Sunday, August 12, 2012

In Memory of My Father

As most of you know my father passed away in the early hours of the morning on August 6th.  He lost his battle with cancer all too quickly after his diagnosis and he died far too young.  I am fortunate to have enjoyed an extremely close relationship with my father most of my life.  No one understood me better than my dad (although my mom would be his equal in that regard) and it feels as if I have lost a large piece of myself. A lot of people knew my father as a successful businessman, community leader, mentor and friend.  Only two of us, myself and my sister, were privileged enough to know him from a very different perspective, and we knew him simply as Dad. These are some of my memories of him.

my Dad as a little boy

My father was a truly remarkable man.  At his funeral on Thursday there were certain phrases that  I heard over and over.  The most repeated one was “your father was an incredible mentor to me. “  Coming in a close second was “your father was one of the best friends I ever had.”  The third phrase I heard time and again were “you will have no idea who I am but your father really helped me out when I needed it and I had to come pay my respects.”  This last phrase was often followed by the statement “and he hardly knew me at the time.” Given that his funeral was held mid-morning on a weekday with little notice even for a funeral, it speaks volumes about my father that about 300 people came to honor his memory.  I lost count of the number of men (and women) who broke down in tears trying to convey to me how much my father meant to them. 

my Dad a few months ago

Had he not passed my parents would have celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks.   I’ve always admired the relationship that my parents had.  They truly loved each other and it was obvious to all who spent any time around them.  As I drove my mother home from the hospital at about 3:30am on Monday it was a pretty silent ride.  We were both shocked, traumatized and crying silent tears.  The only thing she said to me was “I’m not perfect, your father wasn’t perfect, but for almost 50 years there was never a single second that I had to wonder if he truly loved me.”

my parents having an evening out

Although neither of my parents were horse people they both love animals.  My mother gave a very moving eulogy about her life with my dad at his funeral.  She said in the early days of their relationship she never realized just how many animals they would end up sharing their lives with but she had a strong clue shortly after they were married.  As they celebrated their first Christmas together they owned a mattress on the floor, a table with two chairs, and a few dishes, pots and pans.  For her Christmas present that year my father went to the pound and brought home a 3-legged, epileptic dog that he named Dinker. 

This picture of my parents on their wedding day is one of my favorite pictures of them.  My dad looks so proud and my mom so happy.

Dinker was the first in a very long line of dogs, cats and other assorted animals that found their way into our family.  At their peak my parents had 22 dogs and the vet clinic was having to recycle the letters of the alphabet for their pets by labeling the files as AA, BB, CC etc.   My dad was famous for picking up stray dogs off the side of the road, at truck stops, etc.  We still have Sparky the rescue donkey, the Don (the stray rooster that showed up many years ago with a few hens), one of the three stray goats that showed up at the farm, and the pet cows (Buster is the best known of the pet cows).

When my parents bought their farm my dad soon realized that the farm came with two stray dogs, a male and a female, that were living in a falling down shed on the property.  My mom named the Lady and Tramp and it became my Dad’s mission in life to tame them.  Lady and Tramp were truly wild and no human could get within about 20 feet of them.  Before we moved to the farm my dad would drive out almost every single day after work, open a couple of cans of dog food, and sit in a chair by their shed.  His goal was for the dogs to come up to the bowls to eat and get comfortable with his presence.  Almost regardless of the weather he would sit in his chair.  If it was hot, cold, raining, snowing, or gorgeous weather my dad would sit in the chair talking to Lady and Tramp. 

My dad giving Trooper, Bugle and Bush a ride on the Gator. Dad's dogs never walked, they were chauffeured. 

It took almost six months before they would eat the food in his presence.  It was a full year before he was allowed to even touch one of them.  After a year and a half they knew the sound of his car and his truck and would eagerly wait for him.  Once their house was built Lady and Tramp made the full transition from wild things to family dogs.  They went from extreme fear of all people to the official farm greeters and were the friendliest dogs and loved attention from anyone.  They would sleep in the garage and the house, ride around in the back seat of my dad’s truck, and loved life.  The only reminder that ever remained of their wild days was that we could never, ever put a leash on either one of them.  As soon as you clipped a leash to their collars they both went berserk until you managed to get the leash off.

petting Cloudy

Then there was the time when my dad hopped in his car to make a quick trip to Tractor Supply and came home with a pony.  There is a “low rent” flea market that takes place across the street from Tractor Supply.  As my dad was driving by the flea market he saw a sad, skinny pony tied to a rusted out trailer.  He parked his car and walked across the street to the flea market.  He inquired about the pony.  He was told that the pony’s name was Poco and that fortuitous name was the turning point in Poco’s life.  My dad grew up in a small town in West Tennessee called Pocahontas, and as soon as he heard Poco’s name he knew he wouldn’t be leaving him behind.  We had Poco for 10 years before he passed.  I could go on and on with stories about our collection of stray dogs, cats, goats, chickens, rescue donkeys, and flea market ponies.

Poco the flea market pony and Sparky the rescue donkey

My father always understood my passion for horses. From an early age he was passionate about flying airplanes and being an amateur radio operator.  My father earned his pilot’s license at a very early age and had his private pilot, commercial, instrument and multi-engine ratings.  When my parents were dating my father’s idea of the perfect date was to rent an airplane and shoot touch and goes.  My mom said she’s not sure what is more surprising to her, the fact the she went along with it or the fact that her parents went along with it.  My sister was fortunate to share my father’s love of flying and earned her pilot’s license when she was in high school and she always had that bond with him.

Anyone who has visited my parents’ farm was fully aware of my Dad’s passion for amateur radio.  We were often asked if we were running a radio or a tv station because there are several large towers scattered around their farm.  His call sign was K4XG (mine is KA4PHZ).  As a kid I used to love looking at all of the QSL cards that my dad would receive.  QSL cards are basically a ham radio operator’s calling card and they are exchanged between two ham radio operators after they have had a radio contact. I remember at one point one of his frequent radio buddies was the King of Spain.   Over the years my dad received thousands and thousands of QSL cards from around the world.  I loved looking at the pictures on the various cards, seeing what state or country they came from, and looking at all of the stamps. 

The front and back of my Dad's most recent QSL cards.  Carter never had a chance to make an appearance on them.

When I was a small child I was obsessed with horses almost from day one.  My parents had no idea where this fascination came from as neither of them had ever been around horses at all.  I finally got my wish for riding lessons at a very early age but what I wanted more than anything in life was my very own pony.  Understandably my two non-horsey parents were not wanting to purchase a pony, especially since I was so little and could decide at any moment that I didn’t want a pony anymore. 

I had been taking weekly riding lessons for a couple of years and still begged daily for my own pony.  One evening my dad heard me crying in my bedroom when I was supposed to be asleep.  He came in my room and sat on my bed.  He asked me gently what was wrong.   I told him tearfully “daddy I want a pony so much it hurts.”  That was on a Wednesday evening.  On Saturday morning my parents were driving me to a farm to meet my very own pony named Miss Daisy who was the most amazing pony any little girl could have ever hoped for.  I have never been without a horse of my own since then.

The first weekend with the new pony, Miss Daisy.  Thank goodness she was a saint of a pony since my parents certainly were horse novices.  Here my dad is bathing Daisy with her completely unrestrained, not even a halter on her head.  He didn't know any better at the time but he sure learned through the years.  My parents became top notch Horse Show Parents.

My poor parents had no idea just what they were getting themselves into.  Through the years one of my dad’s favorite sayings became “the worst financial decision I ever made in my life was buying my daughter a pony.”  He would cheerfully tell that to any of his friends or acquaintances who had a child interested in horses.  I rode and showed my horses with my parents picking up the tab all the way through college.  Only when I started toting the note on my horse expenses myself when I entered the “real world” did I truly appreciate the absolute fortune in money and time that my parents devoted to my love of horses.

My Dad serving as the minister when my pony Miss Daisy married my friend's gelding Ben.  My sister and her friend served as their attendants.  You can see my dad is reading his notes in this picture.  He began the marriage ceremony with "We are gathered here today to join this filly and this gelding in Holy Matrimony."  What a dad. 

My dad loved what Jason and I did for a living.  I was definitely not sure what my dad would think when I decided to sell my recruiting company and leave corporate life behind.  I’m sure it sounded a lot more impressive to talk about his daughter that was the very young CEO rather than to talk about his daughter with a horse farm, but he never made me feel that way.  When I asked him if he thought a boarding facility that accepted only retired horses could be a viable business he said yes.  “The horse world is full of people that are as horse crazy as you are.  You can’t possibly fail.” Those were wise words and here we are today with a farm full of retirees from all over North America.  He loved it when we had new horses arrive at the farm.  I would tell him all about what the new horse had done and where they came from.  He would often meet the trailer with me when new arrivals came and quiz the shippers not only about the horse coming to our farm but all the other horses on the trailer as well. 

Dad and dogs cruising through the pasture with Levendi saying hello.

Jason was also fortunate to enjoy a close relationship with my Dad.  He often referred to him as “The Tom” instead of just Tom.  The first time I heard him say something about The Tom I asked him why he was calling him that. He told me that he felt my dad deserved a title sometimes, that Tom alone wasn’t quite right.  Ever since then we usually referred to him as The Tom, my dad thought it was hilarious.  My dad loved doing stuff around the farm with Jason, especially working on equipment.  When my dad wanted Jason to come out and play he would drive his Gator to the workshop at our house and start banging around and making noise.  Jason would say “The Tom wants me to come out and play.”  And Jason would go outside and play, and typically after some play time they would make a run for their own version of the “secret snack” (the secret snack was a tradition The Tom started with his grandkids).

high school graduation picture

My dad was also an extremely proud, doting and hands-on grandparent.  My sister’s three kids were very fortunate to have had several years with their “Pop.”  My dad told me he was standing in my sister’s garage once and looking around at what he described as an obscene amount of toys.  Then he said “and then I realized I had bought them all.”  Pop loved taking his grandkids on outings for “secret snacks.”  Pop also made sure that one of his dogs, Bugle, had his own email address.  Bugle would email the kids and tell them stories and keep them up to date on what was going on around the farm. My dad hired a builder to build an amazing treehouse for the grandkids behind Pop and Gigi’s house.  A few years ago my dad told me that he had received a phone call from one of my nephews.  Apparently the conversation went something like “Pop, how long would it take for a CD player (or a DVD player or whatever the specific request was, I don’t remember exactly) to make it from your house to my house?”  I asked my dad what the answer to that question was and he said “thanks to FedEx less than 24 hours.”

flying with the grandkids

My dad was so excited and proud to welcome Carter into our family and I’m glad he was able to know him for a short while.  Months before we had completed our adoption my dad was already telling everyone that he had four grandchildren, up from three.  Carter will never have the opportunity to go on a secret snack outing with his Pop, nor will he receive email messages from Pop’s dogs or FedEx packages with his latest requests inside.  It makes me so sad that he will not have the opportunity to be cherished, loved and spoiled by his Pop.

one of the few pictures we have of Carter with his Pop

There is a lot more that I could say about my Dad.  He was very successful in business and very involved in his community.  He served on the School Board, the County Commission, the Planning Commission, the 911 Emergency Board, and a bunch of other things I’m forgetting.  He was Chairman of this, Director of that, and I could fill up pages detailing all of his civic and professional services.  His obituary was quite lengthy and we spent most of our time editing things out as there was simply too much to list.

I believe this is his retirement picture from the military, he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.

My mom said that my dad thought a lot about his life after he received his terminal cancer diagnosis.  He told her he thought he could equal about anyone in three areas – flying a plane, working CW (which is an amateur radio activity), and being a good businessman.  He also told her none of that mattered.  Instead he was proudest of two things:  that he always tried to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and that he loved his family dearly and tried to take good care of them.

My Dad and his dog Happy watching out the window for Santa Claus

At his funeral I was talking with his friends Lex and Susie, and I mentioned that I could not remember a time when my parents hadn’t been friends with them.  Lex asked me if I knew how he had first met my Dad and I told him I did not.  My Dad happened to be driving by their house and noticed Lex’s radio tower in his back yard.  He stopped and knocked on their front door and introduced himself and 34 years later they were still friends.  That is so like my dad.  Knock on a stranger’s door and form a lasting friendship. 

Performing the wedding ceremony for our friends Chris and Erica

My dad wasn’t perfect, none of us are.  I will admit that there were times I didn’t even like him, although I always loved him.  In my defense I was a teenager and in my early 20’s and thought I knew way more about life than my silly dad could possibly ever know.  I don’t know what my sister and I did to deserve the two people whom we are so blessed to call Mom and Dad.  I’ve always said that we won the parental lottery.
I will carry with me forever the last words I heard from my dad.  He was lying on his hospital bed and he was in a lot of pain.  He could hardly talk in a strained whisper but he was still doing his best to put everyone in the room at ease.  I could tell he was really trying to say something to me and I couldn’t hear him because of the beeping and noise from all the monitors.  I leaned in close and he whispered “make sure Carter knows all about his Pop.”  Those were my last words from him.

I will do my very best to make sure that Carter does, indeed, know all about his Pop.  My amazing sister has promised that she will take Carter for secret snack outings.  He will hear all about his Pop from me and Jason, my sister, my mom, my aunts and uncle, my grandfather, my cousins, and all of Pop’s friends.   He was a remarkable man who left behind an impressive legacy.  I cannot look at anything in my life, from my farm to my son, without thinking about all my dad did to support me and help make them happen.  It was truly an empowering feeling to know that there was someone who would literally do anything they could to make sure that you got what you wanted in life and were happy.  I was a very lucky girl and privileged to call him Dad.  It is almost impossible for me to fathom that K4XG is now a silent key.


Calm, Forward, Straight said...

What an beautiful (heartbreaking) remembrance. What an amazing father, husband, friend - human - your dad was. Thank you for sharing him with us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this lovely tribute with all of us.

Stacey Vertullo said...

Melissa, words cannot even express how beautiful and touching that was to read. I'm sure it was very difficult to write but what a wonderful tribute to an amazing man. My heart goes out to you during this difficult time. Hugs to you and your family!

Jess said...

Echoing the words of the first commenter's- Thank you for sharing an amazing tribute to your father. He sounds like a truly remarkable man from every angle. Words cannot begin to take away the pain you must be feeling. Know that you are in many 'a prayers and we are all thinking of you and your family.

RuckusButt said...

You have a gift for telling life stories, Melissa, but none as simultaneously wonderful and sad as this. Thanks you for letting us all know "Pop" at least a little. It's so nice to hear that Carter will get to experience some of the traditions started by your dad. I have no doubt you and Jason will make Carter feel as though he won the parent lottery.

Bif said...

Thank you for sharing your dad with all of us. *Hugs*

KarenTX said...

My heart breaks for you, I know what you feel, my dad died in January. But it was from a long illness and we had time to absorb it. Still was not easy. We, too, had people coming up to us and telling us what Daddy did for them, loans he co-signed, acts of kindness, he even paid for a friend's husbands funeral. We didn't know this stuff. It is wonderful to hear these things, but bittersweet that he is not around to do more.

Print out this wonderful memory you wrote of your father for Carter, then he WILL know him. Prayers to you and your family.

Lisa said...

What a beautiful man.

lara said...

Melissa - I am so sorry about your dad. I'm so sorry.
I'm so glad I was able to meet him, and that day riding around in the gator with him was so fun.
He was very special!
Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful post.
Sending lots of love.

Dana Ramsey Maxwell said...

Melissa, I am deeply sorry and so sad for your loss. What a wonderful tribute,story and life. I wish he could have stayed longer in your life, especially since you appreciated and loved him so well. Dana

sfgsar said...

I was just getting to really know your dad. But you could tell from the beginning, he was an awesome man. He was very kind and helpful to me as a fellow ham. In fact, in my class of General class operators, he loaned all of us that needed one a radio to get on the air until we could get our own - I ask you, how cool is that? On my visits to the farm I would usually bring one or both of my daughters Carley and Jessie. He was always so kind to them and wnet out of his way to show them around farm to share his animals with them.
I regret, that I will not get to develop that deeper relationship with him, but am honored that I was able to spend time with a wonderful man, your dad.


Lauren said...

What beautiful memories of your dad. I'm so sad that Carter won't get to spend the time with him that the other grandkids did, but so happy that your dad got to know Carter before he passed. It sounds like the rest of the family will step in to help Carter remember his Pop. Thinking of you all.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss. This never quite seems like it is enough to say...
I lost my beloved Dad a year ago. I will tell you what everyone told me. The first year is the hardest. Allow yourself to cry when you need to, and to laugh when it feels right to do so.
Eventually the pain lessens, but we never stop missing those we've lost.

Thank you for sharing your Dad with us. You painted a very vibrant picture of him. I think my Dad would have liked your Dad. We can hope that they become friends in the here-after.


Jenny said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank You for sharing The Tom with us. You have an amazing family.

Cynthia Himmelfarb said...

What a beautiful memorial to your father. I knew him from the Williamson Medical Foundation Board. He was warm and gracious and a great asset to that board. I am so delighted to read this tribute by a loving daughter which lets us all know what a wonderful, interesting, and accomplished man he was, in so many ways. My deepest sympathy to you and your family.

Suzanne said...

HUGS!!! You do your father's memory justice! Thanks for sharing it with us!

Anonymous said...

A beautiful, touching tribute -- this blog will be a great way for Carter to know his "Pop"

jpanddr said...

Thank you for sharing your dad with us! we are all thinking of you and your family!

Laura Crum said...

Wow--what an amazing man. And how wonderful that you have a little boy to raise. My mother died before my son was born, so I share your sorrow that my child never knew his grandparent--but raising my son was a great comfort to me. He was born the year after she died. I always felt she looked after him. Perhaps it will be the same for you.

RiderWriter said...


I haven't visited your blog before, although I've heard of your farm. What a wonderful place you have created! The aura of peacefulness and care comes through in your beautiful writing and photos. It helps that I lived in Nashville for five years, so can picture the climate and countryside.

I am commenting on this post in particular because I so enjoyed this beautiful tribute to your father. He sounds like a very special person, and you were indeed blessed to have him. I lost my own father nineteen years ago so I truly understand what it's like. He passed away while I was pregnant with my daughter, so neither she nor my son ever got to meet him. I have tried very hard their whole lives to frequently mention their Grandpa Dave, though, and attempt to bring something of him to life. Like Laura, I do feel he has watched over them from above as their own special guardian...

Keep up the wonderful work, and thank you for sharing.

P.S. One of my past boyfriends is an avid ham radio operator, as was his father. I still remember their call signs - and I wouldn't be surprised if they turned up in your dad's card collection, as they live(d) in OH (AB8O and AB8P). I've never done it myself but it's a fascinating world.