In the year after my dad died, as part of my grieving, I wrote this book. I’ve waited to make it public for many reasons. But now, more than 11 years later, I want to share it. My dad was a good man. I want you to know about him and his influence. I hope you enjoy.
On several vacations my dad would buy us all notebooks and we would learn things and write them down and then have to write down goals. We were supposed to make goals for the trip, what we wanted to do, see, and learn, plus goals for the year ahead. I have kept doing that ever since in one form or another. He kept us analyzing things, finding spots where we could improve and finding things we could excel at. We were never done because he was never done.
He always had a pile of books to read, piles of wood to carve, things he dreamed of doing. He always wanted to expand our Christmas morning breakfast to a campout. Winter camping was an obsession for a time. Luckily he never carried that one out! He always wanted to make a black powder rifle and shoot it. The kit is still in his office. He always had one more thing he wanted to do, one more project, one more book to read. It was this passion to learn more and do more that showed me what life was really all about.
Manhood is not a goal. You don’t graduate from boyhood. I enjoyed seeing the boy in my dad, the childlike desire to learn, to be curious. His ideal view of life, how it could be if everything were perfect, was inspiring, if not discouraging because it never happened! He had a pessimism that was very optimistic. No matter what happened, no matter how often he wanted a new job, no matter how many people stabbed his bleeding back, he held out hope. He enjoyed what he could and endured the rest because he had what he enjoyed.
Saturday nights he would go downstairs and finalize his sermon, get all his notes together, and get himself ready to preach in the morning. Every Saturday night he would put some music on his stereo and crank it up. He always loved music with a bass line because it would rattle the house. Now, when I talk music I’m talking Chet Atkins or The Cathedrals. He would crank it and we would all hear it and know that dad was happy. Saturday was always followed by Maybe I Should Get Another Job Sunday, but Saturday would come again next week.
The first time my wife and I went on vacation with my parents she was amazed. We were driving behind them in our car and my dad would pull over just about every hour to get something to drink or eat or look around somewhere. He was so happy to be out and moving, enjoying new things and new places. My dad on vacation was great.
When at camps we would go out and he and I would shoot horseshoes. We would crank up the air conditioner in hotel rooms and watch midget car racing on ESPN. He was fun and funny. If only life were a vacation. But it isn’t. Life is tough, filled with tough things. But he carried himself well. Even during tax season, he was not a pleasant guy to be around as his forms were spread all over the place, but he figured it out and got it done. He persevered and lived for joy set before him.
He was not good in the heat. One year out West we were driving through Wyoming and it was 100 degrees at noon. We had no air conditioning in the car. We went about two hours and my dad said that was enough. We got a hotel and camped out with the air conditioner cranked. In the evening, which was still quite hot, we went to an Old West Village. We took a picture with my dad standing against a coffin leaned against a wall looking like he was dead. That’s great. Turn the misery into a joke.
His pessimism pointed out what was wrong, but his optimism turned it into a this-too-shall-pass joke. His pessimistic optimism was what made him so funny and fun to be with. You couldn’t help but feel bad for him because so few of his plans came true. But it never stopped him from doing new plans. And I think even he was surprised from time to time by how many actually happened.
When people found out that my dad had cancer they began sending him letters. He got letters for months. Each letter was unique and pointed out something different that he had done. Some mentioned just him, some his wife, some his kids, some his church, some his hobbies. He had so much going for him and so much accomplished because his optimism pushed him through his pessimism. There were some other letters too, other letters that clearly showed that some people did not know my dad. One lady from the town his church was in wrote and said how much she liked Ken because he was so ecumenical! One woman who did not know my dad!
My dad was a man. Not because of anything he did but because of who he was. He took on life and persevered. He walked around with a broken back for who knows how long before they found out he had a snapped vertebrae, which then lead them to discover the cancer that was killing him. Who knows how much he suffered, he always pushed through it.
He went in for colon surgery that eventually did him in on a Sunday night after preaching a message. The next Sunday his church was having a memorial service for him. He knew there was something more to life than just events and accomplishments. As much as he portrayed the pessimistic loser image, you couldn’t feel bad for him too much because everyone knew he had it together. The amount of people who showed up to tell his family how much they appreciated him was proof of that. He would have loved to have been there.