Saturday, January 2, 2016

Dad

0

We found out that my dad had liver cancer on October 23 (please note, my dad never drank, and did not have hepatitis or cirrhosis). Exactly 50 years to the day from the day he and my mom promised their forevers to each other.

I read everything I could about liver cancer and I knew it was bad. 

He passed on December 12 after three days in in-patient hospice care (mostly in a coma). My mom, brothers, sisters-in-laws, and myself were all touching him, assuring him that he had done all he needed to do for us as he took his last breath. Before he slipped into a coma, I asked him if he knew how much he was loved. He assured me, he did. In the end, the only thing that mattered was that he knew he was loved by us, and we knew we were loved by him. 

The vacancy he leaves is indescribable but the legacy he leaves makes me so, so proud and grateful to have had him for a dad. 

Dad's funeral was on New Year's Eve. We had to accommodate for my niece's wedding (on December 19th) and the fact that he would be buried in the National Cemetery in Riverside, which assigns a date for the burial rather than the family choosing a day. New Year's Eve seemed like a weird day to have it at first, but as always - it was exactly the way it should have been. I wrote and delivered the eulogy for his funeral, below. 
_________________________________________________________________________________

If you knew my dad, you knew him to be very gentle and very kind. He was a quiet guy – not the type to pass on wisdom through big words or witty phrases. But as I’ve had some time to reflect on his life and what it was like to be lucky enough be his daughter, I’ve recognized that he taught some very important life lessons in just being who he was. So I’ve come up with a list of what I am calling “Life Lessons as lived by Frank Hathaway,” my dad. 

My dad was born in Chelsea, Vermont in 1939. He was the third youngest of 13 children. I am guessing that being a younger of 13 kids has a tendency to make a person either crazy or very, very patient. Luckily for us, with my dad, it resulted in incredible patience.
Yes, he was very gentle and always, always nice. I never heard him swear, ever. The only time I can remember him saying anything negative about anyone was usually someone he didn’t actually know – like an athlete that wasn’t playing well for the dodgers or an athlete that was playing well against the dodgers.  I can think of three things that triggered his anger: the dodgers losing, tripping on the phone cord (before cordless phones), and really bad freeway drivers.
This kindness was manifested in the way he spoke, typically softly and was reinforced by his authentic, tender spirit. And you would see it everywhere. For example, coming up to a stop sign, he would let every single other car go before he would take his turn (giving my mom a chance to exercise her own patience). He also refused to kill a spider in his own home, explaining to my nieces those spiders were “his friends.”

This lesson, lesson #1 is something he wore on his sleeve and it was the thing we will all think of first when we remember him. Lesson #1: Be kind.

My dad’s family moved to Southern California from the east coast when he was 8 years old. It would be another 12 years before my dad would be introduced to the love of his life, my mom, in 1960.They met in a roller skating club where they would eventually participate in couples skate competitions together. He joined the army when he was 21 years old, spending several years in the 101st airborne division. During this time, he would court my mom, who was still quite young, calling her on her sixteenth birthday from fort ­­­­­Campbell, Kentucky to tell her that if it was “God’s will,” they would end up married one day. Marry they did, a few years later. My dad would spend 50 years and six weeks lovingly devoted to my mom. As a husband, he made it clear that his family was his priority. He was not assertive in nature, but he would do anything for his wife and kids. And he did - working whatever jobs necessary to make sure we were provided for, doing the grocery shopping on the weekends, serving as the scout master, dance instructor for the dance festivals, baseball coach, and resident cheerleader at every single event- sporting, drama, vocal, academic, or otherwise that his kids had going on. His family was the most important thing to him, and this was clear to everyone around him.

He loved the church, his community, and his responsibilities there. As us kids grew up and moved out of the house, he took on new responsibilities working at the temple and more recently, the bishop’s store house helping fill food orders and doing warehouse maintenance. He loved these responsibilities. He took them seriously and rarely missed an opportunity to serve in this capacity. If my dad missed a shift at the temple, we knew he was really sick.  There was no excuse for backing out on a commitment. As evidenced by the fact that my dad kept his responsibility at the bishop’s storehouse until five days before he began to lose his ability to walk.

I think it’s important to note that he did these things with joy. With a seemingly permanent smile on his face, he was almost always happy and he very, very rarely complained. If he didn’t enjoy the task at hand, you would never know it. Lesson #2: Know your priorities and keep your commitments (with joy).

So I’ve said a lot of really great things about my dad, but I want to make it clear that he wasn’t a total pushover. He had some sass and kept his commitments to some weird stuff. For example, he had a deep, unwavering love for jelly donuts. I remember as a young girl, I would go grocery shopping with my dad because I knew I could talk him into buying me a chocolate filled pastry. I’m sure he secretly hoped I would come grocery shopping with him because that would mean he could justify buying a jelly filled donut. In the last few weeks of his life, he virtually lived on jelly donuts. I have made a promise to carry on my dad’s legacy in love of jelly donuts. (I think I’ll have some help.)

He was also devoted to the Dodgers and held quiet, but real commitment to any team that beat USC or the Patriots. Even though I went to USC and my brother and his family love the Patriots as much as my dad hated them. He loved wild berries and talked about growing up on the east coast where they would pick berries and eat them fresh. He loved Elvis. He sang Elvis songs to my mom when they dated and listened to the “Elvis Holiday Station” on Pandora in the weeks leading up to his passing. He hated telephone cords, maple syrup, and chocolate and peanut butter combined. He found great joy in roller coasters and was quite persuasive in getting his kids to ride along as soon as we were tall enough. I am so glad that he did not outlive this love for the thrill of going upside down. He was committed to being on time- sometimes to an obnoxious extent. My mom recently told me that he insisted they leave three hours early to get to their temple shift in Los Angeles. I drove him to several doctor’s appointments as he became ill for which we arrived an hour and a half early. He was very, very serious about being on time. 

I’d like to do a little experiment. If my dad helped you or your family or, if you served with him in some capacity, you please stand up?

I have heard over and over since he passed that my dad was always doing something to help someone. He never said no, was selfless and indiscriminate in his service to others.

Like I said before, he was not assertive. He didn’t necessarily see where help was needed, but if you asked him to do something, you better believe he was going to do it. And he would probably do it an hour early. Lesson #3: If you can help someone, help them. You can always help them. 

If you were to look through the stacks of old photos in my parent’s home, you would find at least one picture of me and my siblings as infants, our dad holding us out as we stood in the palm of his hand. It was our job to balance, he would hold us up. This was a signature “hold” for my dad and his kids; something that always makes me smile when I come across it.


Growing up as a child of my father’s it was clear that we were supported in every single thing we did. I mentioned earlier that he and my mom were resident cheerleaders for anything that we decided to do, no matter how zany the decision.  But my dad (always supported or led by my mom) took it to a new level…

I ran cross country in high school. Cross country is probably the second worst spectating event in the world, next to cycling. My parents made it work for them, though, when they decided to bushwhack up the side of a hill to get to a part of the course that would be unattainable for any other “regular” parent. I remember running and being frightened at their presence as they screamed at me. “What are you doing here? How did you even get here???”

Images of my dad have become so important to me in the weeks after his death. I’m noticing small nuances, glimmers in his eye, body language, and facial expressions that I probably wouldn’t have noticed before. I came across one recently from the day I did an Ironman. My family had waited and cheered patiently on an extremely warm day in St George for 15 hours, 59 minutes and 32 seconds while I swam, ran, and cycled my way to almost obliteration. I finished, absolutely disgusting, salt crusted onto me, stinking up the finish line… The picture taken is the worst photo ever taken of me. But it’s also my favorite. Because all I can see in the finish line photo are my dad’s arms reaching out over the barricade to me, saying in his ever so gentle way, “I don’t care that you stink to high heaven, I am so proud of you that I need to wrap my arms around you.”


My siblings and I have done our best to challenge dad’s commitment to supporting us – he never once wavered. From troubled teenage years, to quitting jobs and moving to Africa, to making some questionable relationship decisions, to cancer, to raising kids, to moving, making big (sometimes dumb) purchases - he did not question, he was not critical. He was supportive, always. This kind of care is enough to make a girl believe she can do anythingLesson #4: Find your balance and I will always support you.

Our family has been so grateful to hear such lovely things about my dad since he passed away. One of my favorites was a dear friend of the family who said, “He was a redwood in my life.” Being an outdoorsy girl, I love trees, and there may even be photos of me “hugging” a redwood. So I love this metaphor.

Redwoods are evergreens that can grow up to 350 feet tall and 22 feet in diameter. Having no natural predators, they can live hundreds of years. And while their root system is relatively shallow, it can spread 60 to 80 feet outward, intertwining with other nearby trees for support and stability. While not immune, their bark contains a natural resistance to fire. Because of their stature, redwoods support an ecosystem of smaller trees, ferns, shrubs and small mammals.  They are steady, adaptable trees, absorbing amazing amounts of water in their foggy habitat and thriving on small bits of sunlight.

I suppose it’s appropriate to address some of the obvious differences between my dad and a redwood tree… Namely, at his tallest, my dad was 5’6”, 5’4” at last measure. He loved his jelly donuts, but did not measure 22 feet in diameter.

But the metaphor is a beautiful one – my dad, not tall in stature, but tall in pride for his family, and the life that he created, supporting his little ecosystem with all that he had. He was strengthened by the wide root system he developed and reinforced by his community and his ability to give and receive from his village. He had no enemies. He was steady and strong in his commitments and his love for his family.  Lesson #5: Be a redwood.

It is impossible to imagine life without the gentle influence and endless advocacy my dad provided. Gratitude for having a father who treated my mother so well, who truly loved his children and grandchildren unconditionally, who never spoke badly of anyone, and who served indiscriminately and selflessly bursts from those of us who are lucky enough to have known his influence. The loss of dad, his soft voice and gentle spirit, has left a giant vacancy in our lives. But we are comforted in having a sure understanding of where he’s gone. My dad passed on a Saturday afternoon at 4:00 pm. I like to think he was just 2 hours early to his reunion that was scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm. A party that included his mom, dad, all 12 of his brothers and sisters, so many of our dear friends and family, ELVIS, and of course, the Savior.

My brother and I were stopped by a dear friend last week who talked about all of the things I have mentioned here. He said something hit home to me, bringing me both peace and putting some weight on my shoulders. Between his tears, he said “You guys have some amazing blood running through you. It is your responsibility to make sure you carry on his legacy.” And so, while I am limited by my own sass and lack of compassion, I will be sure to do my best to carry on his legacy. Listed, but not limited to these five lessons my dad taught us in the way that he lived.
  1. 1)      Be kind.
  2. 2)      Know your priorities and keep your commitments.
  3. 3)      If you can help someone, help them. You can always help them.
  4. 4)      Find your balance and I will always support you.
  5. 5)   Be a redwood.