My dad, Ken, would have turned 83 today. Pretty sure I only wrote about this once before. For reasons I cannot fathom, I feel compelled to do so again today. Just over four years ago, my dad died suddenly after one last night out on the town.
I’m being more than a little facetious with that. My dad was not at all one who “went out on the town”…no matter how you define that. Oh sure, he loved to travel with my mom and they went all over the world. He was happy enough to have a meal at a restaurant, but his first choice was always eating at home — whether Mom cooked or he grilled. He certainly didn’t dance. I mean, I’m terrible at it too but he was epically bad. As in, could barely even slow dance at their 50th Anniversary or our wedding, bad.
So, no, he and Mom weren’t exactly out on the town. But they did have a lovely evening with some people from their neighborhood, having dinner and watching fireworks on a slow boat cruise in Chicago. As Mom tells it, they got home after midnight — super late for them! — exhausted but happy. They really enjoyed the whole evening’s experience. And then, he died.
Sometime in the wee hours of the morning he had a brain aneurysm and hemorrhagic stroke and he was gone. When Mom woke up she took all the steps she could: quickly surmised the situation was dire, called 911, called me, and went with him to the ER. But it was already too late. As the brain surgeon told us, “If there was anything to be done, I would be doing it right now instead of talking to you.”
It wasn’t until the next day that the rest of his body caught up with his brain, one month shy of his 79th birthday and ten days shy of celebrating 55 years of marriage. By any measure I can imagine, he lived a full and fulfilling life. He was a good man.
Don’t get me wrong. Like all the rest of us, he had his many flaws. And he and I could really disagree over a fair number of topics. None more so the last couple years of his life than whether he could renew his driver’s license and drive again. He couldn’t. Though he despised admitting it, he suffered from dementia. Believe me, he could be a serious pain in the ass about that.
But our love for each other was never, ever in doubt.
I know I’m supposed to say I miss him everyday. But that’s not really true. There are days I don’t consciously think about him. Then there are days like today wherein I miss him very much.
(Originally, I thought this post was going to be about my dad’s political thoughts. However it seems I needed to tell a very different story first. Politics tomorrow. Or soon. Or, you know, soonish.)
My dad had a lot of sayings. Many of which he got from his dad. I did a whole “Top Ten Buerstetta Family Sayings” in a sermon once. When I was a teen, I swore I’d never repeat all those awful, cheesy sayings. Instead — plot twist! — now that we are the parents of two teenagers, I find myself saying “Remember who you are and where you are” to our kids All. The. Time.
Maybe I think about him more than I was aware. Because a small piece of him pours forth every time I say that. Seriously, I say that stuff, like, almost daily.
I just looked up my remarks at his funeral. I don’t really remember if I said all of it. It’s mostly a blur, sir. I distinctly remember crying at the climax. So much so that I had to stop talking. I also distinctly remember that later I was really angry at myself about that. I’m supposed to be a professional speaker, dammit! Anyway, here’s what I intended to say:
Who was my dad?
I could talk all day about who my dad was…and I have been known to stand in this space [the pulpit at Woodridge United Methodist Church where I serve as one of the pastors] and talk all day…
And let’s be honest, my dad could certainly talk all day, so that would be a way to honor him…but I won’t do that.
There were a lot of ways in which my dad was…atypical, out of the ordinary, anomalous.
He couldn’t teach me how to throw a baseball — that wasn’t one of his gifts. He couldn’t teach me how to throw a football, or shoot a basketball, or any other kind of ball…nor could he teach me how to care about any of those things — those weren’t his gifts.
So who was my dad?
He’s the man who went from saying, “Camping starts at the Holiday Inn and goes up from there.” To camping on weekends with Scouts, to week-long summer camps, to not-one-but-two trips, each over a week-long, to Philmont Scout Ranch. All because I was interested in Scouting. Oh, and along the way, he was inducted into the Order of the Arrow, which is the Boy Scout’s Honor Camping Society.
My dad was my biggest fan. [This is the part where I couldn’t speak through my tears.] He was my biggest fan even when I didn’t deserve it. He was my biggest fan especially when I didn’t deserve it.
So let’s honor him by being excellent to one another. Because everyone needs someone who cares about them in their corner.
And “remember who you are and where you are.”