He was a coach, teacher, mentor and father. I remember one day when he was recruiting a student/athlete and brought him to our house. A couple of my siblings and I were sitting at the dining room table having lunch. I tried to get his attention by saying, "Dad," waiting a little bit, and saying again, "Dad," to no avail. It was as if I did not exist. That was until I said, "Coach," did I get his attention. I will never forget it. I called him Coach for many years after that.
I had a different kind of relationship with him then did my other siblings, Kathleen, Rick, Vicki, Tammy and Chad. I believe they were mentored more by my mom then by my dad. Yet, as he was nearing his death they all stepped up big time and helped him in many ways I could not.
I was his shadow from the time I was old enough to walk. He had a job where he played for a living and I got to be a part of that. I really had a charmed relationship with him. I had a basketball in my hands before I could walk, and by the time I was five, I was the mascot for his McLaughlin Mighty Midgets basketball team. I was a gym rat. I was following in my father's footsteps.
Many young people today learn dinosaur names to help develop their vocabulary. My dad taught biology and had all of these wonderful charts of the human body. Dad taught me muscle names like gastrocnemius, sternocleidomastoid, pectoralis major and gluteus minimus, medius and maximus, to name just a few.
He would take me with him when he went to his classroom on a Sunday afternoon to grade papers. I helped him grade papers and played in his classroom. When we lived on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in McLaughlin, one student brought in a great horned owl, and I remember walking around his cage. The owl would look at me by turning his head almost all the way around without moving his body. Another student brought in a live rattlesnake in a small aquarium. Again, his job was fun for me.
He also taught me how to keep score in basketball and baseball games. Here is a picture of him with the scorebook from the basketball game the night before when we lived in Farmer, South Dakota:
I was not even four years old yet. You can tell there was mentoring and teaching going on there, and I was loving every minute of it. When I was older, I kept score, was the ball boy and bat boy for my dad's baseball teams.
Here is a photograph from the Sibley Gazette newspaper when we were on our way to the District Championship baseball game. Had we won that game, we would have gone to the Iowa Junior High School State Tournament. That was a good team:
Sibley, Iowa was town number seven before I was twelve years old. Dad was always getting a better job so we moved a lot growing up.
Both images will enlarge if you click on them:
After two years in Sibley, he took the track and cross country coaching and guidance counselor job at Worthington State Junior College, just seventeen miles from Sibley. Worthington, Minnesota was the eighth town for me and the sixteenth different location I had lived in before I was fourteen years old.
I am convinced one of the reasons I have been able to deal with all the change I have had to deal with since breaking my neck was because I had to deal with change growing up. I believe that prepared me for handling my accident. My dad and mom were responsible for helping me in that process. My dad was my best friend before my accident and my mom is my best friend now. Both of my parents have had a tremendous influence on who I have become today.
Happy Birthday, Dad! I miss you.
As always, I look forward to your comments.