Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My Dad's Birthday

Yesterday was my Dad's birthday. He would have been 79 years old, but he passed away almost ten years ago.

It's strange to say, but my life since he died is so much better than my life was when he was alive. I wish he had a chance to experience this difference.

You see, about a month after my Dad died, I went on my first date with the woman with whom I would fall in love. We dated. We got engaged. We got married. We had a beautiful daughter. We had a handsome son. We had another cute little daughter. It's been fantastic! But, he missed it all. And I missed him being here to experience it with me.

Dad, with his ever-present red hardhat, in front of "The Pumpkin," his distinct orange pickup.

I've missed him holding my little babies in his big, strong hands. I've missed him picking my kids up and putting them on his shoulders. I've missed him watching a basketball game with my son and talking to him about some of the finer points of the game.

Over the weekend I spent some time with my kids watching the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. The kids have fun picking their own brackets. (The Girl picked Hawaii and Stony Brook to face off in the finals, because she likes the beach and mountain streams. The Boy picked Green Bay and Pittsburgh to win several games because he has an uncle who is a Packers fan and an uncle who is a Steelers fan.)

I enjoyed watching the games with the kids, but I thought about my Dad frequently. Mostly because of the foul shots. My Dad was an excellent high school athlete, and was the starting center on a state championship basketball team. He would often tell the story of how his coach wouldn't let them go in to shower from practice until they made ten straight free throws. He said after you made seven or eight in a row, the pressure on those last two or three shots would be intense, because if you missed you'd have to start all over again. He said if you could learn how to make those pressure shots in practice, it would help you make them during games.

Over the weekend there were several games that were won and/or lost because of a team's ability to make free throws. This included a player for Yale who made all eleven of his free throw attempts, including several in the final minute to help clinch a win for his team. When he kept making those foul shots, I thought of my Dad.

Dad, showing off his free-throw form at a birthday party for my nephew.

I do what I can to keep my Dad in the lives of my kids. I tell them stories about their Grandpa Ron. I show them pictures. But, it's not the same as if he were actually here in their lives. I'm glad, at least, that their other grandparents are a big part of their lives. They get to spend a lot of time with Grammy and PopPop (my wife's parents) They are an awesome influence on the lives of my kids. And the kids are really looking forward to a visit from my Mom soon. They love her a lot.

Ten years ago, my brother, his family and I had a surprise birthday party for my Dad. My brother talked him into coming to the local truck stop restaurant (Flags West in Downey, Idaho; the best scones around!) He had no idea the whole family was going to be there. I'll always remember the big smile on his face as he saw my niece, who just couldn't hide from him for one second more. It was a great day!

It turned out that was the last time I saw my Dad out and about. The cancer was getting to him, and whenever I saw him after that he was either in bed or in his favorite recliner, too weak to get around.

I wish my wife and kids could have met him here in this life.

I guess the best way my Dad can influence my kids now is through me. I've got to do what I can to teach them the lessons he taught me. And who knows, maybe in the next life I'll be able to walk up to my Dad and tell him I was able to make ten free throws in a row.

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