Shine a Light

On most evenings (and much to my own personal dread on the cold ones), I take our golden retriever puppy, Penelope, for a walk around our neighborhood. Slowly but surely, Penny is figuring out how to walk like a respectable dog.

Let me rephrase that—very slowly, but surely nonetheless.

Penny
Penny Bradshaw (Don’t be fooled by the cuteness.)

More and more, Penny is growing to like her walks. At first, she was always a bit too anxious and couldn’t enjoy the walks because of her nervousness. Paige and I didn’t give up, and after many failed attempts and one fantastic puppy training camp later (thanks Rhino Kennels!), Penny is getting more and more accustomed to her nighttime strolls around our corner of suburbia. She usually gives me a few excited jumps as we begin our walks together (even though I’m pretty sure our dog trainer told us not to let her do this but it really is pretty adorable—sorry Rhino Kennels!). She’s growing more interested in sniffing cars and flowers and fire hydrants along the way. And she has really enjoyed stopping at either of the ponds in our neighborhood if there happens to be a pack of geese or ducks that she can watch intently.

But even with all her progress, Penny still gets a bit nervous. Paige and I laugh about Penny’s nervous “head dip” that she does when she sees something she doesn’t recognize approaching in the distance. I can always tell when she’s spotted something coming her way. If she sees an approaching person, dog, or UWO (unidentified walking object), Penny’s pace slows ever so slightly. Her walking becomes much more deliberate and controlled. Locked in on the figure in the distance, Penny lowers her head slightly and hunches her little puppy shoulders (do puppies have shoulders?!). As we get closer and closer, Penny’s hunch gets lower and lower. Her walking slows even more until, finally, we reach the object. She either lowers her hunch all the way to the ground and stays in a submissive position, or if she’s feeling friendly, she investigates, jumps, and wags her tail.

Most of the time, I laugh at Penny—that is, until I spot something that I can’t identify on the horizon and get a little nervous myself.

My work schedule typically requires that I walk Penny in the evening, and the fantastic winter weather and daily 37-minutes of sunshine that we seem to get in southwestern Ohio at this time of year often require that I walk Penny in the dark. For the most part, our neighborhood is very well lit, but there are some stretches that tend to be a bit darker than others.

A few evenings ago, Penny and I were walking together in the cold when I noticed the familiar hunching behavior of my four-legged companion. Realizing that she had spotted something up ahead, I looked up and spotted something in the distance. I spotted it too, and after a few seconds of quick mental processing, I had identified three possible things that the darkened object on the sidewalk up ahead could have been:

  1. A small, toothy-little creature that was prepared to chew all of our ankles off,
  2. A carnivorous, vicious, prehistoric-style bird that would peck through my ribcage and ravage all of my internal organs, or
  3. A piece of trash.

Naturally, I chose the most realistic option of the three.

It was definitely the bird.

If you know me, you know that I have a particularly strong fear of any creature from the avian realm. I’ve got this whole ornithophobia thing down to a fear-inducing science of pure terror. When I was a child, my Dad used to torment me at the county fair by gleefully dragging me through the chicken barn as I shrieked, bawled, and prayed to my God and any others who might be listening that none of these foul fowls would decide to jump on me and peck my eyes out. When I visit Home Depot, I am that guy who ducks (no pun intended) anytime a bird flies down from the warehouse-style ceiling (WE ARE INSIDE! WHY IS A BIRD INSIDE?!). And one time while on vacation with our closest friends a few years ago, a seagull attacked me and stole the last bite of my delicious Cuban sandwich as I screamed for intervention from the Almighty. I still can’t eat a Cuban sandwich without feeling my heart rate increase. Thanks, bird.

On the night in question, as Penny and I both crept towards the vulture-like bird on the sidewalk in front of us, we each grew a bit more anxious. I could see Penny’s head go lower and lower and lower towards the ground as she slowed her walk, and I felt myself preparing for a bit of a run in the event that this bird did what I knew it was going to do (namely, kill me and my dog in a violent flurry of feathers and squawking).

A light in the distance flickered, and as we got closer and closer I decided to take out my phone and turn on the flashlight so I could look into the devilish eyes of the murderous beast. And once I cast the light up ahead of us, I had a clear vision of our dreaded enemy.

A mangled pizza box.

(But wait….there could still be a bird inside the pizza box ready to fly out and peck our eyeballs out, right?!)

That’s right. The fear-inducing figure in the distance turned out to be nothing more than someone’s old, empty pizza box that had likely blown from a garbage can down the street.

I was relieved, and so was Penny—although she really wishes there would have been a slice of pepperoni with extra cheese left for her. But it wasn’t until we were able to shine a light on the shadow in the distance and realize what it was before we could be free from our anxiety and fear.

And in many ways, I think that mental illness works the same way.

I firmly believe that mental illness is an enemy that, when left in the dark, grows stronger, more powerful, and more all-encompassing day by day. I also believe that, when talked about and brought out into the light, we diminish the stronghold that mental illness can have on our minds and on our lives. With each confession that we are struggling or hurting, we slowly strip mental illness of its power and fight against the culture of silence where it finds its control.

When I reflect and think back on my Dad’s struggle, I can see this playing out in the rearview mirror as I desperately wish I had paid more attention to it. For the longest time, my Dad refused to shine a light on his own depression, but instead chose to bury it deep below the surface—but his motivations weren’t egocentric in the slightest. My Dad was not a man who cared about image or his own ego, and I am confident that the reasons that my Dad felt he couldn’t talk about his depression were motivated by a fear of disappointment—more than most, he was afraid he would let people down.

My Dad was a fixer. A builder. A carpenter, electrician, and maintenance technician by both trade and pure interest, and there was rarely a thing my Dad couldn’t do. My Dad was the guy that everyone called. If you needed a ceiling fan fixed or a shower tiled or a deck built, my Dad was the first call for many. His talents, as I’ve written about before, were abundant, and now that he’s gone, I think I’m even more in awe of what he could do. He was an artist, a craftsman of the highest order, obsessed with detail, quality, and perfection. But above all, he loved being able to make others happy with his talent. And by golly, it was genuine.

Above all, I know the motive for why my Dad helped people. It wasn’t about showing off those talents. It was never about boasting. It was because he had a fixer’s heart, and he liked being able to help others. More than anything, I think my Dad had a deep fear of disappointing people.

This fear of disappointing people was one of his most admirable qualities—but it was also the same fear that, left unchecked, led to him into periods of suffering in isolation and loneliness. Among his many great qualities, my Dad was also dependable beyond belief. If he told you he would be somewhere, he was there. If he told you he was going to fix something, it would be fixed. He held himself to a higher standard than anyone else, and that higher standard could create pressure that was difficult to reckon with. I believe that my Dad had an irrational fear that admitting he had depression and that he was suffering would cause people to think they couldn’t depend on him any longer—and I’m confident that it was that fear, more than anything, that kept him from talking about his illness.

It’s a fear that wasn’t unique to my Dad. It’s a mindset of silence that, unfortunately, is all too pervasive for those who are hurting, suffering, and struggling with mental illness.

When I reflect on my Dad’s story and think deeply about the moments when his depression controlled him most severely, it’s hard not to think of the scary and frightening moments. Those moments when, fueled by his depression, he would inexplicably leave without a trace and runaway, abandoning the home where all the comfort he ever needed lived.

But time gives the benefit of great perspective and holism, and I can simultaneously reflect on the moments immediately thereafter when he would come home, admit his defeat, and seek help. Those moments when Dad would return and when we would talk about his depression, dragging the monster that scared him out into the light to recognize it for what it was and to emphasize, strongly, that there was a path forward—to encourage and show Dad that he could manage and control this—were moments of unbelievable growth. We would recognize Dad’s depression and not deny the fact that it existed. He would visit the doctor, and be vulnerable about what was going on, and chart a path forward through medication and other treatments.

And then, with his depression called out into the open, Dad would get better. It wasn’t easy. It was never a “snap your fingers” type of treatment. It took weeks, sometimes months, for Dad to get better—but in nearly every situation, Dad did get better. And for a while (sometimes a long, long while), things would be at their best. And Dad would be at his best—a conquering fighter who would refuse to let his life be controlled by a powerful, dangerous illness.

It would be those moments when Dad’s depression was out in the open amongst our family in which he would feel most at ease—most comfortable with who he was at his core. During the times when Dad felt he could admit that he was struggling and he could avoid the shame of feeling like he needed to hide his illness, I think my Dad was truly at his happiest, his most content, and his most peaceful state.

Doesn’t it work that way for so many out there who are hurting and suffering from mental illness?

We all harbor different fears. Some of us are afraid of heights. Others are afraid of social situations. The smart people are afraid of birds. But then there are those deeper, emotionally-laden fears that are hard, even embarrassing, to talk about. Our fears of rejection. Our fears of solitude. Of financial inadequacy. Of pain and abuse. Of insecurity. And yes, of disappointment.

When we grow fearful, we often feel we have to wear a mask. And when we wear a mask, we are unnecessarily burdened by the shame of feeling that we have to hide how we feel. We shy away from honestly sharing our fears and insecurities, and as we do, those same fears and insecurities grow and grow and grow, eventually growing to a point that they take over our ability to function regularly.

But it’s the immediate relief that any of us who have suffered from mental illness can all relate to—the “shine a light” moment. That moment when we admit we are struggling while simultaneously taking a deep sigh of relief, knowing that we’ve identified the culprit—mental illness—and realizing that the enemy is exposed. There’s a physical response when we admit we are hurting—our shoulders relax, the tightness in our chest disappears, and it literally feels as if a weight has been lifted from our bodies. Think of it like a pressure valve or a cork in a bottle of champagne. All the pressure continues to build and build and build, and the moment that cork goes pop!, we feel an immediate relief of the pressure. Everything bubbles out and—if you’ve got a good bottle—life tastes really, really good in those first, fresh moments after you’ve opened the bottle.

I think we feel the most relief in those moments immediately after we shed the mask of shame and honestly talk about our fears, insecurities, and feelings. But for many who suffer and especially my Dad, as time wears on, we tend to slowly but surely put that mask back on. Over time, when we aren’t making our mental health a priority, we fall back into the old, comfortable patterns that led us down the wrong road in the first place. The less we talk about how we feel, the less light we shine on the enemy—and the less light we shine on the enemy, the more powerful it grows. And then, before we know it, the goodness that we felt in those immediate moments of relief completely retreats into the shadows. There we are again, stuck in the same place of guilt and inexplicable darkness that we were in before. The mask becomes comfortable again and seems to be a better alternative to being vulnerable.

Dear readers, I lost my Dad to suicide because of this, and I can promise you, there is nothing comfortable about not talking about our fears and feelings. It is a dead-end road, and one we must not pursue.

That’s why we have to talk, and we have to talk regularly. Yes, we must talk in the midst of our illness and in the immediate aftermath, but we also need to keep that conversation going as we begin to feel better, and yes, as we may begin to feel worse. We need to make vulnerability an everyday practice that’s as regular and accepted as brushing our teeth, washing our hands, or combing our hair. I confidently believe that so many of our real problems associated with mental illness are amplified and worsened when we don’t discuss them with others. I wish my Dad had felt comfortable enough to do more of that—and I wish that you would do more of it, too.

If you’re reading this post and you find yourself suffering from mental illness or suicidal ideations, I know that it can feel daunting and inescapable—but I promise you that the power mental illness holds over your life will dissipate when you shine a light on it and when you talk. You don’t have to talk to everyone. You don’t have to broadcast it on social media or in front of a crowd of thousands. But talk to someone, anyone. Shine a light by finding the people you trust most in your life and sharing your fear and worries with them. You’ll be shocked at how good it feels to shine the light on your mental illness—how good it feels to relieve the pressure, pop the cork, and let the feelings bubble out. And you’ll be amazed at how quickly the grip of mental illness is loosened.

It is no secret that, as I write this post, we are living in scary, confusing, fear-laden, and intensely unpredictable times. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak has taken a society that was already smoldering with fear and poured gasoline on that fire. If we were fearful a month ago, it’s likely that those feelings have grown much, much worse in the past days as we scramble to understand what is happening across the globe. As I pray for those who are hurting, there has been a heavy weight on my heart recently. It’s a heavy weight for those who are hurting and suffering from mental illness. It’s a worry that the mental illness they suffer from will grow even more powerful because of the unintentional effects of our needed physical isolation. Everyone is hurting, but those who suffer from mental illness may feel even less in control of their lives than they normally do.

In my heart of hearts, I’m convinced that there will be good that comes from this crisis. No, I don’t want it to happen, but yes, I believe that the Gospel is meant to invade dark places. Yes, there has been so much good happening in the midst of this difficult chapter. Individuals are more cognizant of the impact of their actions upon their communities and the world. Moments of generosity, I believe, are more abundant than they were previously. Without the convenience of a meal at a restaurant, a workout at the gym, or a movie with friends, I believe we’ve all grown to appreciate the little things that, for so long, we’ve taken for granted. Maybe we all needed a bit of a reminder that, above all and even with its many difficulties, life is grand and beautiful, complex yet lovingly simple.

At the same time, however, our worst fears and our primal instincts for self-preservation have amplified in ways we never imagined. Although outnumbered by the good, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake the image of two grown adults in a fisticuffs over a pack of Charmin at a Walmart as long as I live. When I go to the grocery store, I see the panic in people’s eyes that, when the world is right, just shouldn’t be there—and, unfortunately, I’ve felt it in my own heart. And I can’t help but think that, as much fear as we are seeing exhibited outwardly by so many people, the fear that people aren’t exhibiting is even worse, even greater, and even more destructive if it ever bubbles to the surface.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline TileSo if you are hurting or struggling from mental illness that you can’t explain, I beg you to not let these times of isolation prevent you from talking with someone. Find that trusted loved one or friend, call them, and just ask them if you can share your heart. Talk with them about your fears. Not everyone will be receptive, but I promise you that someone will. More than ever before, reach out to a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist who can help bring those feelings to the surface in a way that is redemptive. And if the thought of suicide has crossed your mind, I beg you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK. Never, never let those thoughts linger. Never underestimate their power. Do something, in this moment, that will protect you, your families, and the generations to come. The world is better because you’re in it—promise me you’ll be here.

And lastly, for those fellow believers, I beg you to talk with God. Yes, He knows all, but there is great power in shining a light on our biggest fears and concerns and letting God know that we need help. Reveal the depths of your heart to the One who can reach down, provide solace, and restore peace. And find comfort in talking with him regularly because, the more we talk, the more comfortable and easy it becomes to be vulnerable—which, after all, is how God created us to be.

Together, we can create a culture of light-shiners who refuse to let our hurts grow and gain power in the dark. Now, more than ever, it’s time for all of us to start shining a light.

And please, dear neighbors, pick up your pizza boxes. Poor Penny and I can’t take it any longer.

Dad with Dinosaur and SB LogoDad, My heart hurts deeply when I think about how fearful you likely felt throughout your life. It breaks my heart to know that you experienced such shame which prevented you from reaching out and talking to those of us who loved you. Dad, I just want you to know that we were never, ever disappointed in you. No matter how sick you might have been, and even during the times when your mental illness led you to leave us, we were never disappointed in the man you were. And now, I hope you are resting in the peace of Heaven and allowing God to remind you, daily, that He was never disappointed either. Your life continues to guide me and remind me of the importance of sharing my feelings with others, and although I don’t always do it perfectly, I’m grateful that you’re still parenting me and teaching me daily. I carry you with me every single day, Dad. Thank you, Dad, for showing courage in all those moments that matter most. I can’t wait to tell you, face to face, how proud I am of you for fighting the way you did. Until that glorious reunion, seeya Bub.

 “Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings.” Galatians 6:2 (GW)

“Not Yet”

I knew I wanted to talk—I just didn’t know when I’d be ready.

In addition to my job at Miami University, I’ve been a sports announcer for many years, calling games for local high schools and college teams in my ever-dwindling spare time. It’s a passion I picked up during my freshman year at Miami’s Hamilton Campus when I saw a flyer in the stairwell of Mosler Hall looking for a new “Voice of the Harriers.” Inevitably, the more I announced in my hometown and the surrounding communities, the more requests I received to emcee or host other events that weren’t athletic contests. Sports hall of fames, fundraisers, and talent shows started to pack my Friday and Saturday nights, and no matter where I looked, there always seemed to be a stage and a podium with a microphone awaiting me—and I loved it. God had given me a tremendous platform, and to this day, I’ve always tried to thank Him each and every time I get asked to play a part in these events.

Although the inductees have a tendency to get a little long-winded, sports hall of fames have always been fun events for me to host. I try and land a few jokes out of the gate, get a laugh or two when an inductee forgets to thank his wife during the speech, and most importantly keep everything on time so the event doesn’t run too long (a goal that constantly eludes me). The first hall of fame I ever emceed was a cruel reminder of this truth. Prior to the event, the organizers told all of the inductees that they each had about three minutes to deliver their acceptance speech. The very first inductee applied the liberal interpretation of the word “about” and spoke for 21 minutes. There were nine additional inductees after him. The event started on a Saturday night, and I think I made it home by Wednesday or Thursday of the next week.

Selfishly, my favorite part of emceeing a sports banquet has always been the closing. In the weeks leading up to the event, I’ll scour the headlines, Internet, and plenty a Chicken Soup for the Soul book in an attempt to find an anecdotal tale, story, or illustration that will leave the audience thinking more intentionally about how they treat their fellow man or woman. Usually, these stories have some kind of theme or character trait that I hope we can all learn to exemplify more. Perhaps it’s “purpose” or “sacrifice” (…or “brevity” for that 21-minute inductee who is likely still giving his acceptance speech in a hotel ballroom somewhere).

In the days, weeks, and months after I lost my Dad to suicide, I constantly felt God’s call on my life to share Dad’s story. Frustratingly, I felt the call, but didn’t have a compass. Did God want me to share the story with those in my close inner circle? On a national stage? In the written form? And what parts of the story did He want me to share? I prayed and asked, but unfortunately did not feel His direction. It was maddening at times, but simultaneously reassuring. At least God had given me the call; maybe it was up to me to determine the direction?

A few months after losing Dad, I needed to start preparing for another athletic hall of fame that I had agreed to host. This one, fittingly, was to be held at Miami Hamilton. The event, albeit small, had always held a special place in my heart. This was the place where I had been given my start as a sports announcer with absolutely no experience (it was probably a good thing that there were only 50 people at a game that first year as I learned, experimented, made my share of mistakes, and found my way). Even though it never felt like a “big gig,” Mom and Dad had always attended every single game they could, sitting across from me in the bleachers. I can still picture them to this day. I can still picture Dad walking across the court after every single game to tell me I had done a good job. I often joked that I was the only sports announcer at any level whose parents followed him to nearly every game. Looking back on it, I realize how thankful I was for their presence; and after that chapter of life was gone, I missed it tremendously. Looking across the court into the bleachers after losing Dad, I could still picture him sitting there in a Miami hoodie, smiling, laughing, and of course, talking to everyone. They were good memories—they still are.

As I prepared to host my first hall of fame dinner after losing my Dad, and I thought about how much that campus had meant to me and the family memories I had there, I realized that I had a fitting story to tell at the close of the event without having to do any research whatsoever. I wanted to tell the story of my Dad and me playing catch together in our side yard. I wanted to talk about the indelible memories that the two of us had made together as sweat poured from our brows in the blazing sunset of most humid Cincinnati July evenings. I wanted to talk about how losing my Dad had made me realize that those toss sessions were more than just an opportunity to throw or hear the pop of a leather Rawlings glove. Those were moments when Dad and I grew closer to one another. Where we shared our frustrations, our fears, and a few laughs whenever I jumped to catch a ball that didn’t require jumping (I’ve mentioned my lack of athletic ability a time or thirty here, so this should come as no surprise to anyone).

With Dad’s death still very, very heavy on my heart, I knew it was the story to tell. I knew that I could go up on stage, acknowledge that I was still grieving and in tremendous pain, and maybe, just maybe, give those in attendance an important reminder—a reminder that life is sweet, precious, and terribly fragile.

In the days leading up to the event, I would sit down at my desk and try to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) to hash out the story I wanted to tell. This was well-before I had launched this blog, and writing in my life to that point had been much more academic and stuffy than the story I hoped to tell the night of the ceremony. Each time I sat down, I found my mind and will to write waning. It was unbelievably difficult for me to take the story and memories I had in my head and craft them into an accurate narrative—and it was very disheartening. Night after night I found myself grappling with words, writing whole paragraphs only to delete them, and growing generally more discouraged by the minute.

My Dad’s story—I knew—was worth telling; and I wanted to tell it. I just didn’t know how. And night after night after frustrating night, I just couldn’t write it. This wasn’t writer’s block—this was a writer’s blockade! I simply could not articulate the words I wanted to say. At the time, writing the story felt unnatural, even though I knew I wanted to share it. I tried not to get discouraged, but as the event drew nearer and nearer, I knew that it just wasn’t going to come together as I had wished.

That feeling of uneasiness led me down an interesting path. In my mind, I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, this was a story I didn’t want to craft or script. Maybe God was telling me to go up, and to speak from the heart, and let the story tell itself? After all, the story was in my head. Maybe in the moment it would feel more natural to speak without notes. I’ve always tried to be an authentic and honest speaker, and I began to believe that the best way to share Dad’s story was to do it off the cuff. I’m also very comfortable speaking extemporaneously, and knowing that this story was my own, I wasn’t as concerned with making sure I had every detail scripted in front of me. I knew the details because I had lived them.

Anyone who has seen me in the “backstage” moments before I announce an event knows I’m a meticulous planner, and I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to the script. I request it days in advance so I can edit, add in my own directions, adjust, and rehearse. I format it meticulously and identically every single time: size 18 font for maximum readability, Arial font only, bold titles and headers for different program portions, italicized stage cues, clean paragraph breaks with no sentences spanning multiple pages, no text in the bottom third of the page, and page numbers always formatted as “Page __ of __” in the top right-hand corner to keep me on track for timing. I print two copies in case one is the victim of a spill or abduction, paper clip them, and place them both into my lucky padfolio.

(Insert your joke about “meticulously” being a code word for “OCD” here.)

For the first time in my announcing career, I made an exception in my script. After printing out the 20 pages of scripted material, I added a page to the back—no number, no font and sizing conventions. In fact, the page said absolutely nothing. As I prepared, I took out a red pen and wrote across the top of the page “I LOVE MY DAD.” That would be my cue, my directive, the only motivation I needed to tell the story and tell it properly.

The event went as well as any other I had hosted, but during each acceptance speech from the inductees I found myself growing more and more anxious. I was the only person in the room who knew what I was about to do. I was going to share a story so central to my identity that there was going to be no going back once I told it. Over the past few years, public speaking had become something that I was beyond comfortable doing—so much so that I actually enjoyed it. I rarely got nervous anymore, but on this night, I found myself constantly trying to wipe the sweat from my palms as the closing approached.

When that moment came, I confidently walked up to the podium and congratulated the hall of fame class again on their accomplishment. As I do nearly every time, I set the stage for what I was about to do. On that night, I told the audience that I always tried to leave them with a story that would give us all something to think about as we went our separate ways, but that this year, my story would be a bit more personal because it was my own.

I began to tell the story, and I began to tell the audience about my Dad…and within just a few seconds, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. I started breaking down in front of a group of loving but justifiably uncomfortable individuals. I couldn’t even string a sentence together. I was sobbing at the podium, unable to speak. I was crying and sweating and felt the need to throw up. Standing in front of a crowd is not a great time to realize that you’ve made a mistake—but there I was.

I don’t even remember what happened or how I transitioned, but I ended the story abruptly. I think I may have mentioned that I just wanted people to know that my Dad was important to me and the memories I had of him at Miami Hamilton would always be special, and I uncomfortably closed the event and left the stage with my standard directive to drive home safely. A few of the attendees who I knew came up and hugged me and encouraged me and told me how important it was that I had shared this story, but I was undeniably disappointed in myself. Not for the impression that anyone had of me; I was disappointed because I hadn’t done my Dad justice. I don’t know that I’ve ever hustled out of an event as quickly as I had done that night.

The car ride home was isolated and brutal. I beat my fist into the steering wheel at multiple red lights, wondering why my first attempt to share my Dad’s story publicly had gone so badly. Dad deserved better.

I admit that Satan crept into my mind on that night and took up a semi-permanent residence there for a while. I could hear his temptations to give up. You’re never going to bounce back from this one.” “You’re never going to get over the humiliation you feel in this moment.” “You’re never going to have a platform to share your Dad’s story.” “You’re never going to get to a point where you can talk about your Dad without being so overcome by grief that it completely defeats you.” “You’re never going to be able to help other people learn from what happened to your Dad.”

Never. Never. Never. I kept hearing it again and again, and the tears got worse every time I heard it.

But in the days after that event, I prayed. Even though I was upset. Even though I was hurting. Even though, yes, I was frustrated with God for giving me a platform and not helping me deliver the message I wanted and that Dad deserved. And with each prayer, I heard two words in response, over and over again, every time I shared my humiliation and fear with God:

“Not yet.”

Not yet. God’s response to all the “nevers” that Satan had put in my head was more powerful—“not yet.” God was taking something that felt irredeemable and He was promising me a way forward. I heard God telling me that He still had work to do. In those simple words, I heard God telling me that His timing was better than my own. And as much as I hated to come to terms with this, I heard God telling me that He was going to teach me something in the failure I had experienced on that evening. He was going to use that moment of failure, pain, and dissapointment to grow and develop something within me.

And little by little, day by day, I felt it.

In the months that followed, even though I kept the phrase “not yet” in my head quite often, I still succumbed to doubt. But the pain of not being able to share my Dad’s story was an important reminder for me to be patient—a skill that God did not innately bless me with. I thought I was ready; but God knew I wasn’t. He knew that I was still grieving and that the pain of my Dad’s death from suicide was more real and raw than I was giving it credit for. God needed me to take care of myself before I could possibly start sharing Dad’s story in an effort to take care of others, and He was using that experience to remind me of the need to not neglect my own needs.

What was most valuable in those moments, and what I still thank God for to this day, was the “yet.” Yes, I had failed during that first attempt, but I heard God telling me that He wanted me to walk, not sprint. I heard God telling me that I needed to heal before I could help; to build a strong foundation first before building the Kingdom.

My experience and growth in those months of struggle taught me important lessons about sharing my Dad’s story—both in public forums but also in my daily conversations with individuals. These have turned into important lessons for me about grief—lessons that I hope can benefit anyone who might be struggling to talk about the pain they are feeling.

Talk when you’re ready. There is no timeline on grief. There is no guideline for when you should be ready to talk to others or share your story, and we shouldn’t try to force our grief into a timetable that doesn’t work for us.

Looking back on my own situation, I can easily realize that I was trying to force myself to talk publicly about my Dad because I thought that I should have been far enough along through my grief to accomplish this—but I wasn’t. It had been a few months since Dad’s death when I gave it that first attempt, and others in similar situations had moved on in a similar timeline—but I hadn’t, and I just wasn’t ready. Even though there had been time to do some healing, Dad’s death still felt as fresh and real in many moments as it did on that first day when I found out that he was gone.

I used an arbitrary calendar to gauge my grief and healing, which was a horrible thing to do. Grief and healing aren’t measured in years; they’re measured in steps and goalposts and milestones, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes us to reach each of those moments in our development. For some, healing might happen quickly. For others it might move at a snail’s pace, and for most, grief will actually occur in a non-linear pattern with ups, downs, more ups, more downs, sideways jaunts, and all kinds of inexplicable moments in between. There were hints of God’s “not yet” directive all throughout my life leading up to that night, but I didn’t take them because I didn’t want to appear weak. What a foolish, foolish trap to fall for.

Give yourself grace when you talk about your loss. For a long while after that failed attempt to speak about my Dad, I beat myself up over it. I looked at that attempt as a failure that would always haunt and plague me when I tried to make a difference in the world of suicide prevention. It was a moment at the podium that I didn’t think I could ever bounce back from.

But that was Satan’s distortion, not God’s reality.

Satan tells us that if we don’t get it right the first time, we never will. God, on the other hand, tells us that our failures are building blocks for something greater. On nearly every page of the Bible, you’ll find stories of individuals who failed and went on to do great things to build God’s Kingdom here on Earth, and it’s not the failures that God remembers. Instead, He remembers the moment that we bounce back. He remembers Paul’s ministry, not his crusade to kill early Christians. He remembers Peter as the rock upon which the Christian church was built, not the way he sunk like a rock while trying to walk on the water. He remembers Cornelius the Roman Centurion’s conversion to Christianity, not the atrocities he committed on behalf of the Roman Empire that led him to that moment. The men and women in the Bible show us stories of redemption, but there can only be redemption if there is first failure.

When we talk about our grief, our mistakes do not hold us captive. Oftentimes, it’s the actual process of talking through our grief and the way we feel that reveals where we are hurting. Deeply buried hurts and pains bubble to the surface when we talk, and if we don’t talk, those things stay buried but still hurt us without our knowing it. At times, I’ve talked about losing my Dad (namely to my therapist and those in my life who are closest to me) and came to new realizations about my grief, even if I didn’t articulate everything perfectly. There were things bothering me that I didn’t even realize until I mentioned them; and once I shine the light on them and speak about them, they don’t hurt as bad.

Just as there’s no timetable or manual that you have to follow when you talk about your grief, there also isn’t a set dictionary or writer’s guide that tells you how you have to talk about your feelings. As you begin to talk, be kind to yourself and understand that how you feel might not always come out perfectly. Let’s face it—if we all knew how to talk about our feelings perfectly, my Dad wouldn’t have suffered in silence from his depression. Learning to talk about our loss or our complicated and often messy feelings requires the failures just as much as it does the successes.

You don’t have to share your story with everyone, and you don’t have to share everything. After losing my Dad, I felt the need to talk about him and share his story with everyone I met in nearly every forum that I had; but I realized that it was not productive. I thought, foolishly, that if I wasn’t talking about my Dad, I was forgetting about him or failing to honor his memory. Wrongly, I felt as if I was disrespecting him in every moment that I didn’t talk about him.

As painful as it is for me to admit it, there are some people with whom I don’t talk to very often about losing my Dad. It sounds ironic to write this on a blog that is broadcast to the world at large, but I want to make the story available to anyone who can learn and grow from it. That doesn’t mean that I expect everyone to read it, or that I even expect everyone who reads it to learn from and grow from it. I know God will direct my Dad’s story into the right hands. I’m just the messenger; I’ll let God take care of the delivery.

Even though I don’t control the delivery, it also means that I am in control of the story itself, which is unbelievably reassuring in a phase of life that has felt very unpredictable because of my unexpected loss.

There are some elements of my Dad’s story that I don’t share at all. Those are precious, private details between a lost Father and a grieving son that will always be sacred to me. Setting boundaries on what I will discuss and what I won’t has been one of the most important techniques in sharing my story that protects my own mental health and grief. There are some moments and details, honestly, that are still too painful to relive, even six years removed from losing my Dad. So, I approach those areas with tenderness, and I try to realize that there is something really valuable about self-care when it comes to sharing our stories, especially when death and loss are involved.

And most importantly, I learned that God helps us get back off the mat after we are knocked down. I’m so grateful that, over time, God gave me the strength and encouragement to get back up from the blows that had been delivered after that first unsuccessful attempt.

I don’t remember how much time had passed in between—which in itself is an important reminder to not focus on arbitrary calendar markers when it comes to our grief—but I eventually felt the call to share my Dad’s story at an event I was hosting.

And this time, I heard God clearly saying “Now.”

The story I wanted to tell came to me with an unbelievable clarity, and it honored my Dad in the exact way that I had hoped to honor him in the previous attempt. I was fortunate that there were no cameras around to capture that first failed attempt, but I was beyond grateful that the cameras happened to be there the second time around (special thanks to my good friend Steve Colwell of TVHamilton for capturing this important moment in my life).

Looking back and watching that moment years removed, I still find imperfections—but those imperfections were perfectly honest at that particular moment in time, and I’m happy they are there. I’m happy that my story, in many ways, is still so similar, and I’m happy that in other ways, it has changed dramatically. It’s evidence that I’ve healed in many ways, and that I’m still healing in others. It’s a reminder that no matter how much we grow and change, there is still a firm foundation that God gives us which roots our souls firmly in His presence. I’m glad that God is happy with us where we are, but I’m just as thankful that He never wants us to remain in that same place forever.

And each day, I grow to appreciate more and more those reminders when God tells me “Not yet.”

Family at Joes Game with SB Logo LeftDad, Talking about your death has, at times, been unbelievably difficult because the pain of losing you is still so real. Every day, I want to honor you and the life that you lived here, and I’m grateful that, over time, God has given me the grace and power to do that in my own way. Dad, I want you to know that you are still so loved by so many. Your story is helping so many people. Your death is giving life to other people who are hurting and struggling, and no matter what I do, I’ll never forget you and the lessons you taught me. Each time I talk about you, I can feel your presence, and I know you are watching over me and guiding me. Dad, continue watching over me. Continue to give me that peace and comfort that only a Father can provide. In your life, you taught me everything I would need to survive in the aftermath of your death; and in your death, your memory is still teaching me daily. Your memory teaches me what it means to be a good husband, son, and friend. Thank you, Dad, for being a Father worthy of praise. I miss you more and more each day, and I am anxiously waiting for the day when we are reunited. Until then, seeya Bub.

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

Carving

“Watch it, now…you get a finger mixed in with that ham and you’ll ruin Christmas.”

It was always, always Dad’s job to carve at the holiday. Growing up, my Mom always hosted a lot of our family get togethers around special holidays, and any good family get together usually involved some type of carved meat. I remember delicious turkeys at Thanksgiving, a fantastic ham on Easter, and both ham and roast beef on Christmas Eve. For every holiday she hosted, Mom would spend hours and days preparing all kinds of treats and delicious goodies, and Dad and I were always ready to eat. Dad and I weren’t much help to Mom when it came to these extravagant yet quaint family gatherings, mainly because Dad wasn’t much of a talent in the kitchen.

Wait, let me try that again. Most anything Dad did in the kitchen was disastrous. We are talking next-level, epic kitchen ineptitude. For a man who was competent in so many things, it was amazing to see him fail so spectacularly in the kitchen. I once saw the man burn soup—how do you burn soup?!

But Dad did have one special skill he could deliver around the holidays. The man was always a solid meat carver. I think it was because carving a ham resembled more of a construction project (his wheelhouse) than a culinary test. Every year a few minutes before our family would arrive for a holiday celebration, I would hear the familiar, sawing ziiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrr of my parents’ electric carving knife. On and off and on again the knife would go as Dad would conquer a ham or turkey, creating as many slices as possible for our family to enjoy. The carving knife, a gift from their wedding and a marvel in craftsmanship by Black & Decker, had vanquished many a Christmas ham and Thanksgiving turkey in its years of service to our family. That knife is older than I am—solid work, Black & Decker!

My family always thankful that Christmas typically brought with it a ham that was given to my Dad. Dad was fortunate to work for caring and thoughtful companies for most of his career, and his employers always provided a Christmas ham that Dad would proudly bring home to store in our freezer. As a kid, I probably didn’t appreciate what a considerate gesture this was for the families that had spent so much time, sweat, and energy working in physically demanding and strenuous jobs. Now, I have a deep appreciation for it—mainly because in my entire career after college no one has ever just given me a ham! I’m lucky if I can even get the kind of pens I like to write with!

But every year, my family was thankful that Dad’s employers provided this special blessing to our family, and Mom had the great honor of cooking it—and her culinary talent would always shine through. Mom was, is, and always will be a magician and artist in the kitchen. Another thing that you fail to appreciate until you’re grown is the cooking acumen of a parent, and I definitely didn’t give my Mom the credit she earned in the kitchen until I started cooking myself. Now that I know how much work goes into preparing a simple dinner, I appreciate the ease my Mom displayed whipping up a full meal almost every night of the week. Dad was better at appreciating Mom’s cooking. One time, Dad and I were talking about Mom’s talent, and I remember Dad saying “You know, growing up I never thought I would be able to find someone who could cook as good as my Mom; and then I met your Mom, and she could cook even better!” Dad always appreciated Mom’s cooking, and I know he loved it around Christmastime.

Usually starting days before the family gathering, Mom would meticulously pour over the preparations and her menu, timing out when she would need to start prepping dishes, when dishes would need to go in the oven, and fretting over where she was going to store all of this food until everyone arrived. Even though Mom would always get a little overwhelmed and worried by the volume of things she had to prepare, it always worked out in the end and everything came together even better than she had imagined. She worried about holiday gatherings because she cared about everyone so much—and those tremendous holiday gatherings we had are a reminder of how Mom showed her love to us.

Dad’s contributions to our holiday festivities were largely mechanical, and I thank God each day that he wasn’t responsible for the cooking (remember that whole burnt soup thing?). Usually, Mom would task Dad with wrapping the presents (he had the wrapping skill of a fourth-generation origami artist), where he would camp in front of the television with rolls of colored paper and enough tape to fully encase a forty-three car locomotive. Dad also had to set up the card table in the family room so we had enough spots for everyone, and it was usually Dad’s job to brush out our family dog so she looked even fluffier than usual when everyone arrived.

And then, just before the festivities began, Dad would pull the electric knife out of the tattered-and-worn box and get to carving. Standing over the oven range in our compact family kitchen, Dad would whir away with the jigsawing blades, removing slice after slice with the precision of a brain surgeon, placing it delicately on a large, silver platter in an overly-intricate pattern.

As a kid, I was always a bit intimated as I watched Dad carve away at the ham. There seemed to be a true art to it because Dad would concentrate deeply on the work in front of him. As he did with most every task he approached, Dad was a fanatic for detail. Through this oval-rimmed glasses, he would move his head from side to side, locating unbeknownst spots in the oven-baked ham in which one cut would produce the most amount of meat. By the end of the process, Dad would lift out the ham bone from the roasting pan, and I would be amazed at how little meat was left behind. Mom would always tell Dad that he did a great job, and then she would wonder whether or not there would be enough for everyone….even though we seemingly ate ham for the next four days at home. There was always enough, but Mom wanted to make sure that the holiday was perfect for everyone.

I appreciate that now. I appreciate her thoughtfulness. And I appreciated my Dad’s ability to carve a ham. Especially when my Mom came down the stairs in 2012 and said I was going to have to do it.

As always, Mom was preparing for another Christmas Eve at our home with the Turner side of our family, but there was an unfortunate complication—Dad was sick. For days, my Dad had been trying his best to fight off an illness that seemed to get worse and worse and worse with every cough. I had gone upstairs earlier in the day, and Dad was laying in the bed wearing his usual elastic-ankled, matching sweatsuit, looking weaker and more tired than I had seen him in a long time.

“A lot ‘a good that vitamin C did you, hey old man?” I said to him with a smart-alecky smirk on my face.

My Dad was the king of vitamins—and a pusher at that! Every morning, I’d hear the familiar rattle-rattle-rattle of his pill bottles in the kitchen as he horked down enough supplements to grow an orange grove in the soil of the Sahara. Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Fish Oil capsules, multivitamins, magic beans, jumping beans, jelly beans….you name it, Dad took it. As he lay withered and hacking in the bed the day before Christmas, I couldn’t help but deliver a bit of a low-blow to my old man by teasing him about his vitamin obsession.

“You just remember….I’ll recover ten times faster because of the vitamin C,” he said with sincerity, and I laughed and told him how great I was feeling because I had once taken a vitamin shaped like Fred Flintstone when I was seven.

I spent some time at his bedside asking him how he was feeling and watching a bit of TV with him, and I knew that Dad had to be pretty darn sick to be bedridden the day of a Christmas gathering. Dad loved the holidays, he loved having people over the house, and he loved talking with people and just being near them more than anything else. After we talked for a few minutes, I wanted to let him rest and I went back downstairs to watch a little television. Moments later, Mom came down the stairs with a bit of a worried look on her face and delivered the news.

“I think you’re going to have to carve the ham.”

I hadn’t even thought about it until that very moment. Dad wasn’t about to get within fifty feet of the food that would be served at Christmas dinner that night, but it had just hit Mom that he usually carved the ham each year but wouldn’t be able to now.

I got a pit in my stomach. “I mean, Mom, I don’t have a license or anything…”

We both knew there was no way of getting around it, and for the next few hours I tried to replay all the times I had watched Dad cut a ham in the kitchen before our Christmas Eve celebration. It was then that I realized that my motivation for watching Dad cut a ham all those years was to try and sneak a few premature scraps that he had cut, and at no point had I ever actually paid attention to what he was doing with the electric knife.

As the clock ticked closer to our family’s 6’o clock arrival, I got a bit more nervous; but Dad came up with a good idea. Instead of carving the ham, Dad would be the teacher and I would be the apprentice. Dad would stand a good ten feet behind me, and while looking over my shoulder, he would tell me where to cut, how to cut, and where to place each piece. I was still a bit nervous and overwhelmed by the task ahead, but it sure felt better knowing that I had a Dad who had all the answers and would be looking over my shoulder the entire time.

The moment came, and Dad made his way downstairs. I knew he didn’t feel well at all, but I was so thankful that he was willing to help me. Over the next half hour or so, Dad told me how to properly carve the ham. He had me locate particular spots to make main cuts and dividing cuts, and then he told me how to lift the ham and cut near the bone so that everything seemed to fall right off. Magically, it worked. Dad pointed and instructed me, showing me how he typically stacked the pieces of meat neatly on the platter. He told me which pieces of the ham would likely be the “pretty pieces” and which ones would be the scrap pieces that he would save for sandwiches the on Christmas day (which was likely code for pieces of ham he had planned to sneak to our dog, Lucy). He showed me how to carve in such a way that there was very little meat left on the bone at the end, and although I wasn’t as efficient or sharp as Dad was, the stress of having to take on such an important task wasn’t nearly as bad because Dad was right there with me the entire time.

For the remainder of the night, Dad mostly remained up in the bedroom trying to recover from his sickness—which was an occurrence as rare as a Santa Claus sighting. Dad lived for family gatherings and spending time talking to other people, and the fact that he couldn’t even come downstairs was extremely unusual. Dad made a few “quick appearances” throughout the night, mainly to grab punch or some jello that he could tolerate eating. Each time, he would say hello to everyone who was there and make a few quick jokes, but he was really afraid of getting anyone else sick. He would grab a small plate and drink, and right back up the stairs he would go. Everyone’s face would light up as soon as they saw Dad, even if it was only for a few brief moments—he had the ability to light up a room just by being there. It was not the way my Dad likely wanted to spend Christmas, and it hurts to think about how sad he must have been to not be able to spend time with his family—especially knowing what we know now.

Dad’s last Christmas was that 2012 Christmas. Just seven months later, his clinical depression would overtake him, and suicide would claim his life. It tears my heart to pieces to think that Dad was so ill on his last Christmas on Earth that he couldn’t even enjoy the holiday with the same gusto and enthusiasm that he usually did. The holidays were always so special and important to Dad, and there is a haunting sadness when I reflect on his last Christmas, knowing he was quarantined to an upstairs bedroom when the family he loved and cherished was right downstairs. None of us could have ever imagined that December 2012 would be Dad’s last Christmas. Had we known, we would have all taken the risk of coming down with whatever sickness he had. I might have even taken some vitamin C to put his mind at ease. I hate that Dad’s last Christmas wasn’t as good as it could have been, and there’s absolutely no sugar coating that. It just doesn’t feel fair. If anyone deserved a spectacular Christmas, it was my Father.

2013 was our first Christmas without Dad, and there were many, many things that I was dreading about that first holiday. Thinking about Christmas morning without my Dad there with Mom and I was nauseating. Wondering how I would focus on family functions when all I could think about was the tragedy of losing my Father seemed impossible.

And yes, selfishly, I was dreading having to carve the ham.

To some, it may sound silly to have such a dramatic reaction to carving a ham, but knowing that I would have to carve the ham was just another reminder that Dad was gone. A role he had played for many decades was now vacant, and it was a painful reminder that he was never coming back. Carving the ham was a rite of passage, and the passing of the electric knife in this moment seemed so unnecessary, so premature, and absolutely wrong in every way. Dad should’ve been there. He should’ve been carving the ham—not me. He was too young. He should have been there.

Mom asked me to carve the ham reluctantly, knowing it would be difficult for me to do it, and of course I offered to help. Mom was suffering just like I was, and I knew we were both going to have to do things to keep going that we might not have necessarily wanted to do. I knew that Mom didn’t want to ask me, but I also knew that she had to. Throughout the day, I worried about being able to carve the ham properly without my Dad. I worried that a year had gone by and so much had happened and I knew, I just knew, that I was going to forget everything Dad had taught me. It was an awful and helpless feeling. Unfortunately, it was a feeling that invaded every area of my life. As each day passed after his death, I worried that I was forgetting him and losing him each time I started to move on. Not being able to carve a ham would be a revelation of how I had taken my Father for granted, and it was a painful reminder of my own guilt.

Nonetheless, our family Christmas Eve was approaching, and I walked into the kitchen trying my best to hold it all together. I got out the electric knife, and remembered Dad telling me to install the blade before plugging it in to avoid any tragic digit-dissections. Point taken, Pop—point taken. Even though he wasn’t there, I could hear him making his typical Dad-joke as he offered this reminder, maybe even pretending that he had lost a finger in the tragic ham-carving accident of 1968.

It felt good to laugh with my Dad again, even if I could only hear his spirit.

I started carving, and before I knew it, I had about a half platter full of ham laid out. Slowly and purposefully I carved away, and all the while I tried to remember all of the things that Dad had told me—where to cut, how to cut, which pieces to keep and which pieces to put in the scrap bag. The entire time, I pictured my Dad over my shoulder—still instructing, still directing. The entire time, I was reminded that although Dad wasn’t there in many ways, he was there in many other ways.

Before I knew it, the job was done. The entire ham had been carved, and although I definitely wasn’t as precise or stealthy as Dad always was, I was proud of myself.

And then, I went out into our sunroom just off the kitchen and started tearing up; and before I knew it, I was crying really, really hard. The weight of what had just happened hit me. Dad wasn’t there to carve the ham, and he would never be there again. Dad would never be there for another Christmas Eve, another Christmas morning. He’d never be there to help decorate the tree or put up Christmas lights. He would never be there to give Mom weird Christmas gifts or watch all 24 hours of The Christmas Story on television. The weight and gravity of what had happened overwhelmed me. I was being forced to fulfill roles that my Dad had always held because he would no longer be there to hold them.

Mom knew I was upset, and she came out and gave me a hug as we cried together. “I know how much you miss him,” she whispered. “I miss him so much, too.” We cried together for a long, long while before our family showed up, and although we tried to hide our red and weary eyes from them, it was useless. They, too, were hurting. My Dad had been so important to so many of us. We were all grieving, and this first Christmas would be a very difficult one without him.

As we stood there hugging, we felt the emptiness of our home even though there was only one person missing. Dad’s physical presence might have been gone, but it was so easy to picture him there and see and hear him. I thought back on that last year, and I could picture my Dad standing over my shoulder. I could hear his instructions, and I started to think about how none of us on that Christmas Eve in 2012 could have ever predicted that it would be Dad’s last. How we might have acted differently had we known that it would have been.

But all along as I was standing there carving, I could feel Dad still looking over my shoulder, but he was encouraging me in many more areas than simple ham carving. He was telling me that he was still there. I could feel him telling me that it was going to be okay and that everything was going to work out, even though life seemed so sad at the time. Dad’s presence was with us that entire first Christmas in so many ways. It was different, and sad, and at times horribly painful; but then, at other times, Mom and I would find glimpses and reminders of the joy we had experienced when Dad was around. But I know, in both the good moments and the bad, Dad’s memory and spirit was always there with us, telling us that he loved us and that everything would be okay. Dad had received the gift of Eternity with Jesus Christ this year, and we were all thankful that the pain he had riddled his soul for so many years was gone. Forever.

It might also sound dramatic to say this, but I believe it: I know that Dad teaching me how to carve that ham was a gift from God as He saw the stormclouds forming on the horizon. I know from everything I read about God in the Bible that he did not, I repeat, did not give my Dad his depression or cause his death—that was Satan. All good things come from God, including the good things that grow out of horribly dark, bad places. I know that God wished for my Dad to be healthy and happy and alive here with us; although God did not wish for my Father to die so soon, He did control the response to the tragedy and make sure that His glory would help us all survive our shaken family foundation. He did redeem my Father’s death by giving us blessings and safe havens all throughout the tragedy. And ultimately, I know that He redeemed my Father’s death by welcoming him into His loving arms in Eternity. Yes, our family had been damaged and hurt—but not irreparably. God was still building all of us up, and he was using my Dad’s story to save other lives. The pain did not disappear, and in all honesty it still hasn’t. But the pain is accompanied by a deep and abiding belief that God can see my family through anything. No difficulty and none of Satan’s battle tactics can defeat us because I love my Dad and I love my Heavenly Father.

As valuable as the ham-carving skills have become, Dad taught me so much more about Christmas in the 26 years that we celebrated the holiday together here on Earth. Dad always entered the holiday season with a strong sense of joy and excitement, and since losing him, I’ve tried to understand that my own holidays are finite and limited. I only have so many holiday seasons to enjoy with my family and the people I love, and I need to appreciate them for the treasure that they truly are. Unfortunately, it took me losing someone as precious and dear as my Father to understand this difficult truth; and although I don’t do it perfectly in every single moment, I know that I’ve grown to appreciate those simple life moments and the beauty they bring with them, and I think that’s what my Dad would want all of us to learn from his life.

Christmas will never be the same without my Dad; but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. That doesn’t mean that I have to be so overwhelmed by my grief that I can’t see or experience the happiness that still exists within the world after Dad left us. And as time wears on, I gain even more perspective and focus on the value of life and love, and just how fragile all of it can be. I am reminded of how I know my Dad would have wanted to experience more and more Christmases, and all of the excitement he still had to live for that was stolen from him by a horrible, devastating mental illness. In that way, just like he did standing over my shoulder on that last Christmas, my Dad is still teaching me how to live my life in his death. I don’t always do it perfectly, but I’m doing it better because of him. He’s always standing over my shoulder—gently guiding and instructing me on how to be a better man.

I’m thankful for his instruction. And I’m thankful, each and every Christmas, for the wonderful gift of my Father. And my family is thankful that year after year, I get a little bit better at carving that ham.

Dad Lucy and Me at Christmas with SB LogoDad, At times, Christmas has felt so empty without you. My heart has been enraptured with pain when I think about what was stolen from you and us by mental illness. You deserved many more Christmases. You deserved to celebrate with our growing family, and to eventually be a Grandfather who were spoiled with your generosity and sense of childlike wonder. The holidays had a special sparkle when you were here to celebrate them, and since you’ve been gone, we’ve all felt an overwhelming sense of loss, guilt, and sadness. But the gift that was given to us was the reassuring truth of knowing that you are safe in God’s arms—free of pain, distress, and all the unfair difficulties that haunted you in this life. Dad, there is no question in my mind where your Eternal mailing address is. I know you are in Heaven, watching down over all of us and telling us that life is going to work out even on the days when the pain of losing you makes it hard to believe. I think of you all the time, but even more so on Christmas. Christmas was a happy time because you provided so much joy to those you loved. Watching the way you enjoyed spending time with your family has been an inspiration to me, and I wish you and I could sit around, share a glass of punch, and laugh again the way we always did. Dad, thank you for teaching me what it means to be a man who loves his family not just at Christmas, but every day of the year. I have many more Christmases to go without you, but I’m looking forward to that first one we can spend together in Eternity. Until that day, I love you. Merry Christmas, Bub.

“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NLT)

Eyes Wide Open

Tonight, I’ll hold a candle in my hand. A candle that represents my Father. A candle that reminds me that, although he’s gone, his memory will never, ever die out.

All the while, I’ll be surrounded by other hurting individuals, holding candles, asking the same questions as I am, experiencing the same sadness and despair that I’ve felt for the past six years.

Together, we will encourage one another. Together, we will remind one another that we are never, ever alone, no matter how isolating the world and our grief might feel.

But together, we will also serve as a powerful and uncomfortable reminder—a reminder that suicide is all-too-real, all-too-frequent, and all-to-preventable.

And together, I hope we can help open everyone’s eyes to the pain around us, just our own have been opened as well.


I never, never thought that suicide would impact my family. It wasn’t a possibility. Maybe in other people’s families; but definitely not mine.

And when it did, it opened my eyes; and they’ve been opening wider and wider ever since.

I remember the first time that it ever felt as if suicide hit close to home. A family that was very close with mine through some announcing work I had done had lost an adult brother to suicide in the middle of the baseball season. It shocked me because suicide seemed so irregular and so distant from the seemingly-perfect little world I lived in. Talking with the family at their first game back was heartbreaking. I remember leaning against the rail of the grandstand while the team was taking BP, and I didn’t quite know what to say to them; maybe because I didn’t quite know what to say about suicide in general. I likely asked questions that were nosey, pointless, and insensitive. Trying to understand their pain and anguish made me feel so unbelievably helpless. I was struggling to understand how suicide could have impacted a family that had so many wonderful people in it, but from a grander perspective, I was really struggling to understand the concept of suicide in general.

And after talking with them, heartbroken for the reality that had become their lives, I still believed that suicide was their story; not mine, and definitely not my family’s. I still believed that suicide was something so small, so random, and so seemingly disconnected from the reality that was my life that it could never, ever occur in my world—even though, by happening to them, it already had.

It wasn’t until the reality of suicide unexpectedly invaded the Bradshaw home that my eyes were truly opened wide to the reality, the prevalence, the pain, and the all-too-frequent occurrence of suicide in our country and in our own individual neighborhoods. It took a death from suicide invading my own front door for the pain to truly set in.

After the destruction of my Dad’s death and funeral had settled a bit, I found myself obsessively researching suicide and mental illness in the corner office of my small home in an effort to try to make sense of what had happened to my Dad. I knew that I’d never be able to answer most of the questions I had, because suicide at its core is an inexplicable phenomenon that doesn’t usually have a single indicator, trigger, or catalyst. In all likelihood, it’s a terrible confluence of environmental, biological, contextual, and spiritual factors that leads one to think that suicide is the only option.

Nonetheless, I looked for answers; and I found number after number, statistic after statistic, that shocked and amazed me. I had likely heard all of the numbers before, but none of them had ever carried the horribly painful weight that they now did. Now, my Dad represented one of those numbers. Now, a seemingly minor statistic had become the largest, most painful reality for my Dad and those who loved him. Those numbers surprised me, but they shouldn’t have. Those numbers shocked me, but I shouldn’t have been so numb to reality.

The reality was that these numbers had always existed and had always impacted the people in the world around me; I was just too busy, too self-focused, and too ignorant to pay any attention to them.

But everything I saw confirmed the reality. Everything I read showed me that mental illness and suicide by the numbers alone were all-too-likely to happen to those I loved. And I was ashamed to think that, for so long, I just pretended it wasn’t happening or was simply oblivious to the hurt existing in the world around me.

I was ashamed to see that, according to most every medical and research report I read, nearly one in five individuals in the United States suffers from some form of mental illness[1]. Continuing to read, I learned that there were so many people who were hurting and suffering but simply couldn’t or wouldn’t get the help they needed and deserved. Nearly 60% of adults with a mental illness didn’t receive mental health services in the past year.[2] I hated thinking that people who were hurting, like my Dad, felt ashamed of going to seek professional help.

I remember when I first learned that my Dad suffered from depression, and I recall thinking how unusual it had seemed—not just for my Dad, but for people in general. On the day I learned that my Dad couldn’t explain his despair, it felt like he was the only person in the world who was suffering and struggling. It felt as if his unexplainable sadness was something that only he dealt with. It felt as if the solution—counseling, medication, and other treatments—were so obvious.

But the life behind these numbers is much more complicated and messy. The numbers show—and now we all know—that many more people are hurting than we ever thought were. And we all know that treatment isn’t easy, often because admitting you are hurting isn’t easy.

Over those many sleepless nights after losing Dad, I kept reading and I kept researching, hoping I would be able to find a report that gave a more optimistic prognosis of the situation; but reality was much more important to me in that moment than optimism. After losing my Dad to suicide, it was more important that I had an accurate depiction of the state of affairs related to mental illness and suicide, not a pretty one. The numbers that shocked me more than the seemingly regular occurrence of mental illness, however, were those statistics related to how many individuals eventually died as a result of suicide.

I was dumbfounded to read numbers that represented real, broken, and unnecessarily-shortened lives, and those statistics related to suicide were the most heartbreaking:

  • Around 123 individuals in the United States each day died from suicide.[3]
  • That number translates to a death by suicide occurring every 12 minutes on average.[4]
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.[5]

I still remember the horror I felt when I read these numbers after losing Dad: horror at the situation, and horror at my own ignorance to the suffering of my fellow man. It wasn’t like these deaths were occurring in a far-off world; they were occurring all around me, right in my own backyard. Mental illness shouldn’t have been a foreign concept to me.

But it was; and I was ashamed.

It wasn’t until I lost my Father that I began to see the faces and lives behind these numbers. It took the cloud of suicide rolling over my own family and my own life to realize just how bad the storm really was. It shouldn’t have had to happen that way. It shouldn’t take going through unbelievable pain and hurt to be cognizant of an epidemic that steals lives, destroys families, and creates a generational grief that is nearly impossible to escape.

My Dad saw it, too.

Every year at Christmas, my Mom does a wonderful job of giving me a special gift that will help me remember my Dad. These gifts are focused on his life—not his death—and they’ve always helped take off some of the painful edge that surrounds every holiday without the man who raised me. Most of the time, her gifts are something created anew out of his things and possessions, giving them fresh life and meaning for me in his absence. A few years ago, however, she gave me something completely untouched and unbelievably meaningful—she gave me my Dad’s Bible. The Bible was completely undisturbed—exactly as it had been left on the last day of his life. It was a treasure I can’t put into words.

Like me, my Dad kept a few small, flat mementos in the front of his Bible. I leafed through them, one by one, wondering why they were there and what they meant to him. Some I could explain; others I could not. As I leafed through the items, there were a number of small funeral cards and programs that Dad had saved from services that he attended. I always respected my Dad for making a point to go to funerals to support those he loved, even if it made him uncomfortable.

Amongst the three or four funeral cards inside of his Bible cover, I couldn’t help but notice the program from our family friend’s funeral—the man who had also died from suicide. My jaw hung open when I saw it and thought about the unfortunate connectedness between this poor man and my Father. Almost a year and a month from the date of our family friend’s funeral, my Dad would die from the same exact mechanism of death. My family would be scarred by the same ugly, unfortunate fate that had affected a family that meant so much to us.

My Dad saw all of this. He saw the way it influenced this other family. But even with that perspective, he couldn’t avoid the same pain being inflicted upon our own household. It shows how powerful and dangerous mental illness can become when left unchecked. It shows how suicidal ideations can ensnare and completely distort our logical thought processes. Where mental illness distorts, reality is paralyzed; and making the right decision often takes a backseat to making an emotional one.

And it shows that we can’t wait until something bad happens in our own lives to open our eyes to the hurt that exists within the hearts and minds of those we love.

Even with my eyes wide open, it’s extremely difficult to make sense of my Father dying from suicide having attended a funeral for another suicide victim just one year earlier. It’s hard to fathom how a man who loved his God, loved his family, and loved the life that he had been given could feel so sick and so full of despair that life felt unlivable.

But mental illness and depression incapacitated my Father’s ability to think about how unnecessary his death by suicide was and how it might permanently inflict, wound, and hurt those who loved him most. My Dad couldn’t turn the tide on the statistics related to suicide, even though his own personal experience in this life should have helped him do that.

But now, we are all left behind, refusing to let those numbers increase as a way to redeem my Dad’s death.

In order to really turn the tide on the horrible statistics surrounding suicide, it’s time that we open our eyes. It’s time that we start to see more than numbers, but faces and lives and stories cut short by unnecessary pain and heartache.

This evening (September 10, 2019), I plan to join a group of fellow suicide survivors (a term that describes family and friends of someone who has died from suicide) at a support and prevention event called “A Walk to Remember” at the Voice of America Park in West Chester, Ohio. I’ve been invited to say a few words to that group before we all walk together and remember our loved ones, the joy they brought to our lives, and the pain we’ve felt in losing them. After I say a few words about my Dad at the beginning of the event, I’ll join hands with those who are also hurting and struggling as we make our way through a remembrance walk, channeling positive memories of our loved ones, and wishing, more than anything, that we could have our loved ones back.

There is peace in knowing that, tonight, I’ll be surrounded by so many individuals who understand the pain that my family and I have experienced. They’ll know what it feels like to get that awful phone call. They’ll know what it feels like to have questions that will never be answered. They’ll know what it feels like to feel guilty and sad and helpless and angry all at the same time. They’ll know what it feels like to be robbed of someone you love without reason or explanation.

But as much peace as I’ll find being with that group of fellow suicide survivors tonight, there will also be something deep and troubling about the entire experience. There will be a sense of frustration in wondering how suicide can continue to impact so many lives unnecessarily. There will be a sense of anger knowing that the average number of suicides per day in the United States has actually increased since losing my Dad, not decreased. I will walk around the lake at VOA Park contemplating why our unfortunate group of suicide survivors continues to add new members in an age where the statistics are widely known.

I don’t ever want families to have to be impacted by suicide first-hand to simply become aware. We shouldn’t need to lose those we love to learn or take action, especially when it comes to deaths that are entirely preventable. I shouldn’t have had to go through what I did to become more empathetic to those who were suffering and those who were grieving. But I’m here and you’re here knowing that we must do something to make sure that suicide is stopped dead in its tracks. I’m not talking about pushing back that average time by a minute or two minutes. I’m talking about radical change. I’m talking about each and every one of us having a deep and unyielding desire to make sure that no one ever becomes a victim of suicide again. If it’s a pipe dream to want to live in a society where people don’t feel the need, desire, or unnecessary compulsion to die prematurely, I’ll live in that idealistic world each and every day.

I ask you, in this moment, wherever you are and no matter what baggage you might carry along with you every day, to make sure this dream becomes a reality; to make sure that our awareness is more than just knowing, but becomes doing.

If you are hurting and contemplating suicide, I beg you in this moment and every single moment that follows to remember that you are loved, and that you matter, and that you deserve health, love, grace, and most importantly, life. I beg you to reach out and ask for the help that you need, that you deserve, and that is available.

And if you are reading this post because you know and love someone who is hurting, I implore you to show that individual forgiveness and patience, kindness and love. I ask you to do everything you can to help those you love in any way you can. Maybe it’s a difficult but necessary conversation. Maybe it’s opening up to that person, being vulnerable, and finding comfort in your mutual pains and struggles. Maybe it’s finding the bravery to accompany that person to a therapist or counseling appointment. You can be the person that helps reverse the statistical trends.

And more than anything, I am speaking to those of you who are reading who don’t struggle or know of anyone who is struggling. The reality is that we shouldn’t have to be someone or know someone who is hurting in order to feel empathy for a broken world. Don’t embrace inaction because the battle has yet to hit your doorstep. We can all do more to make sure that suicide is an anomaly, not an every-12-minute-occurrence.  And it starts with making sure all of us have eyes that are wide open to the mental illness epidemic occurring in our country.

Tonight I’ll hold a candle. I’ll hold a candle and remember my Father. I’ll hold a candle and remember all of those who died the same way he did.

But I’ll hold that candle knowing that, together, we can create a world where every man and woman walks around with eyes wide open—and more importantly, hearts that are wide open as well.

Dad Smiling on Train with SB LogoDad, my heart breaks each day when I think about losing you, and the past six years have been unbelievably difficult. I don’t want to have to navigate life without you because you had so much more to live for. Life was simply better when you were in it, Dad. You brought joy and laughter and security to the world around you, and we’ve all felt your absence every day. I also feel tremendous guilt because I wish it wouldn’t have taken your death for me to realize just how bad you were hurting. Dad, I should have been more patient and understanding. I should have shown you more empathy and grace because you were suffering from a disease that you couldn’t explain, identify, or even put into words. There are so many moments that I wish I could redo—days in which I treated you unfairly or without compassion. Although I can’t replay and fix those moments, I want to spend every day here on Earth trying to redeem your death. I want to make sure that everyone who reads my words and hears my voice knows your story, learns from it, and chooses a different path forward because of it. Dad, you gave me the courage to carry on in the face of your death, and although I’d do just about anything to have you back, I’m so grateful that you taught me to do everything I can to help others who are hurting. Thank you for always loving me. Thank you for always teaching me, even in your death. Thank you for all you gave to me, even on days when you couldn’t even take care of yourself. I love you, Dad, and I miss you tremendously. I can’t wait to be reunited forever in the glory of God’s eternal kingdom. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 (ESV)

*Authors Note: For clarity and accuracy in writing, please note that all statistics have been updated to reflect recent research that is published at the time of writing/publication of this post (Fall 2019). Unfortunately, many statistics related to the prevalence of mental illness and suicide have continued to grow since my Father’s death in 2013.


References:

[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml#part_154785

[2] https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/fastfact.html

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/fastfact.html

[5] https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf

Wondering

My Dad’s death from suicide has left me in a constant state of wondering.

On Father’s Day, Paige and I found ourselves enjoying lunch at one of our favorite spots: Chuy’s. As I’ve written about previously, Father’s Day is an extremely difficult day for me to navigate. Every Father’s Day leaves me wishing I had just one more to celebrate with my Dad. He deserved a bigger celebration than any I ever gave him on this Earth, and each year that passes brings its own unique challenge and struggle within my emotions. Some years, it’s a tremendous sense of loss and grief that overwhelms me. Other years, its anger and frustration that mental illness stole my Father away from a world that loved him beyond words.

But this year, it was a sense of wondering—constant, ever-present, answerless wondering—that overtook my capacities.

While I plowed down a basket of chips and salsa (and then another…and maybe one more), I noticed a table nearby with about ten family members around it. There were mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, and one very adorable baby who smiled at me every now and then as she rested her head on her Mom’s shoulder. There were a number of young adolescent boys who all seemed to be extremely respectful of their parents, aunts, and uncles, which always warms my heart—especially when I see children who talk to their parents and adults in their lives over a meal instead of staring aimlessly into an iPad. I’ve always enjoyed people watching, and this was a fun family to watch. From the outside looking in, they looked like a near-perfect family in many respects.

My interest during most of the lunch, however, was drawn to the head of the table. Sitting there was an elderly man in a wheelchair. He had mostly-graying hair, glasses, a cheerful smile, and a hearty laugh that would bellow out every few minutes. Wearing a bright orange short that appeared to reflect his happy personality, the man was intensely present with every one of his family members sitting around the table. Although he seemed to be enjoying the chips and salsa just as much as I was, he listened to the stories of his family members, responded, asked them questions, and listened some more. In every moment, he seemed extremely invested in the conversation and the people he was talking with, and generally, he appeared to be so happy to be at the table with all of them.

I don’t know how the man got to the table that day, or the story of his family, but I could tell that he was a man who had earned the respect of those who were sitting near him. He was a patriarch who had clearly established a family built on love, trust, and loyalty.

I was extremely distracted during that lunch, and as much as I tried to look away from this man and his family, I was transfixed. I found myself struggling to focus on anything else but watching this man, the way he behaved, and the way his family treated him. I kept trying to imagine the years and decades full of wonderful life experiences that had brought them all together—both the moments of joy and the sadness of defeat or tragedy that they had likely experienced as a family.

And all throughout, I wondered.

I wondered what could have been within my own family, and I saw it pictured with the family in front of me.

From the moment that I heard my Dad was dead, my mind immediately had to make an important shift. Unfortunately, all the things that were “want to’s” with Dad—the bucket list of things we had always planned and wanted to do together—became “should haves.” Instantaneously, thoughts of how I had squandered or ignored precious time with the man who meant everything to me flooded to the forefront of my grieving mind. Because my Father had passed away so suddenly at the age of 50 without any prior warning that his final days were nearing, there was a feeling of the rug being pulled out from underneath me in a horrible, violent, life-altering way. I felt as if I had been robbed of a treasure that I didn’t even know I had. All of a sudden, that “thief in the night” scripture in 1 Thessalonians held a whole new, all-too-real significance.

And from that moment on, I began wondering.

A permanent sense of questioning and fruitless speculation began to take over my life on that July day in 2013, and it continues to manifest itself in so many different facets of my life; but it’s especially present on Father’s Day. Father’s Day is the day that I reflect on all the great moments that I shared with my Dad and all the lessons that he taught me; but it’s also the day in which I wonder about the rest of his life that he deserved to live. The life he should have had but never did.

As I looked at the grandfather sitting nearby our table, I wondered what it would have been like to watch my Dad grow old. It was clear that the man at the table next to me had suffered some type of difficulty that required him to use a wheelchair, but he also had remarkable, quick movements as he ate—I think at one point he even surpassed my chip/salsa intake! Clearly, some of the effects of aging had taken away a few of the liberties that he had once enjoyed, but he seemed to not let those obstacles get in his way.

It was stupendous to watch, and I wondered, silently, if my Dad would have aged with the same grace and determination that this man embodied. I have no doubt that my Dad would have aged well, as he rarely found himself in a situation where negative health effects overtook him. Yes, he likely would have gotten a few more wrinkles. Yes, his vision would have likely gotten a bit worse. But I knew that I would always be able to tease him about not being able to lose any more hair than he already had!

I’m sure the aging process wouldn’t have been all fun and games for Dad, but it would have been fun for me to watch the man that I had first known in his late-20’s and early-30’s grow and age into an elderly man—a patriarch. Sitting at the table that day, I wondered what Dad would have looked like. I wondered what clothes he would have worn. I wondered if his beard would have grayed entirely. I wondered about every seemingly simple and stupid detail of his life. And I grew frustrated knowing I would never have those answers.

I also wondered about the more profound things. How long would Dad have lived had mental illness and suicide not robbed him of the life he deserved to experience? I don’t have much evidence to back up my assertion, but I always believed my Dad would have lived into his nineties or hundreds, and I believe he would have been largely independent and self-functioning the entire time. That’s just the way he was. Dad had a zest and an appetite for life that led me to believe he would have wanted to hold onto every ounce of it for as long as he could—which is what makes his untimely death from suicide all the more perplexing. On this day, and on many others, I found myself drifting into a daze where I pictured my already-bald, wrinkled, bespectacled Father sitting across from me with his familiar laugh and twinkling smile shining through the weariness of time. It hurt me deeply to know that the vision I had imagined would be as close as I would ever get to seeing my elderly Father in front of me.

But as I watched this man at the restaurant, I began to wonder about more than encroaching wrinkles and receding hairlines. As the meal wore on, this Father/Grandfather took a keen interest in his family members who were sitting around the table. He listened and laughed as his sons and daughters told stories, just as my Dad had always done when I talked with him. He lowered his gaze and leaned low to meet the eyeline of his handsome, well-behaved grandsons, asking them questions about the sports they played, their schooling, and their friends and classmates. He made silly faces at his newborn granddaughter, and his entire face melted into a deep smile every time she clapped at him, reached for his arm, or offered a newborn giggle or coo.

You could tell that this man wasn’t here for a sympathy lunch or a meal born of obligation. This man was sitting at the head of the table because, in the eyes of those who loved him, he had completely earned that head spot and they wanted to celebrate him. Each family member assembled at the table had a sense of reverence for the man they were likely honoring at lunch, and it was heartwarming to watch their actions in a world where these types of selfless behaviors are all-too-infrequent.

I couldn’t help but picture my Dad in that man’s seat. I couldn’t help but flash-forward to a world that will never exist, wondering what life would have been like for my Dad as a Father, Grandfather, and patriarch of his family. As I enter a new chapter of my life with an impending wedding date on the calendar, I often wish that Dad and Paige could have met to share life with one another. In so many ways, they would have been peas in a pod. They would have appreciated one another’s humor—especially humor at my expense. He and Mom together would have treated Paige like the daughter they never had, and although it’s been a true blessing to watch my Mom enjoy welcoming Paige into our family, I also wish that my Dad could have experienced that same blessing. I know that Dad would have taken an interest in everything Paige did, and he would have been amazed by her talent, knowledge, and determination. On many days, I find myself wondering how they would have enjoyed growing together as father and daughter-in-law, and I constantly wonder what their relationship would have looked like. And it pains my soul to know they never had a chance to experience life with one another.

And although I joke about the nervousness I feel at the thought of becoming a Father myself someday, I know that God has a plan for me to raise children; and I know with more certainty than anything else that my Dad would have been an outstanding Grandfather. Even with this certainty, however, I wonder about the things I’ll never know. What would Dad have wanted to be called? Grandpa? Grandad? Papaw? Pops? Just wondering about the nickname his future-grandchildren would have bestowed upon him brings tears to my eyes. I wonder about all of the fun moments he would have been able to share with them—likely doing things that Paige and I would have told him they were not allowed to do. Candy consumption would have been at an all-time-high. Punishments would have been nonexistent with Grandpa. Trips to the amusement park and trick dives from the deck into the swimming pool would have been everyday occurrences. My Dad would have taken the charge for grandfathers to spoil their grandchildren to heart as his personal life mission. I have no doubt that he would have showered them with gifts and treats and experiences, but more than anything, he would have given them every ounce of love he had. He would have loved them, and I have no doubt that they would have loved him just as much.

And unfortunately for me, and for those future grandchildren of his, we will never, ever get to see him fulfill that duty. And it’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Suicide (or any tragic, untimely death for that matter) creates many unique grief-related emotions within those who are left behind, but most prevalently it creates the sensation that the victim and their loved ones have been robbed—robbed of time and of a future together. After losing Dad to suicide, I remember telling people that I felt like the victim of a theft. It may have been a strange analogy, but it accurately conveyed the grief better than any other example. One day, I had a loving Father with the promise of having him in my life for a very long time, and the next day all I had to cling to were memories and the broken pieces left behind.

That unnatural feeling of being robbed, at least in my life, likely occurs because suicide in and of itself is unnatural. As a Christian, I firmly believe that suicide runs counter to God’s desire for our life. In no way do I believe it is an unforgivable sin (a common myth which I’ve addressed previously and will continue to address in posts to come), but I do believe that God’s heart breaks when one of his children loses a battle to depression. Although God can redeem bad things, like suicide, I think he also had grander plans for my Dad. I believe God wanted to see him grow old. I believe God wanted to see him become the patriarch of our larger family and become a grandfather. I believe God wanted to see my Dad enjoy retirement and many more years of marriage to my Mom. I wanted these things. We all did. I believe God wanted these things.

And I know, deep down in the innermost parts of his being, my Dad wanted them too.

My Father’s death from suicide prevented him from ever experiencing a whole new phase of joy and prosperity that he so unbelievably deserved, and my heart breaks for him because he was robbed unfairly. I know that we don’t earn God’s blessings because He freely gives them; but if there was a way to earn them, my Dad had done everything in his life necessary to fulfill his end of the bargain.

Instead, suicide and mental illness stole those opportunities away from my Father; and they stole the joy of knowing and experiencing life with him away from all of us who loved him so deeply. It’s left all of us, including me, in a constant state of wondering that will never, ever be satisfied on this side of Eternity. I’m thankful that I know, one day, I’ll be able to see my Dad again and the pain of his absence will be a memory that is long and forever forgotten. That promise keeps me moving ever-forward; but it doesn’t diminish the pain I feel in this moment. It never fully eradicates the confusion, guilt, and loss that pervades every minute of my existence.

I continued to watch the family on this last Father’s Day at the restaurant, and my attempts to avoid the pain of Father’s Day were futile. Although it was painful to think about what I had lost as I watched this family, there was also beauty in the reassurance of God’s promise that I will, someday, greet my Father again. I will, someday, run to the arms that cradled me as a baby and tell my Dad how much I’ve missed him. Like that family, I’ll enjoy a meal with my Dad that will be grander and greater than any we ever shared together on this Earth. We will laugh together again. We will bond together again. We will experience a love stronger than this world could ever provide, together as Father and son.

And in that moment, a moment I’m patiently yet desperately longing for, I’ll wonder no more.

Dad HS Yearbook Photo with SB LogoDad, You lived a big and vibrant life while you were here with all of us, and your absence is even more noticeable and painful because the void left behind is so great. You deserved to live a fuller life than the one you experienced, and I’m sorry I didn’t do more to make that dream reality. Dad, I would have loved watching you grow old—even though it might not have been as much fun for you as it would have been for me. I would have loved seeing you on my wedding day, and you have no idea how much I would have appreciated your wisdom about navigating this new chapter in my life because you were such an amazing husband for Mom. And yes, I would have loved watching you become a grandpa more than anything else. I know you would have been silly and goofy and ridiculous—and completely adored by your grandchildren. But Dad, as much as I wanted to watch those things for myself, I’m ultimately saddened because you earned the right to experience all of those wonderful things. I hate mental illness and suicide for robbing you of these life chapters. Mental illness separated you from us and from many wonderful, beautiful moments that awaited your future. And although I won’t get to watch you enjoy life, and although I’ll always have questions about why this happened to you, I do find peace knowing that you’re not suffering any longer. I find a sense of comfort knowing that the unjustified feelings of shame and embarrassment that you experienced in this world are completely gone and fully redeemed. And I know that as great as any experience you could have had here with us might have been, you’re experiencing a joy and beauty beyond any other as you bask in the glory of Heaven and God’s everlasting love and paradise. Dad, keep watching over me, and keep reassuring me that you were called Home for a reason. I love you, and I wish we could have experienced more of this life together; but I know there’s a greater reward and an unbelievable reunion awaiting us. Thank you Dad, and until the day when we are reunited forever, seeya Bub.

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

Jealous

A few days after my Dad’s death, I found myself roaming around a clothing store at the outlet malls. It sounds like a rather trivial thing to do after a traumatic loss, but I needed something, anything to find temporary relief from the sadness I felt. Attempting to escape from my grief, I was doing anything and everything to just keep my mind off of the horror that had filled the past week. I was trying to do little things, step by step, that I had done in my life before losing Dad, even though I experienced unrelenting guilt anytime I engaged in an activity that felt like I was “moving on.” Life was moving on to a new, emptier normal as much as I didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t stop it.

As I walked around the clothing store attempting to distract myself with shirts and hats and things that felt absolutely pointless now, I realized that my mind was super attuned to the many fathers and sons inside the store. They had always been there, but my mind had never had a reason to pay much attention to them before. Today, however, was different. Today, there were fathers and sons seemingly everywhere inside the store, and I was fatherless for the first time in my life. No matter which way I turned, they were constantly in my face.

I watched them all—closely and intently. I noticed how they interacted with one another. I watched as they showed one another different pieces of apparel. I saw how they joked together. I listened to their conversations, from the seemingly mundane to the more serious and complicated.

Realizing that I was without my Father in a public setting for one of the first times in my life, I did my best to try and get away from the different groups of fathers and sons that I saw throughout the store; but no matter where I moved, I couldn’t escape them. Everywhere I went, I seemed to encounter another father and son.

After a few unsuccessful dodging attempts, I found myself standing at a t-shirt rack with a father and his teenage son nearby, and I began to listen to their conversation back and forth, as much as I really didn’t want to. I knew, immediately upon looking at them, that his son was extremely disinterested—in both the activity of shopping, but more painfully, disinterested in his father.

To his credit, this particular father was doing everything he could to engage his son in a conversation; and his son, as some teenagers are prone to do, looked like he wanted to be hanging out with anyone else but his dad in that moment. Although he was trying to mask it, I could tell that this father was deeply hurt by the way his son was acting. I could see a level of longing for a previous chapter in life—a chapter during which his son had once adored him. There was a longing to be a father of a young, innocent boy again—a longing that would never be resolved. I could tell that this father, as unsuccessful as his efforts might have been, refused to give up on recapturing his son’s love and adoration. His efforts, however, were largely fruitless, and his son did everything he could to escape his dad’s presence.

I kept watching, and as the dad attempted to engage his son more and more, the son grew angrier and more hurtful. He began rolling his eyes at his dad behind his back. He snapped at his dad whenever he was asked a question that he perceived to be ridiculous—which just happened to be every question that his dad asked. Eventually, the young man started disrespecting his father at a level that was unconscionable and uncomfortable for those of us standing nearby—especially me.

And I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Without even realizing what was happening, I found myself getting emotional. My face was red and hot, and tears were forming at the corners of my eyes. I wanted to get away from them, but I also couldn’t stop watching them and wishing that this young boy would just shut up. I was anxious and uncomfortable and angry all at the same time.

I hung the shirt I was holding back on the rack and briskly walked out of the store, leaving the disrespected father and his disrespectful son in the rearview mirror.

I walked quickly through the parking lot, making a beeline towards my car as I felt more tears coming on. Within a few seconds, I got in the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut, and I began sobbing hysterically and pathetically. I sat there, slamming my fist against the steering wheel multiple times and letting out more than one anger-laced yells. It was embarrassing and humiliating, but these were raw emotions that I just couldn’t hide in that moment, just a few days removed from my Father’s tragic death. I was furious. I was deeply saddened.

More than anything, I was jealous.

After losing Dad, jealously was not one of the emotions I expected to struggle with, but it had hit me hard just a few days after Dad’s death. I didn’t realize how cognizant I would be of all the fathers and sons in the world around me. I didn’t expect that every single time I saw a father and son walking around a mall doing something as simple as shopping could well up deep-rooted feelings of grief-induced jealousy—but it did. I was going to the mall that day to try to escape from my grief, and the mere sight of a father and his son together made that impossible. I wondered when this would start to fade, but I knew that although the frequency might lessen, the feelings themselves would likely never entirely disappear.

My Dad was gone. It was a new, horrible reality that hadn’t yet sunk in, but I kept saying it to myself that day in the car, as if repeating it over and over again would make the reality of my new life less emotional. “Dad is gone. Dad is gone.” Over and over again, I found myself repeating what I had lost in my life—my Father, my mentor, my friend. My heart filled with despair as I thought about all of the great times that we had together during his life—times that would never, ever be repeated.

And I admit it—I was extremely jealous of those young men I had seen throughout the mall that day. Many of the fathers and sons I saw in the mall that day were happy. I saw young children laughing as their fathers chased them between stores or made funny noises. In the food court, I saw dads sharing meals with their children just like Dad and I had done so many times before. I saw fathers with their adolescent children talking and chatting and carrying on good conversations. I saw older fathers with their adult children (and even grandchildren) just appreciating one another’s company.

And I was really, really jealous of those families and what they had together.

I was longing for moments that I felt were stolen from me. My Dad was a loving Father, and we deserved to have more time with one another. True, no amount of time with a man like my Dad would ever be enough, but I just knew that I wanted—and deserved—more. We deserved to be able to enjoy different phases of life together that were still to come. I wanted to see him on my wedding day (and the look of disbelief that would be on his face when I would tell him that I was getting married). I wanted to be able to, someday, tell him that he was going to be a grandfather. I wanted to watch his childlike antics as a grandfather, and I would have appreciated everything he would have done to be silly and goofy and funny with little ones running around him. I wanted to be able to see him get a promotion—which he so desperately deserved—at work, and I wanted to be able to honor him when he eventually celebrated his retirement. And yes, I wanted to watch him grow old.

That day at the mall was like a flash-forward into the life I could have had, the life that would never be but should have. With every father and son I observed, I was reminded of those moments of life that had either passed too quickly or were stolen from us too hastily. With every father and son, I saw a vignette into the world that, for some reason, I would not be blessed with.

I sat in the car trying to process my feelings. It was tough to admit, but in those moments, some of the nastiest emotions of jealousy bubbled to the surface, and I wondered why an undeserving brat like the young man I had witnessed was still allowed to have his father while mine was buried just a few days earlier. I found myself wanting to say something to that young man. I wanted to walk up to him and tell him to quit acting like such a little jerk, because he had no idea how lucky he was to still have his father in his life. I wanted to tell him that he should think twice about being so disrespectful to a man he had likely once idolized and would someday miss. I wanted him to feel a sense of regret for his despicable, thoughtless, self-centered behavior.

I also wanted to tell him that I spoke from experience, because I now found myself regretting all of the moments when I had treated my Dad similarly; and in that moment, I realized that I wasn’t as angry at that young man as I was angry at myself for not always giving my own Father the respect he rightfully earned.

I was a largely respectful kid, but I was also a teenager. As most teenagers do, I went through my “too cool for parents” phase. Although my Dad was fairly non-intrusive compared to most parents I had seen, he definitely enjoyed being around me and my friends, even when I didn’t always enjoy or appreciate his company. There were times when my Dad would be around, innocently and joyfully, and I just wanted to be with my friends—not him. It’s so painful to admit this; especially considering the fact that, now that he’s gone, I would give up just about anything to have a few more precious minutes and moments with him.

Time teaches us important and sometimes painful lessons, and it took losing my Dad to realize the true gifts of life, albeit too late to appreciate it with him. Losing my Dad has taught me to appreciate those who are in our lives while they are here. It’s a simple lesson, and I’m definitely not the first person who had to learn it the hard way. Unfortunately, it is a life lesson that many of us learn entirely too late because we don’t often learn it until the pain of loss sets in.

Although I’ve grown in many ways since losing Dad, those feelings of jealousy are still just as real almost six years removed from his death. I still have moments similar to that day at the outlet mall when I will spot a father and son and those feelings of jealousy will creep to the surface. I still observe interactions—mostly beautiful ones—between fathers and sons that will bring me to inexplicable tears. I want what they have, and I don’t understand why God felt that calling my Dad home to heaven so prematurely was necessary. There are many days when I long to be a little boy again. I wish desperately for those moments when I could swim in the backyard pool with my Dad, or ride bikes with him, or laugh at television shows with him, or just be with him.

But I know that whatever that ultimate plan may be, and no matter how jealous I might feel of other fathers and sons at times, I cannot lose sight of the fact that I spent 26 wonderful years with a simply amazing Father in my life.

I remember talking with one of my Pastors, Dave Hicks, shortly after losing Dad. At the time of our phone conversation, I was worried about going back to work. My job requires me to meet with lots of students and families who come to campus. Oftentimes, those meetings are pleasant, but on occasion, there will be instances where students grow visibly frustrated with their parents asking embarrassing questions—as all parents are prone to do in the college admission process. Students will roll their eyes, or sometimes even admonish their parents when they grow extremely frustrated with their actions. In my early career, I became rather accustomed to these types of meetings; but now, things were different. I had lost my Father, and I knew that I would likely react differently when I observed these interactions. I was worried that I might start to get inside my own head when I saw students treating their fathers with disrespect, and I was afraid that these scenarios would trigger unpleasant memories, making it hard for me to do my job. On the flip side, it was also difficult for me to watch parents who might come in and are disinterested in their children, because I lost a Father who was always, always interested in my life.

I was sharing these concerns with Dave, and I finally broke down and told him what was at the heart of my worry and anxiety.

“What am I going to do when I interact with a student being mean to their Dad? I know that I’m going to be jealous and it’s really going to upset me,” I said.

“You’re going to rejoice in the fact that, for 26 fantastic years, you had the best Father the world has ever seen—and no one, not even death, can take that away,” Dave responded.

That comment shifted my perspective on that day, and it’s been an important reminder in the years of recovery after his death. Although jealousy is a natural feeling when losing a loved one, we also can’t lose sight of what we were fortunate enough to have. Although natural, I also realize how selfish my primal feelings of jealousy were after losing Dad. It was true—I didn’t deserve to lose my Dad at such a young age. But Dad didn’t deserve to die the way he did. And the father I saw in the store didn’t deserve to be treated the way he was. And, in most every situation of life, none of us deserve the pain we are subjected to.

But we also don’t deserve God’s love—yet He still continues to love us anyway. Our actions often run counter to the life He designed and taught us about through his Son, Jesus Christ. No matter how undeserving we might be, God continues to pursue us—and I will always be thankful for that message. When it comes to loving God, there have been sinful times in my life when I’ve been absolutely no different than that punk in the clothing store. In spite of all my transgressions and selfish attitudes, God has kept loving me; and it’s a reminder that not time, not space, and not even death by suicide can separate me from the love my Father gave me while he was here on earth.

I’m thankful that, albeit shorter than I would have liked, I had a Dad who loved me unconditionally each and every day of his life. I’m fortunate that I had a Father who took an active interest in everything I did, even though there were times when I didn’t give him the respect that he deserved. And I’m thankful, more than anything, that my Father’s memory and legacy continue to guide and teach me each and every day of my life. My heart is hurt, and it’s still hurting years removed from the day that the pain of losing him was inflicted; but my heart is only full of jealousy because of the magnitude of my loss. I lost my Father on that day, but I’ll never, ever lose my love for him.

Dad and Me Stump Picture with SB LogoDad, Of all the difficult things that have happened since losing you, watching other fathers and sons has likely been the hardest. I still get jealous when I see other fathers and sons enjoying life together, because deep down I feel that you and I were robbed of precious time spent with one another. I don’t always know how to deal with these feelings, but you taught me to appreciate what we have in life more than longing for what we don’t have. And for all the experiences and moments that we might not have been able to share with one another, the 26 years that we did spend together as Father and Son here on earth were always filled with life, adventure, appreciation, and love. You taught me that it’s okay to be hurt and to not know all of the answers, but that in spite of that hurt, we should strive to love others at all times. And Dad, in spite of the pain I still feel to this day, I often ask God to teach me how to love others like you did. Although I still experience jealousy, it’s always coupled with an unfailing sense of longing for what is to come—a heavenly reunion in which I’ll be able to tell you, again, how much I loved you. Thank you, Dad, for always modeling hope. Thank you for giving me indelible memories that will never, ever be erased by the pain of jealousy. And thank you for loving me and everyone in your life with gusto. I love you, Dad, and until we can enjoy the gift of being near one another again, seeya Bub.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30 (NIV)

A Pat On The Head

Life’s treasures are held in the simplest moments, the everyday routines of uncomplicated love. I miss those expressions of love from my Dad the most, and I’d give anything to find those treasures again, because there is indescribable joy wrapped up in those moments.

My Dad was not a man driven by routine—but there was one routine that drove his mornings, and it’s a routine that I dearly, deeply miss.

Out of necessity, my Dad was mostly an early riser on work days. Working as a maintenance technician in a few different steel plants throughout his career, Dad was always required to get up and get going at often odd hours of the day. If he found himself working a first shift job (which he always appreciated), he was often at work by 7, leaving the house around 6:30 or so. During those horrible second or third shift years, he found himself sleeping and rising at very odd hours. As a maintenance technician, however, the hours weren’t always so predictable. Machines often choose to break at the worst time of the day or night, and there were many times when Dad’s cell phone would ring at 2 or 3 in the morning, beckoning him to work for a long shift to make a repair. I really hated the moments when Dad’s phone would ring shortly after he had gone to bed. I knew how tired he must’ve been, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to get a phone call only fifteen minutes into your slumber that you have to come into work.

Those odd hours often put us on opposite sleep schedules. Whether he was on day shift or night shift, it always seemed that he would have to rise and shine at a time when I was sound asleep. If he went in during the morning hours, it was too early for me to get up; and if he worked a third shift, his departure usually occurred long after my bedtime. While Dad was ready to work, I was already asleep—or at least he thought I was.

I was a fairly light sleeper as a child, and there were occasions when my Dad’s relatively simple and rapid pre-work routine would disrupt my sweet dreams. It didn’t take Dad long to get ready, as he would always lay out the familiar navy coveralls with his stitched name that he wore the night before. He would dress, brush his teeth, rub his hand across the now shiny head where his thick hair used to be, eat a small breakfast, grab his keys, and lumber out the door. It was a rather simple routine that reflected the life of a beautifully simple man.

But before he left the house, there was always one part of his routine that was my absolute favorite. Every morning, after he was dressed and right before he left to get into his truck, Dad would quietly make his way into my room. Never turning on the light, Dad would delicately tread across my royal blue carpet, attempting to dodge any stray toys I might have left out from the night before. Finding my bed, Dad would reach down, rub my hair from side to side, and quietly whisper “Seeya, bub.”

Even though I was a light sleeper, I’m sure there were many days in which Dad said goodbye to me this way that I didn’t notice. But some mornings, if he had made a little extra noise downstairs in our kitchen, or maybe dropped something on the floor in the bathroom down the hall, I was awake for the daily hair tussling, even if still dozing in and out. Some mornings, I would return the greeting with a simple “Seeya, Daddy” or “Bye Dad” just to let him know that I loved him and appreciated him saying goodbye to me. But other mornings, being the only little boy who loved attention from his parents, I would close my eyes, pretend I was asleep, and let Dad go on with his routine without letting him know I knew it was happening. There was something pleasant about pretending to be asleep, because it showed me that Dad wasn’t doing this for my approval—he was truly saying “Seeya, bub” to me every morning because he loved me, whether I was able to reciprocate that love or not.

I craved this greeting, even if I didn’t know how much I craved it at the time. On the mornings that I was awake, I would often lay calmly in my bed and wait for it to happen, knowing Dad would leave the house about 25 minutes before his shift was to begin. As a kid, the morning minutes felt like an eternity. But finally, like I knew he would, Dad always made sure he came to say goodbye to me. And it was so special, and so full of love. I used to jokingly think he only came in to rub his hand through my hair because his own hair had disappeared so many years before, but I knew better. It had nothing to do with my healthy head of hair, but everything to do with his overflowing heart.

And then, one day, it didn’t happen.

Every now and then, we all slip from our routines. We forget to floss one morning, or we forget to take a multi-vitamin. We forget to grab our lunchbox, or we leave the garage door open. It happens to the best of us. But there was one day that Dad faltered in his routine that I never let him live down. And to my knowledge, he never did it again after that.

Around the time I started high school, Dad’s morning routine had to be slightly adjusted when we welcomed our new dog into the household. Willow was an Airedale Terrier given to us by our neighbors. They were moving to a condominium in Florida, and knew a nearly 90-pound pooch wouldn’t be happy cooped up in a crowded space. So as much as it broke their hearts to leave their dog behind, it made ours soar because we were able to have a new family member.

Willow brought a lot of joy to our house. She was a lively dog—curious and intelligent, loving but mischievous. I called her “Honey Bear” and she answered to that nickname just as much as her actual name. Oftentimes, I was the first one home each day to greet her after an afternoon of lonely solitude. As I would go to unlock the door, I’d jiggle the handle and wait for a response. Willow, wagging uncontrollably on the other side of the door, would bang her nose into the handle so it would jiggle back on the other side. The clunk-clunk of that golden handle still plays in my mind anytime I open the front door, even though she hasn’t jiggled back for many years. I loved that dog.

But she loved my Dad more. No question about it. I’m almost positive the word “slobbering love affair” was created after watching how the two of them loved one another. Yes, I was the one who let Willow outside after a long, boring day inside the house. Yes, I was the one who fed her every night around 5 ‘o clock, trying not to gag as I dumped horrible, reeking canned dog food into her bowl. She loved me well-enough for those things, but when my Dad came home, it was like I never even existed.

My Mom and I would always comment about how horrible it was to not be the favorite of your family pet. No matter how much we tried to hide it, it hurt deep down when my Dad would get home, because Willow wanted nothing to do with us. Like I often did as a child, Willow would run to the door, wagging more than she ever did with me, jiggling the door knob so viciously that I thought her wet dog nose would be permanently damaged. Dad would throw open the door and go crazy petting her, laying down on the floor so Willow could place her two paws right above my Dad’s shoulder. Then, in something I’ve rarely seen a dog do, she would bend down, nuzzle her long snout underneath his neck, and lay there in her own version of a doggy hug. She showed him such wonderful affection, and he never failed to give it right back.

For the rest of any evening after Dad had arrived home, Willow’s entire attention was focused solely on my Dad. If he moved, she moved with him. If he laid down, so did she. If he went into the restroom, she waited patiently outside the door. And if he went into the garage or outside, there was a form of doggy depression that would set over her entire body. I had never seen a dog worship its owner the way she did. Remember—I was the one who fed her!

My Dad loved to joke that Willow was the favorite child. And one morning, I seriously questioned if he was joking. Willow’s bed was positioned right outside my door and right in front of my parents’ bedroom. A watchdog at heart, it was a perfect watch tower. She could keep an eye on my Mom and me, but most importantly, she could be alerted the second my Dad would wake up in the morning.

In most cases, no matter how early his alarm clock sounded, Willow would follow my Dad around. She became a part of his morning routine. He would let her outside while he ate a small breakfast in the kitchen, and she would come bounding in the house shortly after, often the recipient of his leftovers. Eventually, as he continued to ready himself for the day, Willow would make her way back to her bed, still watching my Dad’s every move.

When Willow joined the family and became my four-legged, Father-adoring sister, she also got a “head pat” in the morning before Dad left for work. He would crouch over her as she lay on her bed in the hallway, rub her head a few times, and say “Bye, pretty girl” or “Bye, honey” or “Bye, favorite child” (okay, that last one was probably made up). Then, as he’d always done, he would make his way into my room, toss my hair around, and give me the familiar “Seeya, bub.”

I loved this routine because it was steady, reliable, predictable.

Until the day it wasn’t, that is.

On the morning in question, Dad’s routine was a little louder than it had been normally. I think the favorite child got distracted by a squirrel in the backyard a few minutes earlier, waking me from deep sleep before I left for school. I heard Dad continuing his routine downstairs as I feigned sleep in my upstairs bedroom. I heard the familiar clang-clang of dishes as he pulled a cereal bowl out of our jam-packed kitchen cabinets. I heard the shoosh-shoosh-shoosh-shoosh of his toothbrushing in the bathroom down the hall. I heard the rustling of denim as he pulled on his coveralls, and the jingle-jangle of keys as he neared the end of his morning rituals. All the while, I laid in my bed, eyes closed but fully conscious, pretending I heard none of his early-morning antics and eagerly waiting for his visit.

The finale was coming—the familiar Head Rubbing of the Children ceremony where the village chief blessed his offspring (human and canine alike). Eyes still closed but mind wide awake, I heard the floorboards creek as Dad crouched down to pet Willow’s head and bid her adieu. Then, pretending to be asleep with the acumen of a seasoned actor, I heard a noise from the routine that was unfamiliar, out of place, and in the wrong sequence. It was the thud/creak, thud/creak, thud/creak, thud/creak of Dad going down the stairs. My eyes flew open and I stared at the red ambient glow of the alarm clock in horror.

“Wait a second!” my mind screamed. “Where’s my hair tousle? Where’s my ‘Seeya, bub’? Where’s my morning goodbye?” I couldn’t go back to sleep! For the first time that I had ever noticed, Dad had forgotten about his only son, and his only child with opposable thumbs at that! I was starting to think this whole favorite child thing might be more than a joke…

I obsessed over it at school, thinking of ways I could get back at him. After getting home from school that day, I stewed a little bit, thinking of how I would bring up this egregious treason with my Dad when the workday concluded. “Stewing” might be a bit of an exaggeration, as I wasn’t really mad. But my Dad and I had playfully teased each other for years about Willow being the preferred child, and I knew that I would have the upper hand for quite some time with this story.

Dad and I loved picking on one another, and this opportunity was too perfect to pass up!

In the midst of my scheming that evening, I heard the familiar click-click-creeeek of the front door. All Willow had to do was hear the first click, and she was off. Her ears would perk up, her head would snap forward, and suddenly she would explode from whatever resting position she had been in, lunge up the stairs, and attack my Dad at the front door. I followed her this time, and stood right around the corner from our front door. I heard him loving all over Willow. “Hi puppy! Are you excited to see me? Yeah? Are you excited to see me? Oh that’s a good girl! Goooooood girl!”

He came around the corner, with Willow tagging along at his feet, and when he saw me he instinctively said “Hey, bub” as he continued to roll through his after-work rituals—sitting his keys on the bench, unlacing his steel-toed work boots, emptying his pockets, and of course, continuing his love fest with Willow.

“Oh, you’ve got time to say that now, do you?” I said with feigned anger. My arms were crossed as I stared at him, doing everything I could not to break character. I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t let my face show it.

“Do what?” he said, realizing it wasn’t our typical exchange.

“You heard me” I said, with the severity of a Wild West standoff.

“What are you talking about, boy?”

“You forget to do anything this morning before you left for work?”

“Shampoo my hair?” he said with a smile. I had to admit, this was a solid comeback. He had gone bald at least ten years before.

“Don’t try to be cute. You know what you did.” I was playing my part really, really well.

“I honestly don’t,” he said, “but it must have been pretty bad.”

I turned up the heat. “You honestly don’t remember forgetting to do anything this morning?”

“No! What are you talking about?” I could tell he was starting to get really confused. I had him right where I wanted him. Vengeance was mine, and it was going to be sweet. And unrelenting.

“Well you remembered to tell some of us goodbye, but that must be reserved for favorite children only.”

He was starting to connect the dots, but I could tell the moment of realization was still a few steps away. His mouth was agape, and he just stared at me.

“This morning, I’m laying in my bed as you’re getting ready for work. You came down the hallway, and told Willow goodbye, and patted her head, and probably kissed her, maybe even on the mouth because you two are sick like that. And then, while the least favorite child is waiting patiently in his bed for a little goodbye, you just take off down the hallway like I didn’t even exist. You said goodbye to the dog and not me!” Boom.

He threw his shiny head back and laughed hysterically. When Dad was really amused, he got a higher pitch to his laugh. It was something I had to work hard to earn—only the funniest of jokes would bring out the high-pitch laugh, and I had just done it in record time. I couldn’t help but crack a smile, while still continuing in my role as the offended and overlooked child.

“Are you sure I didn’t say goodbye? I thought you were asleep!” he said, trying to outrun his forgetfulness.

“Oh, so now you want to try and deny your treason? I can’t believe this!” I threw my hands into the air in an exasperated fashion and stormed into the kitchen while his laughter still filled our living room. “You’re not even trying to deny that she’s your favorite! You’re just trying to get off the hook! Not this time, buddy boy. I’m gonna remember this for a long, long time. The first chance I get, you’re going in one of those bad nursing homes. I’m never letting you live this down.”

“Well, she is a lot cuter than you are” he said, and I couldn’t help but laugh back.

It became a recurring joke between Dad and I, the infamous day when he patted the pet and circumvented the son. I even started telling the story at big family events to try and embarrass him, and the high-pitched laugh never dissipated. He laughed with the same intensity each and every time. It was one of my absolute favorite moments, even if there was a kernel of envy rooted deep within me that was jealous of my “baby sister.”

The next morning, Dad returned to my room with a “Seeya, bub” and an added chuckle, and I made it a point to be awake for that one. I acted as if I was asleep, but right after Dad offered his familiar farewell, I kept my eyes closed and grumbled under my breath “Glad to see you remembered I exist today.” He laughed again, rubbed my hair with a little more vigor than usual, and left my room. As long as I lived in their house, which was longer than most kids, Dad never forgot to come say goodbye to me in the morning. And as difficult as it was for me to wake up early, I loved hearing him call me “Bub” and say goodbye to me because I knew it was love in its purest form.

For years, this became a running joke in the Bradshaw home. I never let Dad live down the fact that he had said goodbye to the dog and not me on that morning, even though he never failed again. We would still joke about it and laugh together thinking about that morning, and I’m glad that we found humor in that moment. We only found humor in it, however, because I never, ever questioned how much my Dad loved me.

As life moves on and tragedies, like my Dad’s death, inevitably happen, you start to appreciate all of the little things you took for granted in life. The simple dinners. The afternoon truck rides. The arguments over television shows. The moments of laughter. The hugs. The head pats. The morning goodbyes. At the time, these things don’t seem as valuable; but as life changes and loss occurs, you realize that life’s true treasures lie in those very moments, those simple interactions.

I desperately miss those morning goodbyes. I think about how impatient I was as an adolescent. I think about all the times that I wished life would move faster. I wanted the wheel to turn faster towards graduation, and then another graduation, and the next job, and the next fun moment; and in those moments, I see now that I was so often looking forward to the “next” moment instead of appreciating the “now” moments for what they were. I’m trying to learn from my Dad’s death, and I’m trying to find ways to give those little expressions of love to others because I know how much they mean—and how much I miss them once they’re gone. I’ll spend a lot more time cherishing the treasures wrapped up in those everyday expressions of love, all the while wishing for just another pat on the head and a “Seeya, Bub” from the man who continues to teach me about life, even in his death.

Sitting in Dad's Lap with SB LogoDad, I know you were a busy man, but it meant so much to me that you would come into my room each and every morning to say goodbye before you went off to work. I don’t know if I told you at the time, but I look back on those moments and realize how lucky I was to be able to start each and every morning knowing that I was loved. I’m so glad that we can laugh about the time that you forgot about me (I’m going to tease you about this on the other side, too), but more importantly I’m glad that the absence of a morning goodbye wasn’t routine for you. Dad, your life routines were based in love for other people. Your interactions with those around you were always rooted in care, grace, and a desire to let people know how you felt about them. I know that I don’t always live this lesson out, Dad, and I’m thankful that I have your life and plenty of those little moments to continue teaching me how to live in love with others. Dad, I pray that you never stop teaching me through your example. I pray that your life is a beacon to me and the multitude of people who knew you, and I hope that we never forget the ways in which you showed love to others. More importantly, I pray that we have a greeting rooted in love when Eternity calls, because I’ve missed you so very much. Thank you, Dad, for living a life led by love. Until I can get another pat on the head (after Willow, of course), seeya Bub.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV)

The Should Haves

I live my life with a perpetual and terribly unrelenting case of The Should Haves.

It’s been over five years since my Dad’s death, but I was fortunate enough to spend 26 amazing years with him on this Earth. In those 26 years, I’m blessed to say that we experienced lots of wonderful, amazing moments together as Father and Son. We swam in our backyard pool nearly every evening during the summer, jumping and diving and splashing late into the night. We wore our arms out tossing a baseball on the sandy beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama while the sun browned our shoulders. We went to Reds Opening Day together and weathered the cold that always accompanies the early-April debut, and he was right by my side as we suffered through the agony of watching our Redlegs get their hindquarters handed to them in a playoff sweep by the Phillies. We watched movies together, biked together, went to church together, and rode in trucks together.

But no matter how much time we spent together, and no matter how many memories we made, I’m still left wanting more. I’m left with a case of The Should Haves—a nagging voice that constantly reminds me that although our story as Father and Son was vibrant and full, there was more story left to be written. There was more to do together that we never got the chance to do because of his premature and avoidable death.

I rarely live a day in this life without thinking of something we could have done together had he not died on that July morning in 2013. It’s hard for me to experience the beauty of my own life without recognizing that Dad should still be experiencing it as well.

There are always the things that we didn’t have the chance to do—things that only exist with the passing of time, and things that weren’t available to Dad and I when he was alive. New restaurants always evoke this feeling. I’m a self-identified foodie, and I definitely inherited this love for food from my Dad. Dad always enjoyed a great meal, and he and I shared a lot of them together. Since his death, new restaurants have opened and I’ve discovered more great places to gradually expand my waistline. There are countless burger places and barbecue joints and other hole-in-the-wall dives that I know Dad would have enjoyed, and when I’m savoring a great meal, there’s usually an endless thought that loops through my head: “Boy, Dad really would have loved this place…” Each and every time, it pains me to know I can’t enjoy it with him.

And then, there are roller coasters. My Dad loved roller coasters—the wilder and more insane, the better. Even though it took me longer than I’d like to admit to overcome my fear of thrill rides, I eventually did and got to ride a lot of them alongside my Dad. Our extended family always spent a summer day at King’s Island, and I always looked forward to that day of the year. Together, Dad and I got to experience the weightlessness of the first drop on Diamondback, the seemingly-incomprehensible height of Delirium, and I can’t even begin to count the number of nighttime shrieks of excitement we let out as The Beast tore through the woods.

But new coasters have popped up since he died. There are new adventures to be had, and new memories to be made at Kings Island and lots of other theme parks across the country. I remember riding Banshee for the first time and thinking how much Dad would have loved the seemingly never-ending loops and twists. After riding Mystic Timbers, I wondered what Dad would have thought of the surprise in The Shed (I hear you’re not supposed to go in there, by the way…). I can still envision his huge smile at the end of a great ride. I can still hear his laugh, yells of “YEEHAW!”, and jokes about how the wind of the ride had thoroughly ruined his hairdo. I miss those moments. I miss those memories.

These moments, these desires to keep living life with Dad, are painful. But these aren’t really “Should Haves” when it comes down to it; these are “Wish I Could Have” moments. It’s inevitable that life will go on and the Earth will continue to spin after a loved one leaves us. There was more life for us to live together, and things were naturally going to happen that I wished I could have done alongside my Dad. My Dad was a victim of suicide at only age 50, and regardless of the mechanism of death, leaving this Earth unnaturally with (likely) many, many more years to live leaves many chapters unfinished. But deeper than the truth of life continuing to go on, there is a reality that haunts me night in and night out. There is a nagging feeling of guilt that will likely follow me to my grave—a feeling that hinges on the things we could have done while he was alive but we failed to do. It is the idea that I took time with my Dad for granted. It is the belief that there were things I should have done with my Dad while he was still here. Things that I likely told myself I would get around to. Things that, had I known then what I know now about the fragility of life, I should have done with my Dad. It feels awful to think that I squandered time with my Dad, but I know

The “Wish I Could Haves” are painful; but the “Should Haves” are much, much worse.

If Dad had a bucket list, I never knew about it. I often attribute this to the fact that he lived life to the fullest every chance he had, so there was no need to keep a list of things he wanted to do—he just did them. But I do know there were things that Dad mentioned to me that he hoped, someday, we’d have the chance to do together. He wanted to go to a Luke Bryan concert together (please note, this was when Luke Bryan sang actual country music and before he became a complete sellout). There were other beaches I’m sure he wanted to see. There were other air shows I’m sure he wanted to attend. But for the most part, Dad lived his life free of any regrets.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t live with many, many regrets now that he’s gone.

For his entire life, Dad was a nature lover. He was constantly hiking and biking and traversing the woods of nearby Rentschler Forest Preserve, and he didn’t need headphones or even the company of others to keep him entertained. He didn’t just love nature—he was in awe of it, bewildered by it. His sense of adventure was something I was always envious of, and for the last few years of his life, he always talked about another adventure he wanted to take up: kayaking. Dad knew of a number of waterways that were nearby our house, and he would often talk to me about wanting to grab a kayak and a paddle to see how far he could take himself. Dad often talked about this desire around me, mostly in the hopes that I might reciprocate his excitement. I’m ashamed to say I never did, and there were many times when Dad asked me to spend time outdoors with him and I declined his invitation. I hate to think of the times when I could have taken a bike ride with him but decided to stay on the couch watching yet another mindless sitcom rerun. I think of all the nights that he asked me to sit with him near a backyard bonfire and I decided to stay inside for no reason while Dad sat there by himself, likely a bit lonely but still happy to be outside. I had many opportunities to appreciate nature and my Dad together that I didn’t take him up on. But I should have.

Then there were the chances to share my feelings with Dad that I failed to lean into. I think of the song we played at Dad’s funeral, a deeply-powerful country song by Will Hoge called “Strong.” It was the perfect song to play at Dad’s funeral—a testament to a life well lived—but it was a song I discovered well before his death. Although it provided a lot of healing to those of us who heard it at Dad’s service, I desperately wish I had played that song for Dad while he was alive. I should have played it for him and told him how the lyrics about a loving, devoted, hardworking, and strong father made me think of him every time. I often wonder if it would have made a difference. Would hearing that song and the way I felt helped to heal his feelings of depression and inadequacy? I should have played the song when it could have warmed his heart, but my desire to avoid emotional vulnerability kept me from doing this until he was already gone. I didn’t share my feelings with him. But I should have.

The moments when purely stupid pride and arrogance kept me from just being around him, however, are the most sickening. I think of all the times, especially as a teenager, when I avoided spending time with my Dad. I’m disgusted by the lame excuses I fabricated, and I wish I could take each and every one of them back. There were so many times when Dad would ask me to hangout or do something that I didn’t want to do. Being a typical, moody teenager, I found lots of reasons to close my Dad out of my life. Too tired, too busy, perceived to be too-cool. And yes, those times when I thought I was too cool to hang out with my Pops haunt me most. I should have spent more time being with him. I should have spent more time realizing that my Dad deserved my time more than anyone else. I didn’t do that, but I should have.

The should haves plague my soul. I remember sitting awake one night after Dad’s death. It was rare for me to find sleep in those immediate nights after losing him, and my mind would race with doubts; concerns that I had missed easily-perceptible signs about Dad’s illness and the feelings that were high jacking his mind. On one of those nights when I couldn’t get the thought of losing Dad out of my mind, I began to think back to all the moments when I had failed to spend time with him. I thought of all the dinner invites I had declined. All the phone calls I had ignored. I even thought of all the times over the past year when Dad had stayed at my house later than expected, and I, being so selfishly-consumed with my own schedule and routine, had silently wished that he would leave.

And on that night, a few nights after losing him, I sobbed and said “I’m sorry, Dad,” in the hopes that my apologies and grief could carry themselves up through the clouds to Heaven.

I stood at Dad’s casket just a few nights later and tried my best to express my love to the people who had loved my Dad in this life, and among many wonderful condolences I heard from those who came to grieve and show their support to Mom and I, I heard “Don’t feel guilty, Tyler,” over and over again. I listened intently to those family members, friends, and loved ones, and I assured them that I wouldn’t feel guilty. I assured them that I wouldn’t let regrets take my mind captive.

But I didn’t for a second believe I would actually be able to live free of guilt; and now that Dad has been gone for over five years, I’ve begun to understand how the Should Haves can actually be a confirmation that my grief is justified and natural.

Even though it ended prematurely, my Dad lived a big, full, exciting life. He treated each day as a gift as best he could, just as God directs all of us to do. As I’ve experienced my own grief and suffering, I’ve realized that the gaping hole my Dad left behind in this world could only be filled by his big heart; and although I’m in severe pain because of this loss, I would take the pain for a hundred eternities to spare the alternative. Had Dad invested minimally in the people that he loved and life in general, his loss would have been easier to overcome. But that isn’t my Dad, and that wouldn’t have been an authentic life. I feel my Dad’s loss more because he made life that much better while he was in it. I would rather experience the pain of losing him knowing that he lived a life that made a difference. The pain is worth the love I experienced for 26 years while he was here. I’d much rather have that love, even if only for a short time, and experience the pain of losing it than the alternative of never having him at all.

Although it’s difficult, I’m also learning to cope with the Should Haves better because they are showing me that I’ve learned something from my Dad’s death. They are showing me that, although he shouldn’t have died, his death was not in vain. They show me that, even in death, my Dad is still my greatest teacher. Dad’s absence has taught me the importance of never taking time for granted. Dad’s death has taught me that time is my most valuable resource. It is the only resource in this live that can never regenerate. Dad’s death has taught me an important lesson: By the time I get to the end of my own life (which will be a very, very long time from now), I want to be able to look back and say that I made a wise investment with the days God gave me. I want to be left with very few instances of things I should have done.

In my grief, I decided that one of the best ways to fight back against the Should Haves was to go out and do the things I should have done with Dad, even if he’s not around to do them with me. A summer or two after losing Dad, I decided to do something that I likely wouldn’t have done while he was alive. With my friend, Steve, I went out and bought a kayak. We each bought one, and shortly after buying them we decided to take them out on the water. We dipped the kayaks into the Great Miami River at Rentschler Park—the same exact spot my Dad had vowed to kayak but never got the chance to.

The kayaking excursion was filled with lots of things that Dad would have appreciated. Namely, he would have really enjoyed the fact that my kayak tipped and tossed me into the water the exact second I stepped into it (Note to self: always step into the middle of the kayak, not the side). I flopped around in the mud and water while Steve laughed, and all I could see was an image of my Dad laughing hysterically as I tried to regroup. After I recovered from the capsizing, we paddled up the beautiful, wooded shoreline and soaked up the rays of sun as they beat down upon our shoulders. After paddling upstream for an hour or so, we turned around, kicked our feet up, and floated back to our drop in location. All the while, tears streamed out slowly underneath my sunglasses as I wished, deeply, that I had had the opportunity to enjoy this moment alongside my Dad. I should have done this with him. In the actual moment, he wasn’t there; but in a spiritual sense, he was right by my side.

I know that the Should Haves are a natural part of grief, which is why I try not to avoid them. No matter when my Dad would have died, I would have always been left wanting more time with him. More experience, more adventure was what I always would have wanted and what he always deserved. Had he died at 117, I would have wanted him to be around for another 117 years. And in my mind, that overcompensates for any guilt I might feel. In my mind, a life that feels too short and a life that induces “should haves” is the sign of a life well lived.

Dad, Jeff and I at Kings Island with SB LogoDad, I’m sorry for all of those moments that we should have spent together. I’m sorry for all of those times that I wasted when we had the opportunity to just be together, but I didn’t realize the value of those moments. Ultimately, I’m just sorry we didn’t have more time. Dad, you brought such joy to my life—and to everyone’s life that you interacted with. Any amount of time with you would have failed to be enough. There are so many things we should have done together, and I’m sorry I didn’t make a more genuine effort to make those things happen. Dad, I hope that I’m still learning from your life. I hope that I am taking the time that God has given me and using it more wisely than I did before you died. It still doesn’t erase the pain of losing you and the desire to have more of you in my life, but I hope that I’m realizing the fragility of life and the need to invest my time in the things that matter—the things associated with loving God and loving other people. Dad, please continue teaching me. Thank you for living a vivid life that still feels important each and every day. And Dad, I’m keeping a list of all those things we should have done. Someday, we will have the opportunity to do them all, and I can’t wait. Until that day and the glorious reunion that awaits, seeya Bub.

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14 (NIV)

Dad’s Rules: Socks

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(This is the newest feature in “Dad’s Rules”, a recurring series at SeeyaBub.com. To learn more about the “Dad’s Rules” series, check out my first installment.)

Dad’s Rule #119: Socks are part of a specific pair. Therefore, they shall be numbered.

“Dad, I’m seriously afraid to even ask you this question, but…why do you have 5’s written on the bottom of your socks?”

I don’t remember when the craziness started, but my memory tells me I was in college or had just recently graduated when I noticed Dad’s newest quirk. I was sitting on the couch watching television when Dad came bouncing down the steps in his usual, peppy way.

“Hey, Bub!” he said with his familiar smile and sparkling personality. I returned his greeting as he moved towards the recliner that sat in the corner of our family room. Dad loved kicking his feet up in that recliner, but this time, there was something noticeably different once his legs were kicked up.

For as long as I could remember, my Dad had mostly worn big, thick, fuzzy, wool-type socks around the house. Yes, on occasion he would wear typical white, athletic socks made by Nike or Under Armour; but mostly, the big woolly types were his favorite. Maybe it was a function of his years working outside in carpentry settings accompanied by frigid temperatures. Maybe it was a function of him just trying to embody the whole “Dad’s Wear Weird Clothes” stereotype. Regardless of the origin or motive, he wore them most of the time—especially during those unpredictable Ohio winters. He would pick up new pairs at Bass Pro Shops, Quality Farm & Fleet, or other outdoorsy stores that he frequented (mostly outside of Mom’s purview). Some of the socks were white, and others came in different colors, usually with a gold or other-colored toe and ankle patch complete with a colored ring around the top of the sock. I can picture them as clear as I saw them on that day when he popped his feet up on the recliner; but on that day, there was something drastically different about the socks he wore.

Written on the bottom of each sock in black, permanent ink in Dad’s familiar, precise script, was a huge “5” for no apparent reason.

This had to be good. Or extremely embarrassing.

“Dad, I’m seriously afraid to even ask you this question, but…why do you have 5’s written on the bottom of your socks?”

socks.jpgLike Sherlock Holmes getting ready to divulge the certain facts of a case that only he could divulge, Dad took a deep breath with a smug look on his face and launched into his explanation. “Because socks wear differently. Over time, the heels and toes start to get worn thin, and you can’t be comfortable in one thick sock that’s brand new and one thin sock that’s about to get a hole. So, I number them, and I don’t have to worry about that problem any longer.”

For one of only a few times in my life, I was literally at a loss for words.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I sat up calmly on the couch and began to ask Dad about his day at work. Had he inhaled any fumes in high doses? Had he excessively sniffed the permanent marker that he had used to write on the bottom of his woolly socks? Blunt force trauma to the head? Did he have a new side-job working with fashion line whose goal it was to create clothes for Dad’s that would absolutely mortify their children?

No matter how hard I pushed, Dad continued to act like he had a legitimate reason for writing these numbers on the bottom of his socks. As I began to howl like a hyena on laughing gas, convulsing at the completely ludicrous nature of his newest fashion choice, Dad kept trying to explain his line of insanity.

“I’m not making this up!” he said through a wide, mischievous smile. “You mean to tell me you’ve never had discomfort from wearing two socks that weren’t from the same original pair?”

“Dad, I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that’s never once happened to me,” I answered, still in shock. “I really feel like there are bigger problems in the world right now than uneven socks.”

With his usual sense of expertise in all matters, Dad kept pushing and told me why it made sense to number your socks. In response, I continued to tell him that he was crazy and that he was closer to the nursing home than I had originally thought. Then, to my disbelief, Dad went into his dresser and pulled out the other socks that he had numbered. I laughed hysterically when I realized this wasn’t just a one-pair-trial. Dad had gone into his extensive sock collection and meticulously numbered each pair with thick, black numbers.

There was just no way any of this could be real.

I laughed for hours. And after the laughter, I prayed with every fiber in my being that my friends did not come over and see these numbers on the bottoms of Dad’s socks. I had a hard enough time making friends. I didn’t need my Dad running around explaining the physics of sock fabric to make my social interactions even more infrequent than they already were.

Over the next few years, and to my explicit frustration, Dad’s sock numbering became a ritual as steady as the ocean waves. Every time Dad bought a new pair of socks, he would sit down and number them with a thick, black permanent marker, picking up with the number right where he had left off with his last addition. As more socks were added to the drawer, the number grew and grew. And the more I protested and ridiculed, the bigger the numbers became. Before he knew it, his sock pairs grew into the thirties and forties.

And as the numbers grew, so did my utter confusion. Every time Dad would kick his feet up onto the recliner, I would be staring at a set of “17’s” or “6’s” in my face. I never, ever let it go unnoticed.

“Ah, I see you’ve got the 8’s on tonight,” I’d joke. “Solid choice.” Or “Oh, you going with the 14’s today? Must be feelin’ lucky.”

“Joke all you want,” he’d smugly respond, “but when you’ve got a sweaty left foot and a right foot with frostbite on the same night, you won’t be laughing then.”

“I’ll be sure to let the pigs I’m flying next to know they should be numbering their hoof covers, too,” I’d shoot back.

No matter how much I ridiculed him (which was frequently), and no matter how often Mom would protest about how frustrating it was to have to sort through the laundry while folding to find two 12’s to match up into a ball, Dad continued to fight the good sock fight. He never let our teasing deter him from his battle to eradicate uneven socks from the face of the Earth.

And then, one day, his line of defense hit an all-time low.

Dad and I often found ourselves sitting together in the family room watching episodes of comedic sitcoms like Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld, and The Office on an endless loop—a tradition I’ve carried on in his absence quite well, if I say so myself. On this particular night, our show of choice was The King of Queens, a recurring favorite in the family room of our humble home. One of our favorite characters on the show was Arthur—the nearly-senile father/father-in-law of Carrie and Doug, who lived in the basement and caused more problems than any one human should. For those who haven’t ever seen the show, Arthur is…completely crazy. He burns down his house using a hot plate and has to move into Doug and Carrie’s home. He screams about…well, absolutely anything. He is “walked” by a neighborhood dog walker, and he creates altercations with anyone who doesn’t give into his ridiculous demands. He completely infuriates Doug with his random obsessions and eccentricities. And in the cold open of the episode Dad and I were watching that night, Arthur walks into the room, sits in the chair, and throws his feet up on the coffee table. Emblazoned upon the bottom of each of his white socks? Bright, flaming-red 4’s.

“Shut up,” I said in complete bewilderment as I stared at the television. Dad began gesticulating towards the screen as he let out a victory shriek that sounded like it came from an other-worldly language.

With the same look of confusion I had the first time I saw it, Doug begins to question Arthur about why his socks have huge numbers on the bottom.

“It’s my new system,” Arthur responds in his usually odd diction. “I label them so I don’t mix them up with my other sets of socks,” as he points to his head to show what a brilliant idea he’s had.

“I TOLD YOU THIS WAS REAL!” Dad had jumped up from the recliner, legitimately shrieking and cackling with excitement. “I’M VINDICATED!”

“Dad,” I said, still feeling like I was living in an episode of The Twilight Zone, “you realize you’re identifying with the crazy guy on a television sitcom, right? That’s probably not a good thing!”

He didn’t care, because just seeing that he wasn’t the only person in the world—real or fictitious—who thought numbering socks was a brilliant idea gave him all the security he needed to keep on keeping on. He had proved the naysayers wrong with the opening minute of a family sitcom.

Still confused, Doug begins to ask Arthur why he’s doing this, which opens up a whole new line of ridiculous reasoning Arthur describes as “Toe Memory.” He explains that over time, a sock either evolves into a left sock or a right sock, taking on the unique shape and curvature of each respective foot. Wearing a sock that has evolved into a left sock on your right foot is enough to drive you mad, Arthur argues. All the while, Dad is nodding along as Arthur explains the method behind his madness. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing.

“How do the 4’s tell you which one is a right and which one is a left?” Doug says.

“Look, Douglas,” Arthur responds as he raises his voice, “my system has its flaws. But I’ve come at this from every angle and believe me, there is no better way!”

“Mhmm, mhmm…” Doug says as he falls back into the couch, getting ready to drop a bombshell on Arthur. “Or you could just label every sock with an L or an R.”

“Well, THERE GOES MY FUNDAY!” Arthur shrieks as he jumps up from the chair and retreats to his basement dwelling.

“Again, Dad,” I said as we laughed at what we were watching, “you want Arthur Spooner to be your co-defendant on this one?!”

Dad and I laughed about that moment for a long, long time; but something even scarier happened. Dad actually began to realize that his system, like Arthur’s, was also flawed! Like Arthur, although the socks were numbered, he hadn’t been able to crack the whole left/right conundrum.

That’s when the two-component sock labeling system was born, adding fuel to my critical fire.

If my shock could’ve grown more, it did. Now, not only was Dad labeling each pair of socks with a number; each sock within the pair was also being labeled with an “L” or “R” after the number. From this point forward, within the set of 15’s (for example), there would be a “15L” and a “15R”.

Insanity had reached a new peak, and it was the two-component sock labeling system.

For the rest of his life, any time I saw those black, hand-drawn number/letter combos on the bottoms of his socks, I made fun of Dad. And every time I made fun of him, he would always shoot back with a witty (and completely insane) retort. No matter how much teasing occurred, he never quit. His resolve was steeled with every insult, every jab. Until the day he died, every sock he bought was appropriately paired and labeled, much to my chagrin.

His feet were always warm, and my heart was always full of laughter. In the end, I guess it was a win-win.

My Dad had a lot of those quirky little idiosyncrasies: numbering his socks, weaving his extension cords into perfect chains to prevent tangling, writing on graph paper to make his already-precise, all-capital printing even more precise than it already was. When he was alive, those peculiar behaviors were sometimes perplexing, sometimes endearing, sometimes annoying, but always seemingly mundane. Now that he is gone, I miss those little ticks in his behaviors and personalities. I miss how way he always cut apples into two large halves while still extracting the core and preserving all of the fruit. I miss the way he’d organize tools or clean his truck. And yes, I even miss his sock numbering, ridiculous as it may have been. I miss every single thing about my Dad, but as much as I miss the big and memorable moments, I think I miss the little quirks more because I took them for granted while he was alive.

And sadly, but also beautifully and completely against my will, I realize how I’m becoming more and more like him—no matter how hard I might fight against those quirks.

The other day, a crazy thing happened that reminded me how much I missed him while completely terrifying me. I was putting on one of my black ankle-cut socks to head to the gym. (I’m a bit ashamed to admit that during the winters, I’ve started wearing those hideous, wool socks that Dad used to wear—he really was on to something with his choice in foot coverings.) Nonetheless, on this day, as I was putting on my gym socks, I was running through what clothes I was going to wear to the gym in my head. I put the left sock on, and before I could even stop my internal dialogue from churning, I felt the phrase cross into my line of thought:

“This sock feels kind of weird. Maybe I should put it on my right foot instead.”

The shock of what I just thought hit me hard. My eyes were as big as the 2’s that had once been written on the bottom of my Dad’s socks. I had to stop getting dressed and collect my thoughts before I started hyperventilating. There was no way, no way Dad could be right about this one. It just wasn’t possible. And as I sat there on the edge of the bed freaking out and questioning everything I’ve ever believed about socks, I could hear Dad’s laugh. I could see him looking down from heaven and laughing hysterically, pointing and shouting, “I told you, Bub!”

And after the shock wore off, I laughed through a few tears as I realized how much I missed his weirdness and everything else that made him so real and so special.

I’m glad that the nature of my Dad’s death from suicide has not prevented my ability to appreciate those happier moments. I’m glad that the questions I have about why Dad died on that July morning in 2013 haven’t completely darkened the beautiful, vivid intricacies of his personality that made him so exceptional and unique. I’m glad that I can still remember the good days and moments in spite of the one bad day that ended his life. I’m glad that I can look back on numbered socks and laugh, because his death has taken enough from me and from all of us who loved him. I’m glad that I can look back at my Dad and remember him for the man he was for 50 years, not just the man he was on that last, painful day. I’m glad that I can still laugh with him and reminisce on those mundane yet elegant memories. I am really looking forward to the day when I can laugh with him about those moments again.

And along with those streets paved with gold, I hope that Heaven is home to socks that no longer wear thin unequally.

dad-lucy-and-me-with-seeya-bub-logoDad, I still laugh when I think about your sock-numbering-insanity. I still smile when I think about all of the times I would rib you about putting numbers and letters on all your socks, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really miss seeing those numbers. More importantly, I miss seeing you kick your feet up on the recliner in our family room. I miss laughing with you while we watched television together. I miss hearing you snore as you napped in the recliner wearing your lucky pair of 14’s, and I miss those moments of levity and peace that we were able to build in our family home. Your personality was a force for good in our family, Dad. Through the big moments and the little, everyday behaviors, you made our home a better place. You made all of us better people—even though you couldn’t get anyone to join in on your sock-numbering. Those beautiful little moments gave life vivid color. You gave us entertainment and joy in seemingly simple ways, and I’m glad that I remember the quirks of your personality. I’m glad that I can focus on the simplistic beauty of your life without obsessing over its tragic end. Dad, thank you for always making life more beautiful. Thank you for giving to all of us more than we could have ever given you in return. I miss you tremendously. I miss you each and every day. And if I get to Heaven and you have numbered socks on, I seriously don’t know what I’m going to say to you. I’m sure you’ll keep me on my non-numbered toes. But until I can tease you again, seeya Bub.

“Even in laughter a heart may be sad, and joy may end in grief.” Proverbs 14:13 (HCSB)

What’s In A Name

Believe it or not, my Dad did not want to name me Tyler.

As I’m sure most males do after watching their wives go through hours and hours of tremendous pain during delivery, Dad lost out on the infamous parental game of “Name Your Offspring.” Family legend has it that Dad wanted to name me “Kurt.”

Kurt? Really?

Maybe it was just an 80’s thing, or maybe it was a desire to give his son a name that gave off a certain coolness. Kurt does give off a particular air of confidence, smoothness, unshakableness. Or maybe Kurt Bradshaw had an athlete’s ring to it (and for those who have seen me take part in athletic activity, you know that name would have been a horrible choice). Either way, “Kurt” had a lot of potential. Dad liked it.

Alas, my name is Tyler. As is the case in most baby-naming situations, the Mother can pull the trump card of “I carried this baby inside me for nine months thanks to you,” cutting her spouse off at the knees and taking away any say he might have in the naming of his child. Maybe by child three or four, after the promise of a future generation has been secured, the mother might be willing to let her husband try his hand at this whole “baby-naming game.” But on the first child (and in my case the only child), the husband‘s life is much more comfortable if he learns to step back and let his wife select the moniker. My Dad was 0-1.

At the desire of my mother, I became Tyler—and I’ve been Tyler ever since. According to most baby-naming books and websites, the name means dominance, historic beauty, and is typically bestowed upon one with a God-like physique.

Just kidding. It means “maker of tiles”. I couldn’t make this up, and I also can’t make a tile. I’ve never even installed a tile, let alone make one from…what do you even make a tile from anyway?!

Don’t get me wrong, I like my name. It’s a good name, which my family and closest friends eventually shortened to “Ty”. Maybe they shortened it to avoid the embarrassment over my lack of tile-making-ability. Or maybe because they had an obsession for beanie babies. Either way, I became “Ty” to most everyone I knew.

Everyone except my Dad, that is. Yes, he would call me “Ty” as often as anyone else, but most of the time, he called me something else—“Bub”. Hence the name of the blog you’re visiting. And nearly every time I saw him, talked to him on the phone, or received a text message from him, the conversations he initiated started with the same familiar salutation: “Hey, bub.”

I’m not really sure where it started, or why he chose those particular words. But I was glad he did. So many parents can choose nicknames for their children that humiliate them as they grow into adulthood. Nothing humiliates a child more than being dropped off at middle school by his Mother, who in that moment forgets her little man is growing up and accidentally says goodbye to “her little pookie bear”. Or that angsty adolescent being dropped off at the mall for a night of teenage semi-debauchery and hearing her Dad bid farewell to his “little sweetums”. Early on in a child’s life, they ought to have the ability to sit down and negotiate with their parents, choosing a nickname that is both affection-laden but not detrimental to the child’s social possibilities. “Little buddy? Okay, I can deal with that. Sugar butt? No. Absolutely not. Baby boy? Okay, but only at family get-togethers. My wittle cuddle monster? You’ve got to be kidding me. Aren’t you people supposed to be mature?”

I even saw an article online where a fellow Tyler was given the nickname of “Booby Cakes” by his Mother. Is this real life?

I’d like to think that Dad was very intentional when he chose “Bub” for me. I’d like to think that he sat down, trying his hardest to think of a word that would not induce embarrassment or public humiliation, but would also show a deep-seated affection for his son. I’d like to think he went through hundreds of potential nicknames, discarding each one for its lack of manliness and potential for damaging my delicate social standing. And then, in a moment of frustration, Dad realized he was overthinking the entire thing, making it more complicated than it needed to be. And in a desire for simplicity, he settled on “Bub”, the perfect combination of love and social respectability.

But in reality, it probably just came naturally when he first saw me—which, in all actuality, is just as beautiful as the process I just envisioned. Like most expecting parents who say they just won’t know what name is right until they actually see the baby, most nicknames probably are created organically. I wonder what it was about me that made my Dad think I had “Bub” qualities? Maybe as Dad got to know me, I just had a “Bub-worthy” personality. Or maybe it was one of the babbling phrases I uttered as a baby toddling around our little house. Maybe Dad just started calling me that without giving it a moment’s thought. Or maybe it was his revenge—his way of renaming me since he hadn’t picked the name Tyler. Either way, the nickname stuck. To me, Scott Bradshaw was “Dad”, and to him, I was “Bub”, and everything in the world was right.

Dad would call me Bub no matter the situation—good or bad. That reliability, that dependability became something that was warm and authentic. He could be angry or joyful, distressed or at ease, nervous or cool as a cucumber. No matter the emotions, his feelings towards me never changed. He was a Father who never grew tired of being one, and it showed in the way he treated me, even down to the ever-present nickname.

Even when he was upset with me, which happens even in the rosiest of parent-child relationships, he rarely called me anything but Bub. My Mom and Dad always said I was a “good kid”—the type of kid who gave his parents very little trouble. The kind of kid who doesn’t give his parents a lot of reason to worry. I was typically home by 10 or 11 every night (usually not by choice, but by a lack of social options, but hey…I was okay watching Letterman every night instead of making friends). But every kid pushes the envelope and tests the waters of disobedience—even the well-behaved and socially anxious. And on occasion, those tempting waters felt warm enough to dive right in.

If Dad was forced to identify my most frustrating behavior, it would have probably been my lack of organization (Mom would be able to name this in a heartbeat, as she’s one of the cleanest people I know). I was a pretty creative kid, and organization is often an impediment to the creative mind…at least that’s what I told my Mom when I didn’t want to clean my room. My parents were often fans of putting the right things in the right places where they belonged, which makes sense to most. I, on the other hand, took a more artistic, free-range approach. I was a fan of throwing and scattering toys all over the place, giving them the freedom to not be defined by a particular box or shelf. I admired the sometimes apocalyptic view of my toys and belongings.

In reality, no amount of word-wrangling is going to justify this—plain and simple, I was a messy kid.

To my Dad’s distress, my messiness wasn’t just limited to the confines of our impeccable home. My toy terror, many times, would spread to the yard. I had all the toys and outdoor playthings a boy needed. Buckets, dumptrucks, shovels, sand molds, baseballs, sidewalk chalk, and water balloons. I would use the freedom of the wild outdoors as an excuse to go crazy in our spacious backyard in the middle of Suburbia, and when it was time to call it a night, I rarely worried about putting these toys back where they belonged.

My Dad, on the other hand, always kept a well-maintained yard. Like most Dads, he fought an ongoing war with crabgrass and dandelions. He was constantly mulching or trimming or mowing. Planting and weeding were standard activities. Our yard was always beautiful. Mom and Dad did a tremendous job of selecting pots and vibrant flowers to bring personality and cheerfulness to our house. I chose to decorate the yard with toys instead. And as much as those toys may have reminded Dad of the fun-loving nature of his adorable son, they were also a distraction or impediment to the yardwork he often needed to complete.

He didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t put those toys in a bin in the garage or underneath the deck, but it never got through to me that I should start cleaning these things up on a regular basis without being asked. I always remember that Dad had a huge, black lockbox in our carport/eventual garage where I was supposed to put all of my toys and other outdoor belongings every night as the sun began to set. I don’t know what it is, but my personality just wasn’t hardwired to follow this command, and I rarely put my yard toys away.

And although I thought I could really wear Dad down, I don’t think I ever did. I was a pretty crafty kid, so I would even monitor where Dad was in the yard as the sun would start to set, thinking I could go in one of the other doors in the house, hop in the shower, and use that as an excuse to not have to go back out and pick up the toys.

Alas, he persisted.

Even if I was freshly-showered and pajama-clad, Dad would come in the house to locate the perpetrator. And where most parents might yell or explode at their child’s lack of organizational capacity, my Dad, calmly yet sternly, would tell me it was time to go out back and pick up the yard so he could mow or landscape. He never shrieked hysterically about my thoughtlessness or lack of concern. He never lost his mind, like most Dads on TV sitcoms. He never ridiculed me for being a thoughtless little punk whose playfulness was an impediment to his calling to be a master caretaker and gardener. Instead, he would look down the stairs, and greet me the way he would any other time “Hey bub, I need you to get out back and clean up those toys.”

I’m sure I grumbled. I’m sure I rolled my eyes. I’m sure I put up a fight, and in some scenarios even acted like the bratty stereotypical teen you envision in these scenarios. And yes, there were even times where I’m sure I shrieked like an insolent little brat who deserved much less respect than my Dad gave me.

But to my Dad, I was Bub—and I always would be. And you don’t give up on your Bub. You don’t give up on your child. And my Dad never did.

Even if the sun had set.

There were times where my elusiveness worked to avoid Dad, who often worked late into the night in our yard, and then continued his work in the garage even after the lights had gone out on the world.

On a few occasions, albeit rare, I remember Dad making me go into the yard with a flash light to pick up the toys I left in the yard. He never raised his voice. He never threatened me with physical violence. But he stood his ground. Or, on the occasion that he didn’t want to make me go in the yard, he would work out an alternate compromise.

“Okay, Bub. So you didn’t pick up your toys tonight, but I need to cut grass first thing in the morning. So even though it’s Saturday, you’re going to get up at 8 and go outside first thing and pick them up so I can mow. Okay?”

I would pleasantly agree, and then when Dad would come to wake me up at 8am, I would try to feign every illness in the world, including the plague, to get Dad to let me out of the chore. But he wouldn’t. He would sit on the bed next to me and continue to try and wake me up, until I eventually realized that he was never going to cave. I would then lumber out into the yard and grumble and call my Dad all kinds of horrible names while I picked up toys and slammed them with a childlike fury into the lockbox.

But even though I called him names, Dad never called me anything but Bub. He never let my poor attitude or actions frustrate him—and I’m ashamed of the way I acted. No matter how bratty I became, Dad had this cool-under-pressure consistency that, to this day, I’m still envious of. He’s one of very few parents I know of that could actually discipline his child through being disappointed in them—has that ever worked in the history of parenting?! Well, it did for my Dad, because he was the type of man whose disappointment spoke more than any anger he might have felt.

Dad’s decision to call me “Bub” in nearly every situation, pleasant or unpleasant, says something amazing about his parenting skill. Frustration and anger could not deter his goal of raising a son the way he knew that boy should be raised. Dad got more out of me because of his high expectation. He didn’t need anger to parent, and somehow it worked.

Looking back, I appreciate my Dad’s consistency more and more each day, and it’s a trait I admire in him. He didn’t have a dual view of his son. He didn’t see me as Bub when I was doing things right and Tyler when I was doing things wrong. I was Bub no matter what, because he understood that kids need to be taught—they need direction, guidance, and more than anything, they need a consistent and reliable father figure to push me down this road of maturity. And the fact that he greeted me the same way, no matter the circumstances, was refreshing, sending a subtle signal that he loved me unconditionally. My Dad was the dictionary definition of unconditional love—and I miss this about him tremendously.

Ultimately, in light of his death from suicide, I wish Dad could have had this same, consistent, unconditional view of himself. As I’ve tried to make sense of my Dad’s death (and I’ll never be able to actually “make sense” of it), I’ve speculated about what might have been going on inside my Dad’s head at different points in his life. Although I can’t be certain, and because of his mental illness, I think my Dad saw himself in two different lights. At times, I think he was able to see the positive impact he made on others; and at other times, unfortunately, I think he saw himself through an unlovable lens. I think he saw his imagined weaknesses as things that people defined him by.

But that was simply not the case—and it still isn’t the case today. My Dad, whether he was mentally healthy or mentally ill, was always, always worthy of love. His mental illness did not define him, and most importantly, it did not change the way anyone felt about him. I wish I could have shown him more of that unconditional love throughout his life. I wish I would have told him, more often, that he mattered. That I loved him. That in the good times, and in the bad, he was important to me.

My middle name, thankfully, is Scott. And I’m tremendously proud of that fact. In a sense, I feel like I’m carrying on a piece of my Dad just by carrying on his name. And because of that, I’ll continue to hold myself to those high standards that my Dad had for me. I’ll do my best to show unconditional love, like he did, to everyone I encounter. I’ll carry on the piece of him that was fun-loving and childlike and strong, and because I have a part of his name, I’ll continue to tell his story, and to spread his message. I’ll continue to define others by the good in their hearts. I’ll try my best to be patient and kind and even-keeled, just like he was. At times, it feels like a heavy burden to carry because my Dad truly was a great, great man; but if he believed in me enough to give me part of his name, I’ll trust that he knew what he was doing. He always did.

There’s a lot in a name, and I’m glad a third of mine is also my Dad’s.

And I’m thankful that Mom didn’t let him name me Kurt.

Dad Holding Me Upsdie Down with SB LogoDad, I’m sorry that you didn’t get to name me Kurt. Just kidding. I’m really glad you didn’t win that fight, because I don’t seem like much of a Kurt—even though I’m still not a maker of tiles. But to you, I was Bub, and I’ll always be that. You called me Bub all the time—whether I was an angel or a brat—and I don’t think I ever told you how much I appreciated that consistency. I want to tell you now. Bub was a term of endearment and affection to you, and the fact that you called me that—no matter the situation—meant you always, always loved me. I don’t know how you did it, but you always kept your patience with me, even when I tried to test it to the limits. Even though you’ve been gone for five years now, I can still hear you saying “Hey, Bub” and “Seeya, Bub” in that calm, familiar voice of yours; and the fact that I can still hear it is a reminder that, even though you’re gone, you still love me. You still love all of us. And you’re still helping us grow and love one another more through the example you left for us. I wish you were still here with us, though. I wish I could hear you call me Bub just once more—but I know, deep down, that I’ll hear it again, Dad. It’s going to be a tremendous greeting in Eternity when I see you again for the first time. I’m thankful to know that you’ll be there, and I’m thankful to know that you’ll still be calling me “Bub,” even in Heaven. Until then, there’s a lot of work to be done and love to be spread down here in your name, Dad. Keep watching over us, and in your subtle reminders, keep telling us that you loved us. We need it more and more. I love you, Dad. I’ll see you again someday—and until that glorious day, seeya Bub.

“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.” Proverbs 22:1 (KJV)