|Dad and I sporting our new matching Huskies shirts!|
The strange thing about losing someone you love is that, contrary to popular belief, time heals very few wounds. Today I don't miss him any less than I did this day in 2001. The regrets I had about my time with him then are the same as they are now. If anything I miss him worse and have more regrets today than I did 11 years ago. Over time memories fade. When memories fade we remember less of the good times. When we remember less of the good times we fall under the impression that there were, in fact, less good times. This engenders regret over not having created more good times.
But while there are plenty of regrets, there were undeniably plenty of good times. This month I've really been trying my best to concentrate on those good times. Well, actually more than "concentrate" on them, I've just been trying to remember them. No one has ever accused me of having a good memory, so this has been a fairly difficult task. I'm going to let you, my friends (and probably some family), in on some of my favorite memories of my dad 11 years, 7 months, and 1 day since his death.
|To my knowledge, this is the last picture dad and I were in together|
- Boxing. One night at my house in Libby, some friends and I had gotten our hands on some boxing gloves. I think we were probably 16 or 17 at this point. Dad would have been 55 or 56. Naturally, like any young, energetic, athletic whippersnapper, I figured there weren't many guys in their mid-late 50s on the planet that I couldn't handle. So the inevitable challenge was made. I think when we started, he didn't realize that I was serious, so he was pretty lackluster with his punches. Then I popped him pretty good in the chops and his demeanor quickly changed. All of a sudden I felt like Michael Spinks. He, of course, was Mike Tyson. The fight had started well, my confidence was up, and then came the flurry. Nathan Wirt, who was in the kitchen...doing something, described the sounds he heard as "pop...pop, pop, pop...crash." The "pops" were dad's gloves hitting my face. The "crash" was me getting knocked backwards, out the door to my room, and knocking some stuff off the wall as I fell to the wall, then the floor, of our hallway. Dad will forever be remembered by my brothers and me as a herculean super-human who was rarely beaten at anything ever by anyone...especially us.
- Gopher hunting. Perhaps our favorite pastime in the hot Libby summer was using high powered rifles to blow up various small, nuisance creatures (in most cases, Colombian Ground Squirrels). One night, dad told Nathan and I that he was going to take us gopher hunting in the morning. Sounds great, right? Yes. But...we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, so when dad came in to wake us up at 10:00 to go, we said thanks but no thanks. We'd rather sleep. This was unacceptable to dad, since he had specifically set aside this Saturday to spend time with me. The crazy old man was so stubborn he actually made us get up at 10:00 in the morning! The nerve! Anyway, mom had packed us a lunch and we took off. We had two .22-250s and a .243 and a lot...a whole lot...of ammo. I don't really know what it was about this day, but I've never seen and/or killed as many gophers in one day as that day. Those little suckers were everywhere. We started shooting about mid-way between Libby and Kalispell and didn't stop until we made a complete loop and came back out on the north side of Libby. Probably about 6 or 7 hours of shooting and at the very least 100 dead gophers. That was probably the most fun I've ever had with dad in one day and I will forever be grateful to him for costing me my precious beauty sleep.
- The Screwball. When I was probably 11 or 12 and we were living in Baker, I was always begging dad to play catch. When dad was in high school, he was one of the best pitchers (if not the best pitcher) in the state of Washington. His slider was dominant and he was offered an opportunity to play professionally for some minor league club when he was done with high school. He turned the opportunity down because he felt called to the ministry. So he went to a small Bible school without a baseball program instead. Anyway, I knew dad was a high level pitcher thirty-some years ago and wanted to know what he still had in the tank. I'd never seen a breaking ball in real life prior to this event. I got him out in the church parking lot and told him to throw me some breaking ball. I think he thought he was taking it easy on me by throwing a screwball, a pitch he didn't even use in-game back in the day, rather than one of his go-to pitches - a slider or a curve. So I crouched down like a good little catcher and dad threw. From the instant the ball left his hand it was making a sound I didn't know a baseball could make and have not heard since from any pitcher I've ever caught. It was literally fizzing from the silly RPMs he was able to put on it. Now that I know more about baseball I'd kill to see him pitch more. It was a thing of beauty. It had high velocity and very late, very hard, diving break. I got so scared I jumped up and dove out of the way. I shutter to think what his money pitches were like in his prime. He had a game in high school where his starting catcher got injured and the backup had to catch him. He had 20 strikeouts and over half of them reached base because his catcher was unable to catch the breakers. This is the only experience I've ever had that makes me feel like I can gauge a little bit just how much greater professional baseball players are than anything I've ever been a part of. If you gave me a bat and told me to try to hit that, I'd probably still be swinging. And he was 30 years past his prime.
|Look at that sexy beast|
- Ping Pong. Our family used to go to family camp in Hungry Horse, MT almost every year. One year, when I was probably 10 or 11, I was introduced to ping pong. I'd probably played a time or two before that, but that was the first time I played at any length and actually tried to get better. Dad was very good. He beat me over and over and over and over....and over again. One thing I really appreciated about him was that he never let me win anything - I had to earn it, which made the (admittedly few) victories so much sweeter. Anyway, when we got back to Baker, dad was just as excited to start playing more ping pong as I was, so he bought a table from a guy in the church and we started playing a lot. For my part, I practiced hard. Forrest Gump had recently come out, so I saw how he practiced against the table in the movie and emulated that trying to get better. I went for...well...a very, very long time without beating dad. Not even once. I was getting better and better, closing the gap, coming closer, until one day I finally clawed my way to a victory. Immediately upon finally ascending to the mountaintop, I got shot right back down to the valley below looking up. Literally the first words dad said when the game was over and I was celebrating: "Boy, you're sure getting a lot better. Pretty soon I'm going to have to start playing you right-handed." It was then, in utter dejection, that I realized dad had never played me with his right hand. Ever. Over hundreds of games. Hundreds of beat-downs. He was taking it easy on me. It took me another two years or so to finally beat him right-handed. By the time all was said and done I was very good at ping pong. Through high school only one of my friends ever beat me, and him only twice out of hundreds. At my best, dad and I still shared about a 50/50 split.
|Dad and Gary Halvorson: very bald men in very classy wigs|
|Dad sitting in his office surrounded by a couple thousand books|
I suppose this has been enough story telling. I could go on, but I won't. Suffice it to say that I miss my dad greatly and every year it seems I miss him more. He was such a huge part of my life. He taught me to hunt, fish, shoot, and love the outdoors. He taught me to love any type of competition whether any sport from pickleball to football or any game, Rook to Balderdash (his favorite board game). But most importantly, he taught me what a proper marriage should look like and what a man of faith should be. He still makes frequent appearances in my dreams, which seems odd given how long my mind has had to adjust to him being gone. I think to some degree this is due to the fact that there are so many conversations and experiences I wish I could have had with him that I know I never can. When you're in high school you don't think or get the opportunity to have most of the great conversations you want to have later down the road. I wish I could have talked to him about my career path, my relationships (in failure and success), and life's frustrations. I wish we could discuss the various theological and philosophical ideas that have come into my life since he passed. I wish I could ask him how he thinks Justin Verlander would stack up against his favorite pitcher, Sandy Koufax. I wish we could take that hunting trip to Alaska on which he always wanted to take me. I wish we could team up just one more time for a game of Rook. To be honest, there have been times when my faith has waned, shaken by this argument or that event in my life. Sometimes, in the lowest of those low times, it has felt like the biggest part of what has kept my faith going has been the hope that one day I'll again get to see my dad. I miss you pops.
In honor of dad's birthday, I'd really love it if some of you who happen to read this who knew him would respond with one (or more) of your favorite memories of him. Thanks all.