Remembering September 11th

Dad younger

It’s an understatement to say that September 11th means a lot to our country. The horrific terrorizing events of that day in 2001 have captured a place in the hearts and minds of all who experience them, regardless of how or where we heard the news. It’s a day that must never be forgotten. Of that I’m certain most everyone will agree.

Yet as important as it is, this isn’t a post about the day that you are remembering. It’s a post about that day but not that date. You see, September 11th has been special to my sisters and me for as long as I can remember. It was the date our dad was born – in 1914. Today was his birthday and nine-eleven was the date that we would always try a little harder to remind him how very special he was to us and how lucky we each felt to have him as our dad. It’s incredible for me to consider that he would have been 98 years old this year. Unfortunately, we lost our dad in 1979 – only a few years after he had retired and just a little more than a year after our mom had passed. Dad was 65.

I spent today conducting business in the board room of one of the world’s largest candy brands in Hershey, Pennsylvania and I’ll finish it at home in Sammamish, Washington. I’m actually writing this on a state of the art laptop computer in a Boeing 737 at an altitude of about 30,000 feet. My dad would never have even imagined a day like that. For him, a hectic travel and business day would be a required trip from the water department shop in our hometown of Lake Stevens to the Snohomish County PUD office about ten miles away in Everett. Anything that he wrote while traveling was done with a well sharpened number two pencil on a 5x7 inch white tablet fastened to a clipboard. And that’s only if he was lucky enough to have a clipboard. I don’t think dad ever flew in a commercial plane. Dreaming wild dreams like that wasn’t important to him. What was important to dad was that he was home every night for dinner. It was a rare day when he wasn’t there with his family. I think I could count them on both hands and not use all my fingers. His dreams were for his children – that we would have it a little better or a little easier than he and his brothers did.

Steel Toed Boots

Steel Toed BootsThere was so much that defined our dad as a truly unique husband and father. As I thought about him throughout the day today many of those memories came rushing back. But none of the memories were more vivid or meaningful than the thoughts that I had when recalling his steel toed boots. An odd set of memories that even years after his passing I recall with great detail. I remember the care that he gave to his boots and the way he oiled and polished them to make sure the water wouldn’t penetrate the softened leather. I remember the small hall closet where he stored them each night and the distinctly rugged smell that existed each time the closet door was opened. And I can still visualize the chair where he sat to lace up his boots while he drank his morning coffee. I also remember that after months of daily use in the most difficult of conditions and inclement weather he would take his boots into town to have them resoled so they would be able to take him to work for another year. A new pair of boots wasn’t something that was often considered. That simply wasn’t affordable.

It turns out that those boots weren’t really as special as I once thought. What I’ve now come to understand is that the boots were just a symbol for my dad’s life. Like him, the boots were always there, right where you knew they would be, able to be counted on day after day, year after year. When he laced them up they were tough and hard working. Because he took good care of what was important to him, they were also soft and comfortable. Like my dad, the steel in the toes of those boots provided protection from things that came out of nowhere. His five toes were protected by the steel just as we five children were protected by our dad. The unexpected didn’t have a chance. Dad and his boots were there to protect us and him.

Ironically, when I was graduating from high school and considering a course of college study for a career of my own those boots played another important role. My dad proudly wore his boots to a job as a ditch digger – the leader of a crew who worked for the water department laying and repairing pipe that brought water into the homes of our community. Two of our neighbors also wore similar boots to work. One was a lineman for the phone company and the other was employed on an electrical crew. Three neighbors all wearing steel toed boots for jobs at three different utilities and working harder than I imagined myself being able to. So I looked to a fourth neighbor and saw that he wore a suit and a pair of polished black dress shoes to his job as an accountant. I decided right then that I would go to college and study accounting - whatever it took to avoid the heavy manual labor that came with steel toed boots.

Dad and RodYears have passed and so much of who I’ve become is due to the lessons I learned from my father. He lived his life as if his sole purpose was to be the loving husband and parent that he was. I don’t remember a single time when he made himself the center of attention or acted in a self-promoting way. To many, my dad would seem ordinary. He didn’t finish high school, wasn’t well traveled, and didn’t climb corporate ladders. To his children, his wife, and those who knew him he was remarkable. That he continues to shape my decisions and the way I live my life with newly discovered lessons is amazing.

Here’s to September 11th, a pair of steel toed boots, and to the life of a man that ended too soon and accomplished so much. We  miss you!


Happy birthday dad!

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