Peter

Peter Headshot

This piece is dedicated to Dr. Peter Magolda:

A man who taught me that the written word offers tremendous power to those who can command it.

Peter, you taught me that writing can soothe deep hurts and wounds, but your lessons on brevity have yet to sink in.


 The doorbell rang at 8am. On most days, this would have been unusual; but it was July 25, 2013—the day after Dad’s death, the day after unusual and unexpected became our new normal. I gathered my strength after an evening full of futile attempts to find any semblance of rest. I opened the door, and standing on the other side, in a button down denim shirt with a wax-paper bag of donuts in hand, was Peter Magolda.

I smiled when I saw him, which wasn’t unusual. And then, I broke down because my life was anything but usual at that moment.


My friendship with Peter began only two years before losing Dad when I applied to Miami University’s graduate program in Student Affairs in Higher Education (SAHE). Although I had many people pushing me to go on to graduate school, I was reluctant to do it. Even though I had been a successful undergraduate student, I had an underlying fear that I wasn’t enough. I didn’t think I could handle the caliber of work that graduate school required. I wasn’t smart enough. I couldn’t work hard enough. I couldn’t be enough to get a Master’s degree. I was full of anxiety and trepidation as I wrote my essay for the application, constantly revising and resketching and reorganizing, scrapping the essay multiple times and starting again, hoping more than anything that I’d have the brilliant breakthrough that never came.

In my feverish anxiety, I told many people at Miami that I was in the process of applying for a graduate program at Miami, and whenever I mentioned that I was applying to the SAHE program, the response was usually the same: “Oh! Have you met Peter and Marcia?”

Peter Magolda Early CareerIt’s rare in the world of academia that a program is defined by the people who design and manage it, but Peter and Marcia were intellectual celebrities that earned every bit of that recognition and respect. Peter Magolda had been a faculty member at Miami since 1994, having earned a B.A. in Psychology from LaSalle College, an M.A. in Student Affairs from The Ohio State University, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Indiana University. Peter’s work was ingenious. With respect and inventiveness, Peter was able to take anthropological tools and concepts usually associated with studying foreign cultures, and he applied those cultural study techniques in college settings. Prior to coming to graduate school, I would have never thought of that approach as a real or viable option for research; but Peter was exceptional at taking something that seemed undoable and bringing it to life.

Peter and Marcia BicycleHis intellectual acumen was only matched by that of his wife, Dr. Marcia Baxter Magolda. Marcia’s name was everywhere within the field of higher education. To this day, her work on student development theory and self-authorship serves as the cornerstone of many graduate programs in education, and many colleges and universities use her findings as their primary pedagogical foundation. That she and Peter were able to find one another and grow together as partners was always so wonderful to me.

I always answered the question about Peter and Marcia the same way: “No, I haven’t met them yet, but I sure have heard a lot about them!” In reality, I didn’t know a thing about Peter or Marcia before I came to graduate school. I felt like one of the few people in my cohort who had not familiarized myself with the readings of the field before coming to graduate school, so their names and academic accomplishments were completely foreign to me.

Nonetheless, I submitted my application to start in the SAHE program as a part-time student, and I was fortunate enough to receive an interview. The anxiety of the application process and essay writing faded only temporarily, and I was paralyzed by worry when thinking about taking that next step. “Surely, they’ll see through the act in person,” I thought to myself, still believing that my success in the application was a complete fluke. I was full of doubt and dread as I thought about the interview. In my best suit and tie, I made my way into the office at McGuffey Hall in Oxford, and prayed I could find the strength to get through the day.

This was the day I first met Peter. I wasn’t actually scheduled to meet with him, but his office just happened to be right next to the room we were interviewing in. In typical, inquisitive, Peter fashion, he poked his head into the room to see what was going on. I looked up and was a bit surprised to see a man with glasses and long, gray hair asking in an East-coast accent “So, what’s going on in here?” He wasn’t at all what I expected.

And in the years that I got to know Peter, I always loved that he was never, ever what I expected. As a teacher, as a mentor, and as a friend, Peter was always much, much more than I could have ever imagined.

On that interview day, Peter moseyed into the room and shook hands with the three of us who were interviewing to become part time students, nodding curtly as he repeated our first names and shook each of our hands. With the same curiosity that he applied in all of his intellectual pursuits, Peter started asking questions about each of us. He joked about my tie and said I was entirely too professional to be in the program, and I laughed and wondered if I should run out at exactly that moment and buy a button down, drab green sweater like the one he was wearing…

After Peter left the room, I continued with the rest of my day, considerably more at ease than I was before meeting him without knowing quite why. And a few days later, I got a call from Peter delivering the good news—I had been admitted to the program! Peter told me to take some time to think about whether or not I would like to accept a spot in the program. I took his advice and waited about 14 seconds before letting him know that I was definitely in. He laughed and said he looked forward to being my advisor, and I felt overjoyed as I hung up the phone. I was a first-generation college student who had never thought about graduate school as a realistic opportunity. In a few months, I would begin working on a graduate degree at Miami. Life takes many wonderfully beautiful and surprising turns. I was glad that this turn led me where it did.

My first semester in the program was difficult because that was also the time when my own struggle with anxiety began and when I first started seeking out help from a counselor to manage my mental illness. My anxiety wasn’t fully caused by starting graduate school, but it did contribute to the feeling of being overwhelmed and insignificant. As the semester wore on, I began to feel like I was finally on an upward trajectory, personally and academically, but I was still suffering from a healthy dose of impostor’s syndrome. In each class period, I had multiple instances of self-doubt where I thought to myself “I’m not smart enough to be here,” or “I can’t stack up against the intellect of many of my classmates.” It was a nauseating feeling, and it constantly kept me on edge in my classes and when I was working on assignments.

The other thing keeping me on edge that first semester? Knowing that I would be taking EDL 666 in the Spring.

Any graduate of the SAHE program from the Peter Magolda era will certainly know about EDL 666. The course went by many names. The official name on the course bulletin at Miami was Student Cultures in the University Environment. Most of the students in the program just called it “Cultures” or “The Cultures Course.” Some people had other not-so-family-friendly names for it, depending on how close they were to the midterm or finals being due. But more than anything else, I heard people call the course “Peter’s Course.” Everyone knew that this course was Peter’s baby.

The gist of the course was simple yet powerful. Peter wanted future student affairs professionals to take the principles of anthropology and ethnographic research that were typically used to study unfamiliar people and apply those in our study of college students. He wanted us to take what we thought we understood—what we thought to be familiar—and look at it through an entirely different lens. Peter wanted students in his course to understand the different subcultures that existed within the university environment, avoiding the tendency of lumping all college learners into stereotypical categories or generational molds. Masterfully, Peter was able to take very important, often difficult readings about cultural studies and anthropological fieldwork, and apply those to our study of and practice with the students on our campus. It was a brilliant approach—and I don’t think I realized just how brilliant it actually was at the time because I was so freaked out about actually having to take the class.

Peter always loved the frenzy and hysteria that his course created. Not in a sadistic way or anything, but he did find it fascinating that people were so worked up about something that seemed so natural to him. Although, Peter did love the fact that the most challenging course in the program was given the course number “666.” He laughed about that many times throughout the semester, and I often wondered if he indeed went to the University Registrar to request this number for the course rather than having it assigned. Aside from the number, however, Peter didn’t understand why people lost their minds about this particular course. Yes, it was challenging—but aren’t the most important things to learn in life often challenging, difficult, and complex?

I’d love to say I understood this, but when I started in Peter’s course in the Spring of 2012, I completely bought into the hysteria. I was a nervous wreck. The topics looked intense. The readings were extensive. The assignments were hefty. THE COURSE NUMBER WAS THE NUMEROLOGICAL REPRESENTATION OF THE DEVIL! For someone who already felt he didn’t have the intellectual chops to hack it in graduate school, the looming danger of this course was real and paralyzing.

Nervously, I waded into Peter’s course in a corner classroom at McGuffey Hall, and my first experience with Peter in the classroom was not what I had expected. My classmates had filled me in on the academic rigor of the course and how Peter challenged his students to really grapple with the material to understand it and apply it. I had expected Peter to be this expert, this fountain of knowledge, spewing information for two hours and forty minutes every Thursday afternoon in the hopes that we could just retain an ounce of his brilliance. That wasn’t Peter—at all. Peter would often come into class, throw out a quote from a reading we had done, and then he would sit back in his chair with crossed legs and a hand on his chin, saying very little throughout our discussions, and sporadically brushing his long, gray hair behind his ears. On occasion, Peter might probe or push someone on a particular idea or thought if it was unclear. But most of the time, Peter just wanted to sit back and watch the action. There was never a day in all the classes I spent with Peter in which I felt like I was simply and passively absorbing knowledge that he was giving. He was helping us to discover it on our own, always present, gently guiding and shepherding us along.

As comforting as his presence in the classroom was, however, this didn’t ease my trepidation as the midterm due date loomed on the horizon. Peter had given us our midterm questions very early—and they were doozies. Each question was a paragraph long and required us to synthesize multiple readings and apply them within real life scenarios we observed in our work at Miami. Peter asked us to limit the first two responses—to six pages each! The last response need only be three pages, and I had never been so excited to only have to write a three-page paper in my entire life.

As I began to write my midterm, my anxiety got the best of me. I began to panic as sentences refused to form. I would scan highlighted passages from our course materials that I had read and understood in class, and my breath would draw very tight when those concepts no longer made any sense to me. Before I knew it, I was spiraling. I would write a paragraph, read it back to myself, realize it was incoherent, and delete the entire thing, only to repeat this vicious cycle for hours on end. Before I knew it, an entire day had gone by and I had only two pages of a fourteen-page midterm complete. I remember laying on the ground near the desk in my parent’s home and starting to tear up. The voice inside my head just kept saying “See, I told you you aren’t good enough.” It had only taken one course to expose me for what I was—an academic fraud.

I’m glad the voice in my head was overridden by Peter’s voice just one day later. In my panic, I dashed out an e-mail to Peter letting him know that I was struggling extensively with the midterm. He called me the next day, as the due date for the exam was quickly approaching, and Peter talked with me on the phone for nearly an hour, helping me walk through the questions on the midterm and process my thoughts. He didn’t give me the answers. He didn’t tell me what I should write. He just asked me important questions that helped me put my own disconnected thoughts into a more coherent argument. What readings stood out to me as being important? What were those readings saying? Did I see evidence of that in the students that I interacted with as an admission counselor? How could I connect one reading with another and find relevance and common ground between the two? On that day (and many more to follow) Peter did what only the best teachers are able to master: he took complex, seemingly unrelated concepts and showed me why they were important to my work and my own life.

I wrote the midterm essays—not easily, not quickly—but I wrote them. And I submitted them to him. A week or so later, I got Peter’s feedback on the essay. His notes were extensive. Sometimes, they were illegible (Handwriting was not his strongest asset), but once deciphered, they were extremely valuable. Peter gave me positive feedback in the areas where I had earned it, but he also pointed out sections and passages where I might have been able to improve the quality of my work. He gave me this feedback not because it was his job to find holes in my arguments, but because he wanted me to be the best student affairs professional and educator I possibly could be.

I laughed when I saw his comments on the last page of my exam: “Exam Grade: A-. Well done. If this represents your confused state, I look forward to reading your paper on topics you claim to understand.”

Midterm GradeWith just fourteen pages of thoughtful, handwritten notes that were altogether positive, sometimes critical, and always constructive, Peter helped chip away at the feelings of doubt and insecurity that had been holding me captive for that first year of graduate school. For the rest of that semester, I reminded myself of the faith Peter had in me. Anytime a reading was incomprehensible, I read through it twice. If a concept didn’t make sense to me, I asked Peter about it outside of class. I wasn’t trying to impress Peter—I was just trying to live up to whatever he saw in me that I could not see in myself.

I did my best to keep that positive attitude throughout the biggest obstacle of the semester: the infamous Cultures fieldwork team assignment. Peter didn’t just want us to learn about anthropological principles and the value they held in working with and researching college students—he wanted us to live it, and to experience it firsthand. With that charge, Peter divided our class into teams based on the functional areas we showed interest in, and we were tasked with conducting a fieldwork project that ran the entirety of the semester. In our fieldwork teams, we would serve as participant-observers and write a hefty narrative and cultural analysis of the student groups we studied. Fortunately, my group was granted access to the Division I basketball team at Miami thanks to the connections of one of my classmates, and we spent the entire semester attending practices, sitting courtside at games, interviewing coaches and players, hearing post-game talks in the locker room, and trying to make sense of the unique dynamics that characterized this college subculture.

Before graduate school, I don’t think I ever had the desire to write a 60-page paper with two of my classmates. During the process, I don’t think I always enjoyed writing a 60-page paper about the basketball team. I especially didn’t enjoy the night that I locked myself in my office at Miami Middletown putting my finishing touches on the paper until 5:00am the next day—one of only three all-nighters I ever pulled in my entire student career at Miami. But looking back with the perspective I have now, I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much from an assignment in my entire life.

Through that assignment, Peter taught us more than what it takes to write a lengthy and coherent paper. He taught us that we should refuse to accept everyday, ordinary things at face value. He taught us that we should always dig deeper. He taught us that we should take things that we thought we understood and ask a lot of questions about them, because nearly every we would learn that we never knew as much as we thought we did. It was the goal of a masterful teacher, and Peter was that…and so much more.

As much as I remember learning from the intellectual challenge of that course, however, I remember Peter’s hilariously quirky and snarky personality making those nearly-three hour meetings memorable and fun. Peter would do and say things that he likely didn’t intend to be funny, and those things would often put all of us in the class in stitches. Like the day he declared that he was boycotting the Jimmy John’s in Oxford.

Our class started at 12:45 each Thursday, and on most days Peter would order a sandwich from the Jimmy John’s in Oxford as he ran between classes, meetings, and his third floor office in McGuffey Hall. Peter typically ordered a #5 (The Vito, probably just because he liked the name), and even though he ordered a sandwich to be delivered multiple times a week to the same exact location, the driver was continuously getting lost.

“I just don’t understand how you get lost coming to the same place multiple times a week,” Peter exhaled after meandering into our class one afternoon. “I don’t want to have to do this, but I think I’m going to have to boycott Jimmy John.”

“Like, the restaurant?” one of my classmates asked. “Or the guy himself?”

“In essence, I’m doing both. But I hope he takes it personally,” Peter said.

I don’t know how long his boycott lasted, but my classmates and I couldn’t resist trying to serve as peace negotiators. The following week, we went to the Jimmy John’s uptown and ordered a Vito to go. As we walked to McGuffey Hall, we took out a permanent marker and wrote a note on the sandwich paper.

“Dear Peter, This is Jimmy. I miss you. And I’m sorry. Please forgive me for the wrong I’ve done. I promise I’ll never get lost again. Love, Jimmy John.”

When we handed the sandwich to Peter, we got to hear that all-too familiar chuckle as he threw his long hair back, and his face turned red as he laughed about the note. He opened the sandwich and took a few bites. And then, he just turned to us and said he wasn’t sure if the boycott would end, but he’d think about it. One of my classmates, Ashley Korn, even kept the joke going when she introduced Peter at our program’s graduation ceremony

“Okay, Peter,” she said, “I know you hate people talking about you, so I’ll try to make this freaky fast…unlike your Jimmy John’s deliveries to class.”

It was that type of fun-loving, carefree personality that caused students to adore Peter, even though the last thing he cared about or craved was the adoration of others. Only Peter could get students to write 60-page papers about observing the Ultimate Frisbee team or the Secular Students organization at Miami. Only Peter could get students to willingly read books about hegemony and privilege and the principles of ethnographic fieldwork and have meaningful, thoughtful conversations about those topics for hours on end. Only Peter could launch a boycott on a national sandwich chain and make a semester-long running joke of it.

Only Peter.

Only Peter could get me to take a summer course on qualitative research at Miami during the precious months of May and June. My fifteen classmates and I knew we were in for a wild ride when Peter suggested we meet for 8 hours on a Saturday to kick of the class in an effort to knock out a few weeknight sessions. On that long, dreaded Saturday while reviewing the syllabus, Peter informed us of his philosophy on summer courses.

“So, this is a three credit hour course that lasts for four weeks. And some professors here at Miami think that during the summer, you should take it easy and pare down the curriculum and workload to fit within those four weeks. I don’t believe that. So, we are going to do sixteen weeks worth of work; we are just going to do it in four weeks. Sound good?”

For some unknown reason, my classmates and I all nodded our heads yes as our hearts sunk into our large intestines.

Peter was right. Those four weeks were absolutely jam packed. We did four different assignments in that short class, including a participant-observation analysis, a midterm examination, and a 25-page research assignment that walked us through as many phases of the research process as humanly possible in a short amount of time. His reading list for the four-week class was even longer than the list for the Cultures class! I nearly admitted myself for psychiatric evaluation when I found myself thinking that I wanted to go back to EDL 666….

Those four weeks, however, were some of the most important and entertaining weeks of my time in the graduate program. I learned more about the different types of qualitative research methodologies and research paradigms than I ever knew existed. Prior to that class, I had always wondered whether or not I could be an effective researcher; Peter showed me that I could. He took complex and mundane readings about research guidelines and paradigms and showed us how they applied to our everyday lives and the work we were all going to be doing with college students.

Even with Peter’s break-neck curricular pace and expectations for such a quick course, we all found ourselves laughing together on most nights. Specifically, I remember Peter needling one of my classmates over his laptop. My classmate, Travis, had a Toshiba laptop that was a bit…vintage and out of date. On occasion during our class, Travis’ laptop fan would start to buzz and whir, and each time it did, Peter couldn’t resist. He would look at the laptop with a pained expression, like he was afraid it was getting ready to cause the classroom damage.

“Is that your laptop?” Peter exclaimed. “What is that thing?”

I remember him making jokes about Travis’ laptop getting ready to take off or explode; but Peter’s humor was never meanspirited. It was always fun and enjoyable, and he knew how to bring levity to each and every interaction.

Peter had an uncanny way of making the simplest moments fun. During that same course, myself and a group of classmates had to facilitate a portion of the class and share our understanding of the case study methodology. For our task, we decided to do an activity that involved poster boards and markers. I grabbed my markers from the house before leaving for class, and one of the marker packs happened to be a 10-pack of scented Mr. Sketch markers.

Mr Sketch MarkersUpon starting the activity, Peter spotted the Mr. Sketch markers. “Hey. Are these those markers that smell?” he said, not intending to be funny at all, but causing all of us to laugh. He grabbed the markers and went through each one, taking the cap off and waving it under his nose, giving us a play-by-play commentary of each scent. “What the hell is that supposed to be? Lime? I’ve never smelled a lime like that,” he said.

Our class activity continued, and Peter continued to sample and sniff each marker. When my classmates and I were up in front of the class trying to facilitate the discussion, I nearly doubled over laughing when I looked back at Peter in the back of the room. He was in his typical thinking position—leaned back in a chair, legs crossed, and hair thrown back. But this time, he was sniffing a blueberry Mr. Sketch marker with reckless abandon. For our entire class meeting, Peter huffed Mr. Sketch markers while simultaneously teaching us the principles of qualitative research.

And I’ll never forget it—the lesson, or the way in which it was delivered. And if it took me getting my professor high on a Mr. Sketch blueberry marker to get an “A” in a summer course on qualitative research, it was worth it.

To celebrate the end of the grueling four-week course, Peter invited our entire class to his and Marcia’s home in Oxford for a grillout and final class meeting—something that Peter and Marcia did rather regularly when they taught at Miami. We spent a few hours in Peter’s basement study talking about the lessons we had learned about qualitative research over the last few weeks, and then we moved to the back patio where we watched Peter grill hamburgers while he asked us questions about our plans for the rest of the summer. We enjoyed the conversation, and we definitely enjoyed the meal, but there was one thing Peter was looking forward to more than anything else on that evening. He had been talking about it for weeks.

Snow cones.

Of all the things I expected Peter Magolda to be obsessed with, snow cones were not at the top of the list. But he had informed us that he loved snow cones, and that he loved them so much that he had bought a snow cone machine, and all the flavorings, and all the paper supplies, and he intended to make snow cones for anyone who wanted one. And if you didn’t want a snow cone in June in Oxford, Ohio, according to Peter, there was likely something wrong with you.

After plugging in the machine, Peter stood in his kitchen and joked that he wasn’t allowed to make snow cones when Marcia was home because the machine was too loud. With unanticipated glee, Peter then proceeded to make snow cones for each of us, and he was supremely interested in the flavor combinations we all chose and what they said about our personalities. After he made himself a large snow cone with cherry and blue raspberry flavoring, he led us out of the house to return home. One of my favorite images of Peter Magolda is looking back over my shoulder on that night. Peter was sitting on his front porch, in a denim button down and jeans with brown boots, leaning back on his left arm with a snow cone in his right hand, soaking in the rays of a beautiful Oxford summer sunset with a mischievous grin on his face.

There was absolutely no one in this entire world like Peter.

I went on to do a few independent studies with Peter as my advisor, but that summer course on qualitative research was the last time that I had Peter as a teacher in a formal classroom setting. Nonetheless, I learned more from Peter in the years that followed as a mentor, colleague, and friend than I ever thought was possible. He taught me just as much about life outside the classroom as he did when I was in it.

And then, my life shattered on July 24, 2013. Everything I thought I knew and understood came crashing down when I found out that my Father, Scott Bradshaw, had died—a victim of suicide at age 50.

Dad, Lucy, and MeI had heard the news of Dad’s death and collapsed in the front yard before being whisked away by my neighbor, Billie. She took me into her home and sat me on her couch, tending to my grief with love and thoughtfulness. I was trying to process my thoughts and come to terms with the tragedy that was my life without the man who had been my hero, all while our family and the authorities were trying to get a handle on the crisis. After meeting with a detective and answering his questions to the best of my knowledge, Billie asked me who I needed to get in touch with immediately to inform them of the news. I said that I needed to talk with my pastor, Harville, and to my undergraduate mentor and Dean of Students, Dr. Bob Rusbosin. And when I talked with Bob, I asked him to get in touch with Peter to relay the message. I knew that I was going to need a good teacher to help me navigate the valleys of desperation I was headed towards.

Thank God for Dr. Peter Magolda.

Within minutes, I had a call from Peter. And it renewed and refreshed my soul in a time of complete and utter desperation. Peter had a way of doing that, and I thank God for him in that moment and all the moments that followed.

Peter knew that we didn’t have much time, but he expressed how sorry he was. He told me that he knew how much my Dad meant to me and my entire family, and that his heart was broken for the magnitude of our loss. He talked about the interactions he had with my Dad when he and Marcia attended my housewarming party just one year ago, and how friendly and caring my Dad was to him. He apologized that he couldn’t get to the house on that day, because he was in the process of traveling home.

But the next morning, Peter arrived. And I’ll always remember those hours we spent together.

When I opened the door on that morning, Peter walked into the house and wrapped me into one of his familiar bear hugs that I always got upon meeting him or parting ways. When I first met him, Peter never struck me as the hugging type—but when I look back on our interactions together, I remember getting a hug from him every time we parted ways. After walking into the house that morning, he handed me the bag of donuts, and I feebly ushered him into the living room where we both sat on the couch. The blinds were open, and the morning sun illuminated the golden walls of my small living room; but my heart was completely darkened. I was lost, baffled, confused, and reeling from the pain of losing my Father.

Thank God for Peter Magolda.

Peter and I sat there together, and like he had done in so many classes, and in so many research projects, and in so many genuine and loving conversations he had with thousands of students and colleagues in his career as an educator, Peter listened. Intently. With purpose. Free of judgement. Peter just let me talk. And sometimes, he let me sit there silently, collecting my thoughts. When it was appropriate, he asked me questions. He offered encouraging words.

And in that moment, even though the wounds of grief were still fresh and new, I remembered thinking that life would eventually be livable again—so long as I had people like Peter to help me get through it.

Peter stayed at the house that day, not just for an hour or so, but for five hours, and his presence was calming and full of a grace that human words can’t fully articulate. That isn’t an easy thing for anyone to do. A house full of grief and inconsolable loss, riddled with inexplicable tragedy is not a fun and welcoming place to be. It’s depressing and sad; but Peter didn’t care about any of that. He was there for me—and for all of us—when we needed him most.

Peter had met my parents and some of my family before, but his interactions on that day would have led outside observers to believe he had known the Bradshaws for years and years. When my Mom entered the house and saw him, she broke down in tears as she made her way towards him. With a tenderness that I’ll never understand, Peter, a rather tall man, wrapped my tiny, grieving Mother in his loving arms, and told her how sorry he was for her loss. Mom and I sat together and talked with Peter, and when we couldn’t talk because we didn’t know what to say, Peter didn’t try to force or speed along our grief. He didn’t try to give us any quick solutions. He just sat there with us, with the patient understanding that goes beyond all understanding. As more and more family members and friends made their way to my house, Peter had conversations with everyone. He talked with my Grandfather, Vern, for a long time and gave him valuable encouragement. He talked to one of our family pastors, Dave, and they got to know each other in spite of the horrible circumstances that brought them together.

Despite the uncomfortable nature of a house stricken with grief, Peter was there. He was just there. And he stayed there. And him being there on that terrible, terrible day was one of the greatest gifts God gave me in the aftermath of losing Dad.

By the time Peter had gone for the day, many members of my family and close inner circle felt they had known him for years. That was the type of man Peter Magolda was. He was a gentle but memorable presence, and he made people feel loved, valued, important, and listened to. And every bit of that—every single bit—was 100% genuine. That was Peter Magolda, and I’m so thankful for him.

Peter wasn’t just there in that one, crucial, critical moment, however; he was there in all the important, difficult moments that followed, especially during that first year after losing Dad. Although I’ll never forget Peter’s service to me and my entire family on that horrible July morning, it was his compassion and constant attention in the days and years after Dad’s death that left an impression on my heart and soul that still carries me forward. Immediately upon leaving, Peter took it upon himself to communicate with our entire cohort of SAHE students, the faculty on campus, and other individuals I knew at Miami to let them know about the tragedy and the forthcoming services. Peter orchestrated a network of support that enveloped me within days of losing my Dad. He took care of all the things that he could to help to remove a burden from me—and he helped me carry that burden through the weeks and months to come so I didn’t have to do it all myself.

After the funeral services, life started to fall into a new, different, and often painful normal for me. Peter and I had a heart to heart discussion about whether I should continue with my scheduled classes for the Fall or take a semester off, and we both agreed that it was worth a shot. Peter and I both believed that getting back into the classroom, a place that had been very comfortable for me for as long as I could remember, could actually be a healthy coping mechanism—and he was exactly right.

Throughout that first challenging semester (along with the other faculty members in the SAHE program), Peter made it a point to check in on me regularly. Often at the most unexpected times, I would get a phone call from Peter. After hearing the cadence of his familiar greeting (always a simple salutation, saying my name as “TY-ler” with a higher emphasis on the first syllable), Peter would ask me the most basic but important questions that so many other failed to ask during that phase of life. How was I doing? How was my family? Was I taking care of myself? What things were working, and what things made my grieving more difficult? Peter would often talk with me about my church family and how helpful it must have been to have a community of fellow believers as built-in support during those difficult moments, and I would explore some of my biggest fears and doubts with Peter because I felt safe and secure in those moments. I would tell him about my sorrow. I would tell him about my anger towards depression. I would tell him about the guilt I felt in moving on and enjoying life again in spite of losing Dad. All the while, Peter would sit and listen—something that made him famous in both his academic life and his vast personal relationships—and I always, always felt better after talking with Peter.

We spent many an hour on the phone or at a local Oxford restaurant catching up and talking with one another, and in those moments Peter showed me how valuable it was to a grieving soul to be vulnerable. It was over one of those meals when Peter shared his own feelings of grief over losing his Father. He shared how difficult it was to go through some of his personal possessions, but how much those things meant to him—something I had been struggling with tremendously at the time. Peter had an uncanny way of knowing exactly what needed to be said at the exactly right moment.

It was during one of those discussions when Peter had shared with me the influence his Father had made in his love for photography. As if being a stellar, world-renowned academician wasn’t enough, Peter had a talented eye through the lens of a camera. Whenever there was an event, big or small, formal or informal, Peter was always there to snap a picture or seventy of the festivities and all the people he loved. In fact, it was Peter who insisted on taking a few pictures of me in the parking lot of a Frisch’s in Hamilton after breakfast one morning.

2015Holidays-298On that morning, I had shared the miraculous story of recovering and buying my Dad’s truck that had been sold after his death. Peter could not believe that my Dad’s truck had been returned to the dealer on the exact day I had inquired about purchasing a new vehicle, and he couldn’t wait to get a few pictures of me with the truck. He sent those pictures along to me and told me how thankful he was that I had posed for them and shared the story. I had no idea how valuable those pictures would be to me. I cherish them now because of the story they represent and because of the kind-hearted artist who captured them.

Peter Taking a PhotoOf all the pictures he took, however, he would rarely pose for a photograph himself. If you did ask for a photo with Peter, he would often make jokes about how he would only take one, and he would scramble and squirm to get out from in front of the lens as quickly as possible. I look back on those moments, however, and his anxiety over being photographed and preference for being the photographer make perfect sense because Peter Magolda was one of the most humble, other-centered men I have ever met in my entire life. Peter’s academic career was spent observing and telling the stories of others. His works—which were vast and impressive in both quality and quantity—were never braggadocious. Peter wanted to shine a light on those who he felt were overlooked and undervalued. His photography was just an extension of this life calling. He spent an entire life snapping pictures of the people he loved because he knew it made them feel the love they deserved.

The loving heart of Peter Magolda is one of the main reasons I was able to graduate with my Master’s degree less than a year after losing my Father to suicide. Peter’s calls, lunch meetings, and continual encouragement helped push me towards the finish line when my grief was telling me to lay down, to stop fighting, and to give up.

Especially when it came to the phase of our study that every student in the SAHE program dreads and fears: Comps season.

Our program required the completion of a comprehensive exam: a 35-page, 3-question written exploration of our pedagogical philosophy and vision for the future. The examination’s varied questions required that we dig deep into the knowledge we had developed during our entire residency in the program, drawing upon the theories and studies that would inform our practice working with college students moving forward. We were all given about a month to complete this assignment, which often induced more panic because of the extended timeframe. More time to work often meant more time to freak out in the fetal position in the corner of the room. Students in our program talked about comps as if they were a 35-foot monster looming on the horizon, just waiting to tear us limb for limb. “Comps” took on a life all their own. Care packages were sent to one another. I’m sure tears were shed. Laptop computers were smashed in frustration (although I’m sure the whirring Toshiba withstood the punishment). I had seen the anxiety over “comps” take down many a capable and determined student.

Peter never, never understood the hysteria. He and I talked often about the madness that comps seem to create within the cohort, and Peter was baffled. “If you’re reading what we ask you to read and thinking about the material critically,” I remember him saying, “this should be easy.”

Once I started writing the examination, I realized how right Peter was (I realized this about a lot of things in life that Peter had discussed with me). The exam wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I found myself remembering more about the readings than I thought I could. It was difficult, yes, but Peter had taught me that difficult assignments could also be extremely valuable. I submitted the examination with a sense of relief and pride, but also with a nagging seed of doubt that maybe, just maybe, I would be the student that completely missed the mark.

The worst part about the comprehensive examination was not the assignment itself, but the waiting game between submission and getting word from your faculty advisor that you had passed and would, indeed, graduate in a few weeks. On one April evening, word got out amongst the members of our cohort that calls were being made. Within a few minutes, while doing some landscaping work in my backyard, I saw my phone light up with the name “Peter Magolda” across the screen. I threw off my work gloves and leaned against the greenhouse in my backyard.

“Hi Peter!” I said, mixing my excitement with the anxiety of big news to come.

“TY-ler,” he replied. “How’s it going?”

“I’ll let you know in a second,” I replied.

“Oh yeah, that comps thing,” Peter said with feigned interest. “Yeah, you passed. You did a really good job, and I enjoyed reading it. Now, let’s talk about stuff that actually matters. How are you doing? Work okay? How’s your Mom holding up?”

That was classic Peter Magolda—and I loved it. Peter knew what mattered. Although it was a big accomplishment, at the end of my life, I doubt I will be all that proud of having my faculty approve of a 35-page paper that I wrote. But I will be proud of the legacy I left behind. I’ll be proud that, in spite of it all, my family grew closer together during a time of tremendous heartache. I’ll be proud that my Mom and I overcame the grief of losing my Dad to suicide. That’s what will matter most, and that’s what Peter wanted to hear about. On that night, we talked for nearly an hour, just as we did with nearly every phone call we ever shared, and Peter reminded me of the need to connect with one another on a human level.

Graduation day brought many, many mixed emotions for me and for my entire family. Although I was looking forward to the excitement and finality of earning a graduate degree—something I never thought I’d be able to accomplish—this new marker also represented another phase of life completed without my Dad. I felt proud and guilty all at the same time. That guilt was constantly nagging away at me, and as much as I looked forward to the day itself, I was also dreading the ceremony of the entire moment without my Dad.

I walked into Yager Stadium on that windy May afternoon in 2014, and my mind instantly flashed back to my first college graduation in that same stadium in 2009. On that day, I remembered looking back into the stands and eventually locating my family —Mom and Dad and the rest of my family, standing in the stands, waving at me amongst the sea of red caps and gowns. I could picture my Dad—clad in his favorite khaki suit—smiling from ear to ear. I don’t know what he was saying on that day, but I wanted to believe he just kept saying “That’s my boy, my son.”

Now, just five years from that moment, I looked back into the stands and saw my mother, wiping tears from her eyes, no doubt feeling the same painful absence that I was.

I was happy, and I was proud; but above everything, I just wanted to have my Dad back.

After the large commencement ceremony at Yager Stadium, my family and I went to a smaller graduation ceremony that was held for students in the SAHE program. As wonderful as the pomp and circumstance of the big ceremony was for me, it was this ceremony that I was more excited to participate in. During the SAHE ceremony, each graduate got to pick an important person in their life who would deliver a graduation speech to recognize their accomplishments.

Without hesitation, I chose Peter.

Before the ceremony started, Peter came up to me and wrapped me into one of his usual bear hugs. He said hello to my Mother, my grandparents, and my great Aunt, and then he pulled me aside for a second.

“Hey, I thought I should check with you. I’ve got your speech written up here. I was planning to talk about your Dad. That okay?”

“Of course,” I said to Peter.

“Good, because I guess I can’t really change it now anyway,” he said through a chuckle.

Peter Magolda Graduation 2When Peter called my name (same cadence as always), I stood next to the podium, and tried as hard as I could to hold back tears as he talked and shared my story. He talked about how proud he was that I had worked part time at Miami University Middletown all while earning my graduate degree. He talked about my ability to deal with adversity, recounting a story from shortly before Dad’s death when I had extinguished a severe electrical fire in my home that could have caused me to lose my entire house less than a year into owning it.

And then, he told the story of my Father—beautifully, eloquently, and with compassion and love. Peter shared how much my Father had meant to me and our entire family, and how his loss had affected us deeply. He said that my Father would have been proud that, in spite of the trauma, I had still worked hard to earn my degree. And Peter shared how proud he was of me.

Hearing that two of the men whom I deeply idolized—my Father and Peter Magolda—were proud of me was more valuable than any piece of paper the University could bestow.

He stepped back from the podium and gave me a tender hug as tears streamed down my cheeks, and in that moment I knew that I’d never, ever have a professor and teacher as special as Peter Magolda as long as I lived.

Peter Magolda Graduation


I had the honor of being one of Peter’s last advisees. Peter gleefully retired from his faculty role at Miami shortly after I graduated, and he would often joke about how I had driven him into retirement sooner than he had planned. Although I knew that Peter would miss the people that he worked with at Miami, I also knew that he would not miss the bureaucracy, the politics, and the drudgery that can accompany even the most exciting jobs. I always loved it when people asked if Peter was excited about retiring. “Excited?” he’d respond, and then he would pull out his cell phone and open the countdown app that showed—to the minute—how much longer he had until reaching the finish line. He would then make a joke about a number of people at Miami who probably had the same countdown clock on their phones anticipating the moment that they’d never have to deal with him again.

I laughed to amuse Peter, but in my heart I kept thinking the same thing over and over again: Miami University would just not be the same without Peter Magolda. Yes, Peter would definitely miss some aspects of Miami after retiring; but there was no doubt that Miami University would miss him more. His teaching skill, his intellectual greatness, his capacity to think deeply, and his quintessential kindness had all made Miami University a much better place.

Peter did retire from Miami, doing his best to shun the well-deserved attention that folks all across campus tried to shower upon him. He and Marcia moved to a beautiful home in Blacksburg, Virginia, and although our face to face visits grew less and less frequent, they never became less meaningful.

Peter helped me in so many ways, even after his retirement from Miami freed him of that obligation. I’ll never forget his wisdom when I navigated a career crisis in 2016 which caused me to leave Miami, only to return less than four months later. After briefly diagnosing me with Stockholm Syndrome, Peter gave me the confidence I needed to swallow my pride, admit I had made a mistake, and return to a place that had been and would always be home in spite of its faults and my own faults. Peter helped me work through all of those confidence issues, and he reminded me that my work was about the meaning I made of it, not the means that came from it.

Whenever Peter was back in town, we always did our best to get together for a meal and reconnect. Although his dodgy cell reception in the mountains of Virginia could often make it difficult to connect for a phone call, he always found time take an hour or two out of his day to catch up. I so enjoyed hearing about his retirement escapades—his family get togethers, his travels to speaking engagements, his continued research, and his love of spending more and more time with Marcia. We would text and catch up, promising to stay in touch and inquiring about one another’s family. And most importantly, even though years were passing along at a rapid pace, Peter never, ever quit asking me how I was coping with my Dad’s death.

Because of his reception issues, Peter and I had been communicating through e-mail more and more as of late. Through e-mail, Peter and I would trade greetings, articles we thought would interest one another, and I always anxiously awaited each December when Peter would send along his infamous holiday newsletter.

Peter always joked with me about the newsletter and how, each year, he did his best to find the most uninteresting and ordinary things to include in the newsletter. “I mean, who the hell would ever want to read this thing?!” he would say to me every year, laughing about how he had done his very best to include even the most mundane snippets of his life in the newest edition. He would include photos he had taken, conferences and workshops he and Marcia had attended, and well-wishes to everyone who received the letter. He often told me that, although I had always viewed it as a blessing to receive the newsletter, it was probably a horrible, terrible punishment for something I had done in a previous life. “People are probably trying to get me to their Spam folders every year they see it!” he would joke.

As much as he joked about preparing the newsletter, I think Peter actually loved putting it together. Not because of the stories that he shared within it, but because it was an impetus for connection. Without a doubt, Peter’s inbox would be inundated within days of sending out the newsletter, and it gave him an excuse to do what he loved most: to talk with other people and hear about their lives.

This past year, I received Peter’s newsletter, and on the day I returned to work after the holiday break, I read through it with the same frivolity I did each and every year upon its arrival. Among pictures of family and friends who had visited Peter and Marcia in the past year, Peter also included a picture of a black bear captioned “Our Bear” and told readers that this was a neighborhood bear that was currently hibernating. He told stories of Marcia decorating their beautiful home with seven full size Christmas trees, his trip to Jazz Fest and an annual Reds game, and other highlights of the year. I hammered out an e-mail to Peter and let him know how much I always enjoyed reading this newsletter, even if he didn’t understand why people were interested in his life. I told him that I hoped he fed the bear daily, and that it was likely still more friendly than some of his former colleagues in Oxford, and I asked him if he might have time to chat in the coming week.

That evening, I got a phone call—not the call from Peter that I had anticipated, but a call about him. Tyler Wade, a dear friend of mine from our days as fellow graduate students in the SAHE program, was on the other end of the line.

“Tyler,” he said, “I have some horrible news. Peter died today.”

The news of Peter’s death sucked the air out of my lungs. I didn’t even know how to respond. Hours earlier, I had been emailing him to let him know how much I enjoyed hearing updates of his life, and now I was hearing that his life had ended. Peter had passed away, unexpectedly, at his home with Marcia at his side. I was reeling, unable to string together a coherent sentence. It wasn’t just the rug that was pulled out from under me with that phone call; the foundation itself was crumbling. After thanking Tyler for calling, I shared the horrible news with Paige. Then, I sat down at our kitchen table. As the magnitude of losing someone whose life was so important began to wash over me, I began to cry and weep uncontrollably.

And now, nearly two months after his death, I still find myself crying when I think about Peter. I will walk by McGuffey Hall and think of sitting with him in a classroom or his office, and I will immediately tear up. I see his handwriting on the papers that he graded, and I fall apart. I see pictures of him that hundreds of former students posted online after news of his death began to spread, and I wonder why a man so caring, so gentle, and so important is gone from a world that desperately needs people like him.

Peter Headshot 2Peter’s death has not felt real to me; and now, nearly two months after hearing the news, it still doesn’t seem real that he’s gone. I can still hear his voice, his chuckle as he told amusing stories, and his unmistakable dialect. Over the past two months, I can’t begin to count the times when I’ve wanted to call Peter and seek his wisdom. As I continue to work on my doctorate, I want his advice about research topics and resources and dissertation committees. As I navigate challenging circumstances professionally, I desperately want to hear his perspective and vent with him. I want to tell him about my upcoming wedding, and I want to hear all about how much he is enjoying a retirement that he deserved more than anyone I know. I cry when I talk to others about Peter because I already feel the deep pain of his absence, and I feel an unrelenting guilt that I should have done more to connect with him and make our friendship a priority.

But I can’t share those things with Peter, and the finality of his loss hurts at a soul level. Peter’s death still hangs over me because he lived a ridiculously impactful and significant life; and now that he is gone, there is an emptiness to my world that only he could have filled.

My pain is also magnified, however, because of the vital role Peter played in helping me grieve the loss of my Father. There were so many wonderful people that were absolutely essential to surviving my Dad’s suicide and death—and Peter Magolda was one of those central pillars.

I have often said that the God I serve, all-knowing and omniscient, began to surround me with people that I would need to help me grieve and survive long before Dad’s death actually occurred. I firmly believe that God didn’t try to replace my Dad with a single individual, but instead, He created a team of people who each kept a certain element of Dad’s personality alive in my life.

Peter at ConcertPeter was my encourager. Peter was my jokester. Peter was the man, just like my Dad, who reminded me that I didn’t always need to take life so seriously, and that I should enjoy those little moments. Peter was my conversationalist—the person I could talk to for hours on end, never feeling weary or bored because he was so engaged and so interesting. Peter was my processor and my wise mentor. His perspective, advice, and words of wisdom were a beacon of maturity and thoughtfulness to me—a young, often brash, emotionally charged rookie in the world of student affairs and college administration. Peter was my teacher—just like my Dad—giving me guideposts for how to live an authentic, significant life. That was who Peter Magolda was for me, and losing him feels like I’m losing another piece of my Dad all over again; and although Peter never claimed to be a replacement for my Father, he was surely there to be a Father-figure when I needed one most. And Peter, I will never, ever be able to say thank you enough.

That is who Peter Magolda was for me, and I have no doubt that he was that and more to the thousands of family members, friends, students, colleagues, and research participants that he spent his entire life loving and connecting with. My story is unique, but it is not uncommon or atypical—and that is because Peter Magolda was a humble man of influence who would deny he ever made a difference.


Campus Custodians Book CoverIt’s fitting that Peter’s last book—and in my opinion one of his greatest legacies—was an ethnographic study of campus custodians. Peter spent years working side-by-side campus custodians at different institutions across the country, and he wrote a brilliant analysis of the many ways that college campuses overlook, ignore, and diminish the contributions and value these individuals bring to the academic community. Peter believed that custodians were the lifeblood and true loyalists within most college campuses, and he was upset at their lack of recognition as educators and sources of organizational knowledge. Peter believed this because he had worked side-by-side with many custodians doing research for his book, and I believe he wrote this book to give voice to their stories. By the same token, those of you who are interested in supporting Peter’s legacy can contribute to the Peter M. Magolda Custodian Emergency Fund at Miami University (click the “Give Online” link near the bottom of the memorial).

I read the book shortly after it came out, and I found myself smiling and laughing from the moment I started to read. Peter’s opening to that book—which is classic Peter—reminds me why I love him so much:

“For the past 39 years I have worked on college campuses as a student, student affairs educator, and faculty member. Needless to say, I have participated in thousands of icebreakers and acquaintanceship activities, and I abhor them. Revealing my favorite color is hardly the way I forge meaningful relationships with strangers. A common getting-acquainted activity involves answering the question, “Who do you most admire in the world?” I especially dislike this question for two reasons. First, I struggle to pay attention to participants’ responses because I am too busy brainstorming a list of likely responses, like “Gandhi,” “parents,” “Rosa Parks,” or a third-grade teacher. Second, sharing my true response, “Juanita ‘Pat’ Denton,” who was a campus custodian, could mistakenly convey I am mocking this activity. Although I seldom seriously analyze others’ responses to this question, I am intensely serious about my response.”

I think there was likely a third reason why Peter hated these ice-breaker activities. I think that Peter likely hated these types of ice-breaker activities because they forced him to talk about himself when all he really wanted to do in this life was tell the stories of others. That’s what made Peter Magolda so special—a rare treasure. In a world focused on “me,” Peter Magolda led a life that was focused on others. Peter was a storyteller, advocate, and voice for those who deserved to have their stories told. I hope, in some small way, I’m able to tell his story in this new phase of life without him, because Peter’s life matters, and it was tremendously significant because of the choices he made.

In one of the first articles I ever read written by Peter Magolda (“Using Ethnographic Fieldwork and Case Studies to Guide Student Affairs Practice, 1999), he outlined a perspective of his work (which I heard him repeat quite often) that characterized his perspective on intellectual pursuit. The goal of Peter’s work, which he credited to Michael Quinn Patton (1990), was to make the obvious obvious, make the obvious dubious, and make the hidden obvious. When Peter first tried to explain this concept to me, my head spun. As I look back on his life, however, it makes all the sense in the world. In his work and the way he treated others, Peter refused to simply accept what he saw at face value. He wanted to dig deep, trying to affirm the things he knew, question the things that we thought we knew but likely didn’t, and reveal underlying insights that were often hidden from a face value interpretation.

Peter didn’t do this with abstract research subjects; he did this with people. Colleagues, friends, family members, students. Students like me.

And I am a better person because of Peter Magolda.

I’m glad that Peter Magolda saw me as more than what I represented on the surface-level all those years back. I am a better person—and thousands of others are better people as well—because Peter wanted to know more about us. He wanted to learn about our lives, and to see behind our masks into our most personal motivations, doubts, and fears.

Peter had another mantra that he lived his life by, and one that will stick with me for as long as I live. Peter always encouraged us to look at the espoused values of any individual or organization and ask whether or not those espoused values aligned with the enacted values. Did what a person said match what they did? Did they walk the talk they put into the world, and if not, why? Did mission statements actually reflect what was happening in the organization? Were people “doing” instead of simply “saying”?

Each day, I think about that lesson that Peter taught me in my own life. I claim to be a loving, caring individual…but do my actions fully represent that value? Did the terse response I gave at work seem loving? Did my neglect of a loved one represent a caring heart? Did my less-than-loving-gesture to a fellow driver—albeit entirely deserved—reflect the grace and forgiveness I hope to receive from others?

Peter Magolda, even in his death, is challenging me to be a better educator, a better eventual-husband, a better son, a better colleague, a better writer—and a better human being. Peter’s contribution to the world is magnified because he instilled this character calling into the lives of all the students he educated.

And above all, I am thankful that all of the values Peter Magolda espoused—namely love, care, and compassion for his fellow man—were enacted in every single moment of his all-too-short but insanely consequential life.

The legacy of Dr. Peter Magolda lives on in my heart because he put his convictions and espoused beliefs into action, and that life consistency was my most indelible educational moment. He may have spent an entire career telling the stories of others, but for me, Peter’s story is one that will always be worth telling for as long as I live.

Peter Magolda Hug with SB LogoPeter, I know exactly what you would say had I been privileged to share this post with you: “This is entirely too long, and you make me sound entirely more important than I actually am.” I feel as if I could have written many, many more pages, however. Even then I would have been unable to capture the impact your life made upon mine. Peter, you were an educator in every sense of the word. In the classroom, you taught me to analyze, and to examine, and to criticize and better the world around me. In our friendship, you taught me to enjoy life and spend less time worrying about the things that didn’t matter. And in the depths of my despair, in the darkest moment of my life, you helped me see through the walls of grief and loss that threatened to consume me. Peter, I will never be able to say thank you enough for the value you brought to my life and my journey. After losing my Dad, you were a Fatherly figure in my life. You helped council me and offered advice during difficult decisions, just as my Dad had always done. You encouraged me and pushed me with a perfect balance of compassion and motivation, just as my Dad had always done. And just like my Dad, you helped me laugh again. Peter, losing you has felt like losing another piece of my Dad, and even though you taught me how to be resilient and courageous, I’ll always be deeply saddened when I think of a life without you. Peter, your loss has already left a void in my life that is hard to articulate, and there are so many others who loved you that feel the same way. We wish you were still here, because we were all better people when you were in this life. In your honor, Peter, I hope we are all able to carry on the things you taught us. And Peter, thank you for never giving up on me.

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us…[If your gift] is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach.” Romans 12:6-7 (NIV)


Writer’s Note: I would like to offer a special thank you to my former classmate and colleague (and former student and friend of Peter’s) Dave Sheehan for reviewing, editing, and ultimately improving this narrative. Dave’s advice, authentic reactions, and suggestions helped to dramatically enhance my writing and recollections of a man we both loved and cared for deeply. I am deeply appreciative for Dave’s time, his generosity, and most of all, his brilliant intellect and kind friendship. Dave, thank you for fighting through your own grief to share stories and important moments from your last conversation with Peter; they’ve helped me grieve positively more than I could ever thank you for.

Dad’s Rules: Socks

Dad's Rules Banner

(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)

Trees Will Tip

“What the heck is wrong with the tree?”

I stood a few steps down the staircase, pajama-clad and ready to make my Dad regret the hours he spent perfectly wrapping all those presents. I was seven or eight years old, still in love with our new house, and just as excited for Christmas as I was each and every year.

I was excited because Mom and Dad always made Christmas so special. Mom would spend hours unpacking the 37 boxes of Christmas decorations that she had Dad lug down from the spare bedroom (who needs a sibling when you can have a room filled with box upon box of Christmas decorations?!). Mom had a perfect spot for each and every decoration that she owned, and there was no spot in the house that didn’t have a decoration. Even the bathroom had decorations! It’s always a little bizarre to look over and see a smiling Santa while you are….expelling your eggnog.

The kitchen was where my favorite Christmas tradition was cooked up. The house was always filled with the smell of Christmas cookies around the holiday season. Mom would bake. And bake. And bake and bake and bake. Every type of Christmas cookie known to man would be delicately crafted by my Mom’s gentle hands. And Dad and I? Well, we would eat! We definitely preferred the eating over the baking, and we were glad to do our part.

Decking the halls would eventually extend to decking every inch of the outside of the house as well. Dad would spend hours on a usually-frigid November Saturday stringing lights across the façade of our family home. The strand lights eventually evolved into icicle lights. And twinkling lights. And bubble gum lights. It was always interesting (and rather expensive) to hear about the difference in the electric bill for the month of December, but my Mom and Dad always said it was worth it.

And then, there was the tree. A real tree. My Dad absolutely refused to give into the trend and ease of an artificial tree. He wouldn’t even call them trees—it was against his religion. “That’s a fake,” he’d say with a voice of disdain each time he saw one of those holiday imposters. Each year, Mom and Dad would spend hours on the day after Thanksgiving searching for the perfect Christmas tree. For a period of years, we went to a Christmas tree farm and cut our own down. Then, probably during my annoying, “too cool” teenage years, Mom and Dad would go out on their own and find the perfect tree for our home, scouring Lowes after Lowes to find the right evergreen.

The problem with finding a perfect tree? There is no perfect tree. No matter how good a Christmas tree might look, there will always, always be an imperfection. It leans to one side. It isn’t symmetrical. It has a weird bare patch in the back that is eerily reminiscent of Grandpa’s bald spot.

And even the tree that starts out perfect doesn’t always stay that way for an entire month. The best looking trees can be water hogs—always thirsty and unusually dry. The best looking tree might shed its needles faster than a bad gambler sheds money. Or it starts out bright green and turns brown within a few days. I thought pine trees were resilient—how is it they only seem to last a few weeks around Christmas?!

Even after many years of observing the fragility of a real tree, my Dad refused to give in. He accepted the imperfections. He and Mom had fun looking for the perfectly imperfect tree. Any fights over trees (these trees even cause conflict!) always faded quickly when our family started stringing lights and ornaments across this decorative fir.

But this year, as I came down the stairs, something was very, very different about the tree I saw in front of me. The imperfection of this particular tree was a little more noticeable than other years. It was a story our family would tell for many, many years. And the remnants of this particular Christmas morning would be more permanent that we ever thought.

The night before Christmas, Mom and Dad were staying up late wrapping presents for the next morning.

READER’S NOTE: If you are younger than 12 and reading this post, ignore the last sentence and replace it with “Mom and Dad were downstairs waiting to help Santa get down the chimney.”

They sat there talking and wrapping in the glow of our cozy family room, when all of a sudden their conversation was interrupted with a tremendous….CRASH!!!

“Please tell me that’s not the tree,” one of them said to the other.

They stared at each other with wide eyes and open mouths, and eventually threw their wrappings to the side and scrambled up the stairs. They looked in horror at the scene unfolding in front of their eyes: A tree, once standing tall and proud, now lay horizontal and weak across our living room floor. The bright lights had darkened. Family ornaments had crashed and smashed. The water from the tree base now stained the carpet, and I can just picture my Mom, always a meticulous housekeeper, thinking about the hours she would now spend picking ornament shards from the carpet.

“Well, we can fix this,” my Dad said.

I’m sure my Mom could see the wheels turning in his head, growing anxious of the plan he was bound to cook up. No repair job was ever simple with my Dad. His solutions could not be temporary. They needed to be strong and soundproof. My Dad was a builder, and he refused to build anything weak or small.

So, my Dad did what any Dad who has watched too many episodes of Home Improvement would do. He went to the garage, grabbed a (more)power drill and his tool belt, and set out to make sure that our tree would rue the day it had ever began to lean.

Just like one of Santa’s elves equipped with a DeWalt, Dad set to work fixing our family tree. And that next morning, standing at the top of the staircase, I saw the end result of Dad’s overnight labors.

With a premium on functionality and a complete disregard for visual appearance, Dad had taken two thick, black, metal cables and drilled them into the trunk of our Christmas tree. Then, he took those black cables and ran them back to the wall where (I’m sure to the vehement objections of my overly-neat Mother) he screwed the cables into the wall using oversized bolts. Yes, emanating from our Christmas tree were 2 six-or-seven foot black cables that took away the elegant charm of a free-standing Christmas tree.

It wasn’t pretty, but the tree was standing. And I had a feeling we could leave it there for thirty years and it would still be standing tall thanks to my Father’s ingenuity.

When the tree came down that year, the bolts did not. They were actually plugged into the wall for about ten years or so until my Dad decided to paint the living room. Mom, rightly so, would complain about the bolts in the wall regularly. Dad would just smile and say “What if I need them again if our tree ever falls?” You can’t argue with holiday preparedness like that.

This year as Mom and I sat around the tree opening gifts along with her pup, Sadie, I stared at the areas of that front wall and pictured the spots where the bolts used to be. I thought back to that Christmas and the metal cables sprouting from the trunk of that Christmas tree. It made our Christmas tree look like it had arms, and I could picture that morning as clear as any other.

And I sat there, many years removed from that date, and I chuckled.

I couldn’t help but think of that Christmas-gone-by, and laugh about how perfect it was.

Like all of our Christmases, it was perfect. Perfectly imperfect.

The reality is, Christmases are never 100% perfect. Lights would go out, and Dad would spend hours trying to figure out which strand caused the outing. Ornaments and decorations would break. Toys would be bought, but batteries would be forgotten. And oh, the assembly. My poor Dad would spend hours attempting to decipher instructions and put together ridiculously complicated toys so I could play with them for an hour, get tired of it, and move on to something else.

But those Christmases, with all their imperfections, were absolutely perfect for our family. When Christmas trees came crashing down into the floor of our living room, Christmas was still perfect. When bolts and cables had to hold up our Christmas tree, Christmas was still perfect. When my Dad would buy my Mom ugly pajamas that I knew she didn’t like, Christmas was still perfect. When Dad would take forever to come down the stairs and I would have a near meltdown as I yelled up the stairs and threatened to put myself up for adoption if he didn’t come down within the next seven minutes, Christmas was still perfect.

And although Christmas is so much emptier than it has ever been in the years since losing my Dad, Christmas is still perfectly imperfect.

This year, I experienced my fifth Christmas without my Dad. There are more tears than those other Christmases. There are more unexpected moments of solitude where I have to peel myself away from the frivolity of a family function to cry on my own because of the heartache that I feel. There are moments when the pain is almost unbearable when I think about losing my Dad, and there are moments when I wish that I could give up every gift I’ve ever been given if I could just have one more Christmas with him.

But in spite of all that sorrow and pain, there are also moments of tremendous joy that still exist amidst the grief each and every year since losing him. This year was no exception. There was the excitement I felt when I opened a precious and beautiful nativity scene that my Mom gave me this year. There was the fun of getting to spend Christmas with my girlfriend, Paige, and establishing new traditions, like going to see Christmas plays and coincidentally buying each other the same exact book. There’s the happiness of getting to spend time with each of our families and realize how blessed we all are to have one another. There’s still the twinkling glow of Christmas lights, the sappy songs that play on the radio, and the beauty of an Advent candle burning. Yes, Christmas is different now, and at times it’s very sad. But there are also glimpses of the happiness that once was that I realize still exist and always will.

Perfectly imperfect.

I think that’s the message that God is trying to teach me—the message that he tried to teach all of us two thousand years ago. Think about all the things that were imperfect about the birth of Jesus Christ. “Hey Mary, you’re pregnant. How about a ridiculously long trek on the back of a donkey for a few days?” Hotel after hotel flashes a “No Vacancy” sign until the young, scared, yet faithful couple find refuge in a manger. That’s a fancy was of saying barn. All the usual manger amenities are there—donkeys, sheep, and their “remnants” are scattered across the hay-strewn manger floor. And there, in that imperfect manger, the perfect Son of Man was born, given to the world as a gift—a perfect sacrifice.

Perfectly imperfect.

Just like that first Christmas, every Christmas that came after was full of imperfection. Trees will tip. Cookies will burn. Toys will break. Family members will fight. The lonely will grieve. And in spite of all that imperfection, goodness still exists. Happiness can still be found. Joy still reigns.

God is using the lesson of His Son’s birth, the tipping Bradshaw tree, and every other unplanned and imperfect moment to teach me that, yes, Christmas will have lots of sorrow without my Dad, but it can never put out the light of love that He has given us.

I’ve done my best (not always successfully) to keep finding happiness in these past five Christmases without my Dad. I miss looking over and seeing him on the couch smiling from behind his glasses as he watched me open gifts. I miss Dad laughing at the same parts of A Christmas Story as he watched it on a loop all throughout the day. I miss how much he enjoyed eating the breakfast quiche Mom always made and drinking a few ice cold Coca-Colas to wash it down. I miss his laughs in the morning, his snores during the midday nap, and his “Night, bub. Merry Christmas” as I went off to bed.

I miss those Christmases because I miss him so.

After losing my Dad to suicide, I think about how Christmas may have helped my Dad cope. I’m sure there were many years when his depression was particularly overpowering around Christmas. I also know, in my heart of hearts, that there were many years when a family function, a beautiful Christmas tree, or some delicious Christmas cookies may have helped him overcome that darkness. That’s how powerful a perfectly imperfect Christmas can be. I bet that’s why my Dad loved Christmas so much.

I’ll always miss my Dad. When I am celebrating Christmases in my nineties, I will still cry whenever I see Ralphie shooting his eye out on the screen because I’ll wish my Dad could be there to see it too. I will long for those Christmases when trees fell over, because even in the disastrous moments my Dad and our family always had the faith to find happiness. His untimely and unnecessary death has rocked me to the core, but it will not defeat me. Like that toppling Christmas tree, my Dad would want me to get back up, find my strength, and shine in the midst of tremendous tumult.

During this Christmas I found my own unique ways to grieve, and in all the Christmases to come, I will undoubtedly grieve, and I will cry, and I will hurt. But I will also smile at the memory of a Father I miss desperately, and a Heavenly Father who still gives me reason to celebrate each and every year.

Family Christmas at Church with SB LogoDad, Christmas hasn’t been the same without you. I have such wonderful memories of the special Christmases we spent together as a little family. You bought thoughtful gifts for all of us. You laughed as our family pup would open up gifts, just like you always taught them. You put amazing detail into the wrapping and the decorating, and you had a smile on your face no matter how hectic things got. You made us especially happy around Christmas, but you honestly did that each and every day. Now, your memory and your spirit get us through the tough times and remind us to continue celebrating in spite of our grief. Dad, please continue reminding us how we can make the Christmas season special. Continue watching over us as you rest among the angels. I miss you so much, Dad. I know that I still have many wonderful Christmases ahead of me, but I desperately long for that first Christmas with you in heaven. Until that day when we can celebrate together again, Merry Christmas, bub.

“ So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:4-7 (NIV)

“Let The Young Guys Play: Guest Blog by Dave Hicks

Ty: There is a deep mystery in my life. One that plagues me to this day…

How is it possible that my Dad could raise a son who was such a terrible, horrible athlete?

I’ve written on this topic in a number of different posts, mainly because so many of my childhood exploits involve my failures as an athlete. I should probably link to a post so you can sample it, but it’s impossible to link to so many different stories, because my lack of athleticism has been a frequent topic of conversation on this forum.

This probably surprises you if you knew my Dad, because he was a naturally gifted athlete. My Dad was a super-speedy runner, which served him well at about any sport he tried. My Dad absolutely loved playing basketball. Even as he aged, he could beat most of the younger players up and down the court at our weekly church pick-up games on Monday night. He was a natural wide-receiver for backyard football games because he could outrun any coverage. Even when he played kickball with my neighborhood friends, it was easy to see just how fast he really was. He could scoot around the basepaths quicker than anyone. I guess the moniker “Scooter” was well earned.

More than any sport, however, I think my Dad excelled at baseball and, later in life, softball. I will always remember my Dad as a softball player. From the time I was little, I remember tagging along with him to the North End softball diamonds on Joe Nuxhall Boulevard and watching him play with our church teams. I remember the countless weekend tournaments he played in, usually always playing for a team that had a legitimate shot to win. At least once a week, and usually multiple nights, my Dad was having fun at the softball diamonds: playing in some games, and usually talking with his teammates for hours after.

I, on the other hand, just hoped that if I went with him as a little boy that he would take me for a Flubb’s ice cream afterwards.

Most guys who play softball annoy me beyond belief because they think that being good at softball means being able to hit a ball over the fence (even though it’s an underhand pitch, but I digress…). My Dad, however, took a different approach to the game of softball. Never the power hitter, my Dad learned how to “hit it where they ain’t.” He could place his hits, which is extremely valuable in softball when defense really isn’t a popular option. Then, my Dad would speed around the bases, legging out doubles and triples on a regular basis. In fact, my Dad never hit a homerun over the fence one time in his entire career…but he had a few inside-the-parkers which, in my opinion, is even more impressive.

Where most softball players begin to tire out as they age, my Dad just got better and better. Always wearing an 11 across his back (he only wore numbers that were “symmetrical”), Dad continued to play softball until the week he died. I made it a regular habit to go and watch his games as often as I could (still, secretly, hoping for that ice cream). I look back on the times that I didn’t go to his games for one reason or another, and I wish that I could turn back the clock and see him play once more.

As he got older, however, my Dad did a curious thing. He would take himself out of the lineup. I would show up to his games, knowing he was just as talented as anyone on the field, and I would see him sitting on the bench with his hands by his side in his uniform, watching the game intensely.

When that was the case, I would always go and sit next to him and ask him why he wasn’t playing, and I would always get the same answer from him:

“I’d rather let the young guys play.”

I would shake my head at my Dad and get mad at him when he gave me this answer. Oftentimes, I would look out onto the field and see the player who had taken his position in left center. And usually on cue, that particular player would misplay a routine fly ball or miss the cut-off man on a throw to the infield. It was infuriating because I knew my Dad, even as he aged, was better in every aspect of the game.

Late last week, right when I needed it most, my pastor, Dave Hicks of Walden Ponds Community Church, sent in a story about my Dad using the “Scott Stories” feature at SeeyaBub.com. It gave me a different perspective on why my Dad did what he did, and it reminded me of why he was such a special person. I’d like to let Dave share that memory with you.


Dave: I met Scott Bradshaw in 1987 at a softball tournament in Hamilton, Ohio. I was asked to play with a bunch of guys from his church. It was the first time I played with that team before, so I was a little nervous. I remember being casually introduced to the team by the guy who asked me to play (coincidentally, he was the same guy who set my wife and I up on a date for the first time) and I put my stuff on the bench. I hadn’t warmed up yet, but was too shy to ask any of those guys to throw before the game started. My plan was to just to pretend that my shoes needed to be re-tied so I could keep my head down and wait for the first pitch.

As I was trying to be inconspicuous, Scott came over, introduced himself, and asked if I needed to warm up. I accepted his offer and, at that moment, began a friendship that would last for decades to come.

As I got to know Scott more and more, I noticed that his friendliness to me that summer day was just another day in the life of Scott Bradshaw. I know it sounds like a cliche, but Scott literally never met a stranger. And if you remained in his presence for more than a few minutes, he quickly became someone you wanted to know better.

Scott has his mischievous side, as well. One time, I attempted to install a piece of linoleum in the kitchen of my in-laws’ house. I am not a handy guy at all, but I gave it a shot. When I finished, it couldn’t have been more of a disaster if I had done it blindfolded. My father-in-law called Scott and he came over to help salvage the project. As soon as he arrived, Scott started laughing, along with my father-in-law, at the mess that I had created. And, because it was Scott, I laughed along with him.

You see, a person couldn’t get mad at Scott because you knew it was never malicious. It always came from a place of love. So, from that failed project on, Scott managed to work that story into conversation as often as possible. And, as I did that day, I would laugh with him every time he told it.

Normally, people don’t enjoy being teased. But, today as I remember those moments with Scott, I would give just about anything to laugh with you again, even if it is at my expense. And, I would give anything to be able to say to you, as you always said to your son, Tyler, “Seeya, bub.”


Ty: I look at Dave, who is now the pastor of my church and someone who challenges me to be a better follower of Jesus each and every day, and I see the impact that my Dad made on him. I see how a simple gesture, like saying hello to the new guy on the softball team, could make a huge difference. And it makes me feel bad about ever questioning why he would voluntarily sit out of a game.

To my Dad, softball was fun; but life was always bigger.

My Dad made a habit of letting the young guys play and making them feel welcome on the team because he knew how much it would mean to them to have somebody as good as my Dad give up his spot for them. He was validating them. He was making them feel that they mattered. And he knew that, even if they made mistakes, they needed to play and learn to get better.

But my Dad didn’t just give up his spot for that player. You could watch him and you knew right away that he was making an effort to support and coach that player from the dugout as he sat and watched. If they made a good play, Dad would run out of the dugout during the middle of the inning and give them a high five and a pat on the butt. If they made a mistake, he would talk to them when they came in the dugout and give them some pointers—but people always took his criticism well because they knew it came from a heart that wanted to make them better, not a heart that wanted to show off how much he knew. Dad would shout base-running instructions or coach third base, and even though he wasn’t technically in the lineup, he was still in the game.

I have many words I use to describe my Dad: thoughtful, considerate, kind, loving, hardworking, faithful, hilarious, and many, many more. But if I had to pick just one word, I think that word would be humble. My Dad was well-liked by so many people because he was one of the most humble individuals I’ve ever met. And although there were many places throughout our community where my Dad was well-liked, he was extremely admired by those who played softball with him—and even those he competed against.

The beautiful part about all of this is that my Dad found a way to be humble while never losing his competitive spirit—and never failing to teach those younger players. One of my favorite memories of my Dad is when he played on a church team that had a number of young players (mostly high schoolers) who were some of the most egotistical athletes I have ever seen. They thought that softball would be easy because they had some athletic ability, but time and time again at the plate and in the field they showed athletic ability was not enough to outweigh stupidity (yes, I said it). They swung for the fences every single time…and 90% of the time their swings would end in an easy fly ball for the opposing outfielders. They would make simple base running errors, and my scoresheet was absolutely littered with “E’s” from their mistakes in the field. And they would often violate one of my Dad’s cardinal rules by failing to run out a ball in play regardless of whether or not you were likely to reach first base.

There was one player in particular (I’ll call him Shawn here) who had a sense of arrogance about every single thing he ever did. My Dad would often get frustrated with him because he was living in a dream world in which he thought he was God’s gift to softball. Oftentimes, he was God’s gift to the other team.

One night, Shawn made a comment about how he could outrun my Dad. My Dad just smiled, but then Shawn continued to make the comment. So, having heard enough, my Dad told Shawn he would race him down the line after the game was over. The team gathered eagerly, and I said a quick prayer that Dad wouldn’t injure himself. Shawn ran harder than I had ever see him run in his life once we said “Go!”, but he was still a good two lengths behind my Dad when they crossed the finish line. Shawn’s face was red and strained, but my Dad looked like he was just getting started. He made it look effortless. He did a little strutting and a dance I can still picture today, gave out some high fives, grabbed his ball bag, and we got in the truck. I’ll admit (and ask for forgiveness) that I probably said a few “non-Christian” things about that little jerk adversary on our ride home. But Dad just smiled, knowing he had proven his point without completely humiliating his competitor.

I think my Dad did this, to show that young punk…I mean, child of God, that he wasn’t all he thought he was. My Dad did this not to show him up, but to show him humility. To show him that in life, there is always room for improvement.

My Dad really was playing some of the best softball of his entire life right up until his death. He played with Dave on the Walden Ponds Community Church team, Dave often in left field with my Dad next to him in left center. When the team got word of my Dad’s death, the coach of the team, Mel, went out and bought a bunch of white sweatbands, just like the ones my Dad always used to wear on his arms. Mel sat down and drew the number “11” on each of those sweatbands, and with a heavy heart, the team went out and played for the first time without my Dad—each player wearing those handmade sweatbands.

I have one of those sweatbands that I’ll cherish forever. I have trouble going to softball games now, because it’s just too hard for me to go and look into the outfield and not see my Dad. But I hear memories from people like Dave, and I think back to the numerous people that Dad came in contact with, and I know that he played the game the way it was meant to be played. And I’m not talking about softball. I’m talking about the game of life.

Dad's Softball CollageDad, Even though you weren’t able to mold me into a terrific athlete (yes, I’m going to blame this on you), you never quit teaching me that athletic competition was just a vehicle to deliver some of life’s most important lessons. You taught me about humility, hard work, dedication, courage, and competition. You knew that, when you compete, there are lots of people watching how you react to adverse situations. And you always, always made sure that your character was on display. I wish I had been a better athlete because I wanted to make you proud, but I hope you know how much I enjoyed watching you compete…and how much I desperately wanted to be like you. Dad, you made a tremendous impact on people each and every time you played. Thank you for being a character-giant in my life. Thank you for always giving me a solid example of Christ-centered love to look up to. And thank you, seriously, for putting up with my pathetic arm when we would toss. When I’m perfected in Heaven, our games of toss will be a lot more fun. And until that day, seeya Bub.

“Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the Word should share all good things with their instructor.” Galatians 6:6 (NIV)

 

Dave HicksDave Hicks

Senior Pastor, Walden Ponds Community Church of the Nazarene

Dave serves as the Pastor of Walden Ponds Community Church of the Nazarene, located in Fairfield Township. For decades, Dave has served in youth and adult ministry at the local and district level, preparing the hearts and minds of young Christians, and encouraging them to serve others. Dave’s belief that “God is good, all the time” drives his work in the church, as he continues to grow and serve the local congregation at Walden Ponds with an innovative approach to Christian ministry.

More Than Four Wheels (Part 1)

My best friend Chris and I stood over the opened hood of my 1998 GMC Envoy pretending to know what we were looking at. We knew for sure that the car wouldn’t start…and that was about the extent of our mechanical assessment.

Chris and I were just graduating from Miami, and this night was a rarity for us—we had actually been invited to a party and we had girls to go with us. Those same girls were now sitting impatiently in the backseat of a GMC Envoy that was parked on Bishop Street in Oxford and had no plans of moving from that particular location any time soon.

“I think we’ve almost got it fixed,” I yelled as I poked my head out from underneath the hood, flashing my best smile to our damsels in distress. Both girls smiled and laughed, probably knowing that I was using a liberal application of the word “almost”.

“I have no idea what I’m looking at here,” I said to Chris as we peered over the engine. I probably also added a few additional “adjectives” to help capture my emotions towards the vehicle, the car my Dad had bought for me during my senior year in high school. When he had bought it, I was super excited to have a car with a leather interior, a CD player, heated seats, and a sunroof. Four years and lots of driving, however, had gotten the best of the Silver Bullet. She was exhausted from the over 160,000 miles she had earned. The victim of my Dad’s attempts at numerous repairs had gotten the best of her. And now she was refusing to do the one thing I needed her to do: to start.

So Chris and I did what any college boys trying to impress a couple girls would have done. We took off our button downs, bent over the engine in white t-shirts and jeans, and started banging unmercifully on any piece of the engine that looked like it needed to be hit.

And when that didn’t work, we called my Dad.

Dad had received dozens of these calls over the years. “Dad, I went to get in the car after work and it won’t start.” “Dad, I have to be to class in 15 minutes and my car won’t start.” “Dad, I’m stuck in the middle of Route 4 and my car just died and there is an angry mob with pitchforks and torches ready to flip this hunk of junk if I can’t get it going. I might join them.” He always had a solution, usually something completely outside of my technical understanding of motor vehicles, but more times than not he could tell me what I needed to do to get the car moving, at least temporarily until we could get it to the shop.

But on this night, our call would be different. Memorable, and different.

I dialed his number and told him the story. “Dad, Chris and I and some friends are stuck in Oxford because my car won’t start.”

And then, he did the unthinkable.

He laughed.

“Did you hear me?!” I said, ready to explode. “I said my car won’t start! We are stuck. I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, I don’t know. Do you have the hood open?” he replied.

“Yes, Dad, of course we do.”

“Have you tried banging around on the engine yet?” he said.

“ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?! DAD!”

He laughed even harder. I, on the other hand, found myself within moments of violating a handful of the Ten Commandments in a single response.

“It’s a Friday night. Hang out in Oxford for a bit, try to start it again, and if it doesn’t work you’ll find a way to get home,” he said. “Maybe this is why you don’t get invited to parties that often,” he said in between his maniacal fits of chuckling.

I closed my phone, looked at Chris, and gave the only response I could possibly drum up that would explain the conversation I had just had.

“I think my Dad is on drugs.”

So, Chris and I regrouped and came up with a new plan. We would bang on the engine even harder than we had done the last time, and then we would start feeling around for parts that had popped loose and we would jam them back into the spots where we guessed they probably belonged.

And, miraculously, the car started.

Sometimes, a little dumb luck and advice from your Dad goes a long way.


“I can’t believe you were just going to leave us stranded up there!” I yelled at my Dad after getting home much later than I had originally planned. “You know I’ve got a big day tomorrow, and you were no help at all!”

Dad just sat in his recliner, smiling from ear to ear. He had stayed downstairs watching television, probably falling asleep in the recliner and waking up once he heard me come through the door. I swear I saw popsicle sticks laying on the side table. The audacity! Your only son is stranded and you have the nerve to eat popsicles?!

“You got home alright, didn’t you? Did you bang on it like I told you?” he smirked.

Yes-I-banged-on-it-like-you-told-me-to. And it worked, but that’s not the point!”

“Is the point that you want to thank me for giving you such great mechanical advice?” he said, with that all-familiar smugness of a Father knowing he has his son cornered in an argument he can’t win.

I turned around, face beat red, ears burning, and said “I can’t talk to you when you act like this.”

“We will fix it tomorrow,” he yelled up the stairs. I ignored him and went into my room, slamming the door in an all-to-predictable move for an angry son.

As I stormed up the stairs, I could still hear him laughing to himself in the chair. That laugh would infuriate me more than anything. I was half-tempted to tell him I hitchhiked home with a drug dealer just to see if it would get him to stop laughing.


I hadn’t lied to my Dad when I told him that the next day was a big one. Maybe more busy than big, but jam-packed nonetheless. It was a hot day in the early summer of 2009, and I had classically overcommitted myself yet again. I was scheduled to referee two soccer games in the morning. Then, I had a brief break in the middle of the day before I needed to leave and announce a post-season baseball game. After that, I would have to scurry back home, clean up, and leave again because that night promised to be a special night.

My college graduation party. My Mom and Dad had worked really, really hard to put together a beautiful graduation party for me to celebrate the end of my time as a student at Miami. They had rented out the athletic center at a local school that my Dad had helped to construct. My Mom had ordered a ton of food from my favorite Greek restaurant in town, and had also cooked many more items for everyone to enjoy. They had each set up tables, decorated, set up cornhole boards, hired a DJ, ordered a cake, and done just about everything they could to make this an amazingly special night. They had invited hundreds of our friends, family, and neighbors to come to the party, and I was beyond excited to see everyone.

I got home from the morning soccer games on that Saturday—sweaty, smelly, and overly exhausted. I hopped in the shower, put on some fresh clothes after, and hit the bed for what I hoped would be a brief and refreshing nap. And as soon as I did, I was disrupted.

“Ty,” my Mom said from the bottom of the stairs, “we need you to come outside for a minute. There’s someone here who wants to see you and say hi.”

I immediately felt annoyed. I was tired, and wanted a nap more than anything to prepare for the rest of the day.

“Okay, Mom,” I said. I got up, dragging, and made my way down the staircase.

As I made my way down the staircase, I saw a really sharp black SUV parked in our driveway. I tried to look out the windows in the hopes that I might recognize who it was, but I had no idea. This being my graduation party, I figured it was probably some long lost relative that my Mom and Dad wanted me to meet. Whoever it was, he/she drove a really nice car. I made my way through the foyer, opened the front door, and stood there with a look of shock on my face as I saw who was waiting in the driveway.

It was my Dad, standing next to the black SUV, with a camera in his hand—pointed directly at me.

“Happy graduation, Bub!”

When Dad Gave Me My Car Surprise

When the reality of what was happening actually set in, I completely broke down. I started crying, and I turned around and hugged my Mom, who stood in the doorway right behind me.

“We love you, Ty,” she said. “Happy graduation!”

“Mom, you guys shouldn’t have done this,” I responded, tears already forming.

“Ty, your Dad really wanted to do this for you,” she said.

I ran out into the driveway, and threw myself into my Dad’s arms. He put his camera down and hugged me really tight—I can still feel that hug. “Happy graduation, bub. You’ve made us all really proud, and you deserve this.”

I opened the doors of the new car—my new car–another Envoy, but much sleeker, newer, and reliable than the one I had previously had. It was absolutely beautiful, and it looked brand new. It had everything I wanted in a car. I just couldn’t believe it was actually mine.

Envoy New

Dad had gone the extra mile, as he did with everything in life. He had driven all the way up to Oxford and bought Miami University license plate frames, window decals, and some of my very first Miami “Alumni” items that I ever owned. We walked around the car, checking everything out from top to bottom. The engine grill was mesh and really made the car pop. There wasn’t a scratch to be found on it. The interior was spotless.

When Dad Gave Me My Car

“Want to take it for a quick spin?” Dad said. He tossed me the keys, and of course, he had added a Miami RedHawks key chain to them.

I hopped in the driver’s seat as Dad climbed into the passenger seat and Mom hopped in the back row. I began to drive down the road, shaking my head the entire time and repeating over and over again “I just can’t believe you did this.”

We rolled down the streets of our neighborhood as Dad showed me all of the cool features that the car had. He rolled from the main console to the seat controls and to all of the other things that this car had which my old one didn’t. We rolled down the windows and rode together as a family down Canal Road near our home, basking in the sunlight of a summer day and a boy with fresh wheels.

And then, it hit me.

“THAT’S WHY YOU WERE LAUGHING LIKE A MANIAC WHEN I CALLED YOU LAST NIGHT!”

And there it was again. The same laugh I had heard the night before when I stood over a cold engine on the streets of Oxford. The same laugh that is burned into my senses anytime I think about my Dad now that he is gone. The same laugh that brought me, my family, and anyone who met my Dad such tremendous joy. The laugh that I long, more than anything, to hear again someday.

Yes, the night before when my old car had once again failed to start, my Dad knew all along that he would be giving me a new car the very next day. As a matter of fact, I found out that my Dad was actually cleaning the interior of my new car when I had called him. With a bottle of leather cleaner and a microfiber cloth in hand, Dad was laughing at the irony of the situation—and probably at the thought of how much more I would appreciate the new ride in less than 24 hours.

My Dad understood that for a boy in college (or freshly graduated from it), a car is so much more than four wheels. A car tells a story about the driver. A car is not simply a transportation device to get someone from Point A to Point B. A car has character. A car has its own story to tell. And a car, in my life, represents much more than freedom.

“You’ve worked really, really hard in college,” my Dad told me as we drove around. “I wanted to think of a way for your Mom and I to show you how proud we are of you for working so hard.”

That new Envoy was a trophy. It was a daily reminder, each day that I opened the door, of how proud my Mom and Dad were of me. Every day when I opened that car door, I could feel a sense of happiness, appreciation, and confidence wash over me. It was a daily reminder of the love my parents had made me feel my entire life. And it reminded me of the sacrifice they made—and had always made—to show me how loved I was.

I remember pulling into the parking lot at Foundation Field later that day to announce the baseball game, and the look of surprise from the coaches who saw me roll into the complex in a sleek new ride. They all came jogging out to the spot I parked in (very, very far away from the reach of any particularly pesky foul balls) and put their arm around me when they saw the new car.

“My Dad and Mom gave it to me,” I said proudly as I shook my head. “I still can’t believe it.”

After the game, I drove with a new sense of pride and purpose to my graduation party across town. Dad made me park the Envoy right out in front of the door, and he went back to work on my new gift—polishing, cleaning, waxing, and perfecting. Apparently, Dad had told a number of people that we worked with what he was getting me for a graduation gift—it was amazing that his secret actually stayed a secret!

That car became a reminder of my Dad each and every time I opened the door and sat behind the wheel. He had found the car from an old coworker and friend and bought it while it didn’t have many miles on it. Even though it had miles, it looked brand new. He had come up with the idea of getting me a car for graduation, and convinced my Mom that it would be a great idea.

And then, when my Dad passed away, it became a tangible reminder of his love for me. Daily, that car would bring me back to happier times when my Dad was here to love all of us in person—but it also reminded me that he was still loving me and my Mom and our entire family from the other side of Eternity. After he was gone, I often that back to that day when I stepped out of our front door and saw him standing there with a camera. It’s a memory, thankfully, that is burned in my mind forever. I’ll never forget the feeling my parents gave me that day, and I’ll never quit seeing the smile on my Dad’s face.

But even the very best cars that are gifted from loving parents will break down over time. The interior will dirty and the engine will fail, and there will always come a time when that car is no longer as functional as it was before.

But how do you let go of a car that is more than four wheels? A car that is a gift from a Father who is no longer there? A car that is a physical reminder of the Dad who raised me, loved me, and taught me how to drive and so much more?

I’ll tell you how I let go next week in the conclusion of this story.

dad-in-redhawks-sweater-with-sb-logoDad, I still remember that Saturday afternoon when you and Mom gave me the new Envoy for graduation. I remember the smile on your face when you saw me come outside. I remember that you took so many pictures, and I remember how happy you were to show me every detail and feature the car had to offer. I cherished that car and I will always cherish that day. You made that entire day so special, but more than any tangible gift you ever gave me, you always told me how proud you were of me. I never told you how much confidence that gave me and how your belief in me helped me overcome so many obstacles. After you left, there were so many days where I would just hop in the car, drive down the road, and reminisce about the day you gave it to me. You blessed me with so many gifts in this life, and I am eagerly waiting for the day when I can see you and thank you again. Until then, seeya Bub.

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

Friendship Through Fire: Guest Blog by Chris Beatty

Ty: “Have you talked to Chris lately?”

My Dad would always ask this question, knowing darn well what the answer was before he even asked it. Chris and I hadn’t talked in a long while.

And that, in and of itself, was extremely unusual. There was a period of time when Chris and I would have called each other three or four times throughout the day to share a joke, tell a story, or just chat. Chris Beatty and I had been the best of friends for many years. The type of friends who were completely inseparable. We spent nearly every night we could hanging out, going to country concerts, and commiserating over our inability to talk to women. Now, it had been months since I had even heard from Chris. We let a disagreement get the best of us, and now it was showing our worst.

“You know, you really should call him. Life’s too short,” my Dad would always say. I had no idea at that time just how short life could truly be.

But I was stubborn and I was afraid to admit that I had made a terrible mistake and sinned against my fellow man—and not just any fellow man. My best friend. I was too arrogant to pick up the phone and call him. I let anger consume me for no reason other than haughty self-righteousness, and it was tearing my heart to pieces. I was too ego-conscious to drive over to his house and say I was sorry. I was too focused on myself to focus on God and what He wanted me to do to repair this friendship. And I let self blind me to everything that was important in life.

Even in the immediate aftermath of my Dad’s death, I had people telling me that my God could take horrible situations and make something good out of them. That even in the midst of tremendous, lifelong heartache, God can create brightness. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, God would be able to take this pain and bring His people closer together.

“Well, God,” I thought, “you’ve got your work cut out for you on this one.”


Chris: I was driving home the night I got the call.  In her most comforting, yet emptied and wounded tone, my mom asked me if I could pull off to the side of the road because she had something ‘very important’ to tell me.  This was a tone in which I have never heard from my mom’s voice, so I ‘pulled off’ the highway and prepared myself for the coming words that would change my life, forever.

“Chris, baby I don’t how to tell you this.  Scott passed away.  I don’t know all of the details, but he committed suicide.”

My body went numb.  Honest to God, I literally pinched myself twice to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.  It was at that point, that I really did pull off I-71N to clear my blurred vision from the tears that had cascaded my eyes.  After gaining my composure, and taking a few deep breaths, I did something that I couldn’t bring myself to do for last 2 years.  I swallowed my pride, dialed those 7 numbers that I still had memorized, and waited in anticipation for a familiar voice on the other side…

For those of you that don’t know, Ty and I met each other in Mrs. Hopkin’s 2nd grade class at Fairfield North Elementary.  Since 9th grade, we have been best friends, and often mistaken for lovers by many.  I guess going out with your buddy for ice-cream on a Friday night might’ve been the wrong play when trying to pick up girls.  Ty and I share countless memories, many of which his dad played a part in.

Of all the memories, my personal favorite was when Ty and I started a business one summer, called Beatty & Bradshaw Landscaping.  Scotty let me use his truck to pull out all the stumps and bushes from the ground.  He also let us use his chainsaw, flame thrower, pressure washer, and Cub Cadet riding mower!  I forgot to mention, all his tools were brand name and looked legit, which in turn, made us feel like real men.

*Side note: During our 2 years as business owners, Beatty & Bradshaw Landscaping had 1 client and 2 total invoices.  We later liquidized all assets of the company and took up poker instead.  That, too, was a failed venture.

beatty-and-bradshaw-landscaping

Admittingly, I am a prideful person.  Prideful to the point in which I squandered a lifelong friendship with Ty over something trivial.  During our 2-year sabbatical from each other, a lot happened in our lives.  We got real jobs; we each bought houses; I got married.  In planning my wedding, there were some important questions…location, church, venue, colors, wedding party, honeymoon, etc.  Up until that point, I had one obvious choice as my best man.  Despite desperate attempts from my future wife and family to bring us back together, my pride restricted my ability to pick up the phone and make things right with Ty.  As the wedding planning proceeded, Ty was not my best man. He nor his family were invited to celebrate the best day of my life.  That decision was a life lesson that I learned the hard way.

Two years later…

Anxiously dialing Ty’s number, a number I had dialed so many times before, a calmness and a sense of compassion that only God can give someone filled my entire body.  I heard Ty’s voice, but it was just his voicemail.  I have no recollection of what I said, but in my most sympathetic tone, I asked him to call me.

It was the next day, I was about to walk into my office, and I saw those 7 familiar numbers pop up on my phone that I had answered so many times before.  I can’t recall what Ty even said to me, but it didn’t matter.  Differences aside, I knew this was the moment that Ty needed his brother.  I cancelled all my meetings and raced to his house, which I realized was the same yard where we completed our 2 landscaping jobs at Beatty & Bradshaw Landscaping.  Talk about poetic justice.

I remember apprehensively walking up to his door and thinking about what I wanted to say and how I was going to say it.  How do you approach someone who you’ve known since you were 7, yet completely shut out of your life for the past 2 years, who just tragically lost his father?

God has a great way of working things out for you when you put your trust in Him.  I walked inside and Ty greeted me with the most exposed, regretful, and heartbroken hug I’ve ever received.  I spent so much time rehearsing what I would say and how I would apologize.  Instead, we hugged each other and sobbed in each other’s arms for what seemed like an hour. It was at that point that every chain and shackle had been lifted off both of our stubborn hearts.

My greatest life lessons have always been learned the hard way, and this was no exception.  It took a tragedy to bring my brother and I back together.  Since that day, Ty and I have picked up where we left off; going to Red’s games, eating at Buffalo Joe’s and ordering extra blue cheese, singing every word to “We Rode in Trucks,” in Scotty’s GMC Silverado, and yes, still going out for Graeter’s black raspberry chip ice cream.  In fact, we recently checked off a life-long bucket list item the other night when we went to go see Garth Brooks in concert.  It was such an honor to share that experience together because we both had that same dream since we were 7 years old.

Pride blurred my vision, causing me to view myself in a distorted reality.  Pride shields sin as strength and steadfast.  I am so thankful that my God forgives me for my transgressions.  If someone tells you that a burnt bridge will never be built again, or forgiveness isn’t possible, I can tell you differently, in ways not a lot of people can.  While Ty and I will never get those 2 years back, I’m excited to open new chapters where I can be a part of the memorable moments in his life.

I know Scotty is smiling up there seeing his two boys back in action again.

Thanks, Scotty.  I love you, man.  I’ll thank you again in person one day, but until then, Seeya Bub.

opening-day


Ty: Dad, Your death created a lot of heartache in my life that still continues today. But I’m also amazed how God was able to take this horrible situation and shine a light in other areas. I know that you are happy looking down and seeing Chris and I have mended our friendship. If it was possible, I think we’ve become even better friends than we ever were, because we know what truly matters—and Dad, you taught us that. You taught us that forgiveness isn’t an option, and that love for your fellow man is what matters at the end of this life. Chris and I are both able to cherish the example you set for what it means to be a friend to someone, and we are thankful that you are still watching over us, at times laughing with us and other times at our stupidity. I have no doubt that God has his hand over our friendship, and I have no doubt that you are there right next to Him, watching along and smiling at your boys. We miss you terribly, Dad, but we will see you again soon when we can all laugh together forever and ever. Until then, seeya Bub.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

chris-beatty-headshotChris Beatty

Chris Beatty is the Sr. Vice President of Business Development at Hyur Staffing Services, LLC., specializing in customized recruitment and staffing support.  Chris graduated from Miami University (Oxford, OH) obtaining his B.S. in Marketing from the Farmer School of Business.  He is also a member of Inner Circle Cincinnati, Inc., a 501©3 non-profit organization and men’s ministry devoted to turning lukewarm Christian men into spiritually mature disciples and leaders.

Olives

To say that my Dad was a terrible cook is a gracious understatement.

dad-turned-around-in-chair-with-sb-logoOf all the talents that God gave my Dad—and he gave him many—cooking was not one of them. As a youngster, my Dad often worked second or third shifts, which meant he would usually pick me up from A.M. kindergarten. We typically arrived home around noon, and I had always worked up a healthy appetite from all the finger painting and make-believing that had occurred that morning. After getting home, Dad would head into the kitchen to embark on a culinary expedition, perusing the items in the fridge and freezer, but always deciding on the same entrée for our lunch menu…

Corn dogs.

Yes, corn dogs. An American classic with all the nutritional value one can pack into cured and processed meat. Dipped in batter. Deep friend. Frozen. Packaged. Transported. Microwaved. And heartily consumed, usually covered in mustard.

Yes, corndogs are usually individually wrapped with heating instructions on each package, but even as a youngster part of me secretly worried that Dad was still going to burn them.

I once heard a rumor that he burned soup. I don’t even know how that happens, or whether or not it’s true. But if anyone could burn soup, I think my Dad was the guy to figure out how.

When he would grill burgers or hot dogs or steaks on our back patio, you had two temperature options to choose from: “well done” and “I didn’t know steaks could char that much”.

As I grew up, Dad’s cooking skills didn’t get any better, which was mostly a result of his not needing to know how. I rarely saw him in the kitchen, unless it was to reheat something my Mom had made us. Thankfully, for our entire family, my Mom has always been an outstanding cook—and I mean truly outstanding. I was fortunate enough that my corn dog lunches were always supplemented with something delicious on the dinner table made by my Mom each night. From lasagna and casseroles to childhood staples like burgers and tacos, Mom always knew how to satisfy our tastes. I hate meatloaf, but even her meatloaf is good (when she leaves the ketchup off, that is). Her desserts, especially the chocolate strawberry pie that Dad and I would devour together within hours of Mom cooking it, were next-level extraordinary. My Dad always made sure to tell me how smart he was for choosing a wife who was such a tremendous cook. I argued it was more lucky than smart, but it was probably a bit of both.

All of this created a bit of a problem, however, on the nights when Mom wasn’t home. There was always the rare occasion that Mom had to work late, or had plans to go out to dinner with friends or family, leaving her boys stranded and empty-stomached. Dad’s lack of cooking acumen left us only one real option. There’s a void that’s created when you love to eat but can’t cook that can only be solved with one solution—going out to eat. It usually didn’t take us long to decide…

“Hey boy, want to go get dinner at LaRosa’s?”

For those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to live in the dining mecca that is Southwestern Ohio, LaRosa’s is a Greater Cincinnati pizza chain of epic proportion. LaRosa’s has always been one of my favorite pizza spots, and my Dad felt the same way. Whenever he and I would grab dinner together, LaRosa’s was nearly always our first choice. We would slam back Cokes (his regular, mine diet), order calzones or pizzas and a salad, and enjoy a meal with one another. It was a tradition that I loved, and one that is desperately missing in my life after Dad.

As much as he loved the pizza and calzones, and as many Cokes as he might have drank, I think Dad’s favorite part of the meal was always the salad. Ironic coming from the man who based my entire childhood noontime diet on battered hot dogs on a stick, but yes, the salad was always his favorite. He told me time and time again over our dinners that his favorite salad was the one from LaRosa’s. A bed of green lettuce, shredded mozzarella cheese, diced tomatoes, red onion rings, olives (one black, one green), croutons, and dressing (Dad went with French, I usually went with Ranch). It was always a great combo to go along with a hot pizza.

larosas-salad

The salad was great, but I particularly disliked two of the ingredients: the tomatoes, and the olives. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never liked raw tomatoes. I don’t eat them on burgers, tacos, nachos, and the thought of ever eating a slice of tomato completely on its own makes me nauseas as I type. The tomatoes at LaRosa’s were particularly pesky because they were always diced. I always asked them to leave off the tomatoes, but if they forgot it would take me a good twenty minutes to pick them all out of my salad.

After the tomatoes, I always directed my scorn at the olives. Whether black or green, I showed no discrimination in my hatred and utter contempt for olives. I’ve tried them from time to time, and each time I attempt to stomach one, I am overcome by how such a little morsel can pack such an overwhelmingly disgusting flavor.

My Dad liked tomatoes, but he absolutely loved olives. Not just at LaRosa’s, but anywhere. If we were at a party with a vegetable tray, Dad could decimate a bowl of olives in just a few minutes. He would pop them like Skittles while I looked on with utter disdain. He would eat them at the house as a snack, which is shocking considering we had so many better snacks than that in our house for him to eat. When we ate together at Grecian Delight, one of our all-time favorite restaurants located in Middletown, Dad would savor the Greek olives that were in his salad, even with those annoying pits.

For Dad, olives were a precious treasure. The fact that he got not one but two on his salads at LaRosa’s made him almost giddy.

And thanks to his son’s hatred of those tiny morsels, Dad actually got four olives every time we went to LaRosa’s instead of two.

Whenever we went to LaRosa’s together, I always ordered my salads without tomatoes; but because the olives were easy enough to pick out of my salad without contaminating its overall flavor, I would always allow the servers to put the olives on my salad. Once they sat the bowls down on the table, my process was always the same—I would pluck the olives from my salad, put them on a plate, and slide them over to my Dad. He would always smile, offer a “Thanks, Bub”, and eat them with glee. I could see him eyeing them the second they sat my bowl down, and I would never disappoint him.

But sometimes, the smallest of vegetables (or are they fruits?) can cause a tremendous amount of pain.

One evening shortly after Dad’s death, Mom and I decided to get LaRosa’s takeout for dinner. We ordered our dinners, and I drove to the restaurant to pick them up. After returning home with boxes in hand, we set the table with our meals in the bright, windowed sunroom of our family home. We had done this so many times before, but this particular time there was a noticeable and looming absent place setting at the table next to me. That table felt vacant and empty, but I was afraid to say anything to my Mom about how I was feeling for fear that I might upset her.

Mom and I sat down together, justifiably more quiet than we typically were, as this was one of our first meals alone together without Dad. We were trying to preserve any semblance of normalcy that we could in a new world for us that felt so different and so much emptier than it had been.

I sat down to eat my meal, opening boxes and taking off container lids. I moved from my calzone to my salad, and after opening the lid and shaking up my dressing, I did something I had done during so many meals before.

I picked out the olives, put them on a plate, and instinctively pushed them away from me towards the spot where my Dad always sat.

I didn’t even realize what I was doing in that moment. I was so used to removing the olives and giving them to Dad that my body had trained itself to do this involuntarily, even when he wasn’t there to take them.

Immediately, a flood of emotion overcame me—intense and uncontrollable. I felt a wave of tears overtaking me, and before I knew it, my head fell into my hands and it took everything in me to not collapse in my seat. I broke down at the table, sobbing, with two small olives sitting on a plate in front of me.

Without hesitation, Mom got up from her seat and made her way over to me. I didn’t even have to say a word. She knew right away what was going on. She knew that for years I had always passed my olives to Dad, and now I would never be able to do that again. Mom, crying along with her son, put her arm around me and just said “I know how much you miss him, Ty. I miss him, too.”

I couldn’t stop the crying, all because of two seemingly inconspicuous olives.

Although my response isn’t as intense, I still think of my Dad every time I pick those olives out of my salad. I don’t break down and cry each time, but I still think about him and long for the days when I could pass them over to him. Now, I try to order my salad without the olives to avoid some of the pain, but I still think of him each time I go to LaRosa’s. Because it was such a special place for the two of us, I just can’t envision a day where I’ll ever go to LaRosa’s without thinking of my Dad.

But olives aren’t the only foods that make me think of him—there are so many more. I can’t eat a corn dog without thinking of a simpler life that existed when I was much younger and my Dad was an invincible hero. Even a kid gets tired of eating corn dogs, but I wish I could go back and live in those days forever.

Whenever I make a bag of popcorn, I’m reminded of him. It was his late-night snack of choice, and the smell that invades my house from the microwave makes me remember him. I’ve never been a big fan of popcorn, but every now and then I will make a bag at home and eat a few kernels just to remember him.

We used to fight over pints of Graeter’s black raspberry chip ice cream in the freezer. On occasion, Mom would splurge and buy us each a pint, which would last any normal person a week or so if they ate an appropriate serving each night. It was a miracle if our pints survived for 24 hours. If I was feeling particularly pesky, I would stake my claim by digging my spoon into his pint before he could get to it. It was a solid attack because Dad was such a germophobe that he would never think about eating a pint of ice cream that I had defiled—even if it was Graeter’s.

Now, I get all the pints of ice cream to myself—but I would give anything to have to share them with him once again.

The death of a loved one creates a weird phenomenon where the most seemingly insignificant aspects of life and our relationship take on an entirely new meaning. Mundane things, like olives in a salad, become symbols and reminders of the love we’ve lost and the pain we experience. But for me, those olives have also become subtle reminders that I had an amazing Father who made a tremendous impact on me for the 26 years we spent on this earth together. Whether it’s olives or popcorn, corn dogs or ice cream, I’ve found ways to cherish the positive memories associated with those foods. And the progress I’ve made from tears to treasured memories is evidence that God works in all things—even if it’s something as seemingly regular as the food we eat. I’ve always associated food with great memories, and God knows me better than anyone. I’m amazed at how He has been able to comfort me when something as insignificant as an olive causes my emotions to overtake me. And I’m reminded of this profound truth: If He cares about me in a moment as mundane as a meal, then I have to believe He cares about the big challenges of life without my Dad just as much.

Dad and I always enjoyed our meals together, and now I have to enjoy them differently while remembering all of the great ones we shared together. There are nights when I eat alone, and I’ll often look across the table and see my Dad smiling there after a hard day’s work. I’ll see him pouring a Coke (or two) into his glass of ice. I’ll see him smiling and laughing about something I said. I’ll see him thoroughly enjoying the food he’s eating, but even more I’ll see him cherishing the people he’s eating with. I’ll look across that empty table, and every now and then I can picture him popping an olive into his mouth—and I smile. I’ve still never acquired his taste for olives, and I don’t think I ever will. But I have learned to be grateful for all of the wonderful meals we shared together, and I’ve accepted the fact that olive-induced tears are my way of saying how much I miss my Dad.

Dad, I’m grateful that you always made it a priority to share a meal together. A weeknight dinner at LaRosa’s just isn’t the same without you. Every time I go to Graeter’s for a dip of black raspberry chip, which is way more often than I should, I think of you. Certain foods make me miss you tremendously, and the heartache of losing you so unexpectedly is sometimes too much for me to take. But you taught me to enjoy good food and good company. You taught me to share a meal with the people I love whenever I had the chance, and your inspiration continues to guide my life each and every day. You taught me that life is never too busy for a pizza and a fun night together. I’m looking forward to the day when I can pass my olives across the table to you once again. Until then, seeya Bub.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

Playing Catch

I love the sound of a baseball hitting a glove on a good throw. Not the kind of throws I usually make, but the throws my Dad made. POP. POP. POP. POP. Back and forth, on and on and on. Well, our throwing sessions were more like “Pop” (his throw), “Thud” (my throw). Pop, Thud. Pop, Thud. Pop, Thud.

On and on and on this went, most nights of the week after dinner. Although I wasn’t a great athlete, I could manage to throw a baseball back and forth from a stationary position. And I loved everything about it.

I should probably spend some time expanding on this whole “not a very good athlete” moniker. In reality, I was a terrible athlete. No matter how hard I tried, and no matter how much I may have loved sports, God chose not to bless me with athletic ability or the perseverance to train hard enough. And when I say terrible, I mean terrible…across the board. It wasn’t just baseball, which I promptly retired from once they started throwing the ball at you instead of putting it on a tee. It was basketball, which I played for 3 years and never scored a bucket. It was soccer, which I was moderately functional at if they allowed me to be a keeper. On the hardwood, the basepaths, or the field, one thing was always consistent…I would give it a shot, and it wouldn’t go well.

Which is surprising that my parents were willing to suffer through the humiliation of watching their athletically inept son suffer so many setbacks, often times with our family name stitched on the back of my jersey. My parents even went so far as to support me publicly. You know those buttons you can order from the team photographer that have your headshot on them? I almost expected to show up at games and see my parents wearing buttons of other kids on the team. That’s how bad I was. But they never did. Even in front of people, they wanted folks to know that I was their son, and no matter how bad I was, I would always be their son, and they would always be my parents, and I would always be loved.

And I knew I was loved by the fact that no matter how errant my throws, my Dad still made it a point on most nights to ask me if I wanted to go play catch, long into my twenties, even after he had worked a long day in exhausting heat. My Dad worked as a maintenance technician in a steel plant (which he loved), and on some nights, even though I knew he would have preferred a quick nap after dinner instead, he would ask if I wanted to toss, go grab his glove, and meet me out in the sideyard.

On the topic of that sideyard…it wasn’t technically our sideyard. It was our frontyard, which bled into the sideyard of our neighbors. If you threw property lines out the window, it was a perfect place to toss. The houses were out of range from any of my misguided throws. They were also out of reach from any of my Dad’s perfect throws that would miss my glove because of my previously detailed athletic struggles. The grass was always well kept by both homeowners, and of the utmost importance, our neighbors willingly allowed us to take over their yard, if only for a few minutes each night, so our games of catch could continue.

I loved those nights. Those perfect summer nights, sweat dripping down our brows, the pop-pop-pop echoing down our lazy suburban street. But as much as I enjoyed hearing that perfect pop in my glove, I actually lived for the moments in between the pops. The conversation between a father and son, each one living a different life but connected in a way that only a father and son could quite understand. We would talk about anything. And everything. When I was in high school, we would talk about my classmates, the funny things that happened after school, and my ongoing struggles with girls. When I moved on to college we laughed about crazy things happening within our family, my academic endeavors at Miami University, my ridiculously busy schedule, and my ever-present struggles with girls. And when I graduated from Miami and started my career, we would talk about the difficulties I faced transitioning from a student into a professional, my desire to go on to graduate school, things I needed advice on like money and cars, and my ever-present struggles with girls. The conversation changed over the years, but one thing never did—and I’m not talking about the struggles with girls. I’m talking about our love for one another and interest in each other’s lives.

You might think that growing into adulthood would slowly strangle a boy’s desire to play catch with his Dad; but if anything, as life becomes more complex and the world becomes more suffocating, what a boy longs for most is to return to a time when all you had to do was play catch. All you had to do was keep your eye on the ball, let your glove bring it to a stop, make a solid throw back, and position yourself to do it all over again. When you’re a kid, you think that those games of catch will never end. When you’re an adult and you realize that each time you play catch is one moment closer to your last, you panic. And you do anything you can, anything you have to, to grab onto those moments and never let them go. If your arm is tired, you grimace and keep throwing. If it’s growing dark, you squint and hope you can still see the ball. You hope and pray for a stronger arm and a sun that never sets, so those games of catch never have to stop.

Which explains why I did something unthinkable, something unreasonable, and something that seemed entirely foolish. I lived with my parents for a few years after college, because working in education isn’t as lucrative as…well, most anything else. But I had saved, and I knew I wanted to buy a home.

I looked at a number of different spots, and even made a few offers on different homes, and just when I thought I might cool my jets on the home search, an interesting home came on the market. The house right next door—yes, the house with the sideyard that my feet knew all too well—was up for sale.

Well, it actually wasn’t up for sale to just anyone. Those same neighbors who had graciously allowed our games of catch to continue hadn’t put the house on the market just yet. But they knew I was looking, so they had my Dad relay a message. He came home one night after a bike ride he had taken (too often by himself), and said, “I know you probably don’t want to live next to your Old Man, but the neighbors wanted me to let you know that if you’re still looking for a house that they’d be interested in selling theirs to you.”

I went over that very evening to talk with our neighbors about buying the house next to my parents. They took me through the small brick ranch, walking me through each of the rooms and all of the great amenities the house offered. I knew that I would have a lot of painting ahead of me, and the yard had grown completely out of control, but no feature inside the house could dare stack up to the property itself. Once and for all, I could own that sideyard. I could call my Dad any time I wanted. He would walk out into his yard, and I would walk out into mine. And we would just toss. And the world would be right.

So I made an offer. Probably not a fair offer considering the market value of the house, but the only offer I could make. An offer made by a young man just a few years out of college, trying to get ahead in life but too enticed by the allure of “things” and “stuff” to have a considerable savings. I left the house thinking “They’ll never take it. I’ll have to keep looking. Wow—you even asked them to leave all the appliances at that price?! What were you thinking?” Disappointment was beginning to set in.

I love when God defies your expectations. I’ll never forget the message I received the next day from the owner, Steve. “Beth and I talked, and we want to accept your offer for the house. We really feel like God is telling us that if we are going to sell the house, we need to sell it for you. Let us know what we need to do to get the process rolling.” To this day, I know that it was God telling them to sell the house, because they couldn’t possibly have seen the building tsunami that would come my way, but He saw it all along.

I called my Mom and Dad, and shared the news the same way with each of them. “Well, it looks like you’re going to have another horrible neighbor.” I could tell they were both excited, each for different reasons. There was something reassuring about knowing I was going to venture out on my own, but I was venturing close enough that if a pipe burst, or an appliance broke, or if I needed to borrow a lawnmower, the kind folks next door would always love me enough to help me through.

And deep down, as much as I may have bought the house for the low interest rate and the instant equity…I bought it because I wanted to keep playing ball with my Dad.

And boy did we play. There was something freeing about knowing I now owned the sideyard, so we tossed more than we ever had before once I took ownership of the house. In fact, we played the very night I closed on the house—just because we could. It was the only proper celebration I could envision. Yes, there was plenty of work to be done on the house. Yes, there were rooms to paint and weeds to pull. But more importantly, there was catch to be played. And that mattered more than anything.

The conversations that we had always had continued too, even though the content had changed since I was now a homeowner. We talked a lot about ways we could now improve our games of catch: keeping the grass cut a bit shorter, possibly adding a few lights in the yard, cutting down a few tree limbs. At one point, we had even made up our mind that the bumpy and uneven terrain of the sideyard required an entire regrading. We were preparing to tear up the entire thing, truck in dirt, relevel, replant, and re…watch it grow. We continued to talk about work, and school, and yes, my still ever-present struggles with girls. I always joked with Dad that buying a house next to my parents was never going to help me land a girlfriend, but he insisted that when those girls took one look at him and saw what I could look like when I grew up, they’d be hooked like never before. So I would remind him that he was bald, and had been since the age of 30. And of course, he would remind me “Yeah, but I make bald look good, boy.”

So it continued. Pop, thud. Pop, thud. Pop, thud. Night after night after night after night. We cherished those moments, enjoyed them more than any other part of our days.

And now, I cherish them more than I ever did because I haven’t played catch in that sideyard for two years. Instead, I find myself in that sideyard in the middle of the night, with nothing but the moon and the occasional passing car. The terrain is still bumpy, because we never got a chance to embark on our ambitious regrading project, and the moon provides the only shine because we never installed those lights. Instead, it’s the same grass I’ve always known, but it’s often wet at 1-or-2 o’ clock in the morning. Oftentimes, I lay in that wet grass and look skyward, knowing not whether my face is wet from the grass or the flood of tears that stream down. Sometimes, I talk. Other times, I listen. Hoping and praying I’ll hear that “pop” again. But I only hear it in my memories, in my dreams. I only hear an imaginary “pop”—never the real thing. The sideyard that was once a stadium of backyard heroes is now a memorial to summertime fun lost forever. And on bad nights it’s the new sounds, the sounds of horror and heart-wrenching disaster, that drown out the “pops” that I so desperately long to hear again.

I would do anything to play catch with my Dad again. I would do anything to relive the entire experience. I don’t know if it’s theologically sound, but when I think of Heaven and the life to come, I often think that a lot of my time will be spent playing catch with my Dad. We will talk, and laugh, and even in Heaven where life should be perfect, I’ll probably still be a terrible athlete. But none of that will matter, because I’ll be spending time with my Dad.

So Dads, keep playing catch with your sons. And sons, keep playing catch with your Dads. And no matter how old you get or how tired your arm may be, don’t ever stop playing. The time to toss will eventually come to an end, but the memories you’ll create with each and every throw will live with you forever.

Dad, I hate to tell you this, but my arm hasn’t gotten any better since you left. I’ve tossed a handful of times since you died, but never in that sideyard. That sideyard is hallowed, sacred ground for me because it’s where I feel your presence most. When I step out in that sideyard, I can still hear the pop of the glove, but more importantly, I hear your laugh. We had so much fun on so many summer nights, even if I wasn’t a shadow of the athlete you were. Thanks for being a dad who was never too tired, too old, or too busy to play catch with his son. More than anything, I am longing for the days where you and I can toss forever and never grow tired—of the activity or the conversation. Until then, seeya bub.

“Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not turn away from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (GW)

Great Days

At the age of 26, I never thought I’d have to tell people that one of my parents had passed away. Even more, I never thought I would have to explain that my Dad, a constantly happy and smiling man, was a victim of suicide. That he struggled against depression and had many dark days that most people never saw. Often times, it just doesn’t compute because the people who knew my Dad never saw him struggle. And I’ll admit…there are a lot of days where it doesn’t make sense to me either. But explanation or not, the pain is real. There is a unique pain that emerges when a boy loses his father, and the greater the man the greater the void is left when he’s gone.

I created this blog knowing full-well that I could never tell my Dad’s story. He is the only one who could ever tell that. Instead, I wanted to tell my story of my Dad. I wanted to talk about what it was like having a father who embodied everything a good father should, but who struggled with an illness that he couldn’t control. I wanted to tell the story of an amazing Dad. I wanted to give our friends and family an opportunity to relive the excitement and fun he brought to all of our lives, and introduce an amazing man to millions of other people who never knew him. I wanted readers to know Scott Bradshaw. And I wanted readers to know how much I love him.

You can’t understand this story unless you understand the man who inspired it. I’m a little overwhelmed when I sit back and think about all of the great things I will have to tell you about him, because a man who lived a life as full as my Dad has a lot to share. No matter the story, however, there is always one common theme. When I think of my Dad, no matter what image of him is conjured up, I can always hear his laugh or see his smile. My Dad was a laugher, and if you know that, you understand his outlook on life and the way he chose to live. I don’t often picture my Dad on that last “bad day”. I picture him during the thousands of good days that came before.

I say “good days”, but they were really “great” days. Days where you laughed at the silliest and corniest jokes (after a few heavy sighs and eye rolls, of course). Days where the troubles of the world faded away because of some funny prank my Dad had played on a coworker. Days where he would talk in a funny voice at dinner. Days where you went to bed with a smile on your face, even though everything that would come at you the next day might only bring sadness and despair. My Dad had a unique way of bringing light to dark situations—an eternal optimism that I was always envious of.

You’ve seen the Disney movie Inside Out, right? It’s one of my favorites, and I couldn’t help but think of my Dad throughout the movie. The film tells the story of an adolescent named Riley, but as the title infers, it tells the tale from inside her mind using one of the most creative psychological metaphors I have ever seen. The movie is set inside Riley’s brain, and the main characters are her five primary emotions: Fear, Anger, Disgust, Sadness, and the ringleader, Joy. The characters each have their own way of directing young Riley’s actions and behaviors, and with each interaction they create a memory. Riley’s mind is made up of “personality islands”, different dimensions that create her personality and dictate her behavior. At the outset of the movie, Riley has five primary personality islands: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island, and (Joy’s favorite) Goofball Island. Each island has a unique resemblance to an amusement park, and the more active the island, the more you see these personality traits exhibited in Riley’s behaviors.

I’m sure there is a more sophisticated way of explaining this, but consider the mental capacity of the author of this post. My Dad’s Goofball Island was on constant overdrive. It was the part of his personality that was most unique, but also the most dominant. Jokes, pranks, jabs, unexpected silliness, and funny stories were the tools he kept at hand for ready disposal. And this made him such a fun person—the type of person everyone else always wanted to be around.

Even before I had my own memories, my Dad was a comedian. In lieu of memories, I have photos and a few videotapes that prove my point—and even as a baby, you can tell I was captivated by his fun-loving nature. On the tape of my first birthday party, there is a segment (that goes on entirely too long) where my Dad sits on the floor operating the camera as I crawl around his legs. Shortly after he hit “Record” to capture my crawling, I notice his shoes and am drawn to them like a magnet. After a few moments of contemplation, the baby version of me attacks the toe of his shoe—with my mouth. Blame it on teething, or extremely tasty leather, but I tried to fit as much of my Dad’s shoe in my mouth as humanly possible (Maybe this was an early warning to my parents for all the “foot in mouth” moments I would have throughout the years…). Rather than scold me to remove the shoe from my mouth, my Dad lets me chew on his loafers and makes it into a funny game (Health inspectors and social workers, please hold your comments). As soon as I bit into his shoe, my Dad would shake his foot rapidly and let out a howl of over-exaggerated pain. On the first go round, Baby Me pulls back for a moment and stares at my Dad in confusion. But sensing a repeat performance, I let out a small giggle, and nervously go back for a second helping of black shoe leather, keeping an apprehensive eye on Dad the entire time, waiting for the next outburst. Once again, my Dad would rattle his foot and scream a fake scream, and my laughing would amplify. I have a feeling that, had my Mom been around, there would have been a severe (and justified) directive to stop letting the baby lick a dirty shoe. With health precautions thrown out the window, my Dad goes on doing this for at least ten minutes, with my laughter growing more and more intense with each continued mouthful of sole. And my Dad, always the entertainer, never gets tired of the act, as long as his audience kept laughing.

Beyond the infamous “shoe chew”, my Dad also had an entire repertoire of other tactics to induce hysterical laughter from the belly of his only child. One of his mainstays was a family room floor version of bull riding that would make the “don’t shake a baby” folks cringe. My Dad would lay on his back, and pull his knees close to his chest. Then, I would grab onto his legs, resting on his feet, which became the saddle. Then, my Dad’s legs would start kicking, slowly at first, and then more violently as I held on for much longer than eight seconds, wrapping my arms around his legs and holding on for dear life. Amidst all the kicking and bucking, my Dad would make bull noises the entire time, interjecting shouts of “Hang on pardner!” and “Ride ‘em cowboy!” all the while. Every few minutes I would fall off, and although his legs must have been exhausted, the bull was always ready for another ride.

One of the classic routines of our bull riding expeditions is still branded in my brain. After being kicked off one too many times, my Dad would say “Alright cowboy, why don’t you come ride this nice calm cow and slow it down a bit?” I would immediately start laughing because I knew what was coming next, but I played along every single time. Giggling, I would climb onto his legs and he would easily and slowly move his legs up and down, making random cow noises and saying “Oh yeah, this is a nice, calm cow.” Then, he would say “Oh boy, we better milk this cow. She’s probably getting full.” He would then reach around towards his feet, and as my anticipation grew, his eyes would widen. Then he would shriek the same line every time: “Uh oh! This ain’t no cow! It’s a bull!” And then the craziness would ensue—an eight second ride for the history books. Snorting and huffing loudly, my Dad would kick and kick and kick until I would fly off, rolling across the floor, laughing the entire time. There was the occasional minor injury, but what kind of bull-riding cowboy doesn’t get injured? I loved bull riding more than anything, and even though life fills up with new and exciting moments as you age, there was always a sense of emptiness that I felt the moment I became too big to bull ride with my Dad.

My Dad loved hearing me laugh, but he loved making people laugh in general. He had a way of growing laughter, and drawing people closer to him through that humor, which was unbelievably contagious.

His pride didn’t matter when it came to making a fool out of himself to get a laugh, which is why he naturally became the “Neighborhood Dad”. Growing up, my Dad would always jump in with any opportunity to play kickball, and he used this as a chance to entertain, too. As was the case with most Dads who played kickball with their kids, he could always kick the ball further than any of his younger, shorter competitors. If we were playing in the backyard, Dad made it a point to blast the ball over our house (our own version of Fenway’s Green Monster) for an impressive homerun (sorry to the neighbors across the street for any damage that might have been done over the years). But rather than trot around the bases with his head down, Dad would throw in ridiculous dance moves—dance moves typical of any father trying to embarrass his child (which he did effectively on many occasions). He would grab the infielders in a big bear hug and run down the line with them. He made it a point to celebrate the homerun—and whether you were on his team or not, you always laughed at his antics.

In the off-case that Dad didn’t kick a homerun over the house (which I’m sure was intentional), his base running became another shtick in his routine. Dad would run to first, and then he would engage in battle with the opposing fielders. Dad would take a few steps off of first base, daring the youngster who fielded the ball to throw it at him—which they always did. As soon as they would throw the ball, Dad would pull off one of his greatest evasive maneuvers. On a low throw, he would jump high, high, high into the air and do the splits, hooting and hollering as the ball went under his legs. On a high throw, he would roll to the ground and jump back up like a circus tumbler. From second to third, he would do the same thing, but he would use a new technique, always more outrageous than the last. Sometimes it involved a teasing dance to try and provoke another throw. In other instances, he would call out the fielder and let them know they were too “chicken” to make the throw—which was always accompanied by a ridiculous chicken impression. Occasionally, he would pull the oldest trick in the book—a shocked face and point with a click “Look over there! A wild elephant!” followed by a quick sprint the second his opponent turned their head. Either way, Dad went from second to third, and then from third to home. And the celebration at home plate was just as obnoxious—and hilarious—as the celebration for an “over the house” shot. Teams rarely mattered in these scenarios, because everyone was in stitches regardless of where they stood on the field. My Dad was an artist who worked in humor, and the only pay he would accept was unbridled laughter.

As we both got older, the kickball games became fewer and fewer, but his timing and delivery got even better. My Dad was still very athletic as he aged, but he definitely spent more time on the couch in front of the television. One of Dad’s favorite lines that always made me laugh occurred any time that a Victoria’s Secret commercial would come across the tube. Lingerie-clad models would strut across the screen into our living room, giving their best lip pouts and “I know you like what you see” looks. My Dad would immediately perk up the second he heard the commercial and would stare at the television, transfixed by the beauty in front of him, as my Mom and I sat nearby on the couch. As the commercial continued, Dad’s bespectacled stare grew more and more intense, his eyes as wide as golf balls. All the while, Mom’s fury would continue to build as she watched her husband oogling over the models on the screen. As the commercial closed, without ever breaking eye contact, Dad would shake his head back and forth and deliver an exasperated (but perfectly crafted) punchline: “Man….they sure are ugly.” I would roar and howl every time he did it, even though I knew it was coming every single time.

And as his tactics and material got better, his audience grew larger. Every venue became a stage, and every group became an audience to entertain—even when he should have been more serious. One his most infamous (and cringe worthy) performances happened, of all places, at our church. Good comedy knew nothing of appropriate boundaries in my Father’s eyes, and this was evidence that any audience could be a good audience. The incident, thankfully, happened on a Sunday when I wasn’t at church, but when my Mom called me after the service, I could tell this particular act had probably crossed the line.

Just a few weeks before, my Dad had invested his hard-earned money in an extremely valuable toy—a set of “Billy Bob Teeth”. Yes, Billy Bob Teeth. Billy Bob Teeth, for those who might be more refined than my Dad was, are a set of false teeth that would make any dentist shriek and run the other way in pure terror. These teeth look alarmingly real, and alarmingly horrific. The teeth stick out at all different angles, rooted in diseased looking gums. Some are crooked, others are jagged, and all are yellowed. Politically correct? No. Appropriate for church? Absolutely not. Funny in a juvenile humor sort of way? Without a doubt. Here’s a visual of Dad to help you get the full understanding:

dad-with-billy-bob-teethOn many Sundays, my Dad would fulfill his churchly duties and serve as an usher, taking up the morning offering. On this particular Sunday, he made history in our church by doing something no other offering taker had ever done (or most likely would ever do again). After the music had concluded, our pastor, Ted, made his way to the front of the stage in between the tear-stained altars, and beckoned the offering takers to come forward and grab their plates. My Dad liked Pastor Ted for many reasons, and one of those reasons was that his humor, as juvenile as it may have been at times, was always in sync with our pastor’s.

As he was being summoned to his post, he exited the pew and made his way to the front of the church to grab the plate and face the pastor. While making his way down the aisle, my Mom noticed his hand reach into his pocket and pull something out. In a moment, my Mom’s heart sank. It was the guilt of a mother who forgot to check her son’s pockets to make sure any Gameboys, frogs, or other toys were left at home before you entered the sanctuary. I can only imagine the anxiety she must have felt, because she knew what was coming. The boy in question, however, was not her son, but her husband. Surely, he wouldn’t embarrass her in front of our pastor, our congregation, and God.

Surely, he proved her wrong. As he reached down to grab the offering plate, he simultaneously slipped the Billy Bob Teeth into position, and as he raised his head, he sported the familiar goofy face he had created any time he wore them. Pastor Ted surveyed his Men of God, his money collectors, one of which was always called out to offer a prayer to bless the offering and our church. His surveying head fell on my Dad’s face and the perfectly positioned Billy Bob Teeth, and his eyes grew wide.

And he laughed. Hysterically. The pastor of a conservative Christian church was doubled over in laughter in front of a crowd of repentant sinners. The pastor’s laugh carried into the over the church’s sound system, but because my Dad was facing the pastor at the front of the church, no one quite knew what was causing the laughter.

Then, Pastor Ted did the unthinkable. He asked my Dad to pray and bless the offering! And my Dad did—with the teeth! He stayed in character for the entire performance, using the Billy he had created to bless the money and offer it up for the building of God’s kingdom. As the pastor continued to laugh, my Dad said “Ay-man” in his best Southern drawl, spun around on his heel, and faced the congregation. As he made his way back through the pews to collect the offering, the laughs spread from the front row to the back. My Dad left the teeth in his mouth the entire time, and he got laughs from almost everyone—except my Mom, who was justifiably embarrassed. And so was I when she called me to tell me this story on the phone. My Dad was a funny guy, but I was just as embarrassed as she was, and I couldn’t laugh at this joke (although I definitely laugh about it now).

I hate to say this, but as I grew older, there were things about my Dad’s humor that I didn’t appreciate the way I should have. When I should have been laughing, I responded with the serious, stern face of an early-twenty something who was trying to be much more grown up than I actually was. When my Mom recounted this story to me on the phone later that afternoon, I experienced the same anxiety she probably felt. It seemed like there were some places that were so sacred, so holy, that not even Billy Bob Teeth were welcome. As I grew older, I began to take life too seriously. Young adulthood is a time where you feel like you can’t laugh at certain things because, well, you’re not a kid anymore. And this particular joke seemed inappropriate. Even though he got great laughs, there was a part of me that was so glad I wasn’t at church that Sunday.  I’m ashamed of it now, but I even threatened that I wouldn’t go back to church with him if he ever tried to wear those teeth in the sanctuary again.

But my Dad never let the “sticks in the mud” like me ruin his fun, and I thank God he didn’t. He continued to get laughs, no matter how embarrassing it may have been. And although I wasn’t laughing then, I’m laughing now when I think about just how wonderful and fun-loving he always was. It’s amazing how many people I run into that were in church that infamous morning, and how they still laugh about the situation. They weren’t embarrassed—they were entertained! And they were smiling. And most importantly, they were probably closer to God because they saw a man who truly enjoyed living in God’s creation.

My Dad understood Proverbs 15:15 where the wise author says: “Every day is a terrible day for a miserable person, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast” (GW). My Dad enjoyed life and he enjoyed hearing people laugh because he knew their days would be just a little bit better having experienced even a few moments of cheer. That was Dad’s gospel.

What was even harder for me to understand as I grappled with my Dad’s depression was how a man who was so funny and who laughed so much could suffer from such underlying pain and sadness. How could a man who had always been able to make me laugh not be able to cheer himself up? How could a man who, to everyone else, always seemed unbelievably happy be so ill underneath the veneer of satisfaction and contentment?

I struggled with that question for a long time. And although my understanding of mental illness and depression has become much more extensive, I still struggle with it. I still have days where I just can’t equate the stories I have of my always-joyful, always laughing Dad with the defeated and distraught image I have of him during that last conversation. They are questions I might not be able to have answered on this side of the grave, and I’ve done my best to come to terms with that.

But what is more important, so much more important, is that I’ve learned to laugh more because of my Dad. I have so many great memories of him to laugh at because he lived life not to just get through it, but to enjoy it and make it colorful. From childhood until the week he died, he could always make me laugh. He could always make me smile. He could always make me feel better about life and other people.

And even though he’s been gone for over three years, he still does this every single day.

Dad, I hope you know how much I miss hearing your laugh and the joy you brought to all of our lives. I wish you were still here, so I could watch you come up with new routines and corny Dad jokes. You were always so funny, which made life more fun. From the moment I was born, you tried to teach me the importance of a good laugh. And each and every day, I’ll try to laugh more so I can honor you.

“Every day is a terrible day for a miserable person, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast.” Proverbs 15:15 (GW)