Fathers' Day unexpected

Today, I extend my loving arms around all those out there who are wishing their fathers a happy day in heaven while celebrating and missing them here on Earth. And to those fathers who are missing hearing “happy father’s day” from a child who is not present here on Earth, my love to you. And to the grandfathers, like my dad, who never expected to live a day of his life without one of his grandchildren, my love to you as well. I can imagine your pain from my own.

In our family, we lost my son Sam just over a year ago as a Sophomore in high school. Maybe our loss and the subsequent holidays wouldn’t seem so unexpected if we had seen signs of Sam experimenting with drugs. But we didn’t because Sam’s grades weren’t dropping; he continued to maintain a GPA over 4.0. Other signs like his friends changing weren’t there either; he was hanging out with the same friends he had since even elementary school. He was keeping up, as usual, with his impeccable personal hygiene habits which involved: mass amounts of Axe body spray; an at-the-ready, on top of the refrigerator so it was in clear site, can of shoe cleaner; white teeth strips in his kitchen cabinet space to keep his whites, white, in combination with the bag of brush on-the-go toothbrush wisps in case he needed to brush his teeth in between brushing his teeth while out; and next to it in his cabinet, the roller brush to ensure there was no white hair from T-Bone left in sight before he walked out the door; also where he kept his own personal Tide stick in case he spotted something that needed to be removed while he was using the roller brush; all those things plus the multitude of hair brushes and bags of mints stored in his cabinet, backpack, gym bag, etc. for always being accessible because he liked Lifesaver mints so much or to make his hair “just right” when it was disappointing him as he looked in the mirror. Sam’s sleeping patterns were no different than a growing teens either. He was still health conscious with his food choices. He was still body conditioning in the off season of school basketball and playing summer AAU basketball. And I had access to his cell phone because we had the same iPhone account and there were no friends in the directory that we shared that appeared like anything other than a friend of Sam’s. And the reason why there were no signs; because there was no time. While others are blessed with second chances to learn from mistakes. Sam’s, instead, was fatal when he and two of his athlete friends decided to try Acid of LSD and got what was a synthetic hallucinogen, 25i-NBOMe. And while his two friends were fine after; it was Sam who after, died overnight on Mothers' Day just over a year ago.

So all the father figures in our family today are having an unexpected experience this Fathers’ Day, one year later. I think I understand them; I just got passed Mother’s Day and the anniversary of Sam’s death. But it doesn’t take away the pain that I wish I could take away for them, and especially for the greatest male role model in my life, my dad. My dad has always been self-made; I think that’s where I got that from myself. In high school, he wasn’t into athletics. Instead, living on a rural farm with horses and livestock, besides doing his share of chores and farming as the youngest of three brothers, my dad raised and sheared sheep. And on the farm they had a horse ring but they also had a go-cart track and in that, my dad’s talents were realized. In his high school days, he had his own car and on the front seat next to him sat a worn leather pilot’s cap which as a kid I always thought of as being like what Peanuts’ Snoopy wore vs the Red Baron. My mom remembers it well; it was on his front seat when he gave her a ride home after her family's car broke down in their small town… the day they first met.

My dad is smart; what I would describe as “quiet smart” because he doesn’t talk all the time but when he does say what he is thinking it is commonly profound. He wasn’t interested in college although his mother was a teacher and he had many siblings who went to the University of Illinois; I don’t know how he convinced his parents that vocational school was for him but he did. And after that, he worked a few years in a car dealership service center and then started his own business. First with one gas station and auto shop in our small town, then a second. This business life supported his passion for race car driving that had developed from the competitive go-cart racing he enjoyed. He didn’t have the kind of sponsorships as you see now but through his own investment efforts he raised himself to the USAC stock car circuit, United States Auto Club, which was then as well-known as NASCAR is today. He was home part of the week and then also, traveled with his crew in their custom cab and car hauler or if my mom and I were traveling with, we also took our RV motorhome. My mom was his official scorekeeper; a role well-suited for her. And I was their only daughter so I went wherever they went. Whether racing in the Pennsylvania Poconos, at Michigan International Speedway, Iowa Speedway or traveling South to race tracks on the USAC schedule, that was our family life; unforgettable experiences… love. The scariest moment was one race where my dad ended up spinning in turn four and his car came to rest right under the finish line flag stand; as the caution flag came out, he got out of his car and sat on the hood of the car until everyone had slowed down. He was disappointed for sure but unharmed and unshaken; he was my dad. As I got through second grade and my schooling became more of a priority for our family, my father left USAC after driving with the likes of Al Unser, A.J. Foyt, Roger McCluskey and others. The year that he left racing, the money he had put into racing went into a truck stop that he bought on Illinois Interstate 57 near Gilman. During that time, he also began mentoring young area dirt car drivers that I would come to know by hanging out in his shop until my mom got home from work. He also enjoyed sponsoring up-and-coming stock car drivers. That was just a start of how my dad has given to his community over the past 50 years with his wallet, his time and his heart.

My dad got me my first pets, one by accident and one for Christmas. The one by accident was a small turtle we found when he took me fishing on the banks of the Vermilion River; I named him Charlie and we were planning a fishing trip to return him to where we found him the year after but Charlie died the day before we were going to take him back to the bank where we found him. Then for Christmas I wanted a kitten and he repeatedly told me that wasn’t possible but then on Christmas morning there was this pet bed under the tree and I thought, hmmm, am I suppose to use this for my dolls? My dad said why don’t you go look out in the shop so off I went and there in the wheel well of one of the race cars I found the most precious long-haired black kitten that I named Sebastian after Josie and the Pussycats’ Alexandra’s cat, Sebastian. I played with Sebastian for hours… who turned into a regular in my life for many, many years…

My dad also got me my first motorcycle. A burnt orange Honda 50 motorcycle when I was entering middle school. We had a country property with a cabin along the Middlefork River and two stocked ponds my dad had made and stocked with fish. I drove the motorcycle endlessly on a path I made around the two ponds; I loved feeling all the wind blowing my, at the time, long blonde hair. I would drive it for hours… This is also the same place where my lifelong friend, Robin, and I would have an adult put a worm on our fish hooks at shore and then we would take the paddle boat out to the middle of one of the stocked ponds and drop our hook in the water and instantly catch a catfish because the fish were hand-fed so that they could later be sold to restaurants. Robin and I would then paddle back up to the shore ask an adult to take the fish off the hook and throw them back in, then add a worm to our hooks, etc. We would do that for hours…

My dad also got me my first car. He had bought a hot rod Dodge Aspen with t-tops for me that had to be redone from seats to paint, etc. But the engine was a Mopar so nothing was needed there. My dad had a custom paint job done and the day that I picked it up from his shop with Robin and we set out to drive home, we were in stopped traffic to turn left and a motorcycle came up behind us too fast and hit us. Everyone was okay, thank God, but the custom paint job was not. I called my dad and told him; then Robin and I went off to some other adventure. I remember coming home that evening and there my dad was in our driveway, with the gas can and a garage rag, wiping off the marks the motorcycle left on the custom paint job. I thought about that for hours…

Since Sam and Nick were born, my dad has been there for me, supporting them and until last year, that involved only celebrations of the glory of God in their lives, their academic and extracurricular accomplishments, their smiles and laughter. Sam and Nick grew up around the same love from my parents that I did and I cherish that for them; going back to their home on Lake Vermilion countlessly with the same takeaway… love.

Nick and I shared special time with my parents this past Thursday, a less emotional day. Nick had a great time with grandpa in his garden and with his new Jeep. Today is different though for all of us and we won’t be seeing each other this Fathers' Day as on this holiday we also mourn half our heart is living in heaven. And we love each other always. ‪#‎muchlove‬