A couple of years ago, shortly before Granny died, that’s my dad’s grandma, I was overcome with the need to write down all of my significant, and not so significant memories about her. I knew one day that I’d recite those memories at her funeral. It turned out it was only a few short months later.
With my dad, I never had that urge. I never wrote anything down beforehand which made it much harder after the fact. In thinking now about why I hadn’t written anything down I was struck with both the answer to that question as well as the motivation to finally write something. I think he believed so much that his sheer will could propel him forward through life and despite what doctors said and what I consciously knew, that the creative recesses of my mind where I usually pull these types of thoughts had started to believe that he was right. He could do this, he’d find a way to keep going so there was no need to document the thoughts and memories. Creating that type of result based upon what you do and say and getting others to follow you, you know what that’s called? That’s called a leader. To some a boss, a mentor or a coach. To me a father.
Many of you know that Dad coached youth basketball and the ROX but he was never MY coach. With the benefit of retrospect over these last few days, I’ve realized that’s not true. He was ALWAYS MY coach.
Not only was he my father but it was a job he wanted literally as much as life itself. When he was battling illness at the University of Minnesota Medical Center when mom was pregnant with me, I understand that things weren’t looking very good and he told my mom, “I’m going to be the one to raise my son, not someone else.” I suppose it was at this moment before I was even born, that for me began his legacy of being determined, or how it usually manifested itself, as being stubborn and occasionally ornery.
Now, I’m not going to go stand here and tell you he was perfect. In fact, he once admitted to me that he had made a mistake. According to him, that mistake occurred when he said he was wrong about something but in actuality he was right the whole time. But in all seriousness he sometimes admitted to his flaws; he said he spent too much time working when John and I were little. That might be true. OK, it’s true. But in doing so, I learned that being entrepreneurial and working hard has rewards. And more importantly, because of him sharing his lessons, I learned that you have to balance your work with the rest of your life. Because of that, today I own a business, just like he did, but I do so spending 90% of my time working from a home office. I can see my children as much as, or as the case sometimes may be, even more than I want!
Some of you know that I tried to play basketball. I could shoot really well but when it came to defense, dribbling, passing and rebounding I never really figured it out. No matter, shooting is the most important part, right? For someone like Dad, who probably ended up coaching in large part because of his love of sports yet the inability to fully participate because of his physical limitations it had to be challenging for him to see this. I didn’t have the same physical limitations that he did yet like him, all I could do is shoot. At least it made for some great games of horse between the two of us. Anyway, by some minor miracle, I ended up playing varsity basketball my senior year of high school at KMS. Now, because of my inability to do much else than shoot it meant that I didn’t see much playing time. That season I scored five points. Guess who was there to see all five of those points? Well, yeah, since that’s why I’m here talking about it, it was Dad. But he also was there for every minute of warm-ups where I spent significantly more time on the court and every minute of every game. I even think that when we beat the Trojans that year in Ortonville he might have been happy for the first time after Ortonville lost a game. Currently, my oldest son has started playing basketball and whether that continues or he does something else I will continue my dad’s legacy by doing the most important part, showing up for it.
Some of my first memories of dad are going to Gopher football games as a family which started when I was three. We had season tickets from then through my senior year of high school. We’d drive in on Friday afternoon after school and listen to Steve Cannon on WCCO; hearing Fight on for ‘Ol during the drive was always a favorite. We’d stay at DeAnn’s house and then go watch the Gophers most likely lose. One of the shared dreams that dad and I had was going together to watch the Gophers play in the Rose Bowl someday. That’s not going to happen but we did make it to the Citrus Bowl together last year so I guess that New Year’s Day bowl game will have to do. I maintain season tickets to this day and continue to endure the pain, I mean joy, of being a fan. Thanks Dad! But in some way he’ll always be with me when I go to the games, especially when I take my kids. And when we do go to the Rose Bowl I know he’ll be with us.
I met my wife Stacy in the fifth grade, the first year I started going to school at KMS. In high school we were best friends and that continued through college when we were both in the Twin Cities. She was at St. Thomas and I of course was at the University of Minnesota. I’m sure no one saw that coming what with the indoctrination of Gopher football and what-not. When Stacy and I were just friends, Dad always said that she and I would end up getting married and I told him he was crazy. Now, at one point, Stacy and I started dating. Well, I never told anyone, because like him I want to always be right. One year before Thanksgiving, Stacy wasn’t comfortable going unless I told people we were dating. For me, that meant telling my dad and he was uncharacteristically gracious considering his prediction seemed to be a likely outcome. Stacy and I got married a couple years later. OK, if you ask her it was several years, but this is my story. After that and three grandkids for him later, he indeed was right and, yeah, I was wrong.
Last summer when it started to be a little more clear that Dad was having more challenges dealing with his health, he decided to drive to Washington with my mom to visit his in-laws. Given his health, I thought this was a horrible idea. In fact, after the trip didn’t go well and he ended up in the hospital at the University of Washington in Seattle, I was more than a little angry with his decision. I think though the more I consider this the more I CHOOSE to see it as a gift. When I was growing up, we’d always take trips to Washington to see Nana and Papa, my mom’s parents and the rest of the “Washington” family. We’d drive there every other year on average. These trips are some of the greatest memories I have. From mom shutting down dinner time at the crab leg buffet at Circus Circus in Reno, Nevada because she was embarrassed of the two foot pile of shells Dad, John and I created to spending time with “Washington” family to learning that Dinosaur National Monument didn’t really have a monument. When he got sick out there last August, John and I flew out to see him for what we thought might be one last time. It wasn’t the last time thankfully, but it was the last time in that region of the country that we went so many times. I’m not saying any of it was intentional but he did create the circumstances to in part relive and remember those trips.
Looking back on all this, I may have been jealous that he was never my coach in athletics which is how most of us see a coach. But through these memories, I realize that he WAS my coach because he tried to show me how to do things and to learn from his lessons; that’s what a coach does. He was my father and through that he showed ME how to be a father. Of all of the things we’ve shared through life, THIS is the greatest thing we have in common. I hope I can take one last lesson from my dad and be the best father and coach I can be to my children. Thank you dad, I love you and I will miss you.