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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day To My Dad | Maris Ehlers Photography

"Never explain.  Your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway." 
Elbert Hubbing

When my Dad died at the age of 59, it was only the third funeral I would have attended by then, and certainly the first one I would bear the responsibility of planning.  At the age of 25, I was woefully unprepared.  I hadn’t seen him for three years, mostly because I lived in the Midwest and he lived on the West Coast.  Of course none of his burial wishes or thoughts were known, which was very intimidating.  While no doubt he hadn’t expected to die so suddenly, he wouldn’t have thought about it anyway. Long term planning was really not his style.  The only thing we were really sure of was that burying him in a suit was not the right way to go.  In the end, we buried him in his favorite pair of blue jeans and his beloved Los Angeles Rams jersey.  After all, you are who you are.  Even in death.  

Just a few short hours after learning he had passed away, the hospital in California called.  His driver’s license had said “donor” on it and these were the first decisions to be made.  I remember being completely overwhelmed by the conversation itself, but in the end seeing the blessing that would come of it. 
When we got to California, one of the first mornings there we decided to clean out his personal effects.  I was nervous thinking that there would be so many things to go through, and that it would be so difficult.  It was difficult, but for reasons unexpected.  His personal belongings (other than his extensive tools for his work as a concrete contractor and the usual wallet and paperwork), was a box in his closet.  In it?  A few pictures of us as a family before he and my mother divorced, various pictures of us three kids and his only grandchild at the time Casandra, cards that I had mailed him over the years, a large picture of his father who served under Sergeant York in World War II, and an autographed Rams football.  That was it.  It was like a punch in the gut. 
Why did my dad have so little?  In all honestly, he did his entire life, even during the times when by most standards he had a lot.  

When I die, my children will have much to go through:  momentos, memories, snippets of good days and bad, markers of both momentous occasions and every day life.  Some of it will no doubt make them catch their breath and remember with absolute clarity a moment in time.  Some pieces will have held a private significance to me or to my husband, but will be utterly meaningless to them.  They will look at these things, and not understanding their value, will likely toss them aside, never to know the whole story.  That's how it goes.
Much has been said about my dad in the past week, and on this day, Father’s Day, I will say this:  Many have passed judgement with only knowing a small part of his role in this story, and without a lot of context (Box Turtle Bulletin provided quite a bit, but many people have yet to read it).   And that’s okay.  We don’t have enough time or energy to explain the rest.  More importantly, he doesn’t need us to.  
I loved my Dad.  A lot.  I still do, and my brother feels the same.  We miss all of him, flaws and all.  His gentle smile, his easy laugh, and yes, even his complete inability to dig deep, to tell anyone what he REALLY thought or felt, and we grieve for the guilt and loss he carried his entire life and for what was done to him as well.  

Life rarely exists in straight lines, or in black and white.  The older I get, the more I appreciate the curves and shades of gray that make up the shadows of the unknown.  When we have the rare opportunity to shine a light on those shadows, to dig in the box of momentos, we find the imagery of our minds includes some colors as bright and vibrant today as they were so long ago, and others faded, cracked, and without much context left. 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  Thank you for being you.  We now understand you in ways that we never could before, and for that opportunity, we are grateful. 
Mark, Kirk and Casandra the day after Dad's funeral

1 comment:

Donna said...

A beautiful post, Maris. Thank you for the memories of my wonderful Uncle Rod. I miss him too.