My dad died a month ago. I've taken time off to feel his loss, but it didn't feel right to resume normal function without some recognition of the loss. So I share with you the life sketch I gave at Dad's funeral last month.
I love you, Daddy. I miss you.
I asked my sons to describe their Papa to help me write this sketch. My oldest said, “Papa was silly. And he was a tickler.” My youngest said, “Papa was a tricker.” But then my oldest said, “Papa was too many things.”
I’ve pondered on the simple truth in my son’s attempt to dodge a conversation. My father was a lot of “things” and trying to boil that down to 5 minutes is a daunting task. He was an example. A leader. A friend. A husband. A Christian. And a man of consummate charity and diligence.
Dad was born in Ogden, UT. At that time, Ogden was still agricultural. Their house had a small orchard and irrigation ditches. Dad loved to ride his bike and fish with friends. The Boy Scouts and Boys’ Association helped him learn leadership skills and the value of hard work. He was proud to be an Eagle Scout.
He served a mission in Germany at the height of the cold war. I credit his experiences in Germany with his acute open-mindedness. Whenever we spoke of World War II, he was quick to describe the pain and shame he’d seen among citizens in post-war Germany. He encouraged us to use compassion in making judgments rather than simply accepting the most commonly told story.
On the day he arrived home from his mission, his buddy set him up on a blind date. He took a high school senior named Linda on a jeep ride. My mom didn’t say a single word to him all night. There’s some debate about whether stubbornness or shyness contributed to mom’s silence, but Dad persisted. He couldn’t stop thinking about the quiet but pretty woman and wanted to find out if she really was incapable of speaking out loud. He took her on a second date. From that point on, she didn’t stop talking in the fifty-three years they spent together.
Dad left BYU to chase Mom at USU. It would be years before they married. Mom was never easy to pin down in life. While he was in pursuit, Dad obtained degrees in psychology and lived in a fraternity on campus. They loved being Aggies. They’d meet up in the library to “study” but Mom would get bored and insist they abandon the library for a slice of Frederico’s garlic bread and a Coke. Dad never denied her anything she wanted.
After they married, the two looked for work. They dreamed of life in big cities with big careers. God sent them to Small-town Idaho where Mom would teach school and Dad would work as a psychologist and school administrator for thirty years. I asked my dad once if he was sorry he gave up his dreams of an important life. He said, in typical style, “Well, I’ve always thought my life was pretty important.”
We loved Idaho. Dad had access to plenty of streams to fish and lakes to explore. He had lifelong friends and coworkers who loved us like family. Our small town guided my mom back to the church. We wouldn’t be the people we are without the safety and love we felt in St. Anthony. Dad served as a Bishop, a member of the Rotary Club, helped countless children in Special Education get necessary services, and sent four children on missions.
I worked for my dad for several summers during college. I’m still not sure what my job description was. I was to do random things no one else wanted to do (namely make millions of copies and fix the ailing machine when it broke) and keep my dad’s secretary from getting bored between school years. I’m not sure I did either task as well as I should have, but I did get an amazing lesson in charity. My dad’s private counseling clients would come in. On the way out, Dad would hand me a bill with his “usual” rate. He’d walk the client out and then come back in, take the invoice, and mark it “paid in full” or he’d discount the rate by as much as 90%. When I asked, he’d shrug and say, “We take care of each other here.” Then he’d tell me how his client had helped us in the yard, or given us a half pig from the last slaughter, or how Heavenly Father expected him to fix families, not get paid. My dad would lament never getting rich sometimes, but I know he didn’t really have pursuit of wealth in his blood. He cared more about the pursuit of Christianity. I learned in his office that putting Christ first was an all-day thing. You never lay down your religion, even if it might make you rich to do so.
Unfortunately, Idaho has a lot of snow, so when retirement came Mom and Dad dreamed of better weather. They fondly remembered their alma mater and it’s mild - by comparison - winters. The white house on the corner went up for sale so that Mom could build her dream house in their beloved Logan.
But first...a mission. I won’t say that a mission was mom’s first choice. We kids kinda backed her into a corner after Shawn flippantly said that she’d have to go if all four kids went. She figured she was safe. I’m the sensitive introvert in the family who never liked to be away from home. But I bowed to pressure. When Cade went, too, she accepted her fate. A few years later, they were asked to serve in the Tempe, Arizona, mission.
The call to serve among the Apache people in Cibecue was met with a little fear. But my dad did as he always did. He loved people. He served them. He built friendships with a wave and hello. And hours of service. I don’t know how many trips to DI he made to buy mattresses or clothing. He didn’t count his time in Cibecue in terms of numbers - he only ever talked about the people and the love he felt for them.
Then he was back in Logan for Aggie basketball games, grandchildren snuggles, and some well-earned relaxation. I wish there had been more years of blithe entertainment after the mission. Unfortunately, illness claimed a lot of his life from that point. Still, my dad was a champion. Whether in pain from rheumatoid arthritis or battling cancer or dragging around an oxygen tank, he loved the people he met and tried to make the world a better place one person at a time. When he was hospitalized, the women from his rehab unit came to see him before he passed. My mom remarked, “Even as a little, old man in pain, your dad still touched the hearts of everyone he met.”
There’s something remarkable in a quiet life well lived. No one in Salt Lake or Washington ever asked my dad’s opinion. He didn’t retire to major accolades. He has few medals. And yet people were changed just by knowing him. In everything that happened, he testified of Christ by being a good man. I love my father. I’ll miss him. I hope I make him proud. We’d all do well to follow the example of this man. Christianity may be tough to master, but it’s beautiful if you do so.