A Life Well Lived

Today would have been my dads 80th birthday.

A couple of years ago I lost my father to congestive heart failure at 78. He was a man from a dirt poor background who through will, determination, and the GI Bill, worked his way through college to become an aerospace engineer with Boeing. As a kid I remember him waking before dawn for the two hour commute to Vandenberg AFB and then arriving home long after my sister and I had eaten supper and been tucked into bed. When I was very young I recall the sounds of his harmonica and those of a few of his friends playing guitar and banjo and learned that he had been an accomplished musician in his youth and had dreamed of playing for a living. Over time as his family grew and he settled into his role of husband and father, his playing became less and less frequent until taking a new position with Boeing near Seattle moved him away from his band mates, and his collection of harmonica’s were relegated to a box in the basement with the other flotsam of life that falls out of favor for one reason or another. He was a very good engineer and took his responsibilities of being a husband and father as his highest priorities but he kept his creative mind alive, developing a deep appreciation of Native American design and teaching himself the art of silver smithing, becoming adept at creating silver jewelry using the spiritual forms of the northwest coastal tribes.

At the age of 57 he suffered a stroke leaving him unable to speak and his left side mostly paralyzed. He was no longer able to practice his profession or indulge his creative passion, forced into an early retirement. You may be thinking this is the part of the story where I recount my fathers decent into bitterness and resentment and early death but you would be wrong. After a long rehab he partially regained mobility and improved his speech to where he could be understood. He came to understand his forced early retirement as a second chance to do some of the things that he had long ago dismissed as unpractical or unrealistic. His final twenty years were a time of traveling. Of he and my mother buying a small place on the Sea of Cortez in Baja. Of exploring and adventure. Of living with no rules other than where to, what next.

In his final years we all knew he was living on borrowed time but it was still a shock when I received the phone call from my mother saying his heart was failing and that he wasn’t expected to make it through the night. I quickly grabbed a flight, hoping to see him one last time, to reminisce of days past and speak of the things that sons and fathers always seem to put off until that late night phone call comes, but he passed peacefully as I was in the air somewhere between Seattle and Tucson. If I had had the chance, I would have told him that he was my hero. That the memories of his harmonica playing, memories of teaching me to fish and to swim, the example he set through a life well lived that a man is only limited by his dreams in what he can accomplish will stay with me forever, and be passed on to my two sons. That he was a man of substance. 

Vaya Con Dios dad.

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11 responses to “A Life Well Lived

  1. It’s hard to type through the tears but I so appreciate your remembering your dad’s birthday and your thoughts about him. I’ve never really known if you appreciated his uniqueness and talents. He was a special guy. Not easy but always interesting with a great sense of humor.

  2. Mark,

    Sounds like your dad was a great guy.

    Yeah, happy birthday.

  3. What a great remembrance, Mark. An example worthy of accolade.

  4. Right on. Those of that had such influences in our lives are fortunate.

  5. Your sister in law

    I think about him a lot and how even though his health was really going, it seemed like he was going to stick around longer. Tough as nails. On our drive back from Tubac after he passed, I read your parents travel journal out loud to Brian. It chronicles their motor home trip to the east coast and their first trip to Mulege. Both his and your moms humor shine. We can pass it on to you if you’d like to read it. Leslie

  6. Mark,

    Thanks for a great post. I think about him every day as well.

    The first car I really remember him having was his dark green Porsche 356c; the car I learned to drive on (and the one I used to sneak out long before I had my drivers license) was the orange Porsche 914; and the car he drove himself home from work in after his stroke was a sahara BMW Bavaria. So, it’s no great mystery to me why I now own a Porsche/BMW repair shop here in Reno; and why my wife Leslie drives a ’74 Bavaria to work every day. In fact, every time a nice BMW or Porsche rolls into the shop, my first thought is that I wish he were here to see it. He would love to have seen the shop.

    He worked for an Airplane company, but good engineering is good engineering. he did love those damn German cars. On the other hand, I seem to remember them having more than one Citroen, a Morris Minor and even a FIAT over the years….

    It was great talking to you this morning, and if you can pull your self away from the menagerie for a few days we would love to see all of you guys. Maybe we can get up there this spring?

    Your Brother,

    Brian (aka) that jerk, Joe America

  7. You left out several cars. Do you remember the Humber Snipe? He bought it from Jerry Hughes and we drove it,( towing the Morris Minor with a Siamese cat in it) from Seattle to Santa Barbara in 1962. We did own 2 Citroens and a TR6 he called the pregnant roller skate. What a car nut he was. My favorite was the yellow and black 1950 Olds hardtop with a bell on the floor that he was driving when we met. We also had an old Morris sedan when we lived in Maple Valley on the Cedar River that wouldn’t go uphill. I had to drive miles out of my way to get anywhere.

  8. Pingback: Remembrance for the next generation | Autumn People

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