Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day and Why It'll Never Be the Same (Remembering Dad)

Today is Father’s Day across America and it is certainly a special, albeit different day for me in 2010. It has not been a banner year at the Cheateau de Jenkins and that struggle had a new sadness on May 28th. At a little after two in the afternoon, I got a call from my dad’s phone. I thought dad was harassing me for not calling him for his 61st birthday, but the call was my step mom telling me that he was gone. He had been at work, started feeling chest pains and then within a couple hours, dad got an invitation to hang out with God. It was a great gift for dad, but it pretty much sucked for the rest of us.

By the end of the night, I realized that long awaited trip to New Jersey got moved up. My mother-in-law took care of me and the rest of the family by supplying us the funds necessary for the trip. The last time I had a visit with dad was in 2002 as he came to Georgia over Christmas holiday, just a little under two months after I married my wife, Mindy.

Early the next morning on Saturday, I decided that I would make an attempt at locating at least one of my sisters to allow them to know about dad’s passing. Dad had given me no information on my sisters other than names and states that they might still be in. Within about five minutes of research, I had found an interesting stat. In the state of Oregon, there are only 47 people with the name Ember and even luckier for me, only one with the last name of Jenkins. After looking at the normal place of the White Pages, I drew a dead end. Three phone numbers that did not work.

Then I had a thought. Let’s try Google and see what I come up with. One Ember Jenkins on all of Facebook. Well, let’s keep our fingers crossed, send a note and a friend request. Within an hour, she had called. The conversation started strange, but it made me laugh. Ember says to me, “I have to ask a favor, that you never give this number to dad.” I chuckled, “ I don’t think he could use it if he wanted to.”

I was embarrassed. That line was not how I wanted to share the passing of my dad with my sister. Let’s just say it was quite fitting the longer we talked. Without a long story, I will just say that, for the most part, there wasn’t much good to say from my siblings about my dad. I later talked to my sister Christy and she shared one great story I couldn’t pass up because it speaks volumes about the perception of my dad.

In the late 80’s, my dad met a Russian man who jokingly told him that he was in the mafia. My dad replied, “Amazing, I’m in the middle of Alaska and I meet the only member of the Russian mob.” He became good friends with that man. You would know the man as a guy who thought America was great. He often said, “What a country!” Yes, that man was comedian Yakov Smirnoff. I have to admit I am jealous of my siblings, because I would love to have met him. She went on to tell me that he would come over after a night out with dad and share the funny exploits of their evening. Those were probably the stories in which jokes were made of.

I met my dad in 1991, a few months after the girls moved out and back to Oregon. For the better part of two decades, I’ve always wondered what having family beyond mom and dad would be like. By day’s end, I realized that I had two sisters and a brother that I had never met and all wanted in my life now that dad was gone.

The trip to New Jersey, I thought, could be no stranger than the last 48 hours had been. What I got in the Garden State was totally unexpected and all of something that I could breathe easy about. While my dad may not have been perfect in his early years, he finally figured out some great things in the later years of his life.

In 2002, my father gave up the bottle. After many years of battling alcoholism, he beat the bottle for the last time. It changed him. He made a commitment to God. He joined the Catholic church. From what the priest there told me, he was a faithful member until his death. He also met his soul mate, his wife Geri.

Both had failed marriages, but took one final chance on each other. In 2005, they wed. He was a good dad to her two sons, Tommy and David. He found Geri’s entire extended family took him in naturally. They and pretty much everyone else in New Jersey loved the man. His last job, as the head maintenance boss at a local nursing facility, was natural for him as he became their Mr. Fix It and blessed them for the last five years of his life. For him, life finally came altogether.

In our conversations, we never had theological discussions, but I could tell that dad had truly found his happiness. I learned he had not lost his social grace when he left Alaska and was still quite the flirt. I found it quite funny that when Geri and I went to lunch on Tuesday that a man flirted with her and gave her a piece of gum. This man had to be in his late seventies or better, but I could see my dad being like that if he lived that long. He always knew how to win the ladies’ hearts.

That extended family of Geri’s was great to me. They took me in like I had lived there for my entire life. I shared with several of them that this is the family I wish I could’ve had all these years. They were always coming together and being a part of each other’s lives. They truly loved my dad.

While I didn’t get to see it, I was glad that he had a great run at the end. A friend of mine encouraged me with these words, “Frank, it’s good to see a man finish strong. He was in the Lord in the end and it was evidenced by the people and works around him. He had everything that you would want your life to end with; a woman that loves you, family that looks out for you, a job where you are giving your best and a church life that says he wanted more of God.”

I worried about that last part until Wednesday night of the visitation. A member of dad’s church came up to me as I was sitting and asked if I was his son. I acknowledged him and he told me that he wanted me to know something. He said, “I am a member of the men’s group your dad was a part of on Monday nights the last year or so of his life. When he started coming to the group, I asked him why he came. He told me that his son was a Christian and he felt like he needed to know more about why he was such a believer. I don’t know how much the two of you shared about your father’s beliefs, but he died as a man wanting to know more. He wanted to get closer to Him because he felt that you displayed something that was different.” To say I was stunned is more than you know.

I said earlier that dad and I did not have theological discussions when he called. We truly didn’t. I didn’t talk greatly about my faith with him. But I always wondered where he stood exactly. My guesstimate is that it was close enough to God to want more, which is where I always want to be. I don’t know what he and God talked about, but I do know that he was much closer in the end than anywhere I previously thought. That’s a good thing.

I came home from that trip and admittedly, I’ve been a little down since then. Part of it is because I wish it had been better between the two of us. All children wish this with their parents if they had a somewhat good relationship in life. I would like to have known more about his walk and to discuss the life with the siblings before he passed so I didn’t have so many questions that cannot be answered until heaven.

The other part is witnessing the love the people in New Jersey had for this man that I called my dad and they lovingly called Mr. Ed. I can only begin to describe the number of people that showed up telling me what a fine man, co-worker, congregant and relative that dad was. I found myself thinking a lot about how many people loved my dad, then I looked at my own life. I look at myself as a good person that tries to live a Christian life and show the love that Christ wants us to share. But here in Effingham, I haven’t made a lot of friends. I have tons of acquaintances, but few, if any, close friends.

I began to ask the question that all of us seem to ask before we die, “How many people would show up at my funeral and would they have nice things to say about me? Would anyone show? Would anyone care?” I know that sounds slightly vane of me, but I’m real with you here on OMR. It’s not like I want Charles Stanley to come and eulogize me with Chris Tomlin singing the worship, but I guess I want to feel like I left a good impression on the world and that people found what I did important. I told you it was vane, but at least you know I’m honest.

Anyhow, what can I take from my dad’s life on this Father’s Day that can truly impact the lives around me? First, I think that I always want to have an honesty with my kids. I want them to know where I stand as a Christian. I know that how I act and what I say will end up in the hands, if not the mouths, of my children. I want them to know that Christ is with them no matter how good, bad or indifferent they think I am. That’s what really matters. I hope to take them to adulthood and then, gently let them fly and be the people they are meant to be.

Next, if I make mistakes(OK, those of you that know me know that it’s not a question of if, it’s when), that I need to be man enough to admit them and ask my kids for forgiveness. I said something to Christy that has rang true. I was the one my dad found easiest to talk to. In comparing the hurts of the four of us, getting my forgiveness was probably the easiest. He just missed out on the formative years. I was grateful to have him as I could.

I also never want my kids to think I favor one over the others. My sisters shared with me the wondrous belief of how great my dad made me out to be, because I was the boy. I want all of my kids to know they are specially made to be the best person they can be because of God. I just get the honor of raising them and training them in the way they should go.

Finally, I don’t want them to have wonder about family. With Ember and Kyle in Oregon and Christy in Alaska, along with their families, I now have between them seven nieces and nephews. I want my kids to know them and the five cousins on Mindy’s side, along with her sisters. I also want them to get to know dad’s wife Geri and her family group. It’s been said that once we get to heaven, that we’ll all be one happy family, but it’s here on Earth that we get to practice.

So while Father’s Day 2010 is a day that I find a touch of sadness, I find so much more happiness with the extended family that I now have. So celebrate the patriarchs of the family and enjoy this beautiful holiday 2010 style.

I love you guys!

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