When you least expect it

Today is the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death and I’m surprised to find myself feeling all nostalgic and melancholy. You’d think, after so much time has passed, that feelings of loss and grief would have faded. And, of course, they have. But there are still times — odd times, not necessarily the times you expect — when it all comes flooding back, as fresh and raw as if 20 years were just a blink.

Today is one of those times.

Here’s an old picture of my dad and mom (holding my son, who is now an adult) and me, squinting in the bright Arizona sunshine. Dad looks shorter by comparison than he should (I’m 5’8″ and he was 6′), as he’s standing in the grass and we’re on the sidewalk. Dad hated having his picture taken almost as much as I do and it was a rare event that someone managed to torture capture both of us at the same time (photo credit: my bossy older sister).

Scan 36

So many memories and such excessive eye moisture I’m having today. My very stoic father would be rolling his eyes at me with an expression of affectionate but pained tolerance on his face. So would my mom and sisters, for that matter, if they ever read this. I’m telling you, it’s not easy being the sappy emotional one in a family of Scandinavians. Whatever. Might as well just wallow for a bit and get it over with.

I guess it doesn’t help that earlier in the week I asked my older sister to send me a copy of the eulogy the two of us wrote, and delivered at his memorial service, because I couldn’t find mine. Twelve typed pages of memories, so many things I’d forgotten saying. I had thought I might share some of it here, but it’s too personal. Too evocative. Too much an invasion of private grief.

But the day feels like it needs some sort of tribute, so I decided to share something else instead. My dad knew a lot of people. Quite a few of them were involved in politics, as political and civil rights issues were a passion of my dad’s. He never ran for office, preferring to remain behind the scenes in the role of teacher and advisor.

One of the people he knew was Pete Stark, a US Representative from California. We discovered, quite some time after dad died, that Mr. Stark made memorial remarks during session that became part of the Congressional Record. I’ve decided to share those remarks below, redacting dad’s name and some details– not in an attempt to protect his privacy, but mine.

Mr. Speaker, today I wish to pay tribute to an educator, activist, and my longtime personal friend, [xxx], who passed away recently in [xxx], MN, at the age of 68.

I was privileged to know [xxx] at a special time in our lives and in our Nation’s history. As a grass roots activist, Mr. [xxx] took special interest in civil rights issues and the anti-Vietnam war movement. In 1970, a group of 31 Americans, including [xxx] and myself, traveled to Paris with the People’s Commission of Inquiry to discuss solutions to the war. [xxx], along with our group, participated in a week of talks in France with North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese delegations and the American ambassador. During our stay he encouraged an open discussion in which he questioned, challenged and explored solutions to this problem of international scope.

[xxx] . . . dropp[ed] out [of high school] during his senior year to join the Navy. He was stationed in Bermuda for part of his tour and was chosen to run the admiral’s launch that took President Truman deep sea fishing. An avid sportsman, he played offense and defense and was captain of the Navy football team. He contracted rheumatic fever during his service and suffered from its effects for the rest of his life.

[xxx] finished his high school equivalency degree in the military. He went on to the University of Minnesota, the Wahpeton State School of Science, and graduated magna cum laude from Moorhead State University. He later earned a master’s degree and completed doctoral work at the University of Minnesota. During his early college career, he played AAA baseball with the Minot, ND, Mallards and pitched against such notables as Satchel Paige and Roger Maris.

As an English, drama and debate teacher at [xxx] High School for 30 years, [xxx] was a mentor to students in and out of the classroom. He led several debate teams to State championships, served on the faculty senate, and supported the American Field Service Program.

[xxx] will be remembered as an avid reader, a lover of language, and a remarkable individual whose ideas reached far and wide. His genuine enthusiasm for American politics prompted people of all ages to become interested in government and civil service. Because I experienced [xxx]’s vitality and wisdom firsthand, I’ve no doubt that this tireless role model made [xxx], MN, a richer place to live.

As friends and family reflect on his lifetime of achievement and scholarship, it is only fitting that we also pay tribute to this great man and good friend.

Quite a tribute to the legacy he left. Dad would have been touched and deeply honoured. But it’s just a small sampling of who my dad was, publicly, the things other people knew and admired him for. And why the world was a richer place for him having been in it. He was by far the most intelligent person I’ve ever known and among a handful of the wisest.

I can’t even begin to find words for what he meant to me personally and why there will always be days, like today, when the void he left seems immeasurable. Other than the obvious ones: I miss you, Dad.




Filed under deep thoughts

10 responses to “When you least expect it

  1. Robin Berkley

    The grief does strike when you don’t expect it. Your father sounds like a wonderful man who truly had a positive impact on the people he came in contact with and the nation. (((((many hugs))))


  2. Thanks, Robin. I know you’ve been down this road with both parents. It’s odd how little it takes, sometimes, to trigger grief.


  3. My Dad died at 68 too. I was six months pregnant with my first child (she’s now 14).

    I’ve found that the grief never diminishes, I just put it out of my head for longer periods of time.

    Your Dad sounds great and that’s a lovely tribute you’ve shared. It’s so comforting to have a parent’s wonderful attributes acknowledged publicly as well as by family.

    Thanks for this post. It is a massive void that a loving father leaves.

    Mary Ann


  4. Thank you, Mary Ann. It’s so hard to lose a parent, especially when you feel like you’re not done being a child yet (not sure I’ll ever feel like a grown up).

    Grief while pregnant is not easy. I was seven months pregnant with my second child when our first dog died, not that it compares to losing a parent, but I remember telling myself I had to stop crying in case it harmed my baby. I’m sorry your dad and daughter didn’t get a chance to know each other. That’s a tough thing to reconcile.


  5. That was sad but very loving. I am glad that your children got to know him a little. And yes, it can still hit you on anniversaries. But I figure that’s a good thing. You wouldn’t miss him if the love weren’t still strong inside you.


  6. It is a good thing, Evelyn. I know how fortunate I am to have that kind of relationship, with both parents. I was watching a documentary last night about Hemingway and one of his sons was talking about his mother and how she wasn’t a very nurturing person and he just straight up said, “I hated her guts.” I can’t even imagine, not as a daughter or as a mother. So, yeah, painful as it can be at times, I’m glad I miss him.


  7. I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to visit, or leave a comment, for so long.
    What a beautifully written blog post. Reading your heartfelt memories, so lovingly rendered? Wow.
    I’m sorry for your loss. Although I’m fortunate enough to still have my father, you post reminds me to be grateful of the time I have left with him, and to let him know how much I truly appreciate the person he is and all that he has done – and continues to do – for me. Your Dad would be proud of the person you are now.


  8. Thank you, Kae, what a sweet thing to say. I do wish my dad had survived to read some of my fiction– but then again, he no doubt would have gone over it with the red pen he used for grading papers. 🙂

    Don’t worry about infrequency of visits, they match my infrequency of posts. At the rate I’ve been going lately, you could stop by mere a handful of times a year and not miss anything.


  9. “At the rate I’ve been going lately, you could stop by mere a handful of times a year and not miss anything.”
    We would miss you. Just saying.


  10. Awww. Thanks, Ev. You can’t ask for anything more than to be missed. Hopefully, that day is a long way off. For all of us.