all over to the merciful ones… and let go. And so I went to confession, and we talked for a good, long time Friday morning. And Father was gentle and helpful, and after a busy week at work in the midst of all this, I began to finally write my last love letter to Dad… for a while. And when complete, the weight began to lift a little.

That Father’s Day note I began and couldn’t end… here it would be finished and performed… so I knew there was much I couldn’t say without falling to pieces. Folks might love to know all that gooey stuff, but the task was different here… they just wanted to help us through this and part of my job wasn’t to preach or to teach or to make claims or do anything odd, but simply to let them help us through it as they could. And more than that, I wanted to thank them for the wondrous gifts of their love when one of the greatest gifts in our lives falls from our grasp… as if we ever grasp any life or presence! … not quickly, but slowly… like sandpaper or water torture of some sort. And so as hard as Sunday morning was when he died – for him, for mom and all of us – it was also a release for all of us as well. And seldom in my life have I ever seen such wonderful sharing… so if I went overboard there, this is part of the context. The week was also hard because Wednesday was mom’s 80th birthday, and dad would have 82 on Thursday. They shared 59 years of marriage, and Dad and I shared offices for 25 years. My sister joined us for the last five, so I guess if you wanted to say we’re a tight knit family… I’m sure most would agree.  His funeral was Monday, October 15th… and here’s the bit I wrote and spoke for him there. 

Now as I post this here, let me say that years of tension in losing my best partner to retirement, my best friend from as far back as Indian Guides and “pals forever”, my playmate, my disciplinarian, my teacher and in part my inspiration… all those things… even the reason that as all this was taken in the course of his years of symptoms and suspected symptoms of Parkinson’s… I have no doubt that this affected me at the core of my shallows and played a part in pushing me into the arms of this crazy church. But thank God it did… for it helped immeasurably. And yes, I did write my kids in the middle of the week as I came near to breaking down in the middle of the grocery store, and yes, again last night when I stood where he stood last Thanksgiving and Christmas… and even for the BCS Bowl Game when he could come watch a bit… and while he is with me, so too is this grief… and I am thankful for that. But there is joy we will find, too, soon enough.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory to Him forever!

 First I’d like to thank all of you for coming, for your calls, your visits, cards, letters, hugs and all your intentions. It means a lot. For so many who have been friends forever; for so many who have been friends for just a while; and just for all who in their hearts are here or wanted to be here – thank you. For all who have ministered to my dad and mom whether as caregivers, as friends, as family or in any and all ways – your gifts have been an inspiration. Thank you, and thanks be to God.

 There’s a piece Dad wanted here. You may recognize it from broadcast sign-offs back when stations did that sort of thing. And as I stumble through this, I’d ask that you call to mind one of those IMAX films on flight with the voice of a better narrator and imagine the way a plane shreds the clouds, as it bursts through the upper reaches, popping blissfully up into high altitude. And can’t you feel the exhilarating speed and three-axis motion; hear the roar of the wind in diving here and soaring there; and with a mix of wild abandon and absolute control, you sweep the blue yonder thinking this… this is really is the core of Dad’s playful spirit.

“High Flight”
by Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee, Jr. No. 412 Squadron, RCAF, killed December 11, 1941
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up in the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where NEVER lark or EVEN eagle flew –
And while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

The first time I ever heard this – or more readily “saw” it played out was after coming home well past curfew to find Dad waiting up, watching a movie. His price for bending the rules was you had stay up and help him finish whatever he was watching. And it worked. Lynda and I both found this true; and it ran pretty much this way:

 He had these Late Nights down to a science. And he liked to let on as though he were working on a formula for predicting whether the juice was worth the squeeze. To the undedicated eye, knowing who played lead or directed was enough. But more often with Late Night, you were dealing with unknowns, or knowns outside their prime or venue. And like flying blind in a cloud bank, you had to switch to instruments, and constantly check your indicators. And as someone with a keen mind always looking for an angle, Dad was convinced the key factor lay in the commercials. First you checked out the products – were we talking big tickets… like cars? or something more forgettable… like Ronco, $19.99, and “not available in stores” ? Next it’s the number of commercials per break, and finally, the intervals between. Your job was to sift through these, play your hunches, and keep checking the instruments.

 And at first, the station wouldn’t tip their hand, but somewhere… somewhere in the middle things would flip over, and you went from watching to “investing time”. And either a stinker got better, or a flick with a decent premise fell apart. He liked that now he had you in two games: First against the station that was either hiding a sleeper, or signaling a real bomb. And either way just blasting commercials at you as long as they thought there might still be an eyeball out there somewhere. And second, the game of who can outlast who; which with all his experience and staying power meant he figured on having this one in the bag.

 And so we sat through the wee hours more Friday and Saturday nights than I can recall, and true to form, there were some keepers. And unless he was sandbagging me, some even came just as Dad predicted. But the fact is, here is where we began getting to “know” each other, what we each liked about this, and about that, and Lynda and I we both found this the way to begin building from there into something more… into a real relationship.

 So when evening sign-off finally came, they played Magee’s poem as we’ve just run through – only with great visuals. And it was just so cool! Dad knew a lot about lead-ins that got you going and signing up to whatever it was he had in mind. And as much as he liked surprises just like this, he was always a real wing man, and he’d stick with you no matter what, nor no matter how you reacted, and often for my part it wasn’t great. And yet he was still there when you needed him. And he had a great co-pilot, too, in mom. She’s been a real trooper as well these past months, going far above and beyond the call of any of our imaginings, and as he said not long ago, of all his many, wonderful, beautiful collections, prizes, and investments, she’s the greatest and most precious pick he ever made.

 Surely Dad’s still with us. Even and especially now, up there just slicing through the flak as though it were some butter mountain, just so he could touch others – you and I. And so it’s impossible to tell you, the way you all in turn have touched our own lives these past few days. You have each helped us with so much and in so many ways, making all things new in how we hear the phrase, “your own of your own we offer unto thee”. Not just now, or just with us, but always, and with so many, that what can I say other than that the words “thank you” don’t even begin to cover it.

So as I think of it MacArthur had it wrong: Old soldiers may do a lot of things, but they sure don’t fade away. We give thanks for Dad’s life, for the mercies of peace granted at the end of his walk, and we look forward to the next passage. We ask for your continued prayers, for him, and for all of us at this time, as he joins his new squadron. We love him.

Memory Eternal!


  1. I am so sorry for your loss. I am so grateful for this reminiscence. I wish that every person could have fond memories of their father. You and he are truly blessed. Memory eternal, indeed.

  2. My deepest condolences during this difficult time. You were blessed to have such a deep and special relationship with your father. I lost my father in 2008 and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. May God comfort and bless you in the days ahead.

  3. What a lovely tribute to your father. May his memory be eternal.

  4. You guys are wonderful to visit. Thanks for your encouragement, for your comments, intentions and prayers. “May the beauty of God consume you.”

  5. May your Dad’s Memory be Eternal!!

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