6.6.20 Hero & Legend

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“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Babe Ruth

I know this photograph is candid and imperfect. If I’d been focused, I might have asked my husband to put down his coffee cup and mail. I would have suggested him and my father-in-law to move two feet aside so that there wouldn’t be an obscure basketball hoop and half a truck in the shot. There are a lot of things that I could have done to make this picture, esthetically “more pleasing,” and yet … it is one of my favorites … because of the two men in it … and because of the radiant, pride-filled smiles on both of their faces.

When Matthew and I started dating – in the fresh moments of getting to know all there is to know about one another, one of the first things I noted was the way he spoke of his father. He talked about him almost reverently, and I can honestly say, that I do not ever, remember him saying anything negative about him in the past nineteen years we’ve been together. Every quirk was marked as endearing. Every obstacle or setback was spoken of with starry-eyed reflection, furthering Matthew’s adoration of a man who knew how to make the best out of a situation, or rise stronger after a fall.

My father-in-law wasn’t my husband’s dad – he was his hero, and this week he was taken from the world and finally given his proper placement in heaven … where all heroes should be. But you know what? It still leaves us shattered. Even expecting it … even knowing it was coming doesn’t soften the blow.

My father-in-law suffered from Ataxia and Multiple Systems Atrophy. He was diagnosed over ten years ago, and while he wasn’t in pain, this lethal combination of diseases slowly took away his ability to walk, to speak, and eventually, to swallow and breathe. As he slowly began to fade, a stranger might have seen a man reduced to humility and weakness … but my Matthew championed his father to the end as a glorified conqueror. He only saw the courage – the faith – the bravery. And I looked on with constant awe, at the impermeable strength of a father’s influence over his son, and a son’s desire to become just like his dad.

My father-in-law spoke in actions more than in words … in laughter, in service, and devotion. His last words were, “I love you … I love you … I love you.” And dad … we loved you too, and nothing about the distance between heaven and earth can change it. Legends are eternal that way.

6.19.17 Thank you Daddy. Thank you Dad.

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It has taken me a while to write this post. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but rather, too much. How do you put into words what your father(s) mean to you? How do you even begin? My father, and my father-in-law, have been the most influential men in my life aside from my husband. Married at 21, (and dating for three years before that) we have grown up together, and I feel that we have two full sets of parents that have blessed, influenced, and molded us. 

I realize that most of the world does not have the experience of a father the way I or my husband have. Often (especially in the lives of my students) I am exposed to the painful truths that most children experience some version of cool complacency with a father who was never really there. And for this … my friends … I am so sorry. I wish you could have had my childhood – one that was filled with encouragement, faith, and the safety of knowing you are well and fully loved. 

One of my favorite memories was falling asleep in my father’s arms at a Summerfest concert with Rod Steward wailing away. I must have been three or four-years-old, and I distinctly remember the feeling of curling into my dad, amid all the noise and chaos, and not waking up again until he was carrying me out of the car when we got home. It might seem a trivial memory, but to me, it was foundational. It was the beginning of my daddy nurturing my dreams, literal and otherwise. Since before I could even recognize it, my daddy has been growing my hope, teaching me to wrestle with my imagination, and pushing me to demand more of myself than I would have thought I was capable of. He is the hand I hold in the storms, and the nudge forward when I want to escape. He sturdies my resolve, and pushes me ever on. 

When I met my father-in-law, years and years later, I hoped to love and respect him, but didn’t think I’d need much, as I never had a void in the dad-department that required filling. I was wrong. Throughout the years, my relationship with my father-in-law has become one of a true, dad/daughter bond. When I first met him, his love language was that of service. Doing things like washing my car, and fixing broken things around my house were his way of telling me he loved me. Now he uses words, and oh, how I savor them. A lover of memories, like me, he writes treasures for us kids to savor – listing out scrapbook stories and pieces of childhood I almost feel like I was a part of. He listens to me. He reads everything I  write. He is proud of me as his daughter, and has long since adopted me into his family for real. 

One thing I have learned from both of my dads is what Marie Beyon Ray once said, “Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand – and melting like a snowflake.” They are live-in-the-moment men. Stand up, get knocked down, and stand up again men. They are I’m here for you, I’ll provide for you, I’ll show you how to do the same men.

I wish the world had more men like them. 

Both have epitomized bravery and courage to me. Whether battling occupations or health concerns, finances or relocations, they have remained men of faith and character. Neither has compromised his integrity in times when it would have been so much easier to take the “easy way.” They believe in hard work, in dedication, in family, and in this one, precious life the Lord gave them to live and journey through. I cannot imagine my or husband’s life without their guiding light and I am eternally grateful that God placed them as the pillars of strength in our family. 

Thank you daddy. Thank you dad. 

Elle