A black and gold birthday balloon shifts back and forth in the balmy wind on this rare, warm early November evening. The trees are almost bare, with a lush mixture of oranges, reds, browns, and yellows at their feet.
The birds, still talking up a storm about how fall’s forgotten about them, sing and chirp without end. Cars motor off in the distance with unknown inhabitants heading to their unknown locations. Just another day in a world that keeps ticking forward, minute by minute, driven by the ever onward passage of time.
The outdoor furniture, once filled with people laughing, joking, smoking, and drinking, either after a pool party, the holidays, or just one of the “too damn many to count” family gatherings on any afternoon in this beautiful house on the south side of Indianapolis, lies empty, with the only movement being the stink bugs on the window, or the aforementioned balloon, heaving from side to side as the wind pushes it right then left, as it gazes down upon the driveway, then the back porch, and then finally the leaf covered back yard.
For 20 years, this house has been the centerpiece of my family. Graduations, weddings, holidays, birthdays, the happy times and sad ones, all the gatherings, all the tree decorating, pumpkin carving, unwrapping of gifts, meals in the kitchen, either ad libbed pitch ins or planned feasts, happened here. And one thing was always the same…my father watching over the festivities.
He was there for all of it, watching over what he had built, the good times he fostered, which makes this blog all the more hard to write.
I lost my father on November 4th.
The morning calls as I stopped by at my parent’s house in early every week as he sat in the garage smoking his cigarette and reading his paper, calling for the dogs to come in, sipping his black coffee with two Sweet N Low packets, while an electric space heater buzzed in the back ground fill my memories.
But this morning, as my car pulled up with my older sister and aunt in tow, there wasn’t anything but silence, tears, and sadness.
It won’t ever be the same without him.
He grew up on the north side of Indianapolis, an area now known as Castleton, which now is a gigantic shopping center, but at his time, was a series of corn fields with a large white farmhouse in the middle of it all knows as the “House of Blue Lights”, named so because it would always keep small blue electric candles in the windows.
He and his younger sister, Linda, would play together all of their days, thick as thieves, until the family decided to move to Franklin, IN. My father attended high school there in the small county seat of Johnson County. At 15, his youngest sister, Judith, was born. He ended up going to college for a couple of years and decided to follow my grandfather into the freight business.
Grandpa worked on the railroad after he returned from the war, and my father had a knack for freight sales, so he decided to go into trucking. As with many things my father did, sales came naturally to him, with his bright smile, his infectious laughter, and his beaming personality.
He exceled at his job, and loved it as well, which is difficult to find for any person, let alone someone in trucking.
As he married his first wife, Barbara, he had three children with her, and during deregulation in the 70’s, where the government got out of the transportation business, he went from job to job looking for a stable environment. It negatively affected his marriage and it landed him in divorce court.
After a contentious divorce, Pop was suddenly a single father of three kids. Yes, it was his own mess, and yes, he did make bad decisions in doing this, but he still had to deal with the consequences, but managed to fight to continue to give his kids as good a life as he could.
Dad was of a different mold. He wanted to be more. And, although he struggled with self inflicted damage to his life, he still pressed on being different. He was driven by ambition to be successful, sometimes at the expense of his family, but he knew that he wanted more from this life, so he poured himself into the work he loved. He was a gifted salesman, had a way with clients, and could make any stranger feel like a friend within minutes of meeting him. One thing was for sure, he was set in his ways, and if challenged, he would not hesitate to burn a bridge, but if you were his friend, you were his friend for life, and if you were his enemy, it wasn’t unclear. With my father, you knew exactly where you stood.
My father met my mother in the early 70’s. She was not looking to marry a single dad of 3 kids, but his charm and sense of humor won her over and they were married. They then had me in 1976, and as I started as a toddler, Pop was going from job to job in an industry that was in a bit of flux with deregulation in full swing. It was a tough time, but my dad had a life he wanted in his mind. His ambition kept pushing him, and eventually, after working for so many businesses, my father finally decided to start his own.
He decided to take a huge chance with his best friend, and starting in his friend’s basement, they opened a franchise of another company based in Louisville, KY. I know this had to be a scary time for him, he had a 2 year old (my little sister) and me in high school, as well as his three older kids now in their 20’s, and with a ton on the line, he wasn’t going to miss. He created something out of nothing, and within 5 years, he was building a $1.5 million dollar facility to continue to realize his dream.
And as he was building his business, he invited all of his family to join him in realizing his dream. We worked together to make it a success. And as we moved on from one business to start another, one that was ours and our alone, we trusted him to lead us to the promise land. 12 1/2 years later, his legacy, his work ethic, and his drive still permeated this place, even after he retired 6 years ago.
He worked very hard to realize his dream, which was a thriving business, as well as lifting his kids and family up with his hard work and vision. He never made excuses, he always found a way, even if it meant asserting his will on others, which meant sometimes he was downright abrasive. But he had a vision of what he wanted, and wasn’t going to be told what he could or couldn’t do. If someone told him no, he did it anyway and made no apologies about the toes he stepped on.
He would not be denied his dream of caring for his family while doing what he loved. He made so many friends along the way, he helped his family, he made no apologies, was driven yet patient, and was an example that we all could follow, even if his means of getting there were unorthodox.
As a father, he was stern yet soft, and his bark was worse than his bite at times.
He had a wicked temper, but it was only because he cared so much. I had always said “if he didn’t care he wouldn’t yell at us.” He was a passionate man who defended his family and did everything he could to protect us and make sure we were taken care of.
So many memories revolved around our family vacations where we would just get in the van and just go. Bring a cooler full of bologna and Pepsi’s and just drive to wherever.
We’d go to Kings Island every summer and I’d watch as Dad would go on the biggest, scariest roller coasters with all the kids except me, because I was scared. But we still had an awesome time as a family. We went to so many cool places, like Yellowstone, Florida, Texas, the Grand Canyon, he felt it was important to spend time together as a family on vacations, so they were like religion for us.
Dad loved the holidays. He and Mom would always go overboard on Christmas, getting us what we wanted and then some, decorating to the hilt, and immersing the family in so many great memories. So many times I think back to awesome Halloween parties in their garage with all of their friends, Dad never shied away from a good time. Some of my most cherished memories are from the myriad of vacations, holidays, and just everyday love we had.
My father always had love in his heart, even if he was angry with us kids, he would dread us with “family meetings” and give us hell for whatever we did, but he would return afterwards with the a smile, a laugh, and a hug. We were loved very much and we knew it, because he truly showed he loved us in everything he did.
He cultivated lifelong friendships with so many people. His sense of humor was one of a kind, and his laughter was infectious.
Even though there’s no more laughter…that doesn’t mean the memories of the laughter don’t permeate our minds, hearts, and souls for our father.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t carry on our lives in his honor, doing what he wanted us to do, living our lives just as he lived his, with no apologies and no guardrails.
It doesn’t mean we don’t stop being the best people we can be, with his spirit guiding us, so we can live as well and as full as he did.
Yes, his life wasn’t without sorrow, conflict, or hardship, but he took those things in stride, took them as challenges he could overcome, and he smiled through all of it, even if he was struggling on the inside.
He taught me so much about how to be the man I am today, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
When a loved one passes, many have regrets that they didn’t say how they felt, or they burned a bridge because of the countless disagreements or arguments that have caused families to fall apart.
I have no such regrets. My countless interactions with my father told him where I stood and told me where I stood. And though we disagreed a lot, we still let our love show for each other when it counted. He always said, about his business, “When you walk in here you’re an employee, when you walk out, we’re still family at the end of the day.” He could be obstinate more often than not, but he also was playing for keeps, and for that, I can’t say that it’s wrong or right, because it was what he wanted and who he was.
People can believe what they want about Pop, and more than likely it’s the truth. Love him or hate him, you knew where you stood. He would give you the shirt off his back, the chance you thought you’d never get, and stand beside you when it got too hot to handle.
And yes, he burned a ton of bridges and didn’t think twice about it.
But that still didn’t stop him from unapologetically going after what he wanted, caring for his friends and family, and trying to build something that would be a part of our family for generations.
My father was told too many times that he couldn’t do it, he wasn’t good enough, and he’d never make it.
He turned that negativity into two successful business ventures, a storied trucking career, and a life well lived.
He wasn’t perfect, but as my father, he didn’t have to be. He loved hard, cared relentlessly, fought every day, smiling and laughing through it all.
Even in death, he loves a good time, so we’ll not be having a funeral
Tomorrow, we will hold a celebration of life, complete with live band, a choir, and a keg.
“No time for sulking”, he’d say, “get up and get to work, there’s things that need to be done!“
And that’s exactly how I will honor him. Yes, there will be sadness, loss and pain. But his smile, that crooked, beautiful smile, will live on in all of us and guide us through this time.
I’m going to miss you more than you know, Pop.
But you’ll always be inside my heart and my soul, your warm laughter and incredible life fueling me with a zest for my own existence, a zest you had in spades.
You always told me to live my life, and damn the haters, rise despite the consequences, and overcome despite the challenges. Your life was a road map to do just this.
Your fire will burn forever in those you touched and those you loved and cherished.
You aren’t gone, merely living as energy inside of us, giving us the strength and resolve to live our lives as you lived yours.
I love you, Pop. Thank you for everything.