I want to tell you a story. It’s true. It starts out badly but ends, I hope, by putting a smile on your face.
It puts one on my face whenever I think of it.
The phone rang at my office desk on a Monday morning 35 years ago. The voice on the other end belonged to a colleague of my father. His name was Ray; I can’t remember his last name.
He got right to the point: Your dad was out fishing last night with some friends. Their boat crashed … and your dad was killed.
Who expects to get that kind of news? Not me. At that very moment — as God is with me — I could sense my body turning numb. It started from the top and worked its way down.
I hung up. I collected myself. I asked one of my colleagues at the newspaper where I worked to meet me in a conference room. I told him what I had just heard and said I had to go home. Dave Peters gave me some words of comfort, which I appreciated very much.
I called my wife and gave her the news.
Then I drove home. Our young sons were at school. I called one of my sisters and delivered the news to her. She — or perhaps it was her husband — telephoned our other sister to tell her.
To this very day I can retrace the steps I took over the next several hours. My grief was unlike any I’d ever experienced. My dad was the first member of my immediate family to die. That he would leave us so suddenly was, all by itself, enough to shock every bodily sense I possessed.
Then came the most difficult task of all: How am I going to tell my mother? My wife drove us to my parents’ home in suburban Portland, Ore. I was paralyzed — quite literally — with the fear of giving her this news.
We pulled into her driveway. We sat there for a moment. I took several deep breaths and then, just as Scripture informs us, I was swept up by that “peace that surpasses all understanding.” God himself put his hand on me and said, “It’s OK. I’m with you.”
I told Mom. I sought to comfort her. It was the most difficult moment of my life.
Dad was missing. They didn’t find him for eight days. I flew to the place just north of Vancouver, British Columbia, where he had gone fishing on a business trip with clients. No luck. After two nights, I came home. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police called us a few days later to tell us they found him.
We had a funeral and we entombed Dad in a crypt. Mom had asked us to purchase a spot next to him for when she would die. That day came four years later.
All of us were in shock at what happened.
But as we were preparing for the funeral, we had gathered at Mom’s house; my wife, my sisters, our children and an assortment of aunts and uncles were there.
And here is where it gets a bit brighter.
Earlier that year, in March 1980, my wife and I borrowed my father’s car for a trip we took from Portland to San Jose, Calif., to see the younger of my two sisters. En route, in Medford, Ore., I hit some back ice on the highway, skidded out of control and crashed the car into a vehicle parked on the shoulder.
Two young men dived into a ditch to avoid being hit. No one was injured seriously. My wife was bruised a bit; I had a cut lip; the older of our sons suffered a cut; our younger son was unhurt.
We took the car to a mechanic and then purchased bus tickets for the rest of the trip. We would pick the car up after we returned home.
We got back home. The auto body shop called and said the car was ready. My father-in-law and I drove from Portland to Medford to pick it up.
I delivered it to Dad.
All was good, yes? Not even close.
The car had flaws in the repair. This thing was wrong with it. Dad had me fix it. Something else was wrong with it. Dad had me fix that.
Dad was the kind of guy you could depend on when the chips were down. I called him to tell him the car was damaged and he was the absolute champion of coolness. “We’ll just get it fixed. Don’t worry,” he told me. Little did I know what was to come …
You see, Dad also was a nitpicking perfectionist who was the very embodiment of obsessive compulsive disorder.
He drove me nuts trying to get that car repaired to his satisfaction.
Then came the morning of Sept. 8, 1980 and the phone call that changed everything.
As we gathered at Mom’s house, I sat on the brick flower box on my parents’ front porch.
I turned to one of my sisters and said: “You know, it just occurs to me. I’m never again going to hear a single thing about that f****** car.”
We laughed until our guts hurt.
I became convinced at that very moment that every tragedy that comes your way comes with a shining, silver lining.
I love you, Dad.