Wondering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all throughout, I wondered.

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

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

And from that moment on, I began wondering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Should Haves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad’s Rules: Ice Cream

Dad's Rules Banner

Welcome to “Dad’s Rules”, a new recurring series at Seeya Bub. In this series, I’ll celebrate all the things that made my Dad, Scott Bradshaw, the man he was and the man that he still is in my memory and in the lives of those he loved. But before I launch in, let me tell you why this series is so important to me.

Death is difficult. That’s the understatement of the century. Losing a loved one leaves a gaping hole in the lives of those left behind that can never truly be replaced.

But there’s something worse than death, and that’s losing your loved one again.

I started this blog because I wanted to help those who were suffering. I wanted to use my Dad’s story to provide perspective to those suffering from mental illness or contemplating suicide. I wanted to prevent suicide in the lives of those in my community and throughout the world. Suicide devastated my family, and I just couldn’t sit idly by and watch it happen to other families. I wanted to make a huge difference—an eternal one.

Selfishly, however, I started this blog because I wanted to hang on to my Dad. I wanted to capture the 26 years full of memories that I had with him, and memorialize them forever. And I wanted to do this because…I felt like I was losing him again.

Time is fleeting, and as it moves on it is unbelievably easy to lose memories that we swore we never would. Unfortunately, I’ve felt that happening in my life more than I’d like. There were times when I would wake up in the middle of the night in a severe panic thinking I forgot what his voice sounded like. There were moments when I would sob uncontrollably because I felt like I was losing the visualization of his face and his physical features. There were instances when people would tell stories about my Dad that I should have remembered; and when I didn’t remember those stories, I felt a sickening sense of guilt. I would cry and sob when I would forget things about my Dad. He was too amazing to be forgotten, and the guilt of being the forgetful one broke me at the soul level.

In a sense, I felt like my Dad was dying again. It was painful enough losing him the first time. To lose his memory, the only thing I had left of him, was unbearable. I couldn’t let it happen.

Yes, I remember the big moments. The powerful, epic stories that showcase my Dad’s courage, strength, and love. But it’s the little moments I cherish most. The day to day interactions. The seemingly simple, anything-but-mundane memories are the ones I wanted. The big memories would be impossible to forget, thank God. It’s the little memories, however, that I needed. The sound of his voice, the smell of his cologne, the infectious laughter and that prize-winning smile. The little memories made up an amazing life, and I just couldn’t let them go.

I also wanted to start this series because I didn’t want my Dad to be defined by his mental illness or his death. Yes, my Dad died from suicide; but he lived for 50 wonderful, amazingly vivid years before that—and he lived those years to the fullest. I couldn’t ignore what happened to my Dad that ended his life prematurely, but I also couldn’t ignore the things that made his life worth living for so long. My Dad is not defined by the “2013” in bronze on his gravestone. My Dad is defined by that dash in between that is full of character, heart, and beautiful simplicity. My Dad was more than a victim of suicide. He was a Father. And a husband. And a brother. And a son. And a friend. And a coworker. And a church member. And a member of our community. He deserved to be remembered for those things, not just for his suffering.

And lastly, I wanted to write this series to share the story of a man that some of you have met, but that many of you haven’t. I’ve been so touched by the folks who read that knew my Dad during his life, and I am glad that I can help those who knew my Dad remember the story of his life; but I am so unbelievably amazed at those of you who read Seeya Bub regularly having never met my Dad. You take time out of your days to read stories of a man that I loved dearly and who loved everyone that he ever encountered. You have no idea how honored I am to carry his story on through the ages. Your reading makes a difference in my life, and in the lives of all who knew my Dad, love him, and miss him every day.

You can only understand my Dad’s struggle and untimely death if you first understand his life. You can only know why this story is important to me if you know why I loved the man that I’m writing about. Sharing my Dad’s rules for life will become one of the greatest honors I could ever have because God graced me with a Father that I didn’t deserve. My Dad never gave me a written set of rules to live by; he didn’t have to. Instead, he taught me how to live through little gestures, corrections full of unconditional love, and a patience that surpasses human understanding. My Dad occupied many roles on his walk through this life; but first and last, he was a teacher. To me, my family, and everyone he ever encountered. We could all live better lives because of the example he gave.

So, I ask you to enjoy “Dad’s Rules”. I ask you to visualize the man I knew and loved as I cling desperately to the moments that made him so lovable and unique. I invite you to remember that my Dad is not defined by his death, but by his life. And I ask you, when the moment seems right, to try and live by my Dad’s Rules to continue spreading the joy and positive energy that my Dad brought to this world.


Dad’s Rule #62: “There’s always room for ice cream.”

My Dad taught me many things in this life. He taught me how to drive. He taught me to love Jesus and the people Jesus loved. He taught me how to ride a bike. He taught me how to repair cracks in the drywall (correction: he “attempted” to teach me).

And yes, he taught me to love ice cream.

My Dad always savored food. He loved a good meal with good company. He loved homecooked dinners that my Mom would make, praising her talent in the kitchen. He loved going out to dinner and chowing down on a steak or a bowl of pasta.

But no matter how big the meal, there was always room for ice cream.

Now this is a rule that I can live with!

I’m pretty sure Dad’s love of ice cream existed long before I came around. From the time I was little, I can always remember sitting in the middle seat of his pickup with Mom against the window as we rambled down the road to Flub’s, a true Hamilton tradition. Flub’s is soft serve ice cream at its finest. It’s creamy, and it’s flavorful, and it’s heavenly. Our little family would stand in a typically-eight-deep-line under the yellow light of the small ice cream shack on a hot July night, pondering the menu with the indecisiveness of a politician in a re-election year. Eventually, we would all make our choices. Dad would order a variety of cyclone—a tasty treat usually mixed with plenty of chocolate sauce and chopped peanuts and whipped cream. Mom would vacillate between fruity sherbets and cyclones and swirled cones, rarely ordering the same thing. I usually ended up with soft-serve sherbet in a dish. Sometimes orange, but most of the time I ended up with the Flub’s specialty: Smurf (note: no real Smurfs are harmed in the making of this dessert). It’s a blue raspberry flavored sherbet that is served every day amidst the three or four daily rotating flavors of sherbet. And of course, I had to have eyes on my sherbet! (Those of you not from Hamilton are likely freaking out right now. Once again, not real Smurf eyes) It wasn’t a kid’s ice cream at Flub’s unless they put those two little sugary candy eyes on your treat. Mom and Dad always made sure I got my eyes on my ice cream…

Blue Smurf Sherbet from Flubs

The ice cream was always delicious, but more than that I remember sitting on the curb or on the lowered tailgate of Dad’s truck in the parking lot near the train tracks eating our dessert with Mom on one side and Dad on the other. Dad would use the long spoon to dig deep into his tall cup before the Ohio humidity could compromise his treat. He would savor every single bite. He never took those moments for granted, and I wish more than anything that I could travel back in time for another one of those family nights at Flub’s. We were all so happy. And we were all together.

And of course, we had delicious ice cream.

Unfortunately, Flub’s was only open during the hot summer months, but that never squelched Dad’s love for ice cream. Growing up, our family always made a big deal out of going out to dinner. Mom was a master chef and cooked most nights, but on a Friday or Saturday night we found a way to go out and enjoy a meal together. Unfortunately for my parents, I quit ordering kid’s meals around age 3, and there was always plenty of food to be had.

But even when the meal was big, there was always room for ice cream if my Dad had his way.

Oftentimes, I think Dad found an excuse for us to eat in the Tri-County area, because there was a Graeter’s Ice Cream located conveniently nearby.

And for those of you who don’t know Graeter’s….let me take a moment to help you realize that your entire life until this very moment has been largely unfulfilled.

Graeter’s is the mecca of ice cream in America. There is simply nothing like it. Anywhere. I’ve taken up the difficult task of trying to prove this wrong by sampling ice creams from all across the country, but nothing ever stacks up. Graeter’s ice cream is flavorful, dense, creamy, and more delicious than anything. But it’s also full of gargantuous chocolate! When they make the ice cream in giant French pots, they push the frozen ice cream mixture to the walls of the pot and pour in molten chocolate. Then, they let the paddles break the chocolate into random size pieces, which offers unbelievable excitement and suspense to the consumer. Sometimes, you get a chocolate chip the size of a penny. Other times, you get a chocolate chip the size of a Toyota Camry.

I made many, many trips to Graeter’s with my Dad over the years; and in all those trips, I only ever saw him order one thing.

Black Raspberry Chip.

It’s Graeter’s house flavor. Bright purple ice cream with a deliciously sweet flavor, intermingled with those luscious chocolate chunks. Yes, he might vary the delivery mechanism on occasion. Sometimes, it was a waffle cone. Other times he got a dish. But to my Dad, Graeter’s only offered one flavor.

Black Raspberry Chip

Dad loved it more than any other ice cream. When we would go on vacation and try other ice cream spots, I always knew what my Dad would say at the end of our dessert: “Good, but nothing like Graeter’s.” And he was always right.

When I was young, Graeter’s didn’t have nearly as many locations throughout the city. Now, thankfully, I can usually find a Graeter’s within 15 minutes of any spot I’m at throughout Cincinnati. There’s even a Graeter’s in Oxford where I work at Miami University. I know from plenty of practice that it’s an eight-and-a-half minute walk from my office to the Oxford Graeter’s. This, dear people, is the greatest accomplishment of my professional career.

But when I was younger, Graeter’s took more time and more investment; but an investment that was always worth it to Dad. And then, something miraculous happened. Graeter’s started hand-packing their ice cream and selling pints in the local grocery store.

When Dad heard the news, he wept. Our lives, and our waistlines, were never the same.

The pints were a bit expensive in the grocery store (“It’s worth every penny,” was Dad’s common refrain), but Mom would occasionally pick them up for us if the sale was right.

And there was no way that pint would make it through the night once Dad found out about it.

Dad taught me lots of things in this life, but we never got around to the “ice cream moderation” lesson. Oftentimes, Mom and I would find Dad camped out on the recliner in our family room with a spoon in one hand…and the entire pint in the other. His excuse? He didn’t want to unnecessarily add another dish to the sink. Good play, Pops. Good play.

Literally, no meal was ever too big to avoid ice cream. Even the unlimited ones. There’s one night that I’ll always remember as proof of my Dad’s unyielding love for ice cream. And, no surprise, it involves more regional food! Montgomery Inn, another Cincinnati-foodie-favorite, offers slabs of ribs the size of a small toddler. And those ribs are some of the absolute best I’ve ever had in my life. But once or twice a year, something magical happens; they decide to offer unlimited ribs. It’s wonderful and disgusting all at the same time. I mark my calendar every year like I would a major holiday.

One year, I decided to make the trip to the Montgomery Inn Boathouse with my Dad, our great family friend Shawn, and my friend Tyler Wade from graduate school at Miami. Dad drove us to the feast in his truck, and after we parked, we sat at our table, bibbed-up, and prepared to devour at least 17 hogs worth of delicious Montgomery Inn ribs. We ate like kings that night, inhaling plate after plate of ribs. Our poor waitress wore her feet out bringing us so many refills. After an hour of gorging had passed, we sat there full of sauce and sodium with belts screaming for relief. And then, my Dad did the unthinkable. He looked at our waitress, completely serious, and said “You all still serve Graeter’s ice cream here, right?”

We all started laughing like madmen, including the waitress. “Dad,” I said, “you can’t be serious. You just ate 14 plates of ribs. How can you even think about eating ice cream right now?”

He just smiled and looked at me through his thin-rimmed glasses. “There’s always room for ice cream.”

He ate a dish that night, and savored it just as much as he did any other. We laughed the entire time he ate it. And secretly, as stuffed as I was….I wished I had ordered one too.

As much as he loved Graeter’s, however, there was probably only one brand of ice cream that he ever liked more.

And that was the variety made at our family home.

It simply wasn’t summer in the Bradshaw house without homemade ice cream. My Grandpa Vern had started the tradition for as long as I had been alive, and he passed his recipe down through our family. If we had a family get-together in the summer, there was always homemade ice cream. Always. The inefficient homemade ice cream makers of the late 80’s and early 90’s took hours (if not days!) to churn a small cylinder of ice cream; but it was worth the wait for my Dad. He absolutely loved it.

Mostly, we ate the vanilla ice cream plain out of tall, Styrofoam cups. We eventually started adding fresh fruit as a topping. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries were often nearby for those looking for flavor and feigned-nutrition. But the recipe never changed; nor did my Dad’s love for the homemade ice cream.

Dad eventually bought his own ice cream maker, and he made sure he got a model big enough to make huge helpings of homemade ice cream; mainly to ensure leftovers. When we had a family get together, Dad would also encourage my Grandpa and my Uncle Lee to bring their ice cream makers too, and we would have three machines churning all at once while we splashed around in the pool and waited impatiently for our sweet summer treat. Dad even perfected the leftover process of eating homemade ice cream. He found that putting the ice cream in the microwave for 23 seconds returned the frozen mass to its original consistency. We had huge batches of ice cream left over in most scenarios, but Dad never let a single drop go to waste. He often ate it straight from the leftover container in one delicious sitting.

Whether Flub’s or Graeter’s or Bradshaw brand, Dad always had a smile on his face when he was eating ice cream; and that’s how I’ll always remember him. Happy and content with something as simple as a dish of great ice cream.

I’m so glad that I had a Father who knew how to indulge and enjoy life when the moment was right. I’m glad I had a Father who could locate beauty in some of life’s simplest pleasures. Sure, he probably could have taught me the importance of moderation, which might have helped me avoid the cholesterol conversations that I’m already having with my doctor (I just tell them it’s hereditary, which technically isn’t a lie. It’s my Dad who taught me to eat this way). Instead, he taught me that there’s always room for flavor in life.

I miss my Dad every single day. The feelings of loss have yet to fade, and I doubt they ever will. But when I miss him most, I’m glad that he gave me a convenient excuse to remember him by indulging a bit. On those really hard days, I’ll find an excuse to go enjoy a helping of Dad’s favorite ice cream. It’s a wonderful coping mechanism (not according to the cholesterol doctor, but what does she know anyway…). Sometimes I’ll smile, and sometimes I’ll fight back a few tears. But every time, I remember my Dad and the smile on his face as he enjoyed a good scoop (or seven) or ice cream. I laugh at how he could always find room to power through a pint. And I strive to enjoy life just as much as he did.

The burden is heavy to live up to his standard, but darn it, I’ll sure try my best. It’s the least I can do for my Dad to play life by his rules. What a tasty journey it is!

Me Feeding Dad Ice Cream with SB LogoDad, I don’t know if I could ever relate how much you loved ice cream and how often you enjoyed eating it. I have so many wonderful memories of getting ice cream with you and Mom on those hot summer evenings as a kid growing up. You always gave our family so much to enjoy, and we’ve felt that absence in our heart ever since you left. I miss watching you find a huge chocolate chunk in your black raspberry chip and the exaggerated excitement as you compared it to the size of my head (which was either a testament to the chocolate or insult to my head size). I miss finding empty pints and spoons in the family room next to your chair. I miss those random moments when life would get me down and you would propose the solution of riding out to get an ice cream to make it all better—I wish I had taken you up on it more than I did. Dad, through ice cream and everything you ever did, you taught me to enjoy the beauty of life and all its offerings. I know that I often take life too seriously. I often get so busy and so distracted that I forget to appreciate every bite and every minute that this life has to offer. It always hits me hard when I think of your memory, and I realize in those moments how much I want to be like you. Thank you for giving me these reminders. It’s these little moments in the absence of your being here with us that have provided the most solace and refuge for my soul. Thanks for being a Dad full of love; for ice cream, yes, but mostly for your family. I have no doubt there’s Graeter’s in heaven, and I’m sure you’re still their best customer. Until we can enjoy a few more pints together, I’ll keep missing you here. But I’ll never, ever forget you. I love you, Dad. Seeya, bub.

“Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life.” Ecclesiastes 5:18 (NLT)