Forum Index > Full Moon Saloon > Farewell Dad - Sept 5, 1949 - Jan 17, 2023
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iron
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iron
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PostWed Jan 18, 2023 9:08 am 
Today my dad passed away from a battle with mesothelioma. In his words: he lived a charmed life. Below is my unpolished version of his life story that I had written while flying out to see him this previous week, with an updated ending that tries to collect what took place these past five days while I was with him. I'm sure I could write 10x this amount to better capture his story, but it would still fall short of what kind of presence he had in people's lives. The photos are from this past summer, a high school picture, early January in the hospital, my best friend Matt giving him a hug goodbye, and from a friend's wedding (Ken) where my dad was the best man. There is also a final salute video for when they took him from his room to wherever the next spot is at the VA (Veterans Health Administration).
I will miss my dad deeply. The extra long and sweet hug from my almost 4-year old son at the airport brought immediate tears and transported me back 39 years in an instant. ______________________________ I know of no one who has suffered more painful experiences in life than my dad. But yet, someone he managed to turn into a humble, warm, engaging person that was a central figure to many. My dad’s earliest memories go back to times even before age 5. He has fond memories of his times with his father – fishing, hanging out, and running errands. One day he was playing with his dad, who then went back to work, and that was the last time he’d see him alive. Heart attack. There is a saying that goes: “You don’t become a man until the day your father dies.” My dad was five. He could not yet become a man. Rather, he had a void that lasted the rest of his life and would impact his confidence, lead to depression and alcoholism, and self-esteem. At age 12, his mother committed suicide. My dad truly loved his mom and felt safe and comforted, and perhaps most importantly, wanted by her. He, along with my Aunt Karen, found their mother dead in the garage, complete with a suicide note expressing loneliness, depression, and feeling overwhelmed. My dad would visit his parents’ graves in Adel annually. I was able to join him for one of the visits, but was too immature to understand the magnitude of what this experience must’ve felt like for my dad. While my dad harbored tremendous guilt for 25+ years following his mother’s death, eventually, with Aunt Jane’s help, he was able to let go of this guilt. Only recently within the past few years, after visiting their graves for so long, was he able to tell his “ma” that he was done visiting her and his demons were gone. It was haunting him, and this moment was a time of true catharsis and finding peace. After leaving Adel, he went to Port Washington with his sisters to live with his aunt and uncle who were caring and supportive, but not quite the same. By the time he was 18, he was signed up for the Army and about to set off to the Viet Nam war. My dad served in “the First Cav” – in the airborne infantry. He was part of a unit that experienced tremendous casualties and carnage. Pure horror. As a kid, I would occasionally get some stories from him. Later in life, he really opened up about some of the trauma experienced from this year in one of the worst war zones in human history. How after a while, he was numb to it all. Broken. Guys getting killed on either side of him. While he had a sense of pride about his time as part of the Cav, there was always underlying hurt and bitterness I could sense from him. He would forever struggle with falling asleep at night, and eventually the obvious-in-hindsight diagnosis of PTSD was a culprit. After all, bad guys come out at night, especially in war. I’d like to say that Vietnam was his defining moment in life, but am not sure. When he came back to the US, he was broken and devoid of so much. He felt used up. Eventually he settled into life, and took a position at Wisconsin Electric. He would work here for 42 years, eventually reaching #1 on the seniority chart amongst 100s of employees. He was a hard worker, diligent, and committed. He loved his coworkers and shared a tremendous amount of fun times together, forming friendships that would last beyond his working years. He had hunting partners, fishing partners, and friends to just simply hang out with and shoot the sh##. He seldom took a sick day and would commonly work 2500+ hour years with shifts that started well before sunrise. Somehow, as a dad, he still managed to be there all the time. While at Wisconsin Electric, he met my grandpa who later introduced my dad to my mom. This started a tumultuous 24 year marriage that had a full smattering of hardships and pain. My dad legally adopted my sisters who are 5 and 7 years older than me, but was always hamstrung in his ability to be their dad; this was outside of his control, and led to unpleasant dad-daughter relationships while they were in the house. Over time, as my sisters matured and were on their own, they began to see just how special of a person my dad was. My dad spent the past 20 years helping them with projects, sharing holidays and birthdays, and providing housing. He bailed out grandchildren from predicaments. He was nothing short of incredible. Because of the limitations placed on him to parent my sisters, my dad always said to me that he really focused on doing the best he could for me. This is a weight I probably didn’t understand until now while writing this. He had such commitment to things like being the manager of my baseball teams starting at age 8. He would be my coach for the next 10 years until college called. In that time, he would go from being an underdog, insecure coach, to one that was confident and eventually league and tournament champions. He had built a mini-dynasty and I know he felt quite prideful. When I reflect on my childhood times with my dad, one of the things that has always stood out is how my dad was not only my dad, but also a dad to all my friends. While we always gave him a hard time – like calling him Norman – he was a good spirit and had a really great blend of love, sarcasm, and principles. In a way, it was like he was one of the gang, but with parental responsibilities. He will always be known as “Mr. H.” Whereas my dad has this awesome memory to recall things from a very early age, I generally do not. However, these are some fond memories I have with him: Playing with a nerf football in the ditch after raking leaves Playing endless games of basketball in the driveway Collecting cans along hwy 36 on weekends Going to hundreds of brewers games in the right field bleachers, row 13 – back when it was simpler times full of playing catch, bags of peanuts, no crowds, and familiar faces Hours of baseball practice with him pitching to me After work trips to Great America complete with stops at KFC for 20-40 chicken little sandwiches for me and Klepp Bleeding the brakes on the cars Laying on the hood of the car and watching for satellites Coming back from driving to the Rose Bowl, my car broke down in -25F weather and we had no warm clothes. He was out there, bare handed under the hood for 30 minutes. I could barely last minutes. Or the time he caught me and a friend stealing heavy duty tools and made us take them back, while he drove, to where we got them (at 2am) on a stealth mission Let’s not forget hunting. This was a defining element of his life. He hunted for 49 years in a row. I was able to join him for about 11 years along with my best friend Matt. We would get all loaded up in the station wagon the week before Thanksgiving week. As a kid, this was a big deal as it meant getting out of school and taking a big trip that felt like and adventure. Matt’s mom would make a bunch of treats for us that my dad always called donuts. And, for whatever reason, a stop at Quik Trip would yield bananas which were always sat upon and blackened, but still tasty to my dad. We had a rule during hunting: what happens up north, stays up north. Now, nothing ever happened, but I think this was his way of making it a little more special. Most years, we hunted with two of my dad’s good friends Scotty and Danny. They were a little more fairweather than us since we slept in a canvas tent with a piece of plastic strewn over the top of it and some Marborlo sleeping bags that were ‘earned’ by smoking enough cigarettes. I was always impressed with my dad’s ability to tie clove hitches and be completely natural at it. My dad’s strategy was to get into the woods at 5:30am, before dawn, and then stand completely still for 12 hours straight. Not the ideal setup for some 12 year old kids, but we did it anyway. For a Vietnam vet, this was no big deal. He was pretty successful with his hunts. Maybe 50% of the years he’d get a deer? The way he carried his M1 rifle – a WWII and Korean War gun – was that of someone that’s been there done that. He would grip it with one meaty, strong hand and walk like it was a broomstick, despite its heft. Over time, we started logging the years we slept in the tent and the number of deer we got by writing our names on the tent walls. Is now a good time to talk about the time he had to cut up his underwear with his Rambo knife to use as toilet paper? As we kids got older, he lost us as hunting partners. Eventually he lost his best friend Scotty to a drowning accident and was then going hunting by himself for a while until he finally decided he wasn’t as interested. One of my regrets, for sure. He was a numbers person. He’d always say: “when you’re 30, I’ll be 60.” And he would find patterns in his numbers and just was really good about remembering them. This is certainly something I inherited from him. He had a dream long ago where he was told that he would die at age 84. It must’ve been powerful because he mentioned this often through the years. However, in recent years, he shied away from this number. My dad was my paper route helper. I had a route for 6 years and he helped nearly every Sunday morning, which meant waking up at 2 or 3am, assembling 200 papers that were 2-3” thick, and then driving around our neighborhood in Wind Lake. It was a thanksless position for him, as I’m sure I never had the presence to say thank you, but it was a bonding experience. I heard many stories and got many life lessons in those early morning hours. On many occasions, my friends joined us for the route and it was pretty enjoyable; in hindsight, I think it’s kind of crazy that any of this was allowed! As my dad struggled with sleep and tried sleeping meds, there were some mornings where he was too sleepy to drive, so we, the 14 year old kids, got to man the wheel of the wagon. Still, his responsible nature still was able to force himself to wake up and to actually get me out of bed, which wasn’t always easy for sure. After I went off to college, my parents got divorced. It was a classic case of ‘sticking it out until the kids are out of the house’. From my eyes, their marriage sucked for at least 10 years. I think there were a lot of external factors that eventually lead to internal strife. But, when they got divorced, I know my dad still loved my mom deeply and wanted nothing more than to keep trying to work on their relationship. Alas, it was not meant to be, although with time, they were able to form an amicable relationship. When he moved out of the house for good, he headed up to Kewauskum to live with a friend from work. Eventually, after a year or two, his friend moved on and then my dad eventually bought the place. It was an old school house nestled in the Kettle Moraine forest, so naturally my dad liked to call it the schoolhouse. At first, I know he felt profound loneliness, but over time he grew quite fond of the place. It was not large by any stretch of the imagination – one room for a living/dining space and a bedroom. When my oldest sister and her family needed a place to live, he took her in, along with 3 kids and a deadbeat husband. It was a tight fit, but it provided needed stability for them. My sister ended up stealing a lot of things from him when she moved out, but somehow he found it in his heart to continue to support her and her kids. During this time in Kewauskum, my dad would, quite frequently, drive out to Madison to pick me up to go to Bucks games. He’d drive out, pick me up, go to the game, take me back, and drive home. We went to something like 50-100 games, which is just an immense amount of driving in a few years time. We would always stop at the Quik Trip in Lake Mills and get XL cappuccinos along with a bunch of bananas – a staple for my dad. We loved our games together and had a good bond with this. I barely realized it at the time (tuned-out college student), but this was clearly a post-divorce bonding period for him where he was seeking some semblance of life as it was. He spent a lot of time walking his lonely road and doing long bike rides to Mauthe Lake and talking about how deep and cold it was. I think the walking was really therapeutic as this was something he had longed to do while in Wind Lake, but never had a partner for it. He spent a lot of timing fixing up his house and always loved stringing up the Christmas lights with the huge bulbs on the three large pine trees in his yard. In 2004 I moved to Seattle. Again, I had no clear perspective on the impact of my actions relative to my dad, but he seemed to roll with the punches. He came out relatively frequently in those first three years, even venturing out on brutally difficult snowshoeing trips, and even agreed to do the Seattle-to-Portland bike ride with me in 2006 (206 miles). This spawned the idea of biking across the country which he agreed to do without too much hesitation. To prepare for this, he did spinning classes 3x/week and when he was at work, he would walk the stairs that encircled the smokestacks. I think there were 600 steps and he would do this three times per day. By the time the trip rolled around, he was in tremendous shape, especially for a non-biker at age 57. However, he had a lot to learn about biking long distances like saddle sores, spinning instead of mashing, and getting in/out of clipless pedals. Some of the days were real grinds for him, especially days with mountain passes; those are something you cannot easily train for in Wisconsin. The hot days really got to him as well, and he really craved store-bought ice cold water. We quickly fell into a routine and cadence with all of it. In particular, we meshed well with breakfasts, snacks, and dinners. I wanted to go faster, of course, but we found something that worked. When we got to Glacier National Park, the timing was such that we got there just after the road was closed to cyclists for the day, so we ended up setting up camp and then taking a tour bus to Logan Pass which is where we would bike to the next day. The drive up really intimidated him as it was steep, narrow, and filled with cliffs. He was super nervous about this, but by the time he crested the summit via bike the next day, it was probably one of his greatest physical/mental accomplishments outside of Vietnam. By the second half of the trip, he was notably stronger and better suited to the rigors of this kind of journey. On the east coast, we were biking up 12%, 15%, and 20% grades with fully loaded bikes. He only pushed just a little bit on the 20% hill. Our celebration at the end was brief as we rushed to figure out logistics to return to normal life (i.e. work). We parted ways as changed men. He was so mentally spent from pushing so hard every day that he didn’t touch his bike for over a year. In the years that followed, he would later tell me that the bike trip kind of broke him mentally with the ability to push through physically demanding situations. I did ask him for an encore bike trip in the early 2010s, but shorter distance, but he was done. By now, he was in a better spot, too, as he quickly found himself in a relationship with his future wife Denice. Despite always being on the fence about whether he wanted to be single, date, or try getting married again, he and Denice married in 2009. For the first time that I could remember, I saw a new kind of confidence in my dad. They moved to Wales, which my dad was somewhat torn about as he had come to love his schoolhouse location. But over time, that emotion settled out as they settled in. They split their time living in WI and FL and he felt like he had been adopted into a loving, albeit dysfunctional, family. Fate would not smile fondly on him for long, as Denice was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2015. It was a brutal 14 month-long battle filled with endless treatment and sickness. He was there for her the whole time and agonized over all of it. When she died, this was likely his final emotional straw that really beat him down. I don’t think he ever recovered since then. In the years that followed, he had ongoing bouts of sadness and depression and aimlessness. And, more hurdles too. I think it took almost two years for his teeth implants to take; during that time period he was not able to eat much solid food. He was also diagnosed with COPD, which now in hindsight, was probably a partial misdiagnosis for his current mesothelioma diagnosis. His physical health rapidly deteriorated and so too did his desire to partake in physical activities. He vacillated on whether to live in FL or WI. There was always a draw to be back in his roots These are some things I will remember when I think about my dad: a genuine storyteller complete with a twinkle in his eye and charm in his voice, but with the most important attribute of not repeating the stories over the years warm, thick hands raisin bran at night love for the badgers and the bucks incredible ability to drive long distances terrible snorer a deceptively elegant writer and speaker his relentless work ethic to improve our yard in wind lake and fertilize trees always wearing his blaze orange hunting suit in the winter to snowblow the driveway or work on the car letter me and my friends be mischievous boys like driving the station wagon on baseball fields before having our licenses when he would say “oliver!” how he always said not to worry what other people think, even though in hindsight this was a real issue for him not being afraid to admit his mistakes or fears or poke fun at himself talking about ‘big snow’, mostly related to going up north hunting, or the ‘snows’ when talking about snow tires could drive with his knee never spilled full cups of coffee while driving how decimated his steering wheel padding was after PTSD/anxiety impacts really set in how he was not afraid to work to improve something that he saw as off: overcoming smoking, alcoholism, marriage counseling, divorce counseling, dramatic health improvements through diet and lifestyle we're helmingers, we're tough his gruff voice, that can be soft and inviting at the same time, mixed with an old school northern Minnesota type accent his desire to learn about the subtleties of how things worked how he was the glue for my immediate family and my extended family one of his favorite phrases: This too shall pass At the end of his life, my dad was content with moving onto the next stage. He was a devout Christian and always carried around a beaten up bible with him, even on trips to visit me over the years. He found great solace in this. Upon reflection, I have few regrets with our relationship. I wish I had been more aware of his needs, especially the need to connect and be part of something. I wish I had more actively encouraged him to visit in these past 10 years. And, I wish the timing of having kids and Denice’s death and Covid had worked out differently, but that one was kind of out of our control. I was fortunate to have a father for 43 years and I am proud of the person that he was. My son will carry my dad’s name, and I will carry his memory. He was truly a bright burning spirit in a world filled with hardships. He brought hope and levity to so many and charmed nearly everyone he came into contact with. He was a one-of-one. I was with him in his final days before death. When I first arrived in the hospital, he was in considerable pain – coming in and out of it. In a fleeting moment of clarity – one of the last I would witness from him – he said “Mike, I’m dying.” I told him that I knew and that I wanted his pain to end. This was the beginning of a rapid decline. Over the next three days, dozens of people came to visit and say their goodbyes. Dozens more called to say the same. To his cousin, just a few hours before death, when she asked if he was there he replied “I’m not here.” It was one of several humorous little outbursts that somehow escaped his lips during an otherwise nearly unconscious state of deep sleep. He called one of his good friends a pussy, and said that someone was a bitch. My dad. As he would come in and out of his deep sleep, he was constantly confused at the situation around him. Each time I would try to explain what was going on, but then, after dozing off for a minute or two, he would wake again and ask again. He often reached for his head – likely because of a terrible headache from not drinking for days. Eventually, his eyes opened less frequently and less wide until it was just the tiniest sliver of eye that you could make out. Everyone had kept saying that hearing was the last sense to go, to which I was skeptical at first but later agreed with, so hopefully he heard my words. The final time he asked what was going on, I leveled with him a little more: “You have cancer and are about to die. It’s okay to let go. We all love you and know that you’re at peace.” Somehow, his expression seemed to change ever so slightly upon hearing that. On his last day of life, I hugged and kissed him, said my thank you’s, my do-overs, and my goodbyes. I squeezed his thick, warm hands. I listened to his heart beating about 7 hours before he passed; it was going pretty fast even though he was in one of the most restful sleeps I’ve ever seen him in. My sister Donna, who (along with my Aunt Jane) spent the most time with him since he was admitted to the hospital, slept in the room with him that night. The last dose of pain medication came at 3:30am. I received her call at 5:08am, which was the same time my alarm was set for to wake up for my flight, and Donna gave me the news. I quickly stopped at the hospital one last time before needing to get to the airport. His face was cool, but his neck still warm. His chest no longer raised and lowered. I wish I had felt his hands one more time, because I’m sure those’ll be warm forever. One final hug and kiss and goodbye. He was looking forward to seeing his mom again and had asked about her several times in the days before he died.

Navy salad, Eric Hansen, Seventy2002, reststep, Bootpathguy, Tom, graywolf, runup  sticky buns, kite, Josh Journey, seawallrunner  jstern, Mesahchie Mark, SeanSullivan86
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zephyr
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PostWed Jan 18, 2023 10:38 am 
iron wrote:
I was with him in his final days before death.
You are fortunate to have been able to be with him at the end. I am sorry for your loss, iron. My sincere condolences. May he rest in peace. ~z

Josh Journey, runup
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neek
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PostWed Jan 18, 2023 11:01 am 
Condolences, Mike. Lost my dad to cancer 11 years ago and see a few parallels in our experiences. Appreciate you sharing. He will always be with you.

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iron
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PostWed Jan 18, 2023 12:47 pm 
This trip capped his legacy at work.

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seawallrunner
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PostWed Jan 18, 2023 2:57 pm 
Oh Iron, I'm so very sorry for your loss. Your beautiful, heart-felt post brought tears to my eyes, your Dad was a good man, a strong man. May he rest in peace. My sincere condolences to you, your family and friends.

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PostWed Jan 18, 2023 4:08 pm 
Iron...many condolences. I lost my dad 50 years ago and I still miss him lots. Please treasure your memories....

"Altitude is its own reward" John Jerome ( from "On Mountains")
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PostWed Jan 18, 2023 4:48 pm 
I am so sorry for your loss. Thanks for writing, i read every word. my dad died 36 years ago and mom last year. i still miss them everyday. dad said the grossest things and i repeat them sometimes in his memory. when a parents passes on, it makes us grow up in a way we don't like. i hope you can make a copy of what you wrote for everyone who knew him. what a wonderful dad.

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PostWed Jan 18, 2023 5:35 pm 
iron I an sorry for your loss. Miserable as his life may have been he lived a full one. You got to say goodbye at the end something I missed because of distance.

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PostThu Jan 19, 2023 7:50 am 
iron wrote:
we slept in a canvas tent with a piece of plastic strewn over the top of it and some Marborlo sleeping bags that were ‘earned’ by smoking enough cigarettes.
I actually "laughed out loud!" So many other things I want to quote in this fantastic memoir Thanks for sharing. It's an emotional read for sure

Experience is what'cha get, when you get what'cha don't want
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PostThu Jan 19, 2023 7:56 am 
Sorry for your loss but thank you for sharing. Your stories reminded me of a lot of times I shared with my father who passed in 2000. Every once in awhile I still think I should give him a call before remembering that I can no longer do so - which is somehow comforting in a way.

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PostThu Jan 19, 2023 4:38 pm 
Iron, sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing - that was an excellent write up.

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iron
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PostThu Jan 19, 2023 11:37 pm 
adding some photos from our bike trip across the country in 2007:

runup
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iron
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PostThu Jan 19, 2023 11:40 pm 
adding some photos from the past 18 years from the time that i moved to seattle:

Bootpathguy, RichP, runup
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PostFri Jan 20, 2023 9:46 pm 
Iron, what a beautiful tribute! My condolences, and may your dad's memory remain always green!

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.--E.Abbey

Josh Journey
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Eric Hansen
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PostFri Feb 03, 2023 10:19 am 
Condolences Iron. I am sorry for your loss. This is really a great, and moving, tribute to your Dad. By some coincidence I live in Milwaukee, and regularly see many of the Wisconsin places you mention. Port, Kewaskum, Mauthe, Adell, Lake Mills. I lost my father 5 years ago. He and my mother rode 3 speed bikes from San Diego to New York City in 1946.

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Forum Index > Full Moon Saloon > Farewell Dad - Sept 5, 1949 - Jan 17, 2023
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