In Loving Memory of My Dad

I’ve been struggling for quite a few days over how to start this post, so it’s probably best to get straight to the point: On Friday, July 13th, my father passed away after a short battle with an extremely serious illness. Without getting into too many medical details, it involved complications from some kind of pancreatic growth/tumor that had escaped detection until it was already severe enough to be causing physical symptoms and generally wreaking havoc, and which was exacerbated by a (probably unrelated) infection that his body just couldn’t beat.

It hits hard when you lose a loved one, and only the more so when you didn’t see it coming. When you thought you still had all the time in the world. Dad was only 59, and as recently as three weeks before, we didn’t even have reason to think he might be sick. Losing him blindsided us all.

But one thing you learn over the course of grieving is that the world keeps turning. Life goes on, even when there’s a big empty void where one of your parents used to be. You pick up the pieces, resume your old routines, and try to live your life in ways that would make them proud.

So today, in the spirit of honoring and remembering my dad, I want to tell you a little bit about him. About the devoted father and all-around awesome guy I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for the past 26 years.

Dad enjoying our family’s Mother’s Day cookout on May 13, 2012.

There aren’t even words to describe what a good person he was. Laid back and down-to-earth, super easy to talk to, with a kind of steadfast pragmatism and the patience of a saint. He rarely got angry or raised his voice. He tended to keep quiet about his emotions in general, like many men of his generation I think, though never in a way that left any doubt about how much he loved us.

Growing up, Dad was always there. He ran his own business from an office in our house, so he was effectively the stay-at-home-parent in our family. And yet somehow it seemed like he was never too busy to talk, or to answer whatever dumb question three kids could come up with at all hours of the day. And he was never above playing or joining us kids in doing the kid stuff.

Dad enjoying a funhouse ride at an amusement park circa 1992.

And at Christmas… Lots of people’s parents play the role of Santa Claus, eating the cookies and leaving the presents for their kids and whatnot, but Dad went the extra mile. He would put on a Santa Claus outfit every Christmas Eve and came to the door, ringing sleigh bells and booming jolly greetings. As a small child, this all seemed 100% legit — we didn’t recognize him in the outfit, and somehow we just never wondered at how we never saw Dad and Santa in the same place at the same time.

Dad as Santa Claus on Chrismas Eve 1988.

I look back now and laugh at that outrageously fake-looking cotton beard and wonder how amused he must’ve been under there.

There are so many other fond memories from growing up, like how we would play Legos with Dad. We would build these elaborate castles with towers and turrets, and then set up those little green army men and try to shoot them off from across the room with rubber bands. I don’t think he was just humoring us with this. He really, genuinely enjoyed those games of building with Legos.

But then, Dad loved building things in general — and it wasn’t limited to just toys and games. Shortly after we moved into the house I grew up in, he actually built an entire garage. I was too young to really remember much about this, except that I used to like to ride my tricycle around on the cement slab before the rest of the garage went up on top of it.

Building a garage with your own hands: an ambitious DIY project if ever there was one.

Building an entire garage might not be that impressive for someone with a background in carpentry or architecture, but Dad had nothing like that — he was an accountant who just really, really liked building things. He used to dream about building an entire house someday. And then building a pond next to it like this guy so he could have waterfront property.

In practice, though, Dad got his fill of waterfront spaces on vacations. He loved traveling. (It’s probably where I got my love of road trips, which we’re already well on our way to passing on to the next generation.) We traveled all over the country during my childhood and saw a great deal of everything the lower 48 states have to offer. Beaches and mountains, monuments and amusement parks. On the most insane road trip I remember, we drove out to California on a route that took us through Las Vegas, and came home on a route that took us through Montana further north, stopping at as many places as we could along the way.

Random vacation pictures with Dad circa 1994.

One thing you’ll notice looking through our old family photos — taken many years and hundreds of miles apart — is that he always wore that same red and white hat on vacation.

As I got older, Dad was still just as easy to talk to, and he was still always there. Like when we ran into those property tax troubles I wrote about back in January, I could always count on calling him up to ask for advice. In my adult years, I could better appreciate how he liked making people laugh with dumb jokes, and how he liked telling stories — about going to college, or working for the IRS, or doing tax returns. I don’t think anyone else in the history of the world could make these kinds of boring topics sound as funny and interesting as Dad did.

When Lillian was born, Dad welcomed his first grandchild to the world with grandfatherly pride. He decided he wanted to be called “Granddad” instead of “Grandpa” or “Poppy,” and he arranged his work schedule around making it easy for my mom to come over and watch her during the day.

Dad holding Lillian when she was one month old, Thanksgiving 2011.

Tragically, he didn’t get to see his baby granddaughter learn to walk and talk and call him “Grandad.” He didn’t make it to retirement, or to do any of the traveling or other things he’d hoped to do in his later years.

But as my brother Jason put it so eloquently in the eulogy… Dad didn’t get a chance to do everything he might’ve wanted in life, but at the same time, life didn’t pass him by. And if he could look back on his time here on earth I hope he would be proud of everything he did have a chance to see and do and accomplish in his life.

Rest in peace, Dad, you will be sorely missed and this world is an emptier place without you. And to anyone reading this: Don’t take your loved ones for granted. Live well, make lots of memories, and appreciate your family to the fullest while you can. Life is a fragile and unpredictable thing.

Our House: Looking Back on the First Year

As of the fourth of July, it’s been a whole year since we moved in to our house — and it’s come a long way from the bare, empty, blank slate that we unloaded the moving truck and all our belongings into.

A collage of photos from the first year in the house.

The following is a partial list of some of the projects tackled and memories experienced in the first year since moving into this house:

And even with a few other house-related items still in the pipeline to be posted on the blog, it feels like this is just the tip of the iceberg. They say the whole “make a house into a home” thing never really ends, so it’s fun to wonder how many more changes and memories will be added to the list when our next “house-iversary” rolls around on the fourth of July another year from now.

Speaking of the fourth of July: Over the past week, we’ve been having a bit of a heat wave here in Chicago, with temperatures over 100 degrees for several days in a row. Thankfully it’s cooled down a bit now, but at the height of the heat wave, a lot of fireworks displays ended up getting cancelled or rescheduled due to the heat and drought. Sadly, this included the one we’d been planning on attending up by my uncle’s house, although maybe it’s for the best — we had some concerns over bringing Lillian to a noisy and exciting event that would likely keep her up past her bedtime, even though my mom reportedly had no problems doing so with me or my siblings when we were babies.

How was your Fourth of July? Anyone else have problems with the weather putting a damper on their plans? And if you’ve had any experiences with bringing a baby to a fireworks display, either this year or in previous years, I’d be curious to hear how it went.