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Father’s Day Flashback

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I ran in a local 5K event yesterday morning.  I do that every now and then to test myself and to get close enough to death to better appreciate my life.  My result in this event was, even in comparison to my own previously established level of mediocrity, terrible.  I was a full five minutes slower than my best time, and it might as well have been five years slower given how I felt after I was done.  I do have a couple of points to make before the court in my defense.  First, the conditions were not at all good for running.  Even at 8:00 a.m., the temperature was over 80 and the humidity made it feel like a 5K swim instead of a run.  There were some familiar names of local runners on the results list and even some of the best runners around were considerably slower than usual.  Second, while my time was disappointing, I still finished second in my age group.  There were only four people in my age group, but that part of the story will be long forgotten as I discuss this event in the future.  I should note that a significant percentage of the people in my age group that could be running in this event are dead, and therefore not very competitive.  A larger percentage are injured or otherwise not physically able to perform and most of the rest were in a bar somewhere getting ready to watch some European soccer match.  My devious master plan to get better placings in these events through long-term attrition continues to pay dividends.

So I was only a little bummed as a sat down to do some after-race stretches, but bummed is bummed and I wasn’t feeling too great.

This particular 5K event was to raise money for prostate cancer research.  Prostate cancer is a particular interest of mine, since that’s what killed Dad about two years ago.  That might explain why, as I was doing those stretches, I had a flashback to another athletic event over forty years ago.  My senior year in high school, I decided to throw everything I could into getting into the State wrestling tournament.  I spent the entire summer training and going to tournaments.  When the season started, I was as fit and ready as I could possibly be and it showed in my early results.  Then, in the middle of the season, I caught the measles.  There’s something about lying sick in bed for two weeks that’s not conducive to a training regimen.  By the end of the season, I thought I was back in shape and was ready to take my shot at the regional tournament that would decide who went to State.  Then I injured my shoulder three days before that tournament.  So it probably wasn’t too surprising that I lost my second round match to a guy I’d beaten earlier in the season.  The loss didn’t end my State tournament hopes, but it made getting there unlikely.

I walked off the mat, gasping for each breath, shoulder hurting like crazy, feeling like my world was crashing in.  My coach chewed me out for whatever mistakes I made, then walked away to coach another wrestler whose match was just starting.  I crawled up the bleachers to where Dad was sitting.  I guess I was half expecting him to chew me out as well.  He’d done that a few times over the years after sporting events.

This time he surprised me.  He told me that the other wrestler was really good and that he’d clearly gotten better since the last time we’d met.  He reminded me that I still wasn’t done, that I still had a chance, that the wrestlers I would be facing in the rest of the tournament weren’t as good as that guy and really weren’t as good as me.  I still felt terrible, but I could feel my equanimity being restored.  I had a chance.

I won my next match, putting me into an elimination match to determine who would go to State.  It was a close match that I almost lost at the very end of regulation.  The match went into overtime and I found a burst of energy and won easily in overtime.  For this match, the entire family was there.  As I walked into the stands, I noticed my youngest sister was bursting with joy.  My other sister was crying. “I thought you were going to lose,” she said.  Mom was ecstatic.  Then I looked at Dad.  He actually looked drained, like he’d been out there with me.  But he smiled a big smile and congratulated me.  It wasn’t the best moment in my life by a long shot, but it’s probably in the top twenty somewhere.

Years later, we were reminiscing about that event and Dad told me something that he hadn’t mentioned before.  “You weren’t the same wrestler after you had the measles,” he said.  “You were still winning matches, but you were winning on guts instead of ability and you were running on fumes by the end of the season.”  Then he added, “I really didn’t think you’d make it to the State tournament.”

The flashback passed and I finished my stretches and headed to the car.  On the way home, I tried to figure out if there were any great truths to learn from that event.  “Sometimes lying to your children is the right thing to do” just doesn’t seem like something you’re going to see on a motivational poster anytime soon.  Maybe the lesson to be learned is that sometimes fatherhood requires thinking and strategies that are a little outside the box.  Maybe that’s true for any loving relationship we have.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Father’s Day Ruminations

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Random thoughts loosely connected by the subject of Father’s Day.

1.  They showed this video in church today.  It’s been bouncing around on Facebook for a while now, so this isn’t the first time I’ve seen it, but this time it did spark a couple of thoughts.  Did you notice the lack of mothers in many of the videos?  And did you notice that in a few of the videos, Dad is saving the kid from a danger for which Dad is at least partly responsible?  There is a valuable lesson here.  To be a great father, you don’t have to be a great parent.  You just have to be great at damage control.

2.  Today is the 106th anniversary of what is generally believed to be the first Father’s Day celebrated in Spokane, Washington.  While Father’s Day is pretty well ingrained in the culture these days, it shouldn’t be forgotten that, as holidays go, it’s pretty much an afterthought, a hastily thrown together contraption that didn’t officially become a holiday until 58 years after Mother’s Day came into being.  As any father worthy of the title will tell you, that’s exactly as it should be.

3. Regardless of what the calendar says, my Father’s Day was last weekend, when I flew out to Spokane, not to commemorate the first Father’s Day, but to see my son Ian get his Master’s Degree from Eastern Washington University.  I had a great time (and it was great to get away from the Kansas summer heat for a few days), but it comes with a certain amount of wistfulness.  For guys over 50, second guessing of decisions made while in the midst of fatherhood is more common than erectile dysfunction (or so I hear; I wouldn’t know anything about that myself).  I do it.  My dad did it and I suppose his father probably did, too.  When my father confessed to believing he’d made mistakes in my upbringing (I think he’d just turned 60, a milestone that might have precipitated this reflection), I told him to knock it off.  We all do the best we can with what we’ve got and I thought he did pretty darned good as a parent.  I think I told him that second guessing was a waste of time.

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that I caught myself having the same conversation with Ian a few months ago.  Ian handled it much differently than I did.  While assuring me that he thought I’d been a good father, he followed that up by telling me he forgave me for any mistakes that I had made.  I believe that I couldn’t have asked for a better answer or, for that matter, a better son.

4. Ian is my step-son and I’ve only been serving in the father role since he was eleven, when Brenda and I got married.  Before we got married, I was given a couple of books on blended families and raising a step-son.  I suppose the books had some value and I don’t want to diminish the thought behind the gift, but as a new father (or even step-father), you’d better understand that you’re going to have to figure out a lot of this father stuff on your own.  Books can tell you what the challenges are, but what they don’t tell you is that sometimes the challenges happen simultaneously, or sometimes they’re exacerbated by events unconnected to the father-child relationship, or sometimes you have a child that doesn’t fit into any kind of a mold.  You’re best off just making the best decisions you can and praying a lot.  Let me rephrase that:  PRAYING A LOT.

If I was in the parental advise business, I think the only thing I’d be willing to commit to is that there’s no substitute for time.  Ian was heavily involved in drama while he was in high school.  Going from dress rehearsal to closing night, by the time the play was done I could pretty much recite the lines better than the actors could.  That kind of commitment isn’t all it takes to be a good father, but it’s a start.

Dad at 90

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     My dad turned 90 yesterday and we threw him a party, something I’m pretty sure he found a little embarrassing.  Parties just aren’t his thing.  The day before the party, someone asked him if he was looking forward to Saturday’s events.  “I’m kinda dreading it,” he said, which didn’t surprise anyone.  Dad lives his life at the ultimate level of low-key.

 

 

     “Low-key” is not the same thing as “uninteresting”.  Dad’s quirky and sometimes outright weird outlook on life has lent itself to a lot of strange and funny stories.  Over the last few years, I’ve tried to collect some of these tales, which I’ve started affectionately referring to as “Dad Stories”.  I got another one on Saturday from my Aunt Narine, this one involving a long walk from school, a sudden cold snap, and only one coat between them.  Someday, I’ll probably try to collect them and send them to family and friends or maybe put them on this blog.  I suppose my personal favorite involves an incident around the barbeque. Dad was getting ready to grill some burgers and I went outside to see if I could help.  As I got there, he had charcoal briquettes already in the grill and, having decided that lighter fluid was just too slow, he was pouring gasoline over them.  Then he pulled out a box of matches and took several steps backwards.  I didn’t want to appear disrespectful, so I quietly said, “Dad, do you think that’s a good idea?”

 

 

     He stopped for a second and looked thoughtful.  Then he said, “It’s unleaded,” lit off the match, and threw it in.  My father is nothing if not environmentally conscious.

 

 

     Living a life that’s full of fascinating stories isn’t enough to get a biography written about you and that’s a shame.  There’s no way that I could ever write that biography because I’m just too close to the subject matter.  I will try to hit a few of the highlights.

 

 

     He was born in rural western Missouri in 1923, which meant that almost his entire youth was spent surviving the Great Depression.  I don’t think there’s any word that capture’s his circumstances better than “impoverished”.  Sometimes they didn’t know when, or if, the next meal was coming. In addition to their humble circumstances, they also had a lot of bad luck.  I don’t know about all the things they had to endure, but I do know that their house burned to the ground once.  He did have some really good teachers at the small school he attended (he graduated in a class of two; I think he was Valedictorian).  Perhaps, that’s why he chose teaching as a profession.

 

 

     As a young adult, he fought heroically in World War II.  Of course, he doesn’t think he was heroic.  About ten years ago, he wrote a short (about 30 pages) “warts and all” account about his war experiences, where he portrays himself as a scared kid just trying to do the right thing.  Trust me, he was heroic.  In his story, he tries to convey the terrors and tragedy of war on a personal level and it is gut wrenching to read.  Two years ago, my Uncle Joe, a man who always seems to know how to get something done, got dad’s story put into the Veteran’s War Project in the Library of Congress.  I’ve spent much of this morning trying to figure out how to access that story so I could provide a link, but so far all I’ve managed to find is a sort of digital library card, but not the story itself.  If anyone reading this is really interested, I can send you a copy.  Here is an article that was published in the local newspaper for Veteran’s Day last year.

 

 

     After the war, he finished his education and got into teaching, first at the middle school and high school level and, finally, as a college professor for many years at a Junior College in El Dorado, Kansas.  He taught Chemistry and I got to have him in a few classes.  He wasn’t a great lecturer, but he really bent over backwards helping students individually away from the classroom, something I think he was quite good at.

 

 

     He got married in 1957 to my mother, who is quite possibly the most patient person on earth, a necessary requirement for being married to my dad.  The kids soon started coming.  Society often judges the success or failure of a parent by the success or failure of his or her children.  In that respect, dad had three kids and was three for three in producing strong, well-adjusted adults (although I suppose the jury is still out on the oldest one).  Of course, anyone that has been a parent knows that this is a terrible way to look at parenting.  I’ve known some great parents whose kids have been complete disasters as adults and some awful parents whose kids have gone on to accomplish wonderful things.  As a parent, all you can truly do is bend the odds a little in your child’s favor.  I’m too close to the situation to determine how good he really was.  I know many of his parenting techniques you will not find in any modern parenting books.  Some of his techniques shouldn’t be in ANY parenting books.  He didn’t hug us much or tell us he loved us, but instead he lived out his love and fought for us tooth and nail.  You can’t ask for more than that.

 

 

     As dad turns 90, all of us who are close to him are keenly aware that he is unlikely to get to 100.  He’s got prostate cancer and the drug treatment is producing only mixed results.  At his age, he’s not a candidate for chemotherapy.  Recently, his primary care physician told him that he’s got a “calcified heart valve.”  We don’t know exactly what that means, as the doctor was very short on explanations and possible treatments (we’ve GOT to find him a new doctor, and soon), except to say that at this point, he ought to just focus on taking care of the cancer.  We don’t have any idea how long he’ll be around.  Yesterday, I heard him tell a friend that he thinks he’s got another year or two left.  He didn’t think he’d live even close to this long.  Yet, he still has tremendous energy.  He still works in his garden for a few hours each day, even in extreme heat.  He still twirls around their large yard on his riding mower every week or so.  He still delivers Meals on Wheels one or two times a week.  He takes a lot of pride in the fact that he delivers some of these meals to people who are 20 years younger than he is, but mostly he does it because it is something he can do to help others.

 

 

     Dad may have been dreading yesterday, but he got through it just fine and many people stopped by to pay their respects.  I was very happy for him, but I’m most happy for having him around all my life.  You can’t replace that time.

Mitch Teemley

The Power of Story

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