The Four Angles of a Circle

These words written to be read by me at my dad’s funeral.

I have thought for a few days now that I need to do this. I have felt that, as the firstborn son, that I have a responsibility to let people know what kind of man my dad was. I have wondered if I physically and emotionally have the strength to stand up and say these words. I realize that this may seem to be a strange title. However, if you follow along with me for a few moments, I think and hope that I can make it clear to you how this relates to my dad’s life.

By trade, Dad was an architectural draftsman. As a young boy, I grew up watching him work at a rather large drawing table with pencils, squares, angle templates, and a calculator figuring all manner of how buildings and things should be put together. He was always looking over these large rolls of blueprints adding details that would help the construction workers know how to put these structures together accurately and safely. I really think this is where my love of writing implements comes from.

There were many Saturdays that he would take me to work with him, either at Benner & Fields or to Southeastern Steel. For those of you my age, you might understand that there were many wars fought by the Transformers in the hallways of these offices. There were so many places for secret bases to be established. I would play for a while and then go to Dad’s office, look at his table to see what he was working on, and then go back to overseeing galactic wars. I have always loved the beauty of the drawings and the precision with which it seemed he would draw them. At the time, they didn’t have a lot of computers to do the drawing work, so the machines that were used were somewhat mechanical and manual. I can still remember the aroma of the chemicals that some of these machines used, though it is very difficult to describe unless you had been in one of these offices.

Since Dad seemed to love drawing angles, I would like to share with you some angles that Dad had impressed upon me over the years. To demonstrate these angles, I would like to describe four “L”’s that remind me of my dad and seemed to make up his life.

Longsuffering (Patience)

Man, dad sure had to be patient with me at times! I know there were times that he probably wanted to throw in the towel with me. I am sure as I grew up, and even some after I had grown, that I probably worried the mess out of that man.

I know there were times early on when he and Papaw would be working on some project. I always wanted to help out – to be one of the guys. He was always including me even though I am sure he could have gotten it done much quicker without me. There were many tools that were lost from his big red metal toolbox because of me. As a guy with my own set of tools now, I understand how frustrated he must have been when he couldn’t find a tool he was looking for. Yet, he still allowed me to be part of his work.

There were many times when we went out on fishing trips, either to the beach or somewhere close to home. I know with my own kids that their attention spans can sometimes be less than adequate at times. I wonder how many times he had to reel in to take me to the bathroom, or take care of the fish on my hook, or help me bait the hook for my next cast. Yet he still took me fishing.

I remember one specific time that Mom came to get me from Neenaw’s house. I decided I wasn’t leaving. Mom would put me in the car and before she could get behind the wheel, I had opened the car door and was back inside Neenaw’s house. Mom had to call Dad to come from High Point to, well, let’s just say he needed to administer some discipline. I am sure that is one time he wasn’t pleased to leave a business meeting to deal with a stubborn child!

Even through all of these things, he was longsuffering – he was patient.

Laughing

That man LOVED to laugh. He LOVED to LAUGH!

He loved to tell us kids funny stories just to see us laugh so that he could laugh along with us. He loved to watch funny shows and characters, like Bugs Bunny and Alf (anyone remember when Alf asked Willie to let him know when that sound became irritating?) There also seemed to always be a theme of monkeys or orangutans and how funny they can be (How about “Right Turn, Clyde!” from Every Which Way but Loose?).

Even in some of Dad’s worst times, it usually didn’t take much to get him to smile or even laugh. Even as late as last Thursday, Tammy and James showed him a humorous compilation of animals with voice-overs. As weak as he was, I can still see the smile in his eyes as he tried to lift his head to laugh. As close as he was to the end, he was able to enjoy humor and laughter for the last time. That look of laughter will always be burned into my memory.

The Hospice nurses have always told us that hearing is the last of the senses to go – that he can hear us even though he is not responding. As Mom, Tammy, James and I were sitting at his bedside, we would relive various fun times, laughing about some, and I would like to think that even if he couldn’t show it, that his spirit was laughing along with us.

Loving

Dad loved loving Mom. Dad loved loving us kids. Even though I know he wasn’t able to say it a lot, I know he said it when and how he was able to. I believe that it was Dad’s love for us that allowed Mom to spend her waking moments caring for Dad.

The doctors told us that a Parkinson’s patient’s life-expectancy was about 7-12 years from diagnosis. Dad suffered with this awful, degenerative disease for 30 YEARS. One doctor also told my sister, and I hope he was able to tell Mom, that it is because of such great care that Dad received that he was able to live for so long. I know it has never been easy for Mom, and I know dealing with a disease like this is not what she signed up for when she married Dad. However, she took on that burden, and cared for and fought for Dad even when it sometimes felt hopeless. While I know she loved Dad, as evidenced by her loyalty to Dad over these past 42 years, and I know she will miss him, I know it is also a relief for her now to be rid of that burden; Not the burden of Dad, but the burden of this agonizing disease that robbed them both of many joys they could have had otherwise.

I believe now that Dad was hanging on with us waiting for Tammy, James, and me to leave the room for a bit so that he could spend his last few moments here on earth with the one woman he has only ever loved. They started this journey with the two of them and their pastor at an altar. They ended their journey together in their living room, quietly, again with their pastor.

Learning

While I am sure Dad loved to learn things, I am not writing this one so much about him, but about me. Even though it is not about him, he is directly responsible for this last angle – this last “L.”

There are so many things I have learned from my Dad over the years. Some things he taught me by telling me. Some things he taught by showing me how to do something. Other things he taught me by my simply watching him live his life.

I have learned how to be a provider for my family. I am not always perfect at it, but he taught me what it is to be a provider. One of the most agonizing times for me as a young man was when Dad had to begin his medical disability from work. I went with him the day he was to clean out his desk at Carolina Steel. This disease had slowly taken away his ability to hold the pens and pencils that he used to create those beautiful drawings I mentioned before. I watched him as he put his personal items into a box to carry out. He was beginning to show significant signs of the disease in his walk at the time, so I was there to help him carry the box out to the car. His co-workers began to come by and offer words of encouragement as best they could. As they came by and spoke, I saw the agony eventually break way on his face and the tears began to flow. The realization that he was no longer going to be able to work to provide for his family was setting in. I don’t remember saying so in my head, but I think that was one moment when it sank in to me and became real on how to provide for my family, well before I had one of my own.

I have learned how to laugh. I constantly see things that I know he would find funny, and it makes me laugh. My wife, Joanna, is constantly reminding me of how UN-funny I am…but I continue to try regardless. I watch my girls as they are growing up and see the predicaments they get themselves into. I find myself laughing and wondering if this is how Dad felt when he saw me in my “predicaments.”

I have learned to love. I have seen how one man and one woman can stand together against what seems to be impossible circumstances at times. I have seen how he loved Mom right up to the moment when he could no longer tell her. I have learned that I want to be THAT kind of husband. I have learned that I want to be THAT kind of father.

I have learned from my father things that he may not even know he has taught me.

The Circle

So, you may now be asking yourself, “What does all this have to do with a circle?” The answer is simply this: We have now come full circle with Dad’s life. Each of these four angles – these four right angles – neatly frames the life of my father.

To my dad, thank you for being my dad. Thank you for being the man that you were. Thank you for teaching me things that you may not realize you taught me. Thank you for giving me the base to start building my life from.

I hope that I can make you proud with the life that you have taught me how to live. While I am relieved that you no longer have to deal with the sickness in your body, I love you and will miss you.


This video was created by Mom in honor of Dad’s life.

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