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: Socks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This had to be good. Or extremely embarrassing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Years

“I’ve spent my whole life building up this ivory tower, and now that I’m in it I keep wishing it would fall.” (Josh Gracin, “I Want to Live”)

Five years. Five long, sometimes-painful, seemingly-redemptive years.

It’s been five years—to the day, in fact—since I lost my Dad. 1,827 days full of a multitude of different emotions that I often can’t explain. Five years of heartache balanced by little victories all along the way. Five years of wondering what could have been had July 24, 2013 not happened. In those five years, a lot has happened; and a lot hasn’t happened because my Dad wasn’t here to make it so. I’ll always wish I could turn back the clock and change it.

Dad Holding Me as a BabyEvery single day is difficult—all 1,827 of them; but every single year, July 24 is a date that stares at me from the calendar. It looms in the distance for months, and when it passes, I always breathe a sigh of relief that it’s come and gone. But I know, deep down, that it’s coming again. It will always be there. No particular July 24 has been more or less difficult—just different. But because of the nice, round number, this one feels like a milestone. A milestone I wish I didn’t have to reach.

And, likely incoherently, I’d like to share a bit of my heart with you today.

For this post, I’m doing something that I don’t often do when it comes to writing my story at Seeya Bub, I’m actually writing this story less than 24 hours before I’ll publish it. Those of you who read regularly know that I’m a verbose, wordy guy (this one might be a record). I hope it also shows through that I spend a lot of time on these posts. I do this not out of an effort to impress people who read. I do this because it’s a labor of love for my Dad. I enjoy sitting down and writing for hours at a desk because keeping my Dad’s memory alive is the least I can do to repay him for all the wonderful things he did for me. That being said, I often start working on posts weeks before they’re due. One post could be the end result of 1-2 months worth of thinking, writing, producing, editing, re-writing, editing again, and second-guessing. I try to write weeks (if not months) removed from the publication date so I don’t feel rushed to share my Dad’s story. His story is too important to write about carelessly. I usually don’t have trouble getting motivated to write. After all, I’m doing this for my Dad. What more motivation could I need or possibly want?

Today’s post is different. It’s hard for me to admit this to you, but I’ve been putting this one off for a while, and I’m struggling to tell you why. It wasn’t a surprise. I map my posts out months in advance, knowing what I’m going to write and when I’m going to write it. Sometimes it changes on the fly, but I knew this never would. When I turned the page to the month of July in my planner, I knew that I’d be publishing today. I didn’t know the message, but I knew the title of the post would be “Five Years.” It’s not like this snuck up on me.

Below the surface, I know the reasons why I’ve waited. I’ve been trying not to write this post because I simply didn’t want this date to come. I didn’t ever want to reach a point in my life where I defined time by losing someone I loved, and I definitely didn’t want those moments to turn into ever-increasing numbers. Subconsciously, I’ve been telling myself if I didn’t write this post, I wouldn’t have to deal with the grief of losing my Dad.

img08202017_017_002But guess what? No amount of procrastination could stop that date from coming. No amount of denial could stop me from thinking about what this day represents. This day would come—and yes, it would eventually pass—but the second it did, the clock just begin counting down towards another unfortunate milestone. The next Christmas. The next birthday. The next Father’s Day.

Time is relentless. It is unforgiving and cruel and unabating.

And then, ironically, time also heals. Never fully, and never without first inflicting severe pain, but it does heal partially. Time builds up scars to help us avoid certain elements of the pain we feel, but the scars are always there. We stare at them. We obsess over them. And yes, we feel them.

This has been my life after losing my Father to suicide. A life full of complexity—feeling everything, and at the same time feeling nothing. Wanting time to stop one moment, and then wanting it to speed up the next. Even though I try to do it through writing, it oftentimes feels impossible for me to explain my grief. But in this post, I want to tell you how I feel—honestly, authentically, and without much polishing. I want to tell you about some of the feelings I’ve felt over the past five years. Unlike how I usually write, I don’t have a central theme or focus for this post, other than giving you some insight into what the emotional experience has been like for me. I just want you to know what I’m feeling—mainly because I wish I had known more of how my Dad was feeling.

It’s important that we talk about our feelings, even if there isn’t any other point in doing it than to lift the burdens they have on our lives. I’ve felt a lot of different things over these five years. And more than anything, I just want you to know that although time might change some feelings, there is one that will never change; and that is the unconditional love that I feel for my Father.


I feel shock. At least every day, although at different points throughout the day, I have to face the truth of my Dad’s death. At some point every single day, I have to tell myself, “He’s gone.”

I hate facing that moment head on. I absolutely hate it, but I live with it. And I know I have to do it.

In the immediate aftermath of Dad’s death, this happened almost instantaneously every morning. I would wake up, and the first thing I would think about is the fact that Dad had died. “Dad’s dead,” I would hear over and over again in my head, almost like someone was taunting me. My mind would lock in and obsess over this. It was hard to let that thought go—or maybe it’s hard to get that thought to let go of me. Some days it never did.

Time wears on. And some years down the road, it was still the first thought I had. But on other days, it would sneak up on me. On those other days, I might go for an entire hour before the thought of Dad’s death would cross into my mind.

And I’ll admit that this made me feel unbelievably guilty.

On those days when I was able to live for an entire hour or two and not think about Dad’s death, I felt guilty because there was something inside of me telling me I needed to obsess over it. There was an evil voice inside my head saying “See, he’s only been gone for a few months and you’re already forgetting about him. You’re pathetic.” Unfortunately, I started to believe that voice. How was it possible that I could go for a period of hours without thinking about the man who had given me so much? I knew that I shouldn’t beat myself up over this—that not obsessing over his death was not a reflection of my love for my Father. But our feelings are often very difficult to interpret, and sometimes we listen to the voices we shouldn’t. For a long time, I let that guilt eat me alive. And some days, I’m still living it.

There’s only one type of day that’s worse than this one, however. It’s the days when the shock and truth of Dad’s death completely blindsides me. Five years removed from his death, there will be the occasional day where the busyness of my life distracts me from the reality of Dad’s death. But then, something great will happen. And I’ll reach into my phone, pull it out, and go to dial Dad’s number.

And when it hits me that he’s gone, I completely crumble.

I beat myself up for not thinking of him earlier. I accuse myself of being so focused on myself that I can’t focus on others. I feel guilty and horrible, as if not thinking of my Dad’s death is a sign that his life didn’t matter. I tell myself that I’m not living life the way I should, that somehow I’m not “grieving enough,” as if that were even a thing. I dwell in the self-doubt and accusatory guilt that keeps me from being the man I know God wants me to be.

Eventually, I escape from that prison; but even five years removed from Dad’s death, I still have a really hard time coming to terms with the fact that I am a survivor of a family suicide. Before losing Dad, suicide was always something that happened to other people. Not me, not us. My family was “normal.” My family was “perfect.” My family was the American Dream. Suicide and mental illness couldn’t touch my family.

But it did. And I am one of those people left behind in the aftermath. And no amount of denial will ever change that fact. I still have a hard time telling people that my Dad was a victim of suicide because I don’t know how they will react. I know how judgmental I would have been when receiving that kind of news prior to my Dad’s death, and I don’t want those folks to make false and unfair assumptions about the man he was.

I am staring suicide and my Dad’s death in the face every single day. Some days I deal with it better than others. Some days I don’t deal with it well at all and I have to completely disconnect and disengage. But it’s always there—hovering overhead, continuing to send shockwaves through my system. I wonder if that shock will ever fade entirely.


I feel terror. I’m yelling, even though the rest of the house is quiet.

It’s happened again.

I roll over and look at the time on the clock. 3:26 AM. This was a particular night, but it could have been any night. I know that I’ve just been yelling—likely something inaudible. I’m in a cold sweat, but my face is wet from tears, not perspiration. I can feel how tense my body is, and my limbs are shaking. It’s happened again. I’ve just had to relive everything.

I didn’t want to. In fact, I never want to relive the pain of that day again. But in my dreams, the same memory often invades me. The flashback and vivid memories of the day I lost my Dad.

It’s those dreams—nightmares really—that you wish would never occur which often plague you most frequently. The day I lost my Dad was the most consequential day of my entire life to this point. Horrible? Yes. But also consequential? Unfortunately.

I don’t ever think I’ll stop seeing it, reliving it, and experiencing it in my head—no matter how hard I try.

Honestly, it’s happened less and less over time. When Dad first died, I was waking up in the middle of the night on a fairly regular basis. I was worried that I might never get another full night of rest ever again, because those early nights were so painful.

As farfetched as some dreams can be, it’s amazing how lifelike others are. They can throw you in the midst of a sensory whirlwind that places you back into a particular moment in time. Dreams of my Father have often been like this. I hate to say that I rarely have dreams about all the great times we shared together. Instead, the dream I experience most often is the dream of that horrible day.

When I have this dream, my stomach still turns just like it did on that morning when I heard the news that there’d been an accident involving my Dad. I can feel things and hear things and smell things that don’t even matter to the end result of the story, but I experience them nonetheless. But it’s that horrific 20-second vignette that constantly replays in my mind. I can see my Grandpa walking out of the house. I can feel his strong arms pull my Mom and I into a hug as my Mom sobs. I can hear my Grandpa’s breaking voice when he looks at us, hopelessly, and says “He’s gone.” For as long as I live, I’ll never be able to escape the sound of my Mother’s anguished scream. I feel myself falling to the ground in the front yard, and I feel that familiar sensation of being thrown into the depths of a deep ocean and sinking under the weight of the waves. I can sense a feeling of evil hovering above me. And in my dreams, I feel this all again—just as strongly as I did on the day it happened.

Some memories fade after five years—and the ones you want to fade often don’t.

On this particular night, I rest on the edge of my bed, closing and squinting my eyes so hard, trying to shut out the memory and the pain of that experience. I grab my ears, trying to get the sound of my Mother’s cry to stop. It’s like I’m trying to physically shake this memory free from my consciousness.

But I can’t. At least not immediately.

Before I know it, I’m in a completely inconsolable position and unable to control my own physical movements. I know why this memory continues to haunt me. I know that the trauma of this life-altering experience has burned and branded the sights and sounds of that moment onto my brain forever. Painfully, I know that I’ll always experience these moments to a certain extent.

But I just want it to stop. I don’t ever want to forget my Dad, but I want to forget the moment I lost him. I want to be able to escape the pain this moment causes me, but I wonder if I could ever escape it without forgetting how much I loved my Dad. I’m sure there will be a day at some point in my life when the flashback of losing him is easier to manage. But it won’t make that memory any less intense. It won’t make that memory any less severe. It will just be different. I know I’ll feel different at some point, but on a night like this one, I feel scared. Scared by the ghosts of a past image continuously haunting me, and scared by when the flashback might occur again.


I feel exhausted. “I’m sorry man,” I type. “I know we had plans, but I just don’t think I can do it tonight.”

I can’t even begin to think how many times I had to send this message to friends and family members and coworkers in the aftermath of Dad’s death. Especially after Dad died, there were many people—well-intentioned people—who tried to get me out of the house. They wanted me to get out and do things to try and get my mind off of losing my Dad, and I’ll always appreciate those moments of normalcy I had with them after losing Dad.

But there were some days—many days—when I just couldn’t. My grief kept me in bed. My grief kept me locked in the house, unwilling to face the world around me. My grief kept me disconnected and wrapped within my own darkness.

There were some days when I just couldn’t go to work, because everything at work felt so trivial in the aftermath of losing my Dad to suicide. I would actually grow angry towards my job—a job I loved—because it felt like nothing else mattered anymore. It was weird to, for the first time, feel a lack of desire and passion for my work. I had never experienced this before, and I wondered if I’d ever find pleasure and satisfaction in any activity that didn’t involve grieving my Dad’s death.

Social activities felt that way, too. I knew that my Dad’s death had taught me the need to love those in the world around me, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put that into action. It felt like I should be doing something more important, even if I didn’t know what that “something more important” should have been.

Those nights when I would bail on plans were usually very difficult and isolating. I would lock myself in the house with blinds drawn and lights dimmed, and I would wallow in the grief I felt. I wouldn’t eat, and I’d retreat to sleeping hours and hours on end.

Some of the nights when I did go out, however, were just as bad. It sounds insane to say this, but I often felt like I was wearing this sign around my neck everywhere I went that read “My Dad Died from Suicide.” It was like everyone was staring at me, even though they weren’t. It was like I was the center of attention for all the wrong reasons. I’ve never been claustrophobic, but if there’s such a thing as social claustrophobia, I felt it then.

And there are many days, even five years down the road, when I still have to scrap what’s planned to deal with unplanned grief. I’m learning to be okay with it. I’m learning that grief, just like mental illness, is unplanned and impossible to predict. Unfortunately, I finally understood what it meant for grief to take a physical toll on someone. It sapped and eroded every ounce of energy I had.

If I stayed at home, I was emotionally exhausted. And if I went out, I was emotionally exhausted. It felt like, no matter what I did, I was going to be perpetually worn out from my grief. I worried that it would never end, and to a certain extent, it hasn’t. These days are fewer and far between, but when they occur, it’s like I’m right back where it all started.


I feel angry. “Okay. I’ll be praying for you. And if there’s anything I can do for you or your family, please make sure you let me know.”

I end the phone call with undeniable sorrow. A phone call I’ve had all too often since losing Dad.

It’s a phone call with another individual who has just lost someone they love to suicide.

When I started speaking and writing publicly about my Dad’s death, I had two overarching goals: (1) to try and prevent suicide from happening to anyone else, and (2) to minister to people who are affected by suicide in the scenario that we can’t prevent it. I knew that part of my ministry would be to do something that makes me completely uncomfortable. I would need to talk with people who are grieving and distraught and try to help them make sense of their new world, their new and darkened reality. Prior to losing Dad, I didn’t even like to attend funerals because of how uncomfortable they made me. Now, I wasn’t just watching the storm from the shore; I was driving straight into it. I was saying that I would walk alongside people in their grief, no matter how uncomfortable it made me.

I’ve learned how to be more compassionate. And I’ve learned how to identify with the sorrow of others by feeling it myself. But shortly after that sorrow begins to fade, I get angry.

Not at my Dad. Never at my Dad. In fact, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never once been mad at my Dad. I’ve never once held him responsible for his death. My Dad was a victim of suicide, and that’s more than just fancy phrasing. My Dad was attacked by a mental illness—depression. Had he died from cancer, I wouldn’t be made at my Dad. I’d be mad at the cancer. Or I’d be mad at the heart attack. Or whatever other illness might have taken him away. Not at him—and I can’t be mad at him in this scenario either. Yes, my Dad died from suicide; but the root cause was depression. In his right mind, my Dad would have never left us. He wanted to be here to love us, and I firmly believe that. An illness warped his mind into thinking he didn’t matter.

But I do get mad at other things. I get mad at a society and culture that portrays mental illness as a personal weakness. I get mad at a culture that says that to seek help in the form of counseling or treatment is a sign of weakness. I get mad at the culture of comparison that we’ve created that says we must do more, be more, and earn more to matter, when God tells us that none of these things are actually important. I get mad at the unfair pressures that were put on my Dad and everyone else impacted by suicide. And yes, I even get mad at individuals who, I think, contributed to my Dad’s death by putting unfair pressures on him. But more than anything, I get mad at a disease that we can’t seem to figure out. I get mad because I have questions. I get angry because I want to drive down the rates of suicide in our country, and because I know that there is more we can do.

I feel angry because I feel like I’ve been robbed. I’ve told this to God many, many times. He knows how I feel, so why would I ever try to hide those feelings from him? I feel like my happiness was stolen from me on July 24, 2013, even though I’ve been able to experience it in the aftermath of losing him. I feel like a thief came and stole away the promises of all the wonderful things that were to come in my Dad’s life and life of our family. It was completely unnecessary that my Dad was gone so soon, and I feel angry that we didn’t get to have the moments together that we should have had.

As much as I hate feeling this anger, I know that it motivates me. I know that it pushes me do more to try and prevent this story from replicating itself throughout my community. I don’t care to spend hours on the phone talking to people or meeting with them for dinner when they’ve been hurt just like we have. That anger towards my enemy—mental illness—is unrelenting, but I’m channeling it into something that I hope will help others who are hurting.

But I’ve never been angry at my Dad. And I know I never will be.


Even after feeling all of this, I still feel redeemed. “Wow, I had no idea that Dad did that…” I find myself saying this all the time, because I find myself learning new things about him. The fact that I can smile while hearing these stories, even if I might simultaneously shed a tear or two, is a sign that God is guiding his hand over the ashes of my life to bring something good out of it.

It’s strange to say that I feel hopeful, because there were moments after my Dad died when I never thought I’d be hopeful about anything ever again. Those moments when life felt empty could be paralyzing.

And then, a little victory would occur. And I would start to see the redemptive power of God’s love and his work.

There were moments when I would talk with people and they would tell me a story about something my Dad had done to positively shape their lives. People he had talked to—and boy, did he talk to a lot of them. Money he had given to help people when they were down on their luck. Money he had given to causes simply because he was charitable. Tools he had lent, knowing that he would never get them back. Things he had repaired for people even when he had no idea how to repair them until he got in the thick of the job.

I’m ashamed to say this, but it took my Dad’s death for me to learn about him because there were so many good things that he did which he would have never wanted credit for. And when I hear these new stories about my Dad, it’s like he’s still alive. When I learn new things about him, it’s like new life is breathed into his memory.

Sometimes, the victories have been seemingly insignificant; but to me, they’ve held tremendous power. There was the time I went into one of my Dad’s favorite restaurants for the first time without losing him. I was actually able to focus on the great memories we had shared there together rather than obsessing over losing him. Moments when I could drive by his work without breaking down. Times when I could see his writing or go to a softball game and think positively about his life.

Those little victories began to build—one after the next, one on top of the other.

It showed me that God has been working.

Don’t get me wrong—I’ve still got lots of questions for God that I plan to ask him. Why did this happen? Why did it happen to my Dad? Why did it happen to us and our family?

In spite of all my questions, I know this. I know that God didn’t cause this pain, but I do know that He’s building up the broken pieces of my life. I know that he’s bringing lots of people into my life who each take up a mantle of my Dad’s role in my life. He’ll never be replaced, but different people can live out some of his best qualities. I’ll latch onto those people, and I’ll cling closer to Jesus Christ. I’ll listen to His direction, and I’ll celebrate in the calm or in the storm. But as hard as it is for me to celebrate in the midst of a bad situation, I’ll keep searching for those little victories. Dad would have wanted it that way.


I hate this post. I hate it because it’s messy and unfocused and at times confusing.

Which is exactly why I’m leaving it the way it is. The control-freak inside of me who wants order and perfection wants to change it, but I’m letting that go. I’m letting that go because that’s the way our feelings work. Feelings are messy. Feelings are hard to control. Feelings are difficult to interpret and almost impossible to manufacture. Feelings are complicated and sometimes competing, conflicting, and contradictory.

But our feelings are real. And even when they are irrational, they are still very real.

I also hate this post because I could have written for twenty more pages about hundreds of other feelings and still never finish. I used to be a believe that we could classify or typify grief into stages; but now that I’ve had to experience it and live it, I know how fruitless any attempt is. Five stages to grief, you say? It’s not that simple. Sometimes, I experience all fives stages in twenty minutes. On any given day, I feel a hundred different feelings, and they are impossible to escape.

And all of these feelings—every single one of them—are rooted in a deep and never-failing love for my Dad. I can’t even begin to quantify how much I’ve missed him over these past five years. At Christmas, I miss being around the tree with him opening gifts. I miss having dinner with him in the evenings around our family dinner table. I miss watching him get excited about UFC fights and making fun of him for actually liking to watch them. I miss going to Kings Island with him and hearing his familiar scream of “Yeehaw!” as we rode each and every ride in the park. I miss sitting on the couch and watching episodes of The Office with him. I really, really miss those little moments.

I miss the big moments as well. There is no phrase that will capture how much I missed him on the day I proposed to Paige. I can’t even type that sentence without wanting to break down entirely. Gosh, he should have been there. He would have wanted to be there. He would have been smiling from ear to ear and talking about how Paige was too good for me (and he would have been absolutely correct). I think about how much he and Paige would have loved each other, and it bothers me every single day that I never got to introduce them. He would have loved having a daughter, and she would have been the perfect one for him.

I missed him when I graduated with my Master’s degree from Miami. My entire family was there, and it was wonderful—but I couldn’t help but gaze back in the bleachers at Yager Stadium in Oxford to see a gaping hole right next to my Mom where he should have been. I know she felt it too. Throughout all of those festivities, it hurt not having my Dad there. He was always so proud of the work I did in school from the time I was little. It made me believe I could do anything. I miss that reassurance from him.

And I obsess over the moments to come that I know he won’t be around to enjoy. For any of you who knew my Dad, you know that this is the understatement of the century: He would have made an amazing Grandpa. He was already bald and silly and loved naps—which is like half of what you need to make a great Grandpa! But my Dad loved children, primarily because he never let his inner child die. I often think about what it’s going to be like when I have children of my own. I’ll tell them about their Grandpa, but I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to paint an accurate portrait of the man he was. I hope they’ll love his memory as much as I loved him. But it’s unfair, because they deserved him. And he deserved them.

I feel love. And loss. And despair. And temporary relief. And sadness. And anger. And shock.

But all of these feelings—the good and the bad—are rooted in love. Five years have passed, and I love my Dad more and more each day. All these feelings may come and go randomly, but a consistent foundation of love has helped me face these five years one day at a time. And it will help me to face the 50 or 60 or 70 years still to come.

As daunting as the idea of facing that grief might be, it’s what is awaiting me on the other side of that gulf that gives me hope.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the other side of all that grief and sadness, there will be an everlasting love made whole again. On the other side of that grief, there will be a man whom I recognize, smiling and welcoming me into his arms. In that moment, I’ll love never having to say “seeya, Bub” again. That day is coming, although it’s very far off.

Five years. 1,827 days. Each new day different from the last. Each day a little darker without my Dad’s bright smile and engaging charisma. He. Is. Missed. Each and every moment. And in every moment, he is loved. By me, by my family, and by everyone in the world around him that he made better.

I constantly remind myself that, although I’ve had five years of life without my Dad, I had 26 years of unconditional love that inspired a foundation that will live on forever. And Dad spent 50 wonderful years living and loving those around him in ways we should all strive to do. Sure, it wasn’t enough. Sure, there should have been more. But my Dad made a big impact in his 50 years—an impact that some people who live double the age aren’t able to make. His impact lives on in me, and I know it will live on in our world forever.

I’ve survived these five years, and I’ll survive how ever many more come my way. I’ll fight for life because of what waits on the other side of Eternity.

And no matter how long that fight is, I’ll always love my Dad.

Dad Lucy and Me with Seeya Bub LogoDad, I cry so much when I think that it’s been five years since you and I last talked. Sometimes, those tears are unstoppable. We never even went five days in this life without talking to one another. Dad, it really has felt like an eternity—but sometimes your memory is so real and so vivid that it seems like it was just yesterday when we lost you. But I know the real time. I know that it’s been five whole years since we’ve been able to be in your presence. And life simply isn’t the same without you. We all cling to your memory. We marvel at the things you built and the way you provided for our family. We laugh about the funny things you did to make life more fun. But I also weep when I think about how much life you had left to live. Dad, I’m so sorry that you were sick. I feel horrible that we couldn’t do more to help you find the cure you deserved. I’m sorry that you were robbed of the life you deserved to enjoy. I’ve felt so much guilt in losing you Dad. I know that you don’t want me to feel this way, but I just wish there was more I could have done. You deserved that, Dad. You deserved more, because you gave everything. As painful as these five years have been, Dad, I find peace in the truth of Eternity. I find comfort knowing that you are enjoying God’s eternal glory in a paradise that I can’t even begin to fathom. Dad, thank you for watching over me for these past five years. Thank you for never giving up on me—both in this life, and in the next. Thank you for giving me a lifetime of memories and an example of what fatherhood should be. I love you, Dad. I always did, and I always will. Thank you for loving me back. Until I see you again, seeya Bub.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:28-30 (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)

I’m Here

I think the college crisis is worse than the mid-life crisis.

I mean, come one, at least you get a motorcycle out of the latter.

I was in college. Away at college. And I felt like I just needed to get away.

I think I’ve always dealt with anxiety to a certain extent. In a sense, I think I’ve had those moments where the world just feels too overwhelming at different points throughout my life. It’s likely that I’ve suffered here and there from anxiety before I could even put a name to it.

But even though I didn’t quite know what was going on or why, my Dad seemed to know. And he seemed to understand.

And most importantly, he was there.

The Fall of my junior year in college was not the Fall I had anticipated. I was living in an apartment in Oxford, and I was navigating one of those difficult moments of my life where the road was not only less-traveled, but it was windy and curvy and full of potholes and empty of any road signs. A road that had once seemed so straight and so predictable was suddenly anything but. It was treacherous, and I was trembling.

For the few months leading up to this moment, I had been questioning so much about my journey, mainly my vocational call. For my entire life, for as long as I could remember, I had said I wanted to be a teacher (except for that one weird phase when I mysteriously wanted to be a park ranger… too much Yogi Bear I guess…). When I was little, I would actually make-believe that I was a teacher in a classroom before I even started going to school myself. Once I went to school, I took an immediate liking to it. I enjoyed being in classrooms, and I always got along with my teacher and had deep admiration and respect for them.

As a youngster, I said I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher—mainly because kindergarten was all I knew. And it was awesome. We had fingerpaints, and snacks, and we were home by noon. Even as a little kid, I would often think about all of the fun activities I would someday replicate for my own students. I pictured the joy they would experience, all the coloring we would do, and the impact I would have in their little lives.

But then, once I got into middle school, I began to really enjoy my English and Social Studies and Science classes (no offense, math teachers), and my dream of teaching kindergarten began to fade. I was slowly warming up to the idea of teaching a single subject and working with older students. Also, Barney had lost his appeal…thank God.

And just when I thought I had everything figured out, I made it to high school…and, go figure, I decided I wanted to be a high school teacher. Specifically, I wanted to teach high school English. I loved my English classes. I loved reading, and I enjoyed writing, and I really appreciated the opportunities to be creative, explore different worlds, and express myself in ways that only literature and the written word could provide. I dreamt of sharing that excitement with my high school students. I longed for the days when I could choose the books they would read. I thought intensely about lectures I would give, activities and discussions I would lead, and the hundreds of students I would be able to reach.

It was no surprise to people who knew about my dream that I decided to go to Miami University and pursue a degree in teacher education. What was a surprise to those who knew me best, however, was my decision to leave it all behind and run in a different direction.

At the end of my sophomore year, I was having serious misgivings about my vocational choice. I had taken a number of education courses, and I just didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as I enjoyed the content-focused courses in the English department. Especially one class, taught by an arrogant and demeaning faculty member who was supposedly an “expert” in classroom techniques, even though he had spent only one year in the field actually teaching (wow, I guess I’m still bitter about that!). I learned I would rather be reading fiction novels than reading about how to teach them. I realized I wanted to work in education, but not the education I had always known.

So, I changed majors. To American Studies. The study of America. It sounded interesting. And…it happened to be the first major listed alphabetically in Miami University’s course catalog. The divine providence of the English alphabet still amazes me.

I dug into the curriculum, and the major looked perfect for me. I could take courses in all the areas I was passionate about and largely self-design a major that met my academic interests and desires. Literature. Communications. Political Science. Media and Journalism. History. Psychology. Nothing was off the table. It was a perfect mix.

It was also completely terrifying. People who got teacher education degrees became teachers. People who got American Studies degrees became…professional American Studiers? I had no idea what I was going to do with this degree, but I knew that studying those particular topics would make me extremely happy. Even though I was confident in my content choice, however, it didn’t diminish the employability concerns I had.

All of those feelings then decided to collide in the Fall of my junior year. Classes had only been in session for a few weeks, and I was unbelievably worried that I had made a huge mistake by dropping out of the teacher education program at Miami. Being a teacher was what I had wanted to do forever. Now, I was taking great classes, but also closing myself off from what had been my lifelong dream. Had I made a huge mistake? An irreversible one?

I was also dealing with many other huge life changes. I had made the transition from Miami’s Regional campus in Hamilton to the main campus in Oxford, and life on a residential campus was great—but it was also much different from what I was used to. Any transition, no matter when it happens, causes some anxiety. Making this transition into adulthood while simultaneously questioning the only dream I had ever known collided together in a wave of desperation and doubt, and on a random Wednesday night, I could only think of one thing…

I needed to get away.

I had been sitting in my apartment all day attempting to study. Instead, I was obsessing over the decisions I had made and convincing myself that they were all mistakes. At that time, I wouldn’t have even known what an anxiety attack was; nor would I have ever believed I was having one. Now, knowing what I know about mental illness, it’s easy to see that I was in the midst of a really severe period of overwhelming, paralyzing anxiety. The worst part is that I had kept all of this to myself. Like my Dad, I wasn’t crazy about letting people into my world far enough to see my darkness. I didn’t like the idea of telling other people I was hurting or confused or overwhelmed. I would internalize all of these feelings and endlessly ruminate over them, which likely fed a vicious loop of self-criticism and doubt that paralyzed me emotionally. And near the end of that night, I decided to get in the car and drive for a bit because getting away was the only thing I knew to do.

I got in the car and didn’t really know where I was going. In the age before smartphones or GPS devices, this was always a bit of a scary endeavor for a directionally-challenged individual like me. So I told myself to turn right out of my apartment complex, drive in a straight line, and see where it would take me.

As I drove in my silver Envoy, I passed cornfields and….well, cornfields. I began to think about everything, and my emotions started to get the best of me. Before I knew it, with the radio turned all the way down, I was beginning to tear up. I started to call myself names, questioning how I could have been so stupid to do what I had done over the past few months. How was it possible that one person could make so many idiotic decisions? And…why did that person have to be me? I drove across the Indiana state line—which sounds super dramatic to those who don’t know the geography of Oxford. Indiana was only about ten minutes away from campus, but there was something metaphorically significant about crossing a state line that made this drive feel scary. I felt like I was running away from something. I felt like I was giving up.

It was in the midst of all of these thoughts and doubts when my cell phone (a sweet Motorola Razr) began to buzz. I looked at the screen and the caller ID read “Incoming Call, Dad.”

I hesitated to pick up the phone, but after a few seconds I knew I had to. I collected myself and flipped the phone open (remember when phones used to flip?!) and put it to my ear. “Hey, Dad,” I said lightly.

“Hey, Bub. I’m here. Can you let me in?”

“You’re where?” I replied nervously.

“At your apartment. I’m standing outside,” he said.

“Oh, uh….I’m not home,” I answered.

“Where are you?” he questioned, a bit surprised.

“I….I don’t know,” I said. And then, I started to fall apart again.

I told my Dad how I just needed to go on a little drive. That I didn’t know where I was going, both on this drive and in life. I shared everything with Dad, and I let him in.

My situation hadn’t changed, but there was an immediate relief in being able to finally tell someone that I was having serious doubts.

“Bub, why don’t you come back and we will sit together and talk?” he said to me.

I listened. And I turned around. And I drove in a straight line until I was back at my apartment where I saw my Dad standing on my front porch.

The reason this story is so important is because I hadn’t told my Dad anything about how I was feeling before he drove to Oxford to visit me that night. And driving to Oxford on a whim like that was not a regular occurrence. My Mom and Dad were always planners. They came to visit me pretty often when I lived in Oxford, but they always scheduled it ahead of time. Even in college I kept a really busy schedule, so we usually had their visits to Oxford scheduled in advance.

Which is why Dad’s visit on that night was all the more special—because Dad had picked up on the fact that something was wrong. We had talked earlier in the day, but I thought I had concealed my feelings pretty well. I thought I had been able to keep my sadness to myself.

But Dad had realized that something wasn’t right. He could pick up on the fact that there was something troubling me. He knew that I wasn’t okay.

And because I wasn’t okay, he was there. He was there without warning. He was there in a moment’s notice. He was there as long as I needed him. And he was there at just the right moment.

Eerily, I look back on that night and it is strangely reminiscent of the last conversation I ever had with my Dad, even though our roles were reversed. On this night, I was the confused wanderer, perplexed by my inexplicable emotions. Dad, on the other hand, was the encourager. The trusted confidant. The Father full of wisdom and, most importantly, love.

We sat in my apartment and talked through all of the things I was feeling. I told him about my concerns for an eventual job after graduation, and Dad told me not to worry. He told me that I could major in anything, and that I would find a way to be successful. “You’re too talented,” he would say, “and any career you decide to pursue will be a good one.” Dad built up my academic confidence, reminding me that I had many years of success in the classroom that were proof of my ability to conquer the road ahead. Even in the midst of our serious conversation, Dad found a way to land a perfect joke or two at just the right moment at my expense. “How many girls have you had over to your apartment OTHER THAN the ones in that Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition calendar you have?”

Comeback? Anyone? I had nothing.

I don’t remember all the things that we talked about on that night, but I do remember this: I felt better. None of my circumstances had changed, but I felt relief. None of my decisions were any better or worse than they had originally been, but I felt hope. I felt security. I felt confidence.

And I felt all of this because of two simple words my Dad had spoken.

“I’m here.”

It was more than just physically being in my apartment. When Dad said “I’m here,” he meant he was there. He was in my corner. He was rooting me on. He was leading the way on that windy, curvy, confusing road when I couldn’t see far enough ahead to make sense of the journey. He was giving me all of the support and encouragement I would need. I don’t know whether or not my Dad agreed with my major switch, and I’m thankful for that. Instead, I know that Dad said he trusted my ability to make my own decisions. He trusted that I would find success. He empowered me to believe in myself.

Dad stayed at my apartment for a few hours that night. If my memory serves me correctly, he eventually coerced me into going out for dinner against my will. We came back to the apartment and watched television together for a little while. And then, when the night was nearing its end, he hugged me and told me that he loved me before he left for home.

My Dad didn’t have all the answers that night, so he did something even better.

He was there.

And I wish he was still here because there have been so many moments, just like this one, where I still need him.

There have been moments in my life, and there will always be moments, where I will revert to that same young college kid from many years ago—a young, lost, and wandering boy who just needs his Father for a little encouragement and advice. There have been moments when I’ve been at a crux in the road with an important decision to make that I’ve grabbed for my phone (no longer a Razr) and began dialing those familiar numbers, only to realize that he will never again pick up on the other line. There have been moments when I have felt his loss so deeply that I break down inexplicably, unable to escape the grief of losing him so suddenly, unexpectedly. Those moments are completely paralyzing. They rob me of my joy; but they can never rob me of my Dad’s memory.

That’s because even though Dad isn’t here, he is here. Even though he has been gone from this Earth for nearly five years now, I still feel Dad’s gentle hand guiding me and directing me on a daily basis. Although I can’t experience his physical embrace, I feel his watchful eye from up above, encouraging me when I doubt, celebrating with me when I find joy, and telling me that he is proud of me over and over and over again. When I open my eyes, I only see his absence; but when I close them, I see that beaming smile, those kind eyes, and a Father who is still with his wandering son.

I still feel my Dad saying “I’m here” in those moments where I crave his presence most. I hear him reminding me that he is here with me in each and every moment. There will be crises and good moments and desperate moments that fill the pages of my own life story, but it will be my Dad’s spiritual presence that is the common denominator in all of those moments. I am fortunate that I have a Heavenly Father who guides and directs me in the God I serve, but I’m lucky because I have another Father in Heaven doing the same exact thing.

My Dad may be gone, but he is still here.

Me Dad and Lucy at Picnic with SB LogoDad, There were so many moments just like that night in college where your presence alone was all I needed to find happiness. You had an uncanny way of knowing the moments when people needed you most, and you responded with grace and unconditional love each time you were called. Nearly every day, Dad, I experience a moment when I just wish more than anything that you were here. I miss your smile, your voice, your heart, your shiny bald head, and everything that made you so very special. But in those moments where I experience your loss most severely, I try and remind myself that you are here. You are still watching. You are still listening. And you are still loving me and all those who feel your absence. Dad, thank you for always being there and for still being here. Thank you for being at my side at a moment’s notice–both in the moments when I knew I needed you, and especially in those I didn’t. I’ll never be able to say thank you enough. But, until that day when I try my best to let you know how much you are missed and how much you are loved, seeya Bub.

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15 (ESV)

Grape Heart

As my family walked into church, we were each handed a snack-size Ziploc bag containing two items: one raisin, and one grape. The greeter smiled at us as he handed them out. Dad and I looked at each other and wondered….had our church converted to a different fruit-worshiping denomination since last week? Should we run?

For what seemed like an eternity, the morning announcements were given, the worship team sang, and the offering was collected. And the entire time, no one said a word about the bags of grapes and raisins. Did these people really understand the weirdness of what had happened when they came into the sanctuary this morning?!

Or wait…we did actually arrive on time to church that morning (a rarity in my family). Maybe they had been handing out grapes and raisins to the folks who showed up on time my entire life?! Maybe we had been missing out on the rewards for my entire life!

If all you get for showing up early is a grape and a raisin…I’ll take my extra 30 minutes of alarm-snooze—repeat. Wake me when they start giving out tacos and twenties.

If curiosity killed the cat, there was a vicious feline slaughter going on inside my brain during the beginning of the worship service. It just didn’t make any sense.

Finally, when our Pastor (Ted Herold) took the stage, he referenced the bag and its contents. And even though my Dad never explicitly told me this, the sermon that followed was my Dad’s favorite sermon that he ever heard. I’m positive of that. Dad always enjoyed Pastor Ted’s sermons, but I know how much he enjoyed this one, and I’m thankful for it.

I don’t remember the specific Scripture that Pastor Ted used that morning, but I do remember the message and I do remember the illustration (job well done, Pastor Ted!). It’s been stuck in my mind and my heart ever since that morning.

Pastor Ted instructed us to open our baggies and pull out the two contents: a red grape, and a wrinkled raisin. For the next few minutes, he actually had us compare and contrast the two items as a congregation. Dad rolled the grape and raisin around in his work-worn hands, and I looked on still wondering what was going on.

The raisin, the congregation agreed, was pretty lifeless. It was shrunken and wrinkled and shriveled. Pastor Ted asked the group “Does anyone here even like eating raisins anyway?!” A few of us raised our hands (I didn’t seek them out, but I didn’t hate them either), and Pastor Ted laughed. He then asked us to eat the raisins and react, as he feigned disgust from the front of the sanctuary.

Tasty? Maybe. But not as tasty as a grape.

Then, Pastor Ted went on to have us describe the grape we had in our hands. The grape was robust, especially compared to the raisin. The grape was full of life. The grape was colorful. The grape was bright. Essentially, the grape (although technically the same fruit) was everything that the raisin was not. Pastor Ted asked us to eat the grapes, and then describe it. They were tasty. They burst when you chewed them. They were juicy. Once again, all the things that the raisin we had previously ingested could not be.

That’s when the teaching began.

Pastor Ted asked us to think about the raisin and the grapes as metaphors. Metaphors for our heart. And he asked a simple question: “Do you have a grape heart? Or a raisin heart?”

If you had a raisin heart, your heart had lost its life. Your heart had shriveled into a fraction of what it used to be. Your raisin heart was lifeless, even dead. Your raisin heart had no brightness to it, no vividness. A raisin heart was empty. A raisin heart had nothing to give. It had been disconnected from the vine for too long.

A grape heart, on the other hand, was much different. A grape heart had life. A grape heart had energy. A grape heart had robustness, nearly bursting from the contents inside of it. A grape heart was so full of love that everything about its character was noticeably different from a heart that was empty, both inside and out.

And he continued to pose the question: “Do you have a raisin heart? Or a grape heart?” Do you have a heart that is shriveled and lifeless? Or do you have a heart that is bursting from all the love it contains? The message was simple. Jesus wanted His followers to live with grape hearts, not raisin hearts.

I’m sure we talked about that sermon on the way home and over lunch, because Dad would continue to bring it up throughout the years. And he would bring it up in typical Dad fashion.

Any teenager can get a bit….annoying; and I was no exception to that rule. At the top of all my annoyances? My impatience. I’ve always had trouble waiting for things, and I’ve never liked having to slow down.

My Dad, however, was different. He never, ever let the pace of life get the best of him, and I’ll always admire him for this. In fact, I strive to be like him in this way (and many others) more and more each day. Yes, his slower pace of life frustrated me beyond belief at times, but as I look back on his life, I am deeply envious of his ability to actually sit back, enjoy the moment, and escape from worry. I wish I had more of that in me.

I remember one time specifically when something had gone wrong with my car—which was not unusual. My brakes were squealing like a toddler on the playground with a pulled-pigtail, and I had been telling my Dad about it for what seemed like a month. Alas, there was still no repair, as my Dad was the family mechanic. Finally, with all of the teenage dramatics I could muster up, I went off on my Dad. I told him that I really needed him to fix the issue with my car. I told him that he always put things off. I told him that the squealing brakes were a safety issue. It was likely that I might slam into a tree or pedestrian because they wouldn’t function properly. Was he really this careless when it came to the safety of his only son? I told him the brakes were hurting my social life, which was already difficult enough to navigate with a silent vehicle. Girls wouldn’t even look at me if I had squeaky brakes. And if they didn’t look at me, I could never find someone to be with. Did he really want grandchildren? Well if he did, he better get to fixing those brakes!

After my tirade of nauseating complaints, my Dad just looked at me, months removed from that sermon, and delivered the ultimate comeback:

“You’ve got a little raisin heart,” he said. “You need a grape heart.”

Good luck coming up with a witty retort for that one. I had nothing.

I wasn’t the only victim of the “raisin heart” accusation. As all husbands and wives do, my Mom and Dad would occasionally bicker about things that needed to be done around the house. Mom, the keeper of the most immaculate and well-cleaned house I’ve ever seen, would grow frustrated with projects that would pile up around the house that my Dad had promised to take care of. He had promised to repair the holes in the wall from our fallen Christmas tree, but there were still two huge bolts in the living room from many, many years ago. He promised to clean up the garage and organize his tools (by the way, how much did he spend on that new Dewalt accessory?!), but there was still only room for one car in a two in a half car garage. And don’t you even get her started on that breaker that keeps shutting off every time we used the microwave and space heater at the same time! (My Dad has been gone for nearly five years, and that one still isn’t fixed…)

Dad, with all the sincerity and coolness that he brought to every situation, would simply look at my Mom with a loving smile and say “You’ve got a little raisin heart. You need a grape heart.”

Her comebacks to that were as nonexistent as mine.

Dad would use that refrain many, many times throughout the years to shut down arguments. And the sad part is—it always worked! We always, always let him get away with it! For all the times he used that line, we were never able to come up with a legitimate response.

Probably because we knew, deep down, that he was right. And also because my Dad lived with a grape heart each and every day of his life.

It’s easy to say this after someone is gone, but I would have said it when he was alive too. My Dad lived his life with more love than anyone I have ever known. My Dad lived his life so that others around him knew he loved them. In essence, my Dad lived with a grape heart, just like Pastor Ted had encouraged us to do many years ago. Dad lived with so much love that his heart was bursting at the seams. He lived with so much love that his heart was constantly overflowing with the love he felt for others and the world around him.

In true grape heart fashion, my Dad did more than tell people he loved them (which he often did). My Dad showed people that he loved them. I can’t even begin to recount all of the times that my Dad would show up at someone’s house who needed a repair. From installing ceiling fans to electrical repairs, my Dad was “that guy”. He was that guy that you knew would show up if you needed help with something. He was that guy who would show up to help you not out of obligation, but because he legitimately wanted to help. He didn’t do this for the gratitude. He didn’t do this out of any self-righteous desire to show how smart and talented he was. He did this because he had a grape heart—a heart bursting at the seams from all the love that it contained.

My Dad embodied the grape heart message long before he heard it, but I know that sermon left a lasting impact on him and the way he lived his life. Months and years after he heard that message, Dad still talked about it and made references to it. When it came to sermons, my Dad was a simple guy. He didn’t need complex theology. He didn’t need complicated or fanciful rhetoric. All he needed was the Scripture. All he needed was a bag with a grape and a raisin.

All he needed was a message of love.

Maybe you’re confused like I am. Maybe you’re reading and wondering how someone with this grape heart could succumb to a death from suicide. How could a person with a grape heart feel like life was unlivable?

As confused as I was at first by my Dad’s death, and on many days I still am, I think that his grape heart was precisely the reason why his depression could so severely manipulate his mind. Dad loved people, and he didn’t want to let them down. He never wanted to disappoint those he loved. Being “that guy” with a grape-heart attitude towards life, my Dad couldn’t bear to admit when he needed help and when he needed saving. Dad relied on that love for life, and when his depression got particularly strong, it preyed on his heart. His depression preyed on a misconception that if he let people down, they would think he didn’t love them.

I wish I could tell him we could never, ever be disappointed in him. I wish I could tell him that we would never stop loving him.

Above all, I wish that I had loved my Dad with more of a grape heart.

My Dad taught me how to love people. He taught me that grape-hearted people need to put hands and feet to the idea of love. Saying you love is one thing, but showing is confirmation of that love’s reality. I am learning day by day because of the example my Dad gave me. I don’t always do it perfectly, and the many times that I failed to show my Dad I loved him are examples of that. In spite of all my regrets, however, I’m thankful that on that fateful day when I saw him for the last time, I told him that I loved him. I told him how much he meant to me. I told him that we needed him in this life—not for what he did, but for who he was.

And now, almost five years removed from his death, I still need him. I still need his grape heart to love me and lead me. I still need the example that he set. I will never stop needing my Dad. Even though he can’t be here with me, I feel him near on so many days. Nearly every day in a different way, I’m reminded that his grape heart beats on.

Every now and then, usually right when I need it most, I hear a new story about my Dad that I hadn’t previously heard. I love hearing those stories. When I learn something new about my Dad, it’s like he’s still alive. If his new stories live on, so will he. And usually, those stories are always centered around the love he showed to someone. It’s the lunch he bought for someone he saw at a local restaurant. It’s the tool he leant to a neighbor or the well he helped install when a neighbor’s water went out. It’s the lengthy conversation he had with someone who was hurting deep down. It’s the car engines he fixed, the funny cards he gave, the jokes he told, the hospital visits, and so many more wonderful examples of grape-hearted love.

I’ll always remember that sermon and the way my Dad reacted to it. He didn’t just listen. He learned, and he lived differently as a result. He did more than eat a raisin and a grape. He let that grape heart of his change the world around him.

And I’ll always love my grape-hearted Dad.

Dad Holding Me as a Baby with SB LogoDad, I can still go back to that specific Sunday morning and remember the quizzical look on your face when we were handed that baggie with a grape and a raisin. I can remember and picture the way you engaged in that illustration. I can remember you always reminding me many Sundays after that about how I needed to live with a grape heart. But more than all of those memories, I remember the way you lived. I remember the way you loved others. I remember the way you lived and loved with a grape heart every single day. I’m trying to live more like you because you always showed people that your love was more than a sentiment. It meant something and it made a difference. It’s hard to find people who love others the way you did—and the way you still do from above. I still feel your love each and every day. I still feel your love guiding me through all the good times and the difficult times, and I’m thankful that your grape heart lives on. I wish I could tell you this in person. I wish I could give you the praise that you deserved. Until I can see you again and give you a big hug, seeya Bub.

“Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)

Faith Answered

Childhood time is interesting.

Think back to your days as a grade schooler. Do you remember staring at the calendar thinking about how eagerly you anticipated the beginning of Summer vacation? And then do you remember staring at the calendar in August? The starting day of school stares at you, looming in the horizon. Grade schoolers stare at a calendar that is short on time but long on intimidation. I remember that feeling. I remember those fears. And I remember a summer when the fear almost got the best of me, and the lesson it taught me many years later when I would need it most.

“Auntie,” I said, “I don’t want to go to fifth grade.”

My Great Aunt Vivian, or “Auntie” as she’s always been to me, is the most faithful, steadfast, encouraging woman I’ve ever known. I’ve always heard that I should look for strong examples of faithful women all throughout the history pages of the Bible, but I’ve honestly never had to search or wonder because I’ve always been able to watch Auntie. My Aunt Vivian is an example of faith that knows no bounds or limitations.

Dad and AuntiePositive, upbeat, and always smiling, my Aunt Vivian was more like a grandmother to me when I was younger. Both of my parents worked (and worked hard) to provide for our family, which meant I was often in the care of family members like my grandparents. And of course, Auntie was always in that rotation—and I couldn’t have been more thankful. Early on in my life, and during the summer months as I aged, I spent many a day under the loving and watchful eye of my Auntie. I’m a better man today because of all those days I spent with her growing up.

And probably a bit more spoiled as well….

When I went to Auntie’s house during the summers, I was a little prince. Each and every morning, shortly after my arrival to her home, Auntie would give me a great big hug, lead me back to her corner television room, and ask me what I’d like to eat for breakfast. Since the time I was little, I’ve always loved food. Where most babysitting aunts and grandparents might offer a simple breakfast. Auntie offered a delicious menu unlike any other. Nearly every morning Auntie would set up my TV tray and bring me a hearty breakfast: a cheese omelet, perfectly cooked strips of bacon, two slices of buttery toast under the broiler, a bowl of strawberries or fresh fruit, and an ice-cold Dr. Pepper on the rocks (my addiction started young, and I never shared this part with my Mom). After eating breakfast, I would lounge in front of the TV or play with toys, occasionally following Auntie around her house until The Price Is Right came on. After acting like I actually knew the price of cars and everyday grocery items as a grade schooler, Auntie would eventually bring me a lunch just as delicious as the breakfast that I had consumed earlier. We would then spend the afternoons playing games, napping, and eating ice cream. Auntie’s wonderful husband, my Uncle Ray, would return home in the afternoon from his job as a barber on Main Street in Hamilton. Just like me, Auntie always took care of Ray and made him feel special. I remember all these days so vividly—and my taste buds can still take me back to one of those wonderful summer days. While my Mom and Dad worked hard at their jobs, I lived the life of luxury at Auntie’s house. It’s good to be prince.

This particular summer, however, wasn’t as luxurious as the past ones had been. As we turned calendar page after calendar page, I eventually saw August and could feel the anxiety building in my young heart.

This wasn’t just any summer. This was the summer between fourth grade and fifth grade, and in Fairfield, that signaled a big year. In the fifth grade, I would move into a new school. A new school with new teachers and new kids and new challenges. Although I would be in a regular classroom all day, there would be sixth graders with lockers and changing classes. Because the school was so much bigger, I had no idea if I would see my friends from Fairfield North Elementary. I had always been a pretty nervous, anxious, cautious kid. This big change, however, took everything to a whole new level.

I hadn’t let on to anyone—including Auntie—that I was nervous. For the most part, I had always enjoyed school. I was a good student. I always liked my teachers. I enjoyed learning and reading and all the things that go along with school. I couldn’t share with them how scared I was. Even as a little guy, I knew that weakness is bad. Weakness should be hidden.

Auntie, however, wasn’t just a caretaker. She was a caring caretaker. She loved me, and it showed in everything she did for me each and every day. And she was there right when I needed her. I can look back on that time, and I think that Auntie could see something was wrong with me. I think she knew that she could help.

Eventually, the day that all school children dread arrived. That particular Friday would be my last day at Auntie’s for the summer. The following Monday I would go back to school. Not just any school, but the new and scary school. During our morning conversation before breakfast, Auntie asked me if I was excited to start school. Never the greatest actor, I could no longer hide my fear.

“Auntie,” I said, “I don’t want to go to fifth grade.”

“What’s wrong, honey?” Auntie said as she came and sat next to me with the loving, careful tenderness that I’m sure she’s been doling out to members of our family her entire life. That tenderness made me feel safe and secure, and I let it all out. I don’t remember if I cried (knowing me, I probably did), but I shared all of my fears. I shared all of my apprehension. I told her that I just wanted to stay with her every day. I had planned to make it to at least 8th grade before dropping out, but maybe I could strike it rich as a contestant with Bob Barker. I mean, I had those laundry detergent prices memorized perfectly…

As I talked, Auntie listened. And she didn’t make me feel silly. She made me feel like I mattered. She didn’t minimize my feelings. She validated them. But she also told me that there was something bigger and more true to help me overcome those feelings.

Then, Auntie did something that was completely perfect. She did something that she did with me before every single meal I ate. She did something that I’m sure she has done so many times in her own life—both when the sun was shining or when the storms were rolling through.

“Ty, let’s pray for you,” she said.

Auntie came over and put her arm around me. I don’t remember the words of that particular prayer, but Auntie has always had a beautiful voice for prayer that I’ve admired since I was a youngster. For me, prayer has always been difficult. I stumble over my words, I am easily distracted, and I try to use flowery language that God probably can’t even decipher. My Aunt, however, is a prayer dynamo. She speaks to God the way we all should—she simply has a conversation with Him. She expresses her love for him. She thanks him for watching over us. And then, she boldly asks God to provide. She prays audaciously, without reservation or doubt. And that day, as an apprehensive and scared fifth-grader-to-be, she prayed for me as tears streamed down my suntanned cheeks.

I don’t remember how long she prayed, and I don’t even remember all the things she said; but I will always remember the way I felt. As Auntie asked God to watch over me, naming me directly to the Ruler of the Universe, I felt the mask of pretend courage I had created begin to melt away. The fears I had were all bubbling to the surface, and although the anxiety was still real, it felt less threatening because it was being exposed to the light. As Auntie acknowledged my fear, she asked God to give me the real courage and capability to overcome it.

My Auntie kissed me, she told me that she loved me and that she believed in me, and most importantly she told me that God would watch over me—in fifth grade, and in every grade that followed thereafter.

After that prayer, I made my way into her back yard to sit in the grass and soak up the last few rays of summer sun before the docile confines of a school classroom would rob me of my golden-brown skin. I sat there in the grass staring at the sky and looking into the clouds, trying my hardest to picture God resting above them and looking down over me. I wondered if He had heard the prayer that Auntie had just prayed for me—and I wondered if He would actually do all the things she had asked Him to do.

Eventually, the cloud gazing got boring and I shifted my attention lawn-ward. I looked at the green grass that surrounded me, and here and there I noticed tiny patches of clover. I combed my fingers through the clover slowly, wondering if there were any four leafers in the midst of all those threes. As I ran my fingers through the dewy lawn, something perfectly miraculous happened. I jumped onto my shins and tried to locate what I had just saw.

There, on that summer afternoon, I found my very first four leaf clover.

I couldn’t’ remember ever having found one before, but on that morning when I felt ridiculously weak, I felt like I found a symbol of encouragement. I plucked it from the ground, ran inside the back door, and saw Auntie standing near the stove.

“Auntie!” I exclaimed. “Look what I found!”

Auntie took the four-leaf clover from my hand and smiled. “See Ty,” she said in that same loving voice that had called out to God just a few moments earlier. “This is a sign of good luck, and it’s a sign that God is going to answer your prayers.”

As a ten year old with an ounce of wisdom and a million pounds of fear, there was something unbelievably reassuring about having found this sign of good luck. I believed it, but just in case it was a fluke, I turned to Auntie and said nervously… “Think there might be another one out there?”

Auntie did what only a loving great aunt would do. She went out into the August heat with me, got down on her hands and knees, and helped me search the entire backyard for another sign of good luck.

And because God loves to encourage His people….Auntie helped me find another four leaf clover. For all the fears I had on that day, I also had eight little green leaves worth of encouragement.

I was beaming because, in that moment, I felt like I had an army of angels on my side. I was overjoyed because I felt like this was a sure sign that things were going to go well. And on that day, even if it was just for an hour or so in the backyard as we searched for a four-leaf clover, Auntie put all of my fears and nerves out of sight and out of mind.

Auntie took those four leaf clovers and said she would keep them safe until the end of the day for me. I didn’t pay much attention to what she was doing with them, but I’m thankful that I had an aunt who understands that love packaged in a simple gesture can change a heart forever and ever.

I counted down the minutes anxiously as the day ended, knowing that my Mom’s arrival to pick me up and the end of summer were imminent. A few minutes before the day was set to end, Auntie came back to the television room and sat down on the couch next to me.

“Ty,” she said sweetly, “before you go, I want to give you this.”

With a glowing smile on her face, Auntie handed me a tiny card. Knowing that I loved dogs and puppies, Auntie picked a notecard with two Dalmatian puppies resting cutely in a fireman’s helmet. I opened the card, and inside I saw the two, four-leaf clovers we had found earlier in the day perfectly preserved under a sheet of plastic wrap. Underneath the good luck clovers, I saw a message written in Auntie’s familiar cursive writing.

“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered and no one was there. Always remember this Tyler. I love you. Auntie.”

IMG_0631

Who needs good luck when you have an Auntie like mine?

With God’s love and Auntie’s prayers, I left her house that day still nervous but encouraged. I left her house believing that there was a greater power on my side, rooting for me and pushing me along. I read that card the entire way home. I put it on display on the bookshelf in my bedroom. I read it again the night before I was set to start fifth grade. I went to bed loved by so many, including God and Auntie, and I felt that love wrap its arms around me. Love was real because of that card, and so was my faith.

And guess what? I survived fifth grade! Although I did have to have my tonsils removed, nonetheless…

I don’t write this post because of my fifth-grade struggles, however. I write this post because that card would carry me through so many more difficult times. The card, its message, and the love of my Auntie would last for a lifetime—especially in the moments when I needed it most.

I awoke on a different summer morning years later with a sense of dread much worse than the one I had felt as fifth grade approached. I pulled my black suit and dark tie from my closet. Slowly and wearily, I found myself getting dressed and trying to understand how life could have fallen apart and shattered so unexpectedly. I was readying myself for a pain I had never experienced before.

In just a few short hours, I would be standing next to my Dad’s casket.

I didn’t know how I was going to do this—the funeral, or life in general. How could I ever live life without my Dad? Life with Dad was all I had ever known. Life with Dad was all I ever wanted. I didn’t want to enter this new chapter of life without him. His death from suicide had put me in a very dark, very anxious place. The fear of fifth grade seemed so distant and so inconsequential compared to what I would now have to go through.

Back then, fear had knocked at the door, faith had answered, and no one was there. Fear, however, was knocking again.

I knew that although the situation was much, much worse, the same faith would always be there. The same God that carried me through that trial would carry me through this much bigger one.

Thankfully, I still had that card and those clovers to remind me of His power.

The day of my Dad’s funeral, I carried two items in my suit pocket: a handkerchief that had once belonged to my Dad, and the card that Auntie had give me many years before. The clovers have since browned (although they’re still amazingly well-intact), and the corners of the card are slightly bent, but the words written by my loving Auntie are still as bold and powerful as they ever were. I opened it on that July morning, and cried when I read her words again:

“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered and no one was there. Always remember this Tyler. I love you. Auntie.”

Standing next to my Dad’s casket, I just kept repeating the words that my Aunt had given me. Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there. Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there. Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there.

Occasionally, I could close my eyes and visualize it. I could picture the spiritual battle. I could see Satan with a crafty, wry smile on his face, rapping his knuckles on the door of my soul. Then, I could see that door creak open as the bright rays of faith in a loving Savior exploded through the door frame. I could see Satan, once cocky and arrogant, shielding his eyes from that blinding light of faith. I could see him running away from that doorway.

Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there.

Satan had hoped to defeat me and my entire family through the death and suicide of my Father. But if faith had answered back then, faith would answer again. And my entire family would find a way to answer with faith.

There were many moments standing by that casket when I would tap on the chest of my suit pocket, knowing the power of the card that was held near my heart. I would look at my Auntie, who was there for my Mom and I each and every moment we needed her in those days after losing Dad. I would see her and I would know that, although life looked dark in the current morning, faith was waiting just on the other side of the door to shine its light. Faith would answer. And fear would flee.


IMG_0629I have a few prized and cherished treasures in my possession. They aren’t the things I’ve spent the most money on. They aren’t the name-branded and logoed sweaters I can’t afford but buy anyway. They aren’t the pieces of sports memorabilia I have accumulated. They are things that are truly irreplaceable. One of a kind. Sacred.

They are items like this card—a simple card with two aged four-leaf clovers and a message that will last a lifetime. Just like Auntie’s love. Just like God’s love for me and all His people.

That card and the message that Auntie inscribed within it carried me through the days, months, and years after losing Dad. I’m not trying to sugar coat life, because in the aftermath of a traumatic loss it isn’t always easy. There are days that are near impossible to make it through successfully. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. There are days when I obsess over how all of this could be part of a redeemable plan from God. There are days when I can’t eat, nights when I can’t sleep, and seasons when the heartache overtakes me.

After my Dad’s funeral, I remember feeling completely paralyzed. I had been in bed for many hours, and I just couldn’t bring myself to even stand. That’s when Auntie came into my room, pulled up a chair, and did what she had done back then. She prayed. She prayed with all the power and belief and courage of a time-tested prayer warrior. She called upon God to do what He said He would do. She called on Him to help my entire family answer with faith and chase fear away.

Auntie and GrandmaEventually, I got out of bed. Although there have been other days when I can’t. And during every one of those moments, I remind myself. Fear is knocking at the door. Faith must answer. My faith has led me through the challenge of my Dad’s death on days when I just couldn’t do it. It breaks my heart to watch families impacted by suicide or traumatic loss who turn away from their faith, because I know that my faith and the love of Jesus Christ has been the most important component of my survival in life after Dad.

And on days when I need that reminder that my faith will always answer, I slip that card into my pocket. My Auntie’s inspiration and her amazing faith mean more to me than any four-leaf clover (or twin set) ever could. Fear will continue knocking. I’m grateful that I have my Auntie and a wonderful reminder of her faith to chase it away.

Dad and Auntie with SB LogoDad, There have been so many days after your death that have been full of fear. I didn’t know what I would ever do without you, because you were such a rock for our family. While you were here with us on Earth, however, you gave us all a great example of what faith and courage looked like. Dad, you fought so hard for so long. I can’t imagine how many painful days you must have had and how many times you pushed through when life seemed unbearable. I wish that I could have done more to help you. I’m thankful that we’ve had wonderful family, like Auntie, to help us in your absence. But I know you’re still watching over us. All of us, each and every day. I love you, Dad. I continue to be afraid of what life will be like without you in the years and decades to come, but I know I’ll see you again. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“God didn’t give us a cowardly spirit but a spirit of power, love, and good judgment.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (GW)

Dad’s Song

“I hate that I have to ask you this so soon, but…is there a song you would like played or performed at the service for your Dad?”

My Dad had only been gone for a day. Just a few days earlier, we were making the final plans for our family vacation to the beach. Now, we were making plans to say goodbye to my Dad for the final time. Oh, how life changes in an instant. One horrible, irreversible instant.

Harville, my pastor, was sitting in a chair in the corner of my darkened bedroom. We had been talking for the past thirty minutes or so about the tragedy of the past few days. My pastor had a tender kindness that was so very important to my family in the aftermath of Dad’s death. He came into the room that day to see how I was doing and to tend to my spirit, which had been bruised and battered since that awful Wednesday morning. As tender and thoughtful as Harville was in those tumultuous few days, there were some painful questions that just couldn’t be tenderized. I knew that Harville had to ask questions like this. The reality was that my Dad was dead, and that there would be services to honor his life within the next few days—that unfortunate truth was fixed, unchanging. We couldn’t put it off for too long. We were going to have to come face to face with this horrible reality and plan a service fitting for a life well-lived.

I am still very thankful for Harville, my Mom, and my Grandpa Vern (among many others) who really took control of the funeral planning and shielded me from the heavy lifting. I had very little to do with the wonderful funeral service we were able to hold for my Dad, but when Harville asked a question about music and a song, I had an immediate answer.

“Yes,” I said to Harville, “There is a song.”


Just a few months before that fateful July morning, I found myself in the basement of my friend Steve’s home watching the Super Bowl on his jumbo projection screen. There was nowhere better to watch a football game, especially if it was the big game of all big games. Steve had engineered a projector in his basement to project the cable feed onto his entire wall. If you think you’ve watched a great game on a beautiful television, try watching it on an 8×12 foot wall projection. You’ll take your 70-inch flatscreen and chuck it out the window (don’t do that).

Even though the lights in the Superdome went out that night, it was still a fun game to watch. And, like most who tune into the Super Bowl, I kept a sideways glance at the screen when the commercials came on to make sure I didn’t miss something funny that all my friends would be talking about the next day. Per usual, there were commercials that made you chuckle or pulled at your heartstrings. The Gangnam Style guy was apparently a big fan of pistachios. There was the Budweiser baby Clydesdale. There was also a weird Dorito’s commercial about a goat that made me never want to eat Doritos again.

But there was one commercial in particular that grabbed my attention from the opening chord. As I sat in the glow of the giant wall projection, there was a beautifully-elegant, simple, and rustic guitar intro that caught my ear. It had a country-simplicity to it that I loved. This was the type of country song that existed before most of the current country artists began to ruin country music (You heard me, Rascal Flatts…).

He’s a twenty years straight get to work on time… He’s a love one woman for all his life…

I loved it already.

Then, my love for the commercial turned into complete infatuation when I saw the product that was being advertised: the Chevy Silverado.

The Silverado was the truck of all trucks, in my opinion. It was rugged. Versatile. Reliable. And my Dad always drove one. I trusted his taste in many things, but I especially trusted his taste in trucks.

As the commercial rolled on and my eyes glazed as flashy Silverado after Silverado rolled across a field of amber grain or a windy mountain road, the lyrics of the song continued to speak to me.

He’s the shirt off his back, Give ya his last dime, He’s strong.

It was unbelievably ironic to hear this song paired with this particular product. This was the exact truck that my Dad drove, but it was also a song in which every line spoke to the man he was. This was a song that told the story of my Dad and how he lived his life.

I remembered hearing the song through the first verse during the commercial and immediately getting to my phone to Google the lyrics. After a few seconds, I found the song. Strong by Will Hoge. It was a song I had never heard before, sung by an artist I had never heard of. His voice, however, made it feel like I had been listening to him sing my entire life. Mainly because he was singing about a topic that was so familiar to me. The name “Scott Bradshaw” is never mentioned once in the song, but I felt like every lyric was about him.

I listened to the song on the way home from Steve’s that night. I downloaded it from iTunes and added it to my phone. And each time I heard it or listened to it, I said the same thing to myself: One day, I’ll play this song for Dad and let him know that I think of him every time I hear it.


I had no idea that our time together was running so short. When I thought about playing that song for my Dad, I envisioned playing it many years into the future, possibly when my Dad was in an advanced age and balder than he currently was (not possible). I thought, naively, that I would have a ton of time to play that song for my Dad and share it with him, along with my feelings.

I never got a chance to play that song for my Dad and tell him what it meant to me—what he meant to me. His death from suicide shattered our lives unexpectedly, and now I would have to settle for playing the song at his funeral. I just couldn’t believe it. I am fortunate that God has blessed me more than I deserve and that I have very few regrets in my young life. This, however, is one of my greater regrets. I wish that one day, while riding around together in his Silverado, I would have taken the time and shared the song and my emotions with him. I had the opportunities, but I also thought we would have so much more time together. There were many more drives with the windows rolled down and the radio up to be had.

Alas, we didn’t.

So, the first time I was able to play that song for my Dad was in his memory. Sitting in the first pew of the dimly-lit church our family had called home, Mom and I gazed upon the cherry casket resting a few feet in front of us. As we sat there with hundreds of our family and friends sitting behind us while the clock neared 10:00am, the familiar guitar strum began to emanate from the speakers.

I ask you to place yourself in that moment. I ask you to close your eyes, imagine that day, visualize that church, and listen to the song that I chose for my Dad.

Strong

Will Hoge

He’s a twenty year straight get to work on time
He’s a love one woman for all his life
He’s a shirt off his back give you his last dime
He’s strong

He’s a need to move something you can use my truck
He’s an overtime worker when the bills pile up
Everybody knows he ain’t just tough
He’s strong

Strong

He’ll pick you up and won’t let you down
Rock solid inside out
Somebody you can trust
Steady as the sun
Ain’t nothing gonna knock him off the road he’s rollin on
He’s strong

It ain’t what he can carry what he can lift
It’s a dirt road lesson talkin to his kids
Bout how to hold your ground and how to live
Strong

He’s strong

He’ll pick you up and won’t let you down
Rock solid inside out
Somebody you can trust
Steady as the sun
Ain’t nothing gonna knock him off the road he’s rollin on
He’s strong

Strong
Like the river rollin’
Strong
Gonna keep on going
Strong
When the road runs out
They gonna keep on talkin about

How he was strong

Strong

He’ll pick you up and won’t let you down
Rock solid inside out
Somebody you can trust
Steady as the sun
Ain’t nothing gonna knock him off the road he’s rollin on
He’s strong

Everybody knows he ain’t just tough
He’s strong

Songwriters: Ashley Gorley / Miller Crowell / Will Hoge / Zach Crowell

Strong lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management US, LLC

 I stared resolutely ahead at the casket, defiant, trying to deny the fact that my Father was gone as that song played through the sanctuary. I tried my best to hold in my emotions and remain stoic, but that weak dam eventually gave way. Every bit of pain I had felt over the last few days tore through me when I heard that song, because it was everything I wanted to be able to tell my Dad, face to face, one last time. I can vividly remember sitting there in that pew with tears streaming down my face as the song played, wishing more than anything that in that moment I could have just one more with my Dad. One more to play that song for him, look him in the eye, and tell him how strong I thought he was. To tell him that he was stronger than he ever thought he could be. To tell him that he was strong enough to beat this.

Mom wept next to me as the song played. She raised her hand towards the heavens as the second verse picked up because she realized, like I did, that although this song may have been written with some other inspiration in mind, it really was written for my Dad. The song was written for this man and this moment. The words spoke to everything he was to us.

After the funeral, I had so many people ask me about that song. It made me feel good that we had been able to pick a song that resonated with so many people and their memory of my Dad. It made me feel relief that people saw past my Dad’s mental illness and his death from suicide to see the man we saw. A man who fought courageously for so long. A man who smiled and loved those around him with beautiful abandon, even though he might not have felt smiley or lovely on the inside. A man that pushed through his own sadness to provide for his family and give them a home life full of wonderful memories. People loved the song because they loved the man whose memory it brought forth. People loved he song because they realized that my Dad’s final chapter was not a true reflection of the beautiful story he wrote in this life for himself and so many others.

Yes, my Father died from suicide. And yes, he is still the strongest man I’ve ever known.

My Dad, Scott Bradshaw, was strong. And he still is. And this song, whenever I need it, is my reminder.

On occasion, particularly when the weather is warm and the sun is shining, I’ll take a detour in my truck—which is ironically the very same Chevy Silverado that my Dad drove. I’ll find myself feeling particularly lonely on those difficult days. Although time may pass from the moment we last said goodbye, the heart never completely heals. And there are moments, tremendously painful but necessary moments, when I need to hear that song again. So, like my Dad would have done, I’ll roll down the windows, crank up the volume, and hear that old familiar chord rattle through the truck speakers. In my mind, I’ll look over towards the passenger seat and see my Dad sitting right next to me with a huge smile on his face. I’ll see him begin to bob his head as the music picks up. I’ll see him thumping his thumb on the middle console between us the way he always did when a particularly good song warmed his ears. And I’ll see his face turn towards me through his sun-darkened spectacles, beaming with that beautiful smile of his.

And I’ll look back over at him, with tears streaming down my face, and I’ll let him know that this song was for him—and that for as long as I live, it will always be his. It will always be the song that helps me remember him. As long as I live, this will be my Dad’s anthem. When my future children and grandchildren ask about my Dad, I’ll play this song for them. This will be the song that reminds me of the love I felt for an amazing Father. It resurrects tremendous pain when I hear the words of that song, but at the same time it reassures me that the man I knew and the man who raised me will never truly leave. Because his heart lives on in me. His memory will never die as long as lyrics like this tell the story of the life he lived.

And that song, a song of love for my Dad, will always play in my mind and in my heart. I’m grateful for a beautiful song and the hearts and minds who wrote it, but I’m even more thankful that I had a Father who lived out the lyrics every single day.

“When the road runs out, they’re gonna keep on talkin’ ‘bout how he was strong.” Will Hoge, truer words have never been written. I’m still talkin’. And I always will be

Dad with Baby Lucy and SB LogoDad, You have no idea how I wish I could wind back the clock and play this song for you. I wish that I could play it, watch you listen, and then say to you that whenever I hear the words I immediately think of you. I desperately wish I could see you thumping your thumb on the console of your truck like you always used to do. I’m sorry that the first time I had a chance to play this for you was at your funeral. So many people have heard the song and told me how perfect it was for you, which is the best testament to your life. It’s what you deserve. Dad, people still talk about how strong you are. People still talk about how courageous you were for fighting through your mental illness for so many years. I know you were hurting desperately, Dad. I know that your soul was troubled. But I pray that you’re able to hear this song in heaven and know that I think of you each and every time I hear it. I’ll always love you, Dad, and I’ll always admire how strong you were. I’ll try to live up to example you gave me—the example that you gave all of us—each day for as long as I live. Someday, I’ll look you in the eyes again and tell you that you were the strongest man I’ve ever known. Until that reunion when we can listen together, seeya Bub.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)