“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.

Words Matter

“How do you tell people…how your Dad died?”

I sat across the table at a Panera from a good friend of mine. Unfortunately, we sat at that table together as victims of a similar tragedy, having each lost a parent to suicide. We talked that night about many things, especially the difficulties we encountered as grief stayed constant while life moved on.

I closed my eyes and nodded my head, because I remember asking myself this same question. I remember struggling to find the words when people asked why my Dad died so young. When I looked across that table, I saw a man walking through the same horrible questions and doubt that I had been dealing with. I would have done anything in that moment to take his pain away, because living a life after suicide makes even the most simple moments ridiculously complex. It’s hard to find the words to describe the death of a loved one when suicide enters the picture.

I thank God that, although eventually and painfully, I found the words I needed.


“My Dad committed suicide.”

“My Dad took his own life.”

“My Dad died from a suicide.”

I just didn’t know how to say it.

In the week or so after my Dad died, as crazy as this might sound, I would stand in front of my mirror at home and I would practice saying these things aloud. I would look at my own eyes, often swollen and tear-stained, and say these words to myself. Each and every time, they would break my heart.

No matter what variation I came up with, however, I just couldn’t find a way to do this. I couldn’t bring myself to say these words, mainly because they felt so unnatural. I never, never convicted my Dad of his death. I never, at any moment, held my Dad responsible for what happened to him in his battle with depression. I know that every survivor of suicide can’t say this (and that’s completely okay), but I was never at any moment mad at my Dad for what happened to him. He was not responsible for his death—depression was. Depression, a horrible and difficult to comprehend illness, stole him from his family and everything he loved. My Dad didn’t “commit” anything.

During my years in graduate school, I learned many things about life that extended far beyond the training I was receiving for a career as a college educator. One of the lessons that our faculty members constantly tried to drive home is a rather simple one: words matter. The words we choose to use each day matter. The words we use to define other people and their identities are important. It seems like a simple lesson, but I don’t think I realized just how meaningful this truth was until it hit home with my Dad’s death.

Now, in the midst of the greatest turmoil of my life, I found myself struggling each and every day to tell people how my Dad died.

I didn’t want people who didn’t know my Dad to have a wrong impression of the man he was. I didn’t want all the negative stereotypes and stigmas typically associated with suicide to discolor my Dad’s memory and legacy. If anything, I wanted people to know that even the strongest amongst our midst still suffer and still succumb. I wanted to convey this in a simple phrase—and like I do in so many areas of my life, I turned to a good book to help.

The gift of a good book is one of the most precious things you can give someone, in my opinion. I’m thankful that members of my family feel the same way. My grandmother, Pat, is an avid reader like me, and a thoughtful reader at that. Pat was my Dad’s step-mother, and in the aftermath of my Dad’s passing, Pat was extremely gracious and loving as my Mom and I continued to grieve. At the same time that she was suffering, she made sure to watch over my Mom and I, helping any way she could.

Grieving a Suicide BookOne of her most thoughtful gestures during that time came in the form of a book that has helped me in more ways than I’ll ever be able to thank her for. In an attempt to cope with her own sadness after losing my Dad, Pat came across an amazing book written by Albert Y. Hsu called Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers & Hope. Pat was kind enough to read the book and recognize how helpful it was, and she bought two more copies: one for me, and one for my Mom. (For this book and others that helped me cope with my Dad’s death, visit the “Library” section of Seeya Bub.)

As soon as I received the book, I stopped reading what I currently had on the docket and made this my priority—and I’m so thankful that I did. This book was sent from Pat, but I know that it was also sent from God. I received the book from Grandma Pat right in the midst of my struggle to verbalize my Dad’s death. Like all good books, it came at just the right time.

In the understatement of the century, I’ll say this: Albert Hsu’s book is a real blessing and an inspiration—especially for everything I do on this blog. Hsu lost his father, Terry, to suicide. On an everyday Thursday morning, Albert received a call from his mother that is all too familiar for so many families in our country. Albert’s Mom had discovered Terry’s body, cold and lifeless, in their family home. In such a perfect way in the pages that follow, Albert describes each and every emotion that he felt and still feels and all the unique struggles he encounters as a survivor of suicide. His story is one of the most helpful things I encountered in the aftermath of my Dad’s death, for so many reasons.

And just as I was struggling with how to describe my Dad’s death, I came across a section in the book titled “How To Talk About Suicide”. It was like a message sent directly from God through another loyal follower. It was exactly, exactly what I needed in that exact moment.

Forgive the long passage, but understand how vitally important these words were for me in my struggle to grieve. Hsu wrote:

Survivors are hypersensitive to the topic of suicide. It punches us in the gut if someone jokes, “If this doesn’t work out, I’m going to kill myself!” One survivor told me that she challenges coworkers who say things like that, asking them if they’ve ever considered how painful those flip comments might be to others. Suicide is no laughing matter.

How should people describe the act of suicide? This has been an ongoing debate for some years. The traditional phrase has been to say that someone “committed suicide.” Survivors reacted against this, saying that it implies criminality, as one would commit murder. Is suicide a crime that is committed, like a burglary? In some cases, perhaps, but in many cases, no.

In the past few decades, psychologists and suicide survivor groups have moved toward saying that someone “completed suicide.” In this parlance, suicide is not a single act but the final episode in what may have been a period of self-destructive tendencies.

The problem is that in many cases, suicide is a single act, not one of a series of attempts or part of a larger pattern. Furthermore, to say that someone “completed” suicide sounds like noting a laudatory accomplishment, like completing a term paper or college degree. It also comes across as somewhat clinical and cold.

So more recently, grief organizations and counselors have suggested that we use more neutral terms: for example, someone “died of suicide” or “died by suicide.” The Compassionate Friends, an organization dedicated to helping families who have lost children, officially changed its language in 199 so that all its materials reflect this. Executive Director Diana Cunningham said, “Both expressions [‘committed suicide’ and ‘completed suicide’] perpetuate a stigma that is neither accurate nor relevant in today’s society.”

I resonate with this. I find it difficult to form the phrase “My dad committed suicide.” And it seems wholly unnatural to say that “my dad completed suicide.” It is somewhat easier to tell someone that “my dad died from suicide”… (Hsu, 2002, pp. 145-146)

I put the book down, and in that very moment I knew that I would never say the phrase “committed suicide” when describing my Dad or other people who suffered the same fate he did. I just couldn’t do it, because it didn’t accurately describe what happened to my Dad. “Committed” gave the impression that my Dad did what he did willingly and with a sound mind. That he welcomed death, even though I knew he fought against it each and every day of his life. Even though I have many questions about his death, I knew this was not the case.

I wanted to find language that reflected the fact that my Dad’s life was stolen. Stolen by a terrible disease that attacked his mind and his well-being. People don’t commit death by cancer. They don’t commit death via car accidents or strange and inexplicable illnesses. And they don’t commit suicide either. They suffer, and there’s no guilt to be felt by those who suffer from diseases that we don’t quite understand—whether physical or mental. I liked these phrases that Hsu suggested, but I still found myself searching for the perfect phrase.

And then, in the midst of all these thoughts, I heard someone say it for the first time. I don’t remember where, and I don’t even remember who said, but I heard someone refer to their loved one as a “victim of suicide.” Their loved one was a victim. A victim of a horrible illness that attacks and hijacks our thought processes to make life appear unlivable.

I knew, in that moment, that would be the phrase I used to describe my Dad’s death. I knew that that particular phrase captured the way I felt about my Dad’s death. It would send the most accurate message about my Dad’s death—that his life was cut short by a terrible disease and illness that stole his life prematurely. That I didn’t hold him responsible for that July morning in 2013. That I never, in any moment, blamed him for what happened.

So, whenever I would speak publicly about my Dad or talk to someone who asked why he died, my phrasing was always consistent and purposeful. My Dad, a strong, sturdy, and stable man was a victim. A victim of suicide. It didn’t remove the tears or the hurt, but using that phrase helped me honor my Dad each time I shared his story.


Sitting in Panera a few years after my Dad’s death, I found myself speaking passionately and purposefully to another young suicide survivor about this very topic. And I realized, in that moment, that God led me down that journey to describe my Dad’s death for a reason. I realized that words, no matter how innocuous or mundane, matter more than anything.

I admit, both selfishly and with regret, that before suicide impacted my life I never gave a second thought to how this language might bother or hurt those who were suffering. Before Dad’s death, I had a very different understanding of suicide. I would have willingly and readily used the phrase “commit suicide” without giving it a second thought.

But now, in this new life of mine, just hearing the word “suicide” causes me to stop dead in my tracks. I get goosebumps, still, every time I hear it. Because suicide has touched my life. And now, those words are personal.

To some people, this is nothing more than semantics and mental gymnastics. A meaningless attempt for someone who is hurting to cover their wounds with a bandage until the next wound surfaces. But to me, it’s everything. I believe words hold a unique power, because both the richest and poorest people in our world, separated by miles of inequality, still have stories and still have words to describe them. The psychologist Sigmund Freud said “Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.”

And I hope, with the words I choose, that I can sway someone else from meeting the same unfortunate end that my Dad found. I hope that the words I use, even those so seemingly simple as the way in which I describe his death, will cause someone to think differently about suicide, mental illness, and the need to fight against depression with everything we have.

This may sound simple, but the fight begins with the words we choose regarding suicide and mental illness. Our biggest obstacle in this battle, one that I hope you’ll join me in, is helping fight the shame and stigma of mental illness—and in order to get people to talk about how they feel, we have to make them feel that it’s okay to talk.

My words, your words, the words of hurting people—our words matter.

Dad and Lucy at Pumpkin PatchDad, Each day I wrestle with telling your story and making sure people who never knew you know the type of man you were. I want them to know you were strong. I want them to know you were thoughtful. I want them to know you were caring and loving and everything a Father should be. I hope that the words I choose to use convey the love I have for you and the love you gave to all of us each and every day here on Earth. You never inflicted pain with the words you chose. You built people up by telling them and showing them how important they were to you. You and I had many wonderful conversations together, and we shared so many words. I’m sorry for the moments that my words may have hurt you. I wish I had spent more time telling you the words you deserved to hear—that I loved you, that I was proud of you, and that I was always there to listen when you were hurting. I know that we will have these conversations again. I wait longingly for that day. But until our words meet each other’s ears again, seeya Bub.

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NIV)

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)

Think to Feel: Guest Blog by Jeff Yetter

Ty: I can say this with the utmost certainty: I have never once blamed my Dad for his death.

I have never once been mad at my Dad for leaving us earlier than he should have.

I have never once been angry at my Dad since his death.

But that doesn’t mean there are things I wouldn’t change about my Dad’s struggle. 

When I look back at my Dad’s experience with depression and his eventual suicide, there are definitely moments of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” that I would return to and reverse if I had the capability. I think back to my first response to learning of my Dad’s depression, and how I wish I would have treated him with more love and compassion (read more about his in an earlier post). I think back to all the moments where I told him I didn’t have the energy to go on a bike ride or toss in the yard, and given the opportunity to change it, I would have put down the television remote and spent more time with him. I would have never left him alone that morning that he died. I would have prayed with him.

But if there is one thing above all that I wish my Dad would have done differently, it’s this: I wish my Dad would have gone to see a professional counselor.

Let me reiterate: I’m not blaming my Dad for his untimely end. I’m not even saying that this would have definitely changed the final chapter of his life, because that’s for God to know—not me.

What I am trying to do is understand the things that went wrong in our story in an attempt to prevent these same situations from happening to other fathers, other sons, and other families.

I’m trying to understand the reasons why my Dad wouldn’t go see a professional counselor, and they are reasons that aren’t unique to his situation. As a culture, we are often afraid of the stigma or stereotype that comes along with going to see a mental health professional. We are afraid that it makes us look weak. We are afraid to admit that we have a problem. This, coupled with a masculine cultural reinforcement that we simply need to buck up and hide our feelings kept my Dad (and plenty of others) from getting the help they need.

But there’s one more reason worthy of our exploration together: the fear of the unknown.

I know this fear all too well. The first time I decided to go to a counseling session, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had seen depictions of therapists in movies and on television, and I worried that it was all hokum designed to make a quick buck.

I’m so glad that my counselor proved all of these stereotypes wrong.

If my Dad knew what counseling really was, he would have gone. If he knew what actually happened in those sessions, he would have gone. If he knew that getting help was not a sign of a weakness but was, instead, one of the boldest, bravest decisions an individual can make, he would have gone—if not for himself, for my Mom and I.

Which leads us to this post. Welcome back my friend (and I hope yours) Jeff Yetter—Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, and the man who has walked with me “arm in arm” through so many struggles. He is the counselor who helped me realize the power and potential of going to see someone who can provide help. Jeff is a sincere, authentic, man of God who has provided so much brightness in the face of the evil that has invaded my life. Jeff’s first post detailed how we came to know each other and how we’ve come to walk together through the trials of my life. Now, I’ve asked him to provide a description of his unique counseling style—a theory he created called “Think to Feel”—in an effort to destigmatize the counseling profession.

So, if you find yourself needing help but are too afraid to pick up the phone and schedule that first appointment, I hope this message provides the ultimate encouragement you need.


Jeff: I am so humbled and grateful to have been asked by Tyler to contribute, again, to this amazing blog. What an incredible ministry this is for Tyler, and for all who come here to read, and share, and learn, and love! It is an honor to be with you all once again…

For this post, Tyler has asked that I share with you all the way that I “do counseling”. He has asked that I share my primary method of working with the folks who come to see me, because he believes this has been helpful on “our walk”.  I sincerely hope you find it valuable as well.

A Little History…

As a first-semester graduate student in counseling studies, way back when, my earliest recollection was being directed by department faculty to decide what theory of counseling I was going to practice when I completed my degree. In other words, I needed to decide what I believed about human beings and their behavior, in order to know exactly how I was going to do counseling when I got out in the “real world”. Sure, there were courses on counseling theories and techniques, and I learned about the greats in the field, like Freud, Jung, Adler, Rogers, Skinner, and Ellis (to name a few). But where did I fit in this picture? I knew I wasn’t going to be a “clone” of one of these theorists, and I had an inkling that I believed in Cognitive Behavioralism (“thinking” as it relates to behavior), but I was pretty uncertain as to which direction I was going to go as a practitioner. So, I left grad school with three wonderful gifts: excellent grades (all grad students do well, academically), a beautiful diploma (fit for framing), and infinite confusion with regard to theory and effective techniques of counseling practice. So…

The Birth of a Theory

I entered the counseling profession determined to help people. True, the notion of “helping people” emanates from the minds and hearts of nearly every recent graduate in the health care field, but I really believed it was possible – I just didn’t know exactly how to go about it. I needed to think about what I believed about human beings, their behavior, and what, if anything, produces change in human behavior. So, I started to actually practice counseling. I was nice. I listened well. I could paraphrase and re-state what I heard with the best of them. But this wasn’t enough to me. Not to mention, I was placing an incredible amount of pressure on myself to heal my patients. This was not going to work well for me, if I wanted to be in the field for very long. So, I began to consider, “What makes me feel?” Seemed like a logical place to start. And that was it – “makes me feel”. I realized that NOTHING “makes” me feel. Things, people, songs, movies, situations, the weather, do NOT “make” us feel. We actually “make ourselves feel” by the way we THINK about these things. And a theory was born. My “theory”. Simply put, we “Think to Feel”.

Think to Feel

Ok, Jeff, what are you talking about? We think to feel? What?? Like I said above, nothing “makes” us feel. People come into my office every day with the belief that things, people, situations, movies, music, etc. “make” them feel. Have you ever said, “a sunny day makes me happy”? Or, “that movie made me cry”? Or, “he really makes me mad”? Well, that’s not true. Any of it. And believe me when I say this, that’s GOOD NEWS! Allow me to explain…

If a sunny day “made” people happy, EVERYBODY would be happy on sunny days. If movies “made” people cry, EVERYONE watching the same movie, at the same time, would be crying. The entire audience. All of them. This simply does not bear out. There is always variation in an individual’s response to his/her environment. Different people “feel” differently, because they “think” differently. In other words, it is the way we “think” about the sunny day that produces the way we feel about it. For instance, I may look out the window and say, “thank you Lord, for this day. I have my twins (9 year old son and daughter), my health, and I’m doin’ ok”. So I feel ok. Someone else may look out the window and say, “yeah it’s sunny, but it’s still too cold out there”. So, he/she may feel less than enthused with the weather, and therefore he/she does not allow for a positive impact on his/her mood. Similarly, when watching a movie, it is what we are thinking when we are watching that produces how we feel about the film. We may be engrossed in the story, identify with a character, or relate it to something in our own life, and ultimately shed a tear. Someone else may be watching the movie, thinking of all he/she needs to do at work tomorrow, and has no feelings about the movie, whatsoever. Thoughts “produce” feelings. Things do not “make” us feel. Let’s continue…

Powerful

The foundation of my theory is one of “empowerment”. I want people to feel strong and empowered. I want people to know they actually have a choice in how they feel about the things they encounter in their lives. And this is the crux of “Think to Feel”: THE ONLY PERSON IN THIS WOLRD YOU CAN CONTROL IS YOU. Think about this for a second. “I can only control me”. Pretty cool, right? Also happens to be true. We can only control ourselves. Consider this: God gave us Free Will. He made us, He created us, and yet, He doesn’t “control” us. He allows for us to make choices. His will, yes. His plan, absolutely. But our choice. Free will. I figure if this logic was good enough for the Lord, it probably makes sense for us as well. Therefore, we cannot control what another person says, does, thinks, or feels. And conversely, no one controls what we say, do, think, or feel. Pretty powerful, if you allow for it to be. The only person who can “make you feel”, is you.

Feelings are choices. Not like choosing a flavor of ice cream, but choices nevertheless. Because “choice is power”. Think of this example: if I say “Joe Blow makes me mad”, who has my power? Joe does. Now, I am mad, but powerless to do anything productive about it, because my power resides with “Joe”. However, if I say, “I’m mad at Joe”, I am mad, but my power still resides with me. May sound like “semantics”, but rest assured, it is not. Two very different and distinct subjective experiences. One: you are mad and powerless. The other: you are mad and “in charge” of your feelings. You have “chosen” to be angry. And that’s fine. Feelings aren’t always pleasant, but they are always a choice.

To further this “power” example, I use the sport of football. Many years ago, I was a quarterback, and in the huddle, when I would call a “hand-off”, I would kindly remind the running back to “hold the ball”. Meaning, don’t fumble. Don’t put the ball on the ground. Don’t toss it up in the stands to your friends. And don’t hand it to the linebacker trying to tackle you. Seems logical. But my point is, the football represents the team’s power. Without it, you can’t score. For metaphorical purposes, I refer to “holding the ball” in life. Don’t give it away. It’s your power. Don’t give your power to the weather, to a movie, or to another person. That “ball” is yours. It’s your power. Hold onto it. Hold the ball!

Positive Thoughts: That’s It?

Ok, now some of you might be thinking, “Alright Jeff, if we “Think to Feel”, all we need to do is just ‘think happy thoughts’, right?”  We just need to “look on the bright side, and all will be well?”  Nope. Believe me, if thinking happy thoughts worked, I would be unemployed. Everyone would simply walk around thinking positively, and all would be well. But of course, that is not how life works. Bad things happen. Sadness and depression are part of life. People get anxious. Sometimes we feel lousy. Negative feelings occur all the time. See, even though we “think to feel”, and feelings are a choice, sometimes the appropriate or even necessary way to feel, is to feel “bad”. “Thinking to feel” is not a “cure” for feeling bad. It simply allows for the “ownership” of those feelings. “I feel bad”, versus “it makes me feel bad”. A choice. Therefore, empowered to do something about it. It’s the difference between “having bad feelings”, and “bad feelings having us”. The difference between “having depression” and “depression having you”, etc.

Although life doesn’t “make us feel”, we are still very much “affected” and “impacted” by life. I always say, “if you jump in a lake, you get wet”. Life “affects” us. We are “impacted” by things people do and say. It’s just that those things don’t “make us feel”. We get to “hold the ball”. Keep our power. And now, life becomes a little more manageable. And in essence, that’s what I do each and every day. I teach people how to “hold the ball”, keep their power, and learn how to “think” in ways that allow them to “feel” better than they did with their old way of thinking. So, each day, each session, each person who comes to see me, learns that we “Think to Feel”.

Always Help

Like I mentioned in my first post, we all have hurt, confusion, pain, and issues. But it’s important to remember: you’re not alone. Because we “think to feel”, it’s important to remember that we are never alone. It is times when people believe they are “alone”, or no one understands, that they feel hopeless. That “thought” of being “alone”, produces the “feeling” of hopelessness. But as I said, we are never alone. There is always “someone”. Whether a family member, a friend, a clergy person, a coworker, or even a professional. There is someone. Let’s all find that “someone”, and maybe even be that “someone” to others. The thought that there is someone out there, produces hope. And that’s the goal of “Think to Feel”. To offer hope…

Bless you all. Until we speak again.

– Jeff

“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he…” Proverbs 23:7


Dad Smiling Against StairsTy: Dad, you would have loved spending time with Jeff, and more importantly I’m confident that he would have been able to help you find a level of peace and comfort in the midst of your depression. I have many regrets in this life, but one of my biggest is that I didn’t encourage you to go seek professional help more vigorously. I know that his style of counseling is something that would have resonated with you. I know that you would have been comfortable talking to him, and I have no doubt that you would have befriended him, just like you did with nearly everyone you crossed paths with. I wish that, as a family, we could have found a way to make you more comfortable with the idea of counseling. But, I find peace in the fact that you are now in a place where you no longer experience the pain of depression. You are living in a beautiful paradise with our Maker in a land where the trials of this world are long forgotten. I long to see you experience this peace, but until then, seeya Bub.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)

jeff-yetter-headshotJeffrey Yetter, M.Ed., LPCC
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

Jeff Yetter has practiced in the field of counseling and psychotherapy for the past 24 years. He has worked in both the public and private sector, and is currently in Private Practice in Middletown, Ohio. Jeff has also been an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of Counseling at Xavier University. Academically, Jeff completed his undergraduate study at the College of Mount Saint Joseph (now, MSJ University) in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He completed his Master’s Degree in Agency and Community Counseling at Xavier University. He completed his Post-Master’s Endorsement in Clinical Counseling at Xavier University as well.

Quietude

“You better slow down.”

It was a constant refrain from my Dad when I was fifteen-and-a-half and he was teaching me how to drive. I was planning to inherit my first vehicle: My Dad’s old 1992 Chevrolet Sierra pick up truck. It had a single bench seat, manual windows and locks, and roared pretty loud any time you hit the accelerator.

“Is this the pot calling the kettle fast?” I would reply. It was ironic that Dad was telling me to slow down, because he was the family member with the heaviest leadfoot.

Dad enjoyed driving fast because he enjoyed feeling the power of a vehicle. He never drove fast because he was in a hurry. He drove fast because…well, he just enjoyed driving fast.

Whether I realized it or not, I inherited the gene that causes leadfoot syndrome, and like my Dad, I enjoy driving faster than I probably should.

But Dad also had an uncanny ability to slow down—and I’m not simply talking about his ability to ease his foot off the accelerator. My Dad was a pro in slowing down at life and eliminating the noise that so often crowds our minds. Dad was very good at embracing the quiet and simple moments of life, and I’ll always envy his ability to do that.


My Dad was a man who could enjoy the simplicity of everyday life. The moments that so many of us take for granted were moments of complete serenity and clarity for my Father. When things were quiet, my Dad was at an extreme peace—a level of peace I hope to obtain someday.

I think some of it may have been a result of his vocation. My Dad was always a physical laborer. He started out in construction, and during his life he was able to build remarkable structures: from the garage and foyer addition of our family home to a handful of wooden crosses at our local cemetery’s veteran memorial. Where there’s building there is often banging, and the sound of a hammer pounding a nail was a natural one for him to hear.

After his career in construction, my Dad worked in a number of different steel plants as a maintenance technician. If you’ve never been inside of a steel plant, they are notoriously noisy places. Machines bang and whir as they roll out steel and cut it into pieces for customers to use. Cranes fly overhead and forklifts zoom across the floor, picking up steel while honking, buzzing, and beeping to alert pedestrians of their impending arrival. Dad, being a maintenance technician, was very close to all of the machines in the plants where he worked. It was his job to know that machine inside and out; to capture the intricacies of how it worked so he could fix them when they didn’t. Dad was very, very good at his job; but being good at his job required him to be in the midst of constant noise.

So when Dad came home, he got very good at finding ways to escape the noise and enjoy the peace and solitude of our life in suburbia. And Dad enjoyed finding that quiet peace outdoors.

The weather can be a bit of a mystery in our corner of Ohio, but from mid-April to September you can usually rely on a nice evening with a beautiful sunset rather regularly. Where most families like to eat at a dining room table, my Dad was always fond of eating outside. When I was young, he built a beautiful brick patio that became our family’s private backyard oasis. Dad would often grill (I mean burn) our dinner, Mom would salvage the meal with a handful of delicious sides, and we would all settle in to share a meal. Dad, often covered in the grease and grime of a hard days work in a steel plant, would sink back in his patio chair, eat his meal, and throw back a can (usually two cans) of ice cold Coca-Cola. There was nothing fancy about these dinners, but you could tell Dad enjoyed them.

And although he would talk and converse with us, we didn’t have to say much for the dinner to be enjoyable. Dad would enjoy listening to the sounds and sights of birds flying through the air. He would watch clouds as they moved across the sky. He would laugh as a squirrel tried to steal food from our bird feeders, or watch our family dogs as they meandered across the back lawn. Simple things brought him extreme pleasure.

On a nice summer night, Dad usually enjoyed a bike ride. My family was fortunate enough to grow up within biking distance of Rentschler Park, a beautiful hidden gem in our neck of the woods. Rentschler Park is full of hiking trails, natural woods, and a waters-edge view of the Great Miami River that is hard to beat. Whenever I take a bike ride, I will nearly always have a pair of headphones in, listening to my favorite music; but Dad’s bike rides were different. My Dad was never a big fan of headphones. He enjoyed taking in the natural beauty and wonder of the world around him without the noise of every day life. He would ride his bike, yes, but he would also make a stop near the river bank and listen to the wake of boats as they lapped against the shore. He would stop and listen to the stream near the hiking trail, or watch the waterfall as the cool water meticulously pelted the gray clay of the streambed. He would listen for birds as they chirped, and talked with any stranger who had a dog—always eager to steal an opportunity to befriend a puppy.

And when he would come home from these bike rides, usually after an hour or so, Dad had a favorite spot in our backyard. It was around the fire pit that he built for all of us to enjoy. My Dad enjoyed so many sounds, but I think he enjoyed the pops and crackles of a wood burning fire more than any other. Using the flame thrower that he “engineered” (an extremely dangerous toy that is hooked to a propane tank which I was fortunate enough to inherit after his death), Dad would start the fire, toss on lots of wood, grab our family dog and a lawn chair, and settle in for a few hours of quality rest and relaxation. He would try out new burning materials to see what interesting sounds they might make. He became a particular fan of bamboo which, if you don’t know, makes a loud explosion when it burns. Or pine tree limbs which, after a significant drying period, will burn faster than just about any other material. For hours my Dad could sit in his chair with the warmth of a good fire on his face. He would drink yet another Coca-Cola, eat a few popsicles or Klondike bars, and stare at the night sky above him. He would wonder at the marvel of the moon and the stars overhead, pointing out obscure facts he had learned about them over the years. No frills, nothing fancy—but completely and utterly at peace and happy.

Not every night was like this for Dad. There were nights where my Dad would have to work late or get called in after returning home. There were nights where he would go out to eat or come to one of my baseball games. There were nights where Dad would work side jobs in an effort to support our family financially. And on the unfortunate night that the rain and foul weather would prohibit any outdoor enjoyment, Dad would be relegated to the couch for another night of UFC reruns.

But I have no doubt that my Dad was happiest on the nights where he could enjoy nature and the peace and solitude they provide. I have no doubt that my Dad experienced a slice of heaven on those nights where he could escape the noise of everyday life and marvel in the joy of the world around him.


Mister Rogers popularized a unique phrase: “quietude”. Quietude was the act of withdrawing from the noise and constant chatter of the world we live in to embrace the beauty of God’s creation and listen as He speaks to us. Mister Rogers was a tremendous appreciator of silence, and he found ways to make quiet time for himself each and every day. Mister Rogers would wake up early each morning to pray, and then he would swim laps relentlessly. In one of his books, he even talks about a day he spent doing nothing but reading, praying, and listening to the world around him. He said that that particular period of “quietude” led to a restful night’s sleep and an extremely productive day of work. Fred Rogers said that his moments of quietude were an opportunity to “stop, reflect, and receive.”

I like to think that my Dad was able to achieve this same state of quietude pretty frequently in his life. Although he may have lost his final battle with depression, I like to think that he was able to fight of the mental illness for so long and so successfully because he was able to close off the distraction and noise of the world around him and embrace quietude. He was happiest listening to a bird chirp. He was happiest listening to a river flow. He was happiest listening to a dog bark. And he was happiest listening to a fire crackle. He didn’t need to talk to be happy. He didn’t need to be productive twenty-four hours a day to enjoy God’s creation. He took God’s command to relax and enjoy life seriously. And he lived it in a way that we should all strive to do.

Although it’s been many years since my Dad gave me that initial driving lesson, I think he’s still telling me that I better slow down. I think my Dad is still telling me that I need to find ways to take my foot off the accelerator of life and strive for a level of quietude that will brighten the world around me. There are so many times where my “to-do’s” distract me to the point that I can’t enjoy anything else I’ve already done. I’m constantly thinking about what’s next, what I can be doing to be successful, and all the ways that I can be productive and contribute. I rarely think that the best way for me to be productive might be to slow down, but I’m still learning this lesson from my Dad—even if he’s been gone for over three years.

There are days, less frequently than I’d like, where I’m able to replicate the life my Dad led. I’m trying to take more bike rides and make more backyard fires. I’m trying to listen to the natural world around me and pay attention to the amazing things that God has created all over. There are days where I’m able to hop on his bike, pedal my way back to the park, and enjoy the sights and sounds of a sunset over the river bank. In those moments, I find myself hearing the still, small voice of God that is so often described in the Bible.

But I also find myself hearing my Dad’s voice. We have conversations with one another. I’ll ask him questions about the tough things I’m dealing with in life. I’ll ask him to help me fight my feelings of doubt and insecurity and uncertainty and hopelessness and fear. I’ll tell him that I still don’t understand why things happened the way they did. And I’ll tell him how much I miss him and love him.

And I know I’ve found Dad’s quietude on the nights where I hear him answer back. And more than anything, I always hear him say “I miss you, but I’ve always been here and always will be. I love you, and I can’t wait to see you again, even though I see you in every moment of every day.” I hear it in the break of a wave against the shore or the flap of a bird’s wing overhead. I hear it in the crackle of log in the fire, too. But there are many times where I hear it in his voice. Speaking to me, from the heavens.

When I force the world around me to slow down and get quiet, I hear some of my favorite noises. I’m thankful to God for all that He’s created, but I’m especially thankful for my Dad for showing me how to slow down and enjoy it.

Dad Leaning Back in a ChairDad, I know that there were so many times when I didn’t understand why you would tell me to slow down, but now it all makes sense. I look back on the moments when you were happiest here in this life, and it seemed to be the moments when you were unplugged, disconnected, and severed from all the chatter and distraction that we think is important. You found what was really important in life, and you embraced it head on. You found ways to enjoy the beauty and simplicity of God’s creation, and you found a state of quietude that led to happiness and rest. I’m striving to be like you in so many ways, Dad, but I’m working especially hard on slowing down. You’d be proud to know that I still drive a little fast, just like you, but I’m slowing down to enjoy the things that were important to you and are important to me. Until we can enjoy them together in heave, I’ll seeya, Bub.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” Psalm 23:2 (NIV)

First Responders: Guest Blog by Dr. Bob Rusbosin

Ty: There were voices, I’m not sure whose, asking me questions.

“Who should we call immediately? Who do you need here right now?”

I had just been told minutes earlier that my Dad had passed away, a victim of suicide at age 50. My mind had been cloudy, foggy, overwhelmed ever since I heard that horrible news. There seemed to be a haze hanging over me. I knew that time was ticking on, but I felt like I was standing still, unable to progress forward.

But to that particular question, my mind cleared in an instant and I was able to form a response. I knew right away, in the eye of that storm, the people outside of my immediate family that I wanted there in that moment.

“I need my pastor, Harville. And I need Dr. Bob.”

Harville Duncan had been there through so many ups and downs of my spiritual journey. He knew the ins and outs of my struggles and my triumphs, and most importantly, he knew my family. He had ministered to my Mom and Dad since they were young. He had been there for us whenever we needed him. It makes sense that a Christian would call for their pastor in the immediate aftermath of a family death as tragic as ours.

But it probably makes less sense to an outsider looking in for a four-years-ago graduate of college to call for their Dean of Students. But to me, it made all the sense in the world.

I came to know Dr. Bob Rusbosin as a nervous college freshman when I started at Miami University’s Regional Campus in Hamilton. Pure chance inspired our first meeting. After leaving my geology class in Mosler Hall, I spotted a sign with flyers below it that read “Interested in Joining the Student Government Association?”

I had never participated in student government before, but I had always wanted to. My nerves and general shyness in high school had bested me in that chapter, but I refused to let it beat me in this new one. I flipped through the packet, read through the guidelines, and spotted a contact number: Dr. Bob Rusbosin, Dean of Students, Miami University Hamilton.

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Once I arrived home, I picked up the phone and called Bob. I told him who I was, that I was interested in joining the Student Government Association (SGA), and hoped he might be able to answer a few questions. What I thought would be a ten-minute phone conversation quickly turned into 30 with the promise of a meeting on campus the next day.

I immediately knew I liked Bob from the moment I met him. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but he was unlike anybody I had ever met before. He was in a powerful position of authority at Miami, but he was humble and full of generosity. He was in a position to be a teacher full of knowledge to impart to his students, but he asked more questions than he answered. He was responsible for overseeing and attending to the needs of thousands of college students, but in that moment he made me feel like I was the only person who mattered.

At his urging, I ended up joining the SGA. And I ended up hanging around Bob’s office as long as I could—for the next four years. Bob was more than a student government advisor. He was a teacher when I needed to learn a lesson. He was an encouraging coach when I doubted myself. He was an advocate for me whenever he saw an opportunity I should take advantage of. Ultimately, Dr. Bob was always the person who would be there for me whenever I came calling. Just being there is one thing, but being entirely there to support someone else in every single moment is a trait we should all strive to develop. Bob embodies this trait better than anyone.

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 Bob: When Ty called me that fateful morning in late July 2013, he was completely devastated, distraught and beside himself in a way that I had rarely experienced ever before in my life.  Ty was able to tell me through his uncontrollable sobbing that his Dad was dead.  He told me that it had just happened at his Mom and Dad’s house, that Becky was at work when it happened but was now there but in a state of shock and that his grandfather was there with him.  I was in my office at Miami University Hamilton and I told him that I would come over immediately.  He thanked me profusely.

I did not hesitate in telling Ty that I would be there for him in his time of need.  Tyler and I forged a bond that started at the end of his senior year in high school.  He is the only high school student who ever called me to set up a meeting to discuss the Student Government Association (SGA).  Needless to say, I was duly impressed with this aspiring leader’s interest and enthusiasm in being a young activist on campus.  Little did I know that Tyler was someday going to be a model SGA President who would lead the organization with honesty, integrity, compassion and skills that were truly remarkable and noteworthy.

Tyler and I also bonded on a very personal level during our first meeting in my office shortly after that first phone call.  The meeting was going quite well and it appeared that Tyler was the real deal for the SGA until he suddenly realized that he was meeting with the proud father of an amazingly talented son from his bitter rival Hamilton High School who had scored a last second, game winning three point shot against his beloved alma mater four years earlier. He told of the intense hatred that he felt towards my son over the past four years because of that shot.  I told Ty how proud I was of Nate (and our daughter, Anna) for being great children and for their many amazing accomplishments including Nate’s memorable shot against Fairfield.  Ty was listening (one of his greatest attributes I later learned) and he immediately was able to put the dreadful shot into perspective and went home with every intent to filling out the SGA application.

Tyler was an exceptional student leader at Miami whose accomplishments always seemed to eclipse one another.  For example, he gave the best speech ever of all of the Communication 101 students as a freshman and this included all of the Oxford students as well as the regional campus students.  His communication skills were and still are top notch!  He developed the highly successful Campus Pride Initiative with the SGA on the Hamilton campus that was transformative and hugely significant in making the campus more vibrant, dynamic and visible.  He spontaneously presented on the Campus Pride model at a national conference for student government leaders and advisors in St. Louis.  He led campus-wide memorials for both 9/11 and the death of our hometown hero, Joe Nuxhall.  He was presented the notable President’s Distinguished Service Award for his service to the campus and the community.  He was the Voice of the Harriers for the basketball, volleyball and baseball games and was eventually tapped to fill in as the Voice of the RedHawks on the Oxford campus. This is when I first met Scott and Becky.  They were proud parents of their son and rightly so!

Ty told me a lot about Scott through the years.  I knew he was still playing basketball as was I and I kept thinking we would be meeting up somewhere on the courts but it never happened.  Ty told me about Scott’s tremendous work ethic and his ability to work with his hands on just about anything.  Ty told me about the love he had just being with his Dad that sounded so much like mine for my Dad.  When Ty called, I just had to be there.  Ty hugged me like he never wanted to let go.  I tried to console him and Becky as best I could.  Both seemed to be grateful for my presence.  I was so pleased that his grandfather and his pastor were there.  They were both saying good things and helping me feel welcome at this most challenging time for the family.  More relatives began to arrive and I eventually retreated to allow the family love and compassion to freely flow.

I see Scott in Tyler in many ways today–funny, loving, devoted, accomplished and very compassionate.  I was honored to be a mentor to Tyler during his undergraduate years at Miami and I am even more honored to have Tyler as a friend for life and now an almost brother to Anna and Nate!


Ty: I remember when Bob walked in that day. I saw him come through the foyer of our neighbor’s house, donning a blue polo and a look of complete, utter sympathy that I had seen him show to me so many times before. I broke down and fell into the arms of a man who had been a father to me at Miami. That hug lasted for a long time, but although our embrace did eventually end, the support, love, and care he exuded in that moment never has.

Yes, there were medical first responders and law enforcement officials on the scene who did an outstanding job attending to the situation. But there were also folks that I think of as emotional first responders that were there to support and care for me, my Mom, and my entire family.

Some people make good first responders, and others are born for it. Dr. Bob Rusbosin was born for it.

It’s no surprise that Bob Rusbosin is originally from Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Latrobe, for those who don’t know, is also the hometown of television icon “Mister” Fred Rogers. Dr. Bob and I have always had a mutual admiration for Fred Rogers, so much so that we traveled to Latrobe and the Greater Pittsburgh area to conduct research on our favorite television educator as part of my graduate studies. We met with people who knew Fred, including Bill Isler from the Fred Rogers company, Fred’s high school classmates, and many others.

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Fred Rogers had an uncanny ability to talk about tragedy and make folks feel loved. Take a look at your social media feeds the next time that a large-scale tragedy strikes, and I’m sure you’ll find one of his more famous quotes posted and reposted over and over again:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” (Mister Fred Rogers)

People say that Fred Rogers was one of a kind and that we will never see anyone like him on this earth ever again, but I have to disagree with those people. Those people haven’t met Bob Rusbosin.

In so many ways, from his personality and mannerisms to his genuine heart for others, Bob Rusbosin has always reminded me of Mister Rogers; but the similarity was even more recognizable in this tragic chapter of my life. Bob Rusbosin is the helper that people should always look for, and he was the person I knew that I could count on in my darkest, scariest moment.

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I rarely speak in absolutes, but I will on this topic: It’s impossible to grieve and cope successfully in complete and utter isolation. We aren’t built that way. You can consult any psychologist or scientist, or you could also read your Bible, but either way you’ll come to this same conclusion. We need great people in our lives—people I call “emotional first responders”—to help us navigate these treacherous waters. Bob Rusbosin was, and still is, that person for me. Bob became an ideal helper and first responder for a number of different reasons:

He was there. I had no doubt that I could call Bob and he would drop everything he was doing to come help me. I wasn’t guessing that he would show up; I knew he would be there. I was confident that Bob would be there because he had a track record of being there. Over the years, I had dealt with questions and moments of uncertainty, and Bob had always been there to listen to me and care for me. He had developed a level of trust with me in a way that no other educator ever had. And I saw that his trust was more than a professional promise.

He accepted me for who I was in that moment. As you can imagine, college students deal with all sorts of different crises, from small disagreements with friends and family to larger, existential questions about their career and life purpose. Bob had seen me at my best, but he had also seen me at my worst numerous times. Bob is authentic and he is always genuine, and I knew that there was no wavering when it came to his core values. That reliability provided the stability I needed in a moment where it felt like my world was falling apart.

In the aftermath of my Dad’s death, I was (predictably) a mess. I was having trouble breathing. My vision was blurred. I would collect my emotions and then sob uncontrollably when someone else came into the house. I am thankful that I felt the freedom to be myself, my grieving self, in front of Bob. And it was only because he had spent so much time and honest energy getting to know me as a student that I felt free to be this unpolished version of myself in front of him.

He didn’t try to solve the problem. When Bob came into my neighbor’s house, he didn’t try to take control of the situation. He didn’t try to collect information about what had happened. He just came in, said hello to me, and hugged me. He sat in a chair across from me, and as he had done so many times, he just listened. No one had answers in the aftermath of my Dad’s death, and as much as Bob wanted to be my protector, he didn’t pretend to have answers either.

For an educator, it only seems natural to want to help people and try and solve their problems—but Bob understood that the best way he could help me was not to try and provide answers but to instead support me as I tried to find them on my own. There would be no quick answers, and there definitely wouldn’t be any just an hour or so out from the tragic news. So Bob, always patient and always kind, let the grieving process slowly unfold in front of him without trying to put a band-aid over a fatal wound.

He asked how he could help. In moments of tragic loss, especially death, I think we all feel a little uncomfortable when we ask grieving folks “Is there anything I can do to help you?” It seems strange, but in my situation it was particularly reassuring to have so many people offer to help me—even if my response to them was no.

Before he left the house that day, Bob made sure to ask me if there was anything I needed his help with. The gesture alone was enough to tell me that although my Dad, my provider, was gone, there would be people that would attempt to try and fill the voids that were now left in my life. And to my surprise, there were some things I needed immediate help with and I knew that I could trust Bob to accomplish them. I needed someone to communicate with my colleagues at Miami and let them know what was happening—and that I wouldn’t be at work for quite some time. I needed someone to call my graduate school faculty advisor, Peter, and alert him to the emergency happening at home. There were a few other folks who I needed to notify, and Bob agreed to take on all of this responsibility. I couldn’t imagine making some of those calls to try and explain to people what had happened when I couldn’t even explain it to myself. Bob was willing to shoulder this burden, and it made me feel so loved.

He called later to follow through and check on me. Bob is one of those rare individuals who thinks about others more than he thinks of himself. Bob fulfills the commands of Scripture that tell us “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NIV). Bob didn’t just show up that morning to be there for me in the moment—he showed up to show me that he was there for the long haul. Later that day, Bob called me to see how I was doing and how I was coping. He also updated me and let me know that he had fulfilled his promise to help me reach out to folks at Miami. But he was more concerned with how I was doing and what I was thinking, and he also shared some great memories of my Dad. It was unbelievably encouraging to hear his voice and know that he would always be there to help.

And yes, he brought ice cream. Bob knew that I loved ice cream. Specifically Graeter’s ice cream. Later that evening, I awoke from an unsuccessful attempt at a nap to learn that Bob had been back to the house to check on me and my entire family. He had stayed, getting to know all of the folks in the house that had visited that day. I had missed getting to see him, but his gestures of kindness were still there even though he had left.

“Ty,” my Grandma told me, “Bob brought you some ice cream. Your favorites from Graeter’s. The pints are in the freezer whenever you get hungry.” There are few things in this world more beautiful than a pint of Graeter’s ice cream, and Bob knew how I felt about this. Although life did not feel normal in that day, there was something beautiful about knowing that some of the things that represented a normal life, like ice cream, would still be there even though my Dad wasn’t. I didn’t eat much that day, but I did take a few bites of ice cream. I’m glad it was there, but more importantly I’m glad Bob was there.

I thank God for a lot of reasons each and every day, but near the top of that list I thank God for leading me to the stairwell on the campus of Miami University Hamilton where I picked up a student government flyer. I thank God that he led me to call the number of the Dean of Students and go meet with him. I thank God that he used my time in student government to help forge a friendship with one of the finest men he has ever put on this earth. And I thank God that he gave Bob Rusbosin the heart of an emotional first responder: authentic, vulnerable, and genuinely loving in every sense of the word.

We all need someone like Bob in our lives. When you hear the words that tell you your Father (or any loved one) is dead, you need people to surround you who can help you walk when you fall and who can help you stand when you feel as if you might never stand again. I’m thankful that God prepared Bob for that moment and chapter of my life by giving him such a tender and thoughtful spirit. He has been there ever since, and I know that any time I call, he will always be there to respond first.

In the days where I need my Dad and realize that he can’t be here for me, I’m grateful that I have Bob Rusbosin—a man who has become a father-figure to me whenever I need him.

Dad, Your death has left a huge hole in my heart and in many areas of my life. There are particular voids that will never be filled until I’m reunited with you on the other side of Eternity. But I am so thankful and so grateful that God positioned certain people in my life, like Bob Rusbosin, to help be there for me when you couldn’t. I know you’re in heaven watching over me, and I know that you are making sure that there are good people and helpers to fill in for you while you’re not here. Keep watching over me, Dad. Keep connecting me with your angels here on earth. I may be grown, but there are days when I need my Dad more than ever. I know how highly you thought of Bob, and I know that if you had a chance to hand-pick someone to fill your shoes, that man would be Bob. We all miss you, Dad, but we are all thankful that you are in a place where the pains you experienced in this life are no longer there. Until we are together again, keep watching over me like you always did when you were here. Seeya, Bub.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15 (NIV)

bob-rusbosin-headshotBob Rusbosin

For nearly 30 years, Dr. Bob Rusbosin served as the Dean of Students for Miami University’s Regional Campuses. In this capacity, Bob supported tens of thousands of students as an advisor for the Student Government Association, and oversaw all aspects of student life services, including student activities, athletics, counseling, disability services, career services, diversity and multicultural services, new student orientation, judicial affairs, and child care. A lifelong proponent of civility, Bob helped a group of students at Miami found “Project Civility”, which dramatically improved the campus climate at Miami and became a national model for character education. After a successful career in higher education, Bob is now enjoying his retirement in Venice, Florida where he lives with his wife, Sharon. Bob earned his Ed.D from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, his MAT from the University of Pittsburgh, and his BA from the University of Dayton.

Questions

“How could God let this happen?”

Nearly eight hours earlier in the day, I had been told that my Dad was gone. Just like that. A victim of suicide. I sat on my bed, completely exasperated—full of pain, and full of unanswered questions. Across my darkened bedroom sat my pastor, Reverend Harville Duncan. He sat in a chair, looking directly at me, shoulders hung low with a face full of sympathy. This was the man who had dedicated me as a baby. This was the man who had baptized me as a young believer. This was the man who had led me through so many spiritual battles and questions.

Now would come one of his tougher tests.

Reverend Duncan has been in the ministry longer than I’ve been alive. He has more spiritual knowledge in his thumb than I have in my entire body. He has probably read thousands of books on God and Christianity throughout his life. He has earned multiple degrees and has studied theology with reputable Christian scholars. He has done everything he could to position himself to answer life’s toughest questions.

But as I looked at him across that room, I could tell that he was at a loss for answers just as much as I was.


Just like I tried to do in the aftermath of Dad’s death, I’ve tried to get out of writing on this topic. In all honesty, I’ve avoided writing this post and put it off until the last minute because I don’t enjoy facing these questions. I don’t enjoy facing them because I don’t have answers for any of it.

Ever since my Dad died, I’ve been flooded with questions big and small. They come in waves, but they come every day. And it’s rare that I’m able to provide an answer to many of them.

The death of a loved one, especially a parent, is a pivotal juncture in one’s life journey, particularly as it pertains to spiritual matters. When that innocence is shattered and when that familiar protector and provider is no longer there, it creates serious unrest in the lives of those left behind. How will I survive without that person? Why did this have to happen? What will life look like without the joy that person brought into it?

Suicide, however, adds and additional layer of questions that I never expected I would have to deal with. How could my Dad think that life wasn’t worth living? Could I have done more to convince him that this wasn’t the end? What factors made him think that life was unlivable? How could God let one of his believers, a man who lived the truth of the Gospel, meet such an untimely end?

I don’t know that these questions will ever cease. I don’t know that they’ll ever disappear from my life, because the pain of losing my Dad will always be there. Even though life has had it’s wonderful and bright moments since we lost my Dad, there’s been a dullness that sort of clouds every good thing that happens to me.

I have so many questions for my Dad; but I have so many more for God.


When you start to question God in front of a veteran minister, you wonder what kind of reaction they will have. I don’t remember all of the particular details of my conversation with Reverend Duncan on that day. But I do remember this—at no point did Reverend Duncan try and make me feel like I was a bad person for questioning why God would let something so tragic happen to my family. At no point did he belittle me, make me feel inferior, or try to minimize my pain.

We sat together in that darkened room for nearly an hour. Reverend Duncan mostly talking, and me mostly listening. I could tell that on a different level, Reverend Duncan was heartbroken. My Dad had been one of the original congregation members at our church when Reverend Duncan began his ministry there over thirty years ago. He enjoyed my Dad’s company, and my Dad enjoyed his.

In a way only he could do, Reverend Duncan assured me that the pain I felt was real. We talked about bad things happening to good people. We talked about God’s ability to take something bad and make it into something great. We talked about suffering and the pain my Dad must have felt trying to combat his depression on a daily basis.

And Reverend Duncan assured me that both my Dad and my God still loved me dearly.

But Reverend Duncan did something really unique on that day that has set the stage for so much of my healing. He let me ask questions, and he didn’t pretend to have all the answers.

Yes, a studied and learned member of the religious clergy told me that, together, we were going to encounter many questions on this side of eternity that we would never have an answer for. We would probably never know why my Dad did what he did. We would probably never know why God allowed him to suffer. We would probably never know why God allows something as horrific as suicide to weave into his master plan for our lives. We would probably never know why God thought we were all strong enough to live life without my Dad.

Together, there in that room, Reverend Duncan prayed over me—one of the most beautiful prayers I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s a private and unbelievably special moment that I’ll remember forever. I don’t know that I’ll remember the words or the phrases he spoke, but I remember a feeling of God being there with us in that room. And just like Reverend Duncan, he wasn’t mad that I had questions.


I don’t know if this is theologically correct or sound, but I’m of the mind that God is completely okay with us asking him questions.

Let me explain what I mean before I start getting messages from people who might cringe when they read that statement.

There is a difference between questioning God and asking Him questions.

When we question God, we are essentially telling Him that He doesn’t know what He’s doing. We are telling Him that we know better and could figure this out our own. When we question God, we are practically telling Him that His ways are wrong and our ways are right. This type of questioning comes from a deeply-rooted proclivity for disobedience. Questioning God means you doubt whether the promises He delivers through the Bible are actually true and actually accurate. Instead of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” it’s “Jesus, I’m So Sick of Being a Passenger Because You Drive Like a Maniac” (doubt she would have won a Grammy on that one…).

But when we ask God questions, we are doing something entirely different. We are coming to Him as humble servants. We are expressing, honestly, the innermost workings of our hearts and minds to the one who already knows them.

When we ask God a question, we acknowledge that He exists. Would you ever ask a question to someone who didn’t actually exist? You could, but it would probably be a pretty quick conversation. When we ask God a question, we validate that He is there with us. But more importantly…

When we ask God a question, we acknowledge that He’s in control. Even if we don’t understand what He’s doing. Would you ask a question if you already knew the answer? Most likely not. When we ask God a question and are legitimately seeking answers for the tragic things that happen to us in our lives, we aren’t doubting God. In fact, we are doing exactly what He commands us to do. We are submitting to Him and saying “God I don’t have any idea why you would let this happen. I don’t know how to reconcile this with the truths of your Word. Help me understand.” We are recognizing that God knows more than we do or ever could, and that only He can provide answers to the questions we have. And…

When we ask God questions, we are drawn into a closer relationship with Him. Let’s face it! If you’re having questions, God already knows them. Psalm 139:4 says “Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely” (NIV). In even simpler terms? “You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord” (NLT). If you’re feeling guilty because you have questions for God about the things that are happening in your life, don’t feel that way or don’t try to hide them. He knows you inside and out, and He’s known you forever, and even though He knew that you would have all these questions about how he can grow love in a darkened life, He still sent His Son to the cross to die for you.

When I was little, my Dad always loved it when I would ask him questions. Whether it was about a game or a car or something completely irrelevant on television, my Dad never tired of giving me answers. He never once told me to be quiet and quit asking him questions. When I asked him those questions, I acknowledged that he was important to me and that he knew more than I did. And I think that made him feel loved, and important, and worthy.

I imagine our Heavenly Father has that same smile on His face when we ask questions.


I definitely know this part isn’t theologically sound, but I’ve often envisioned my first days in heaven as an episode of Gruden’s QB Camp (except God will be nothing like Jon Gruden…I think?). I imagine that God is going to take me into a small film room, just me and Him, and he’s going to hit play on the tape reel that sits in the table between us. Then, the two of us will sit and watch my life play out in front of me. We will see all the bright moments, and all the moments of defeat.

But then, the tape will get to July 24, 2013. We will watch the heartache of losing my Dad. We will experience the moments of shock and horror that accompanied his death. And then, I’ll slowly reach across the table and pause the tape. I’ll look at God, not with accusation but with a desperate longing for wisdom, and say “Can you explain what you were doing there?”

I imagine that God is going to come around the other side of the table. He’s going to put His arm around me. He’s going to embrace me in a way that only a loving Father could. And He’s going to explain how my Dad’s death fit into His ultimate master plan.

And I’ll finally have answers to the questions that plague me.

But to get to that point, I’ve got to trust that He has the answers. I’ve got to trust that the questions I’m facing now will be answered eventually, but not on this side of the grave. I’ve got to find comfort and solace in the fact that, in the times where life seems to be bursting apart at the seams, God is there to stitch everything back into place.

I’ll live my entire life with questions about my Dad and why he had to leave us so soon. But I’ll live in heaven knowing that my Father knows them all and loves me still.

dad-and-me-in-pool-with-sb-logoDad, There are so many days where I can’t get the questions about your death out of my mind. There are moments where the questions are so tense and overwhelming that I can’t seem to let them go. The more that the days go by since losing you, the more unanswered questions I seem to have. But I know that you’ve found peace in Heaven. I know that you’ve found comfort in the arms of God. I know that each day, I am one step closer to seeing you again and having those questions answered. Until that day, I’ll rest easy in the fact that God knows exactly what He’s doing. And until that day, seeya Bub.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 (GW)

Visions

I haven’t seen my Dad in over three years. But I see him every day.

I remember the first time it happened. I was walking through the mall doing some shopping before Christmas when a sight stopped me dead in my tracks.

I could have sworn it was my Dad. A man was walking a few steps ahead of me, and everything in me told me that it was my Dad. The glare from the mall’s overhead lights shone off his bald head (a fact that I had teased my Dad about so many times before). He wore a shirt that my Dad would have worn, along with jeans and boots that I swore I had seen him wear before. I could see glasses hanging over his ears, and I knew in that moment that my Dad was there, walking just a few steps ahead of me.

The moment I saw him my breathing ceased. I felt a tightness in my chest that I hadn’t felt since the funeral. I was almost paralyzed in the middle of that mall, but as I stood there stock-still, he continued to walk.

I realized I was losing him, so I quickened my pace, bobbing and weaving through nonchalant mall-goers in an effort to catch my Dad. With quickened breath I evened myself with him, and as his head turned towards me, I saw a man who was not my Dad. A man who, from another angle, resembled him, but a man who could never fill his shoes or the hole in my heart. A man whose outward looks captured my attention because I longed to see him again so badly.

I nodded briefly with a disappointed look on my face, and veered off to a bench in the mall where I sat down and attempted to recapture my emotions. I sat there wondering how many more times I would see my Dad in the physical features or gestures of other people.

I haven’t seen my Dad in over three years. But I see him every day.


I saw my Dad nearly every day of his life. I saw him at home, yes, but most often I remember seeing him at an unlikely spot—at the games where I would announce.

When I was in college, a random flyer on a campus corkboard led me to a unique career that continues today. As I was making my way down the stairwell of Mosler Hall on the Hamilton Campus of Miami University, I saw a flyer that jumped out at me: “Interested in becoming a Sports Announcer?”

I had never shared this with anyone, but from the time I was in high school I had always had an underlying desire to become a sports broadcaster. Partly because I knew my voice could cut it, and partly as an effort to redeem my horrible history as an athlete.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my days as an athlete were few and full of trouble. For some reason, the genes that allowed my Dad to be successful at about any sport he ever played had not been passed down to me. I was even bad at tee-ball, which I didn’t know was possible. I didn’t envision anything getting better once they took the tee away, so after a short-lived and completely underwhelming career in youth recreational leagues all across Southwestern Ohio, I retired—much to the excitement of the other kids’ parents who wouldn’t have to watch me any longer.

But I loved baseball, and I loved basketball, and I loved many other sports, even if I couldn’t play them respectably. My favorite pastime in high school was going down to Great American Ballpark and watching a good…well….watching a Cincinnati Reds game. I loved watching Kentucky Basketball, and had grown up a fan of the Wildcats all my life. If I had a chance to go to games on campus at Miami as a student, I always went, no matter the sport. All along, I envisioned myself being in the shoes of those athletes, knowing darn well that I would never come close. The mind wanted to do it, but the hands couldn’t make it happen.

Sports announcing was my way of bridging the gap, and I got that job as an announcer for the Miami University Hamilton athletic department at the end of my freshman year. My debut came during a women’s basketball game in the Fall of 2016, and although it was a small crowd who came out to watch the Harriers, the most important people in the crowd that night were my parents.

My parents came out to see me announce, but it was a deeper commitment than seeing the novelty of my first game. They were there for that game and they were there for nearly every game that came after it. As the years went by, I continued to find new jobs as an announcer. I started filling in for games at the main campus in Oxford, and then when a new summer collegiate baseball team, the Hamilton Joes, established themselves in my hometown, I was tapped to be the voice of the team. No matter the sport or the team, chances were always good that my parents would be in the stands cheering on the team I announced for—and silently watching over me. I often joked that I was the only sports announcer at any level whose parents would travel to watch him at any game, but underneath the joking was a deep sense of gratitude. I absolutely loved having them there.

Whenever I finished announcing a basketball game, Dad always made it a point to stroll across the hardwood floor and visit me at the scorer’s table before he left for home. We would catch up on our day as I packed up my things. We would talk about the game. We would criticize the players who had made boneheaded decisions. He would tell me that I sounded good that night or compliment me on a particular line I had used. Those five or so minutes were always extremely special to me. I would introduce him to all of the people within the athletic department, and he would befriend them like he did nearly everyone he came into contact with. As much as I appreciated those interactions after the game, I definitely didn’t realize how special they were until he was no longer there to greet me.

Of all the teams I announced for, I think my Dad was happiest when I became the Voice of the Hamilton Joes. I loved baseball, and so did my Dad. There was something about the team and the experience at Foundation Field that he loved from day one. Dad was so excited when he found out the team would start playing in the summer of 2009, right after I had graduated from college; and he was absolutely thrilled when I told him I would be the announcer.

dad-mom-and-i-at-joes-game

Maybe it was the fact that the players truly hustled as they tried to turn the eye of a major league scout and up their draft stock. Maybe it was the fact that he got to see college players using a wood bat. Or maybe it was just his love of being outside on a warm summer’s night. No matter the reason, Dad absolutely loved being there watching the Joes.

He was “all in” from that very first season—they both were. Dad bought a t-shirt that first season, and he and Mom rarely missed a game. He wore that t-shirt to nearly every game, and loved wearing it around town, even when the Joes weren’t in season. When the team made it to the league championship in only their second year, Dad made sure that he and Mom were ready to go on the road with the team to watch them win. We travelled to Granville, Ohio—I was in the broadcast booth calling the win, and Mom and Dad were sitting in the stands cheering like crazy. Dad was so happy that night, but win or lose my Dad was always happy to be watching his favorite team.

As much as he enjoyed watching the game, I think that Dad enjoyed being there with the team and the other fans just as much. My Dad was a man who was able to relish in the simplistic beauty of life’s regular moments, and I’m always envious of his ability to slow down and experience joy in the everyday. He found joy watching college kids play baseball. He found peace sitting in the stands as the sun would set at his back. He found happiness eating a hot dog and nachos and washing it down with a Coke on a July evening. He enjoyed life the way that I wish I could.

me-mom-and-dad-at-gabp

And he made people feel so valued and so important when he was there, too. Shortly after I launched Seeya Bub, Amy Baker (the daughter of the team’s owner) submitted a story about my Dad through the “Scott Stories” link that warmed my heart and reminded me of those wonderful summer’s nights (I’d love to see you submit a story about my Dad if you have one too. Use this link). She wrote:

Scott was always one of the first people to say hello to me and my children at the Hamilton Joes baseball games and the Miami Harrier basketball games. He was always so proud of Ty and his passion for sports announcing. I envy the support he gave.

I’m sure that most people who interacted with my Dad at Joes games felt the same way, because he had a way of interacting with people that made them enjoy life too.

My Dad died right at the end of the Joes 2013 season, and I just couldn’t bring myself to announce the few games that remained that year. I didn’t want to go the stadium knowing that he wouldn’t be there. I didn’t want to look down from my perch in the press box and see an empty seat in the grandstands where he sat. I had looked down from that press box window so many times and watched my Dad’s bald head glaring in the stadium lights. I would see him smiling and laughing with my Mom or a fellow fan. And I was desperate to see that vision again, knowing deep down that I would never see him sitting in the stands at one of my games ever again.

That summer mercifully expired, but I knew another would be right around the corner. And with it would be the painful reminder that the game and the team my Dad enjoyed so much would continue to play without him in the stands. As awful as this sounds to admit, life moves on in the face of painful tragedy, especially for those who aren’t in the epicenter of the trauma. Some are more prepared for the moving-on than others, but I was definitely not ready for a season of Joes baseball without my Dad. The pain was still too real. The sleepless nights and vivid nightmares were still too frequent.

I thought about whether or not I should even return to the pressbox at all, but every time I thought about my options I knew that I only had one. I had to return, because it’s what my Dad would have wanted me to do. My Dad would have been so disappointed in me had I let his death ruin my love of the game and being behind the microphone. I wanted to honor him, and as painful as it was to think about getting back to business without my Dad, I knew that I had to do it.

So, in June of 2014, nearly a year after my Dad had passed away, I made a familiar walk in unfamiliar territory. I returned to the broadcast booth as I had so many times before, sat in the same chair, put on the same headset mic, and went through many of the same motions I had gone through so many games before.

And then I stopped. And I looked out from the pressbox window. I looked at the spot where my Dad had enjoyed so many Joes games. And that spot was empty. And even if someone sat in that spot, I knew that for me it would always remain empty.

I made it through that first game back, but there were numerous moments throughout those nine innings where I had to turn my head towards he wall and shed a few tears. I would lean back in my chair a bit so I couldn’t see my Dad’s seat—even though I desperately wanted to see him.

When the game concluded, I began to pack up my things as I had always done, but I felt something coming over me that stopped me dead in my tracks. Before I could even gather all of my things, I made my way out of the broadcast booth and descended the grandstand stairs. Then, I made my way over into the bleachers to the spot where my Dad had enjoyed so many games, took a deep breath, and sat down.

I sat down next to that spot and surveyed the field with tears in my eyes. I thought about all the great times we had enjoyed together at baseball games and other sporting events. I thought about all the times I had looked down from my pressbox perch and witnessed my Dad cheering, eating a hot dog, and enjoying the simplicity of a summer night at a local baseball game. I thought of all the joy that those games had provided for him night in and night out. And I thought about how many bad days he might have had that were completely remedied by sitting in those bleachers and watching a game.

And I turned my head and looked next to me, and I could see him there.

I still see him in that seat. It’s been over three years since he died, but every time I look at that spot in the grandstands I seem him sitting there.

Don’t get me wrong. It still hurts every time I look down from my perch and see that empty seat. But then I see my Dad, and I see and remember the great times he had watching baseball. It doesn’t make losing him any easier, and I would still do absolutely anything to have him occupy that seat again. But it also reminds me that he lived life to enjoy it, and I’m so very thankful for that.

I haven’t seen my Dad in over three years. But I see him every day.

And as painful as it is to see him, I’m so grateful that I do. I’ll never stop seeing him—and I love that.

family-at-joes-gameDad, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss seeing you at my games. I may not have always shown it like I should have, but I always loved having you there. You made it a priority to come and hear me announce, and you didn’t do it out of obligation—you did it because you loved me. You did it because you enjoyed the simple moments that life provided. Every time I look down at the grandstand at a Joes game, I picture you sitting there. Every time I announce a game at Miami Hamilton, I can still see you strolling across the court towards me once the game ends. I long for the day where I can be there at a game with you again. If there are baseball games in heaven, I can’t wait to sit next to you and enjoy one together. But for now, seeya Bub.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2 (NIV)

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)

A Joyful Noise

Some of my earliest memories of music are with my Dad. I used to ride around with him in his blue pick-up, strapped into my child seat. Bottle of juice in one hand, toy in the other, we would bounce along the road as his cassette tapes played through the rattling speakers.

My Dad and I were simpatico in the fact that we both had a deep, appreciating love for country music. I’m not sure when his started, but mine had been around since those early days. Amidst all the things that are memorable about my childhood, I remember that Dad had a mixtape with some late eighties country music on it, and we would ride down the road listening and singing whenever we got the chance. The tape had one of my favorite country songs of my youth on it—“The Church on Cumberland Road”, an old Shenandoah song that I still listen to on occasion to this day. Dad would sing and tap his hands on the steering wheel or beat his hand on the seat. He always took music and made it fun.

I spent a lot of time with my little cousin Jake when I was growing up, and when Dad would drive us around to go to softball games or get ice cream at Flub’s during the summer, the country music still played. Jake was a big fan of another country “classic”, a Tracy Byrd song called “Watermelon Crawl”. Dad would scan the radio dial back and forth until he found the song every time Jake was in the truck with us. Once he found it, Jake would try his best to sing along and we would both laugh as he jumbled the words.

I outgrew that car seat, cassette tapes went by the wayside, and Dad eventually traded that beat up blue pick-up in for a Gray Sierra and then a sleek Silverado, but one thing never changed. Dad always had music on in his truck. The artists he listened to might have changed a little bit over time. By the time I reached high school, Dad and I were listening to a lot of the same country artists: Jason Aldean, Montgomery Gentry, Joe Nichols, Travis Tritt, Shania Twain (you bet we did), and Brooks & Dunn. But his love for listening to music never changed.

And anytime he was working on a house project or fixing his truck in the garage, Dad always had a radio nearby. I was never much help on those household projects, but there was one simple thing that I could master. If a song would come on that my Dad really liked, he would look to me and say “Oh, this is a good one. Turn this one up.” Sometimes I agreed, and other times I didn’t, but I usually always went to turn up the volume knob for him. Or made a snide comment about a song that I didn’t like and criticized his taste.

Although we never had a chance to go to a concert together, Dad was a big fan of live music, too. Our family has always vacationed in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and one year Dad asked if I would take him to the Florabama—a local bar of with a legendary folklore that has been beaten by hurricanes too many times to count. Dad and I sat at one of the wooden tables covered in permanent marker messages of years gone by, and listened to the band that played Southern rock and oldies on that particular night. Dad sang along to the songs he knew, tapping his foot and bobbing his head like all middle-age Dads seem to do in the presence of a live band. It’s the type of move that embarrasses teenage sons worldwide.

Wherever we went, Dad always seemed to have music around him.

Listening to music and creating music, however, are two entirely different things. My Dad was not a musician, vocal or otherwise, in any sense of the word. Dad liked to sing in the truck, but I don’t know how many people truly enjoyed listening. He didn’t have a bad singing voice, but he didn’t have a good one either. He excelled at so many things in this life, but singing wasn’t one of them.

Among many genes, he has unfortunately passed this particular one along to his son. I’m praying that I inherited this gene in place of the “lose your hair at 30” gene, but I’m not holding my breath. I try to sing only when I know my voice will be drowned out because I’m embarrassed that I sound so off-key. I’m always in awe of those who have beautiful singing voices because mine is so unfortunately terrible. Like many other areas of my life, I’m easily embarrassed and overly concerned with what other people think of me—and my inability to carry a harmonious tune is at the top of that list.

Like me, I think Dad probably recognized that he didn’t have the best singing voice. I think that Dad knew what his talents were, and I’m sure he knew that singing wasn’t what God had called him to do as a profession or vocation.

But that never stopped my Dad from having a song in his heart, and one area where I’ll always remember this is in church. Knowing that he wasn’t called to sing, my Dad never signed up to sing a solo in front of the congregation, and he never joined the choir. I appreciated this for many reasons, one of which was that I always got to sit next to my Dad in the pew on Sunday mornings.

In the churches I grew up in, singing was always an important part of the worship service. As a congregation, we would all stand together and worship God together, singing hymns and songs together to show our love for our Heavenly Father.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been conscious of my less-than-harmonious voice, and I’ve always been embarrassed to sing in church. I don’t know why, but I’ve always felt extremely self-conscious during worship services. I wish I could blame this one on my Dad, too, but I can’t…

No matter how off-key he might have been, and no matter whether he knew the lyrics well or not, Dad always tried his hardest to sing in church. His singing voice in church was rather deep, and I can always remember hearing him sing next to me as I stood nervously next to him in the pew. Because his singing voice was so deep, it was almost like the pew would vibrate a bit when he sang. Occasionally, Dad would try and get me to sing along. But I would often shake my head no or ignore his request. But he never let that dissuade him from singing along in worship.

And now, sitting in a pew without him at church, I would give anything to hear his off-key singing again.


I have to confess, I hadn’t intended to write a post about singing; but God has this really weird way of putting a song in your heart (get it?) or a sermon in your podcast list. This week while driving to work, I was listening to Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Texas. Matt has become one of my favorite preachers to listen to since a good friend from the gym recommended him to me shortly after my Dad’s death.

For the past few months, Matt Chandler has been preaching a series on the book of Exodus[1]. In a recent sermon on the 15th chapter of Exodus, Chandler talked about singing and shared the following truth from Scripture that I never knew: There are over 400 verses in the Bible that refer to singing, and there are 50 explicit commands from God for his people to sing[2].

Even though God makes this a pretty black and white issue more than a handful of times throughout the Bible, this is one of those commands that I always try to gloss over or completely ignore. I try to play mental gymnastics and convince myself that God only wanted this command to apply to the people he blessed with a great singing voice, but the example my Dad gave me as a youngster has convinced me otherwise.

In his sermon, Matt Chandler refers to numerous verses, mostly in the Psalms, that clearly say “make a joyful noise”. Notice that God does not say “make a good noise” or “make a pleasant noise”, but instead instructs His followers to “make a joyful noise.” Chandler says “It’s not about you performing. It’s about you receiving. See, that’s the big confusion around corporate singing. No, no, no. We receive when we sing together as a body. We’re not performing…It’s not that God is in need; it’s that we’re in need.[3]

My Dad understood that singing in church wasn’t about whether or not he satisfied the standards of good vocal talent. My Dad knew and believed that singing in church was his way of saying “thank you” and “I love you” to the God of the universe. It was about connecting with God, similar to the way we do when we pray. It was about my Dad telling God that he was open to his guidance and direction for his life. In an imperfect voice, my Dad would cry out to our perfect Creator, asking for God to carry him in those areas of his life where he might have been weak.

I often think of what my Dad looks like on the other side of Eternity (full head of hair maybe?), but I have to confess that I’ve rarely thought about what he will sound like. I’ve rarely thought about the fact that my Dad now resides in a perfect Kingdom where he worships God each and every day. I’m thankful that he had a lot of practice here on Earth, and that he never let his musical inabilities inhibit his love for God.

I know that I should sing because God instructs me to, and I shouldn’t need any other motivation than that. But it doesn’t hurt that I had a real-life, personal example of the need to sing and honor and God. It’s been a painstaking process for me to come out of my shell and sing in the pew at church. There are some days when I do it without hesitation, and others where my embarrassment still gets the best of me.

And on those days, I remember my Dad. I remember that he never once told me, even as a child, not to sing, but instead encouraged me to do it. As a way to honor my Dad while also honoring God, I try and sing when I’m in church now. Even though I don’t always know the words, and even though the rhythm will sometimes get the best of me, I do my best to join in the chorus of the congregation, albeit quietly and still off-key.

And I apologize to the folks who sit near me and have to listen—you can blame it on my Dad.


When my Dad died, I was fortunate enough to inherit many of his things. Although the things can never replace the man, they do help me hold on to the memory of who he was here on this Earth and the impact he had on my life.

One of the things I was lucky enough to take possession of was my Dad’s book of CD’s. Yes, CD’s. The only iPod Dad ever owned was the hand-me-down iPod Mini that he got from me, and unfortunately he wasn’t with us long enough to use it substantially.

It wasn’t entirely full, but that CD book was something I always associate with my Dad. He kept it in the middle console of his truck at all times. Dad was the type of person (very unlike me) who would listen to an entire CD all the way through, and once it reached the end, he would start it again at the top. Then, after a few days of listening to that CD, he might switch to another. Or perhaps he would just continue to listen to the one that was currently in the player. My Dad enjoyed the simplicity of life, and listening to a CD was one of the simple pleasures he enjoyed.

Every now and then, especially on days where the thought of losing him is too much to bear, I’ll pull out that CD book and grab a disc to listen to. I’ll throw it in the CD player of my truck, and although he might not be there with my physically, there are times when I can see him riding in the passenger seat next to me. There are days when I can hear his voice again. There are moments when I swear I can feel the vibration of his thumb tapping the steering wheel. And on those days where it seems like he’s right there with me, I am thankful that for the 26 years I spent with him, my Dad always had a song in his heart and never shied to share that song with those he loved.

dad-in-redhawks-sweater-with-sb-logoDad, What I wouldn’t give to hear you sing another song right next to me. What I wouldn’t give to go back to those days where we would ride around in your truck and listen to country music together. I’m thankful that you always set the right example for me in church by singing along with the worship songs. I’m thankful that you always remembered that singing songs of praise and worship aren’t about us but are about developing a relationship with God. Certain songs come on the radio, and I still think of you. I’ll always be appreciative of the memories you gave me as a young child listening to country music in your truck. Thank you for being a Dad who always had a song of love in your heart. Until we both join the chorus of heavenly angels together, seeya Bub. 

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100:1-5 (NIV)

References:

[1] http://www.thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/series/exodus/

[2] http://thevillagechurch.net/mediafiles/uploaded/e/0e5770908_1483456017_exodus-part-17-from-bitter-to-sweet-t.pdf

[3] http://thevillagechurch.net/mediafiles/uploaded/e/0e5770908_1483456017_exodus-part-17-from-bitter-to-sweet-t.pdf