Crashing

My Dad loved riding a bike. I loved it too—but I did not love the crashing part.

When we moved to our house on Headgates Road, I started noticing my Dad’s interest in biking. Always the one to buy the most tricked-out, high-tech equipment associated with anything he did, my Dad went out and bought a 21-speed mountain bike shortly after we moved into the neighborhood. Before long, he would affix a headlight and a speedometer to the bike, upgrade the seat, and buy tires that would allow him to bike through the deepest of snow, the muddiest mud, or the gravelliest gravel.

The Headgates Road neighborhood really is a biker’s paradise—even more so now than it was when we first moved in. There was minimal traffic throughout the neighborhood, and it offered a ton of side streets and cul-de-sacs that were free of everything but the local traffic. The neighborhood was always pretty well-lit, and as more and more people desired to move to that part of town, the development of new homes brought with it more streets and sidewalks for my Dad to ride on. Our neighborhood was also perfectly located adjacent to Rentschler Park, a forest-like preserve with plenty of hiking and biking trails. Eventually, an expansion of the neighborhood connected our home to the park via a service road, and now, it’s even more grand. Many folks take advantage of the new bike path that connects Rentschler Park in Hamilton/Fairfield Township to Waterworks Park in Fairfield—a path that winds for about 12 miles along the Great Miami River.

Even before all of the paths were added in, though, Dad was a biker at heart. Oftentimes, that was how he relaxed after dinner. He would scarf down a delicious meal cooked by Mom, guzzle down a can of Coca-Cola (or two), and then hop on his bike for an evening ride as the sun would set.

Dad was always willing to have me—his “little buddy”—along for the ride. From the time I was little, I always had a bike, and Dad always encouraged me to ride it. I remember how happy he was when I ditched the training wheels, and how he always threw caution to the wind and encouraged me to be adventurous. He was that Dad who always encouraged me to pedal faster, pop a wheelie, or jump on a ramp, even though that call to “go wild” never really sunk in. I was always a pretty cautious little biker. I enjoyed it, but I also appreciated the bones in both my arms and legs and didn’t want to do anything to put their operational ability in peril.

On those nights when I did join Dad for a bike ride, he was always patient. He always waited for me to catch up to him. He never treated me like I was a nuisance or annoyance, even though in hindsight I can see that I probably was. If I went on a ride with Dad, it actually worked out for him because he ended up getting two rides in that night. After dropping me off at the house to grab a post-pedal-popsicle, he would hop back on the saddle and cruise out again for a few more miles in the setting sun.

Dad loved everything about a bike ride. He loved the exercise. He loved the rhythm. He loved the wind in his hair; and then, when his hair was gone, he loved the wind on his scalp. He loved spending time in nature, and a bike allowed him to cover more ground and appreciate even more of it. Of all the times that I saw my Dad on a bike, I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile.

Except for that time when I went over the handlebars.

Have you ever flipped over the handlebars of a bike? It sounds more fun than it is. I mean, I guess the element of flight is fun; it’s the crashing part that’s brutal. Usually there’s some kind of painful cracking or bruising or loss of fluids that doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time. But it’s the risk you take when you ride a bike, and if you’re as uncoordinated as me, it’s a risk that comes with pretty bad odds.

My Dad was always the parent leader when it came to bike rides with all of my neighborhood friends, and there were many times that Dad would effortlessly lead a group of seven or eight grade schoolers—all with different biking skill and capability—on a trail ride through the hills at Rentschler Park. There were a number of different neighborhood playmates that I biked with: Devin, Brittany, her brother Jeremy, brothers Matt and Ryan (or “Peanut” as we always called him), and Anthony and Greg (otherwise known as “The Twins). It was funny that my Dad was often the adventurous “leader of the bike pack” considering that I was the absolute least adventurous kid on that list. All of my friends were much more risk-attuned than I was, and I think that’s why my Dad liked hanging out with them and liked that I was around them as well. Deep down, he had to secretly hope that some of their no-fear-nature would rub off on me.

As a kid, Dad always made these bike rides so fun and so enjoyable. Like he did at any family gathering, vacation bible school playtime, or church softball game, my Dad was a consummate entertainer. He was always on board for whatever silliness it took to propel my little legs on that bike. If it meant he had to pretend that he was a villain and I was the good guy chasing him, he’d do it. Or if he had to pretend that he was a rabid wolf that had somehow learned how to ride a bike and give me a 20-second headstart to get away as he foamed at the mouth and snarled, he’d do it. Dad loved having fun, he loved being outdoors, and he loved making people laugh—and taking me and all the neighborhood kids on a bike ride was pure joy for him.

Dad would often take us on a bicycle caravan through the infamous “Pinecone Trail” at Rentschler Park, a beautiful mile-and-a-half-or-so trail that includes hills, bridges, stairs, and narrow pathways that wind through tall trees along a stunning creek bed filled with rocks and calmly cascading water.

There’s not a caution sign to be had on that trail, and Dad absolutely loved it.

I don’t know how he did it, but Dad would ride that entire trail without getting off his bike seat once. He would pump his pedals up steeply-graded hills. He would whip through hairpin turns nearly skidding into tree stumps. And staircases? He didn’t even get off his bike at staircases!!! He’d either skirt the staircase and ride down the hill to the left of the stairs, or in a dangerous “kids, don’t try this at home” fashion, he’d just find a way to ride down the staircase on the bike.

It’s a good thing I didn’t have a daredevil spirit as a kid, because my Dad would have been a really bad influence on bike rides.

It didn’t stop him from trying though. Deep down, although he never would have admitted it, I think my Dad always wished I had a bit more of a rebellious streak in me. I think that my Dad wanted me to not be so cautious, to get a few more bumps, knicks, scrapes, and bruises. I know that my Dad loved me, but I also think that he often wondered how his only offspring could have ended up being so timid. Dad would goad me on during most of those bike rides, as I was inevitably the kid at the back of the line slowing down the entire chain of young peddlers and praying to my God and any others who would listen for a juice break. “Come on Bub,” he’d yell. “We gotta get home before it gets dark….heck, at the rate you’re going, we gotta get home before the sun comes up again!”

Every now and then, I’d get frustrated with Dad for pushing me to be a bit more adventurous when we rode bikes. I’d yell back at him and tell him that there was no way I could possibly pedal any further, and then tell him to just leave me for dead (did I mention that I had a flare for the dramatics as a kid?). Dad would bid me adieu and tell me to say hello to the coyotes that came out at night, and I’d pick up and pedal frantically to catch up to him.

But every now and then, the adventurous streak would flare up. It wasn’t much of a streak, but a streak nonetheless.

I don’t remember how old I was on this particular trip, but Dad had taken my friends and I out for a bike ride through the woods, and we were making our way home. The paths had been cleared and redirected as a result of some new housing developments in the area, and to Dad’s glee, the woods had been cleared to provide a new exit from Rentschler Park that involved speeding down a long, sloping hill, coming up another hill, and then flying down a much steeper hill on the other side to link up the newly-paved bike path.

It was a daredevil’s perfect ending to a long bike ride.

And I almost peed my pants just looking at it.

Per usual, Dad went first, hooting and hollering the entire way. My more adventurous friends followed, and before I knew it, I was the only kid at the top of the hill. I could feel the cold sweat forming across my body, and for a momentary second, I flirted with the idea of pretending to faint and collapse. However, I was afraid there might be snakes in the grass, so I ditched that plan quickly.

“Come on, Bub! It’s fun—you’re gonna love it!” Dad and all my friends continued to yell. After a few moments of back-and-forth in my mind, I decided I’d give the hill a chance. I’d keep a steady hand on the right brake, but it was worth a shot. No one else in front of me had injured anything, so I figured it had to be okay.

Slowly, I let go of the brake handle and gravity started to work its magic. I added a little pedal power to the proceedings, and before you knew it, I was gone faster than the Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs. There was no point in peddling because my silvery-blue Mongoose would have busted apart at the bolts had any more speed entered in the equation.

I sailed down the first hill, hit the trough at the bottom, and went up the hill in front of me. To my surprise, I had picked up so much speed that my bike barely slowed as I went up that hill. Upon reaching the crest, I didn’t even have time to pause and soak up the view from the apex, and before I knew it, I was cruising down the other side at an impressive rate of speed as a smile started to emerge on my face.

Maybe Dad was on to something about this whole “safety be damned” approach to living!

But then, it happened. The grass near the bottom of the hill hadn’t been mowed in quite a few weeks, and burrowed within that tall, green grass was an elevated manhole cover for a nearby water processing building. Unlike the manhole covers you see in the city that are flush with the ground, this one stuck up out of the ground by about a foot.

That’s enough to send you flying if you don’t see it. And I didn’t see a thing.

With an unsuspecting smile on my face from the happiness of finally overcoming a fear and finally feeling triumphant, I nailed that manhole cover without even realizing what had happened. The momentum flung me over the handlebars of my bike, and I landed flat on my back atop that manhole cover. Then, as if the crash itself wasn’t enough embarrassment, the bike continued to flip into the air and then landed on top of me with a thud.

For what I lack in grace, I can make up for in my ability to let out a guttural shriek of pain—which I promptly did after regaining my breath.

The disastrous display left me unable to breathe. My wind was completely knocked out, and I wretched and convulsed on the ground grasping at my chest like I needed an octuple bypass. That was, of course, after my friends and my Dad had run to my side and flung the bike off of me.

All joking aside, I was in about as much pain as you could imagine one would be in after smashing into a manhole cover on a bike and landing atop an unmovable metal and concreate structure. My back had bent in a way that it shouldn’t have bent. I was sore immediately, and knew that this pain was going to last for a couple days.

Aside from the physical pain that I was in, my little ego had also been bruised. It’s never fun to do something stupid; it’s definitely not fun to do something stupid in front of friends that you want to admire you at such an impressionable young age. I had put my lack of athletic ability on display, yet again, in front of my friends who already teased me for being as uncoordinated as a baby giraffe in high heels. I couldn’t help but cry in this moment, and I was waiting for my Dad to ride up and laugh as well.

But good Dads don’t tease when they know that their child is bruised—physically and emotionally.

Without a word, Dad threw his bike to the ground and ran to me. He picked me up into his strong arms, and just held onto me until I could catch my breath again.

“It’s okay, Bub,” he just said until I could breathe again. He started to ask me what was hurting, and I told him that my back really was in a ton of pain. Because my Dad knew me well, he knew when I was faking and when I wasn’t—and in this moment, he knew that I wasn’t.

Without missing a beat, Dad sprung into action mode. I was amazed at how quickly and expeditiously he organized the troops and got us on the move.

“Alright guys, I’m going to need one of you to grab Ty’s bike and walk it home, along with yours. Who’s got it?”

One of my friends piped up and made their way over to my bike, and before I knew it, Dad had picked me up and rested me atop his bike handlebars. We still had about a mile to go to get home, but Dad pushed me cautiously and carefully while cradling me the entire way. I whimpered a bit (because that’s what wimpy little kids like me did), and Dad just kept talking to me to try to get my mind off of things as the hot summer sun started to set.

“Well, Bub,” Dad said, “if it counts for anything, you got some real good height on that front flip!”

Even in the middle of tears, you can’t help but laugh at a line like that.

Eventually, we made it home. Over the next few days, both the bruises to my back and to my ego started to fade—and, in time, my friends and my Dad never let me live down the “bike flip” incident. Every time we saw a manhole cover within 300 feet of us on a ride, they made sure to warn me.

But a good Dad swoops in, picks you up, and carries you when you’re not able to walk. That’s what I felt with my Dad on that day, and more importantly, that’s what I felt from him every time I crashed—both physically and metaphorically.

My Dad was always there to pick me up when I crashed. He did it that day of the bike debacle, and he did it on so many other days. He did it when in moments when I didn’t feel confident in my abilities. He did it after I would fail at an athletic event (he sure had a heck of a lot of opportunities to come to my aid in that category). He did it when I was in college and started having an identity crisis after giving up on my career trajectory of becoming an educator that I had professed since I was young. He did it when I suffered from my own, paralyzing, nine-month bout with clinical anxiety.

Dad never judged. He never criticized me or accused me of wrongdoing or fault when I was hurting. He just swooped in, picked me up, and carried me until I could walk again.

That’s what great Dads do. That’s what my Dad always did—both for me, and for others. That’s what I wish I had done for him more often.

When my Dad crashed as a result of his depression, it was a hard crash. Over time, we were able to see a pretty predictable pattern. My Dad would succumb to his clinical depression, he would shut down, and would even escape by leaving without telling anyone where he had gone. He was afraid to let people know that he was hurting. He was afraid he’d somehow disappoint them. I hate that Dad felt such shame—he didn’t deserve to.

Quote Tile - CrashingOver time, I learned—we all learned—how to support Dad when he crashed, and I think we learned by watching how he supported all of us. We didn’t get it right every time, but we tried to be there for him because that’s what he always did. My Dad was the guy who was just there for people. He listened, he didn’t judge, he empathized, and he gave us all reassurance and confidence that the crash didn’t define us. That’s what we all tried to do to support Dad. It was imperfectly executed, especially by me, but we tried. We gave it our best effort.

And even though my Dad isn’t here any longer to support me or the people he loved when we inevitably crash, I think one of the best things we can do to honor his memory is to just continue being there. To swoop in when we see someone who is crashing. To serve them. To bolster their spirits, their mind, and their attitude. And, even though it takes a lot of work, we should be there to pick them up and carry them until they feel good enough to walk again.

That was the Scott Bradshaw way. It wasn’t my Dad’s crash that defined him; it was the way he helped others who were crashing that captures his true story.

I love my Dad and miss him desperately, especially in those moments where I’ve felt the same pain of crashing like I did on that day many years ago when I sailed over the handlebars. In a different way, I have felt my Dad there carrying me in all the years that he’s been gone. I have felt him, in those awful moments, continuing to carry me when I can’t walk. When you live a life as big as the one my Dad did, the love doesn’t stop when the heart does. I’m thankful for a Dad that was there to let me crash—because I learned from it. I’m thankful for a Dad that encouraged me to take risks, even if there was a high likelihood that a crash would occur. But more importantly, I’m thankful for a Dad that never turned his back on me when I did crash.

And…I’m pretty thankful for helmets, too.

Dad and I on Dirtbike with SB LogoDad, The comfort I felt in your arms walking home after my failed-and-unintentional-bike-stunt was a feeling that I can instantly snap back to at any moment—and it’s a feeling that I desperately miss. You were my rock. You were my safe haven. You provided protection from the dangers of the world, but you encouraged me to not play it safe. Dad, thank you for giving me the feeling of safety that allowed me to ride freely. Thank you for being there on all those days when I needed you most. I never questioned whether or not you were at my side, and even since your death, I’ve known that you were there. I think about you each day and wonder what life would look like if you were still here. Even though there’s sadness at that longing, I know that you’re in a place where the pain you experienced here exists no more. I’m thankful that you’re basking in the glow and warmth of Eternity where the pain of crashing is no more. Dad, I love you, and I miss you like crazy. Thanks for always being there for me—both in this world, and in the next. Until I can thank you face-to-face, seeya Bub.

“…and if you give what you have to the hungry, and fill the needs of those who suffer, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your darkness will be like the brightest time of day.” Isaiah 58:10 (NLV)

Wrestling

“ONE!”

Slam!

“TWO!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-A-HALF!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-THREE-QUARTERS!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-SEVEN-EIGHTHS!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-THIRTY-FIVE-THIRTY-SIXTHS!”

“Dad, I don’t even think that’s a real thing!”

Slam!

“THREE!” Slam! “Pinned you again!”

“Alright, let’s go again,” I’d respond, knowing that there wasn’t a chance I’d ever win.

This was the common refrain that echoed through the Bradshaw family room after dinner on an almost-nightly basis, drifting up the stairs into the kitchen where my Mom was likely cleaning up after another delicious, home-cooked meal that she had crafted. Dad always said he needed time to digest, but I’d pester and bug him until he’d rise up out of the recliner acting like he was too full, and then in a super sneaky sweep, he’d catch me off guard and the evening wrestling match would begin—no entrance music or bell needed.

For a little, skinny kid who realistically had no chance at ever winning a wrestling match (or any physical competition for that matter), it’s perplexing to think that I actually challenged my Dad to wrestle so frequently. Must have been early-onset-Napoleon-complex. A board game would have been more of an even battle, and even then I’d still be at a disadvantage; but a wrestling match between a seven year old and a 30-something year old wasn’t that evenly matched. While I was wrestling against my Dad, I’d try to emulate the moves that I had seen from my all-time favorite WWF superstars….even though I wasn’t supposed to know what a WWF superstar was.

Mom never let me watch wrestling—rightfully so. Have you seen what happens on an episode of Monday Night Raw? Wait, is Raw still a thing? The name might have changed, but the lack of actual “wrestling” likely has not. The stuff is pure trash. There’s rarely a punch that lands within three feet of someone’s face (I will applaud the acting, however), and there’s more time spent talking into a microphone than there is jumping off the turnbuckles. It’s essentially a soap opera with simulated violence and more fake blood.

Although, a few of those steel-chair-smashes to the cranium did look awfully life-like…

Yes, I have to admit that against my Mother’s absolutely-justified and entirely-well-advised orders, I did sneak in a few episodes of WWF* wrestling from time to time (*that’s right, I liked wrestling when it was a “Federation” in the days before they admitted it was pure entertainment and changed the name). I’d quickly flip the channel if I saw her come into the room, but then it’d be right back to The Undertaker getting stunned by Stone Cold Steve Austin, or The Rock delivering a dramatic People’s Elbow to the solar plexus of Triple H with Good Ole JR screaming “OH MY GOD! HE’S KILLED HIM!” from the ringside announcer’s table.

Okay…maybe it was more than just a few episodes.

On occasion, I’d watch Monday Night Raw in my bedroom with the door shut, telling myself that I’d need to keep quiet if I wanted to throw Mom off the scent of the electric mayhem and debauchery on the 14-inch television set atop the dresser in my bedroom. Around 9pm, the festivities would begin, and I’d be able to keep quiet until about 9:07. By then, some ridiculous plotline would have been introduced (I SWEAR I SAW VINCE MCMAHON EXPLODE INSIDE THAT LIMO!!!), and I’d be jumping up and down on the bed from pure excitement trying my best to hold in the shrieks of enthusiasm.

Panic would set in as I’d hear Mom coming up the stairs. “What are you doing in there?!” Mom would yell through the closed door.

READING DR. SUESS!!!” I’d scream back as I jumped up and down on the twin box spring, just as Mankind shoved Mr. Socko down the throat of a guy who was definitely going to need some Listerine.

I’d always, inevitably, get caught and I’d be banned from watching wrestling again. Fortunately, I was able to recreate my own matches in the basement with Dad (minus any steel chairs, ringside graves, or beer trucks equipped with firehoses of course…). Looking back, I enjoyed those matches way more than any match I ever watched on television. No ridiculous WWF plotline could ever entertain me more than a wrestling match with my Dad. Our family room floor was better than any sold out arena because my Dad was a supreme entertainer.

I can always remember the laughter when Dad would have me jump off the couch like I was jumping off of a turnbuckle (sorry Mom, but this is why the armrest cushion padding was always a bit smushed on that one side…). He’d pretend like he was asleep or mortally wounded until the very last second before I would jump. Somehow, he’d spring up and catch me in his arms, spin me upside down, and pin me on the ground without doing too much cranial damage. I’d laugh, even though I was losing—frequently.

Aside from the fun, Dad would also challenge me to “get mean” and toughen up while I was wrestling with him, making sure that I never gave up even though he rarely (if ever) let me win. I wasn’t a very “mean” kid, and I think in some respect, my Dad never let me win because he wanted to toughen me up and have me prepare to wrestle in bigger battles that would inevitably come my way throughout life. When all was so seemingly perfect in my childhood, I don’t think either one of use could have ever envisioned the toughness we would both need to build to face what was looming for our family on the horizon.

I couldn’t have guessed that wrestling would define so much of our lives—both my Dad’s and my own. And it wasn’t the physical wrestling that ended up defining us. It was mental wrestling—and it’s still going on to this day.

It wasn’t until I learned that my Dad suffered from severe, clinical depression that I realized how much he struggled and grappled with his own emotions. He was constantly wrestling inside his head with fears of inadequacy and doubt. In his darkest moments, he was plagued with questions of whether or not he was enough, even though God and everyone in his life tried to encourage him. Mental illness is a unique enemy. I won’t say it’s any more or less difficult than other things we all face in life; I’m just acknowledging that it’s unique. If you’re struggling at work or school, you can go home and find rest. If you’re struggling with a friend, you can distance yourself. But our heads are always with us, and for the individual who is mentally ill, there’s no off switch. Those feelings can be so unrelenting, and at times, it can feel like there’s no escape. I honestly believe that’s why my Dad’s response when his depression reached its peak was to physically escape from the world around him—even though that approach offered little hope of long-term success or wellness.

I believe the most difficult part of my Dad’s wrestling stemmed from the fact that he was facing off against an invisible enemy and he didn’t always ask for a partner to tag in and help. As I grew older, I learned not to blame my Dad for his mental illness, and I was fortunate that at the time of his death, I never dealt with feelings of blame towards my Dad for the way he died. Don’t get me wrong—I was angry. But not at my Dad. I was angry at depression, mental illness, and a disease that cut his life entirely too short.

But just because I didn’t blame my Dad doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t do things differently if given the opportunity, and at the top of the list is a wish for my Dad to have reached out to get the help that he needed and deserved. My Dad would take medication to help with his depression, and then when he would start feeling well again, he believed he no longer needed the medication to help him (a vicious cycle that many, many individuals struggling with mental illness deal with). Because my Dad was a strong guy who could fix just about anything, he also didn’t seem to have it in his DNA to go and see a therapist or professional counselor who could help him talk and work through his illness. My Dad was a helper in every area of his life, and I think that led to him not being able to ask for help himself when he needed it most.

I hate that my Dad often wrestled behind the curtain. I hate that he felt such unbelievable shame that he couldn’t bring it upon himself to share his struggles with others or seek professional help in the form of counseling or psychological therapy. It’s like watching that tag team wrestling match in which the guy in the middle of the ring clearly needs to tag his partner, but he just can’t bring himself to admit that he might need the assistance.

Watching my Dad wrestle has taught me a lesson—a lesson I never thought I’d need to learn about how we deal with mental illness, but also how we deal with grief.

Since losing Dad, I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling as well. Unfortunately, I think it’s the burden that many of us who lose a loved one to suicide are dealt. Could we have done more? Could we have said more? Could we have loved more? What could we have done to build a shelter for the storm forming on the horizon? It’s a difficult place to be that’s riddled with guilt, sadness, and perpetual questions.

However, I believe there’s great growth in the wrestling that happens in our lives. It isn’t always pleasant, and we often leave bloodied and bruised, but time and life circumstances can provide perspective if we are willing to seek it out.

I firmly believe that when it comes to our thoughts and beliefs, we have to wrestle with them in order to understand why we believe them in the first place. That’s why I think so many people struggle with Christianity in America—it’s always been something that’s just there and accepted, which means we often take it for granted and don’t wrestle with the deep tenets of our faith to understand what they mean and why they are important. I’ve seen this principle play out in my life in so many different areas. I firmly believe that the best lessons I’ve learned in the college classroom have been the ones that I’ve had to fight hard with to comprehend. The best books I’ve read have been the ones that have challenged me with complex characters, extensive vocabulary, and elaborate plotlines. And even when I think back to my own childhood, my Dad was my greatest wrestling partner because he was stronger than me and because he didn’t let me win. I learned something in the struggle.

And wow, have I wrestled with my Dad’s death. In the dark night of the soul that often accompanies our weightiest grief, I’ve struggled to come to terms with how a loving God—in control of every aspect of the universe He created and every son or daughter who lives in it—could allow mental illness and suicide to defeat my Father. There are some moments of wrestling in which I can answer that question quickly. I can accept the fact that God loves me, loves my Dad, and in no way intended for this to be the way his life on Earth ended.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to more difficult moments of wrestling. Sleepless nights full of tears when the answers are elusive have been a regularity in the months and years since losing Dad. Maybe you’ve been there too. Maybe you’re there now.

God, in my opinion, calls us to take those burdens that we wrestle with and let Him carry the weight. That doesn’t mean that we stop wrestling. It doesn’t mean that we stop the questions with the clasp of our hands in prayer, but it does mean that we trust Him to eventually help us find the answer, and we believe that there’s a purpose to our confusion, grief, and lack of understanding. The answer may not come when we want it, and it may not come in the form we hope for—and we should be grateful for that. It will come in a way and at a time that is more perfect than we could ever imagine.

The result of our wrestling is not automatic or instantaneous peace—it’s a path forward. That path may look difficult and be quite unwelcome. That path might include regular counseling, medication, a dedicated health regimen, forgiveness (both for ourselves and others), or confession. But any path towards health is better than a wrestling match that never has a resolution. I’d rather risk a loss or misstep here or there, or even brief momentary pain, than to be caught in a perpetual state of not-knowing.

When it comes to mental struggling or emotional wrestling, God never puts us in a tap-out position. We might be in pain. We might be hurting. We might need to reach out and tag in a partner to help us. We might have to ask our ringside coach for a bit of advice or wisdom. But God never wants us to tap out. He gives us all the strength and resources we need in those instances if we are just willing to admit that we need it.

For those of us who struggle with mental illness in any of its forms and manifestations, we must believe that there is a purpose to the wrestling. We don’t need to welcome the pain with an ever-present smile, because that’s phony. I don’t trust people who act like they embrace pain—there’s a whole different set of clinical disorders to describe that. But even though wrestling can be painful and might not yield an immediate victory, we realize and recognize that there’s a deeper purpose and more intricate plan tied to every aspect of our lives that will, eventually, reveal itself to us. With that perspective, like any good athlete, we learn to welcome the wrestling even if it’s difficult work. We learn that our greatest beliefs will only be strengthened if they are challenged and grappled with. Most importantly, however, we acknowledge that wrestling is worth it when our teammate—God—always provides a way out, even if we can’t see it in the midst of our struggle. The wrestling isn’t always fun, but it’s worth it.

When we wrestle well—meaning that when we recognize that in our struggles we are never on our own and when we are willing to admit our difficulties and ask for help—we learn and we grow tremendously. We build spiritual and emotional muscle that helps us to overcome some of life’s greatest difficulties. Even though my Dad might have eventually been overtaken by his mental illness, I’m confident that he did wrestle well throughout his life. He is not defined by that one failure, but he is defined by all the years within which he lived healthy and happily. He is defined by the wife he loved, the son he raised, the people he helped, and the God he served. One day on my Dad’s record of life cannot and will not erase the fact that for fifty years before that, he wrestled victoriously. And as long as I live, I’ll remember those lessons that my Dad taught me in his everyday life, as well as in our mock family room Wrestlemanias.

And even thought you might not always win, never forget….jumping off of a couch “turnbuckle” is a ton of fun. When your significant other or parent isn’t home, give this one a try.

Dad Burying My Head in Sand with SB LogoDad, Remember how much fun we used to have wrestling on the family room floor and laughing as you constantly beat up on me?! It doesn’t sound like as much fun as it really was, now that I write that. Dad, I appreciate that in wrestling, and in a lot of areas of my life, you never just let me win. You always made me earn it, which made me value the struggle and see the purpose of it. I’m glad that, for so long, you wrestled well. I know there were probably many days when you felt like your depression would overtake you but, somehow, you found the strength and the purpose to fight on. I’m grateful that you modeled that kind of strength, and I want you to know that when I think about your life, I think about these types of victories—not the way in which you died. I think about how proud I am of you for fighting as hard as you did for so long. Thank you for always allowing me to see the purpose in wrestling well and fighting through those difficult moments. It’s ironic that the lessons you taught me were preparing me to navigate life after losing you. I don’t always do it perfectly—I fall well short on most days, in fact. But even in your death, you have been a great Father to me. Thank you for loving me enough to teach me how to wrestle well. I miss you terribly, Dad. There have been so many moments where I just wish I could be back to those moments of being your young son again. But I know, in my heart, that we will have those days again. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill out hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5 (TLB)

Grace

“I just don’t know if I can go back. How I can go back…”

My Dad died in late July, and I was set to go back to classes for the final year of my Master’s program in education—but I just didn’t know how I could do that. Full-time work and part-time school was taxing enough under normal circumstances, and my life was anything but normal after losing my Dad to suicide. On top of that, everything in life that wasn’t related to my Dad just felt sort of trivial. I wondered if it might be wise to take the year off, but I knew the dangers. Take a year off, and it’s easier to turn that into another year, and then another. Deep down, I knew that my Dad would not have wanted me to stall my progress towards my degree, but I felt extremely guilty getting back to the normal things in life because it felt like I was betraying my Dad’s death.

As I was contemplating what to do for this upcoming year, I got an e-mail from Dr. Kathy Goodman, the professor who would be teaching the Foundations of Research course that I had enrolled in. If I was nervous about continuing my studies while grieving, I was terrified of having to do it while learning about research principles and practices. Research was not my strong suit. I felt as if my classmates were all a few standard deviations ahead of me on their knowledge in this area (lame attempt at research humor, I know). On top of that, I had never taken a class with Dr. Goodman before. I didn’t know her teaching style, and I severely doubted my capacity to find success.

Then came Kathy’s e-mail. “I know that we haven’t been in class together yet during your time in the program,” Kathy said, “but I want you to know that I will do whatever I possibly can to help you be successful this semester.” Kathy expressed her condolences for my family’s loss, and she offered to help me with material, be flexible with deadlines, and allow me the space to grieve when it unexpectedly hit me. I just remember mouthing the word “Wow,” as I sat at my computer. This was a teacher who knew me only tangentially but clearly understood the pain that I was feeling.

I stayed in the course. And I completed it. And in May of 2014, I graduated with my Master’s degree. And getting there was partly possible because Kathy Goodman showed me grace.


I took a month off from work after losing my Dad. Unlike so many others who find themselves in my situation, I was fortunate to work for an employer that (a) understood I would need some time off, and (b) had given me the vacation and sick time necessary to do it. After having that month to grieve, spend time with my family, and adjust to a new normal of life after losing my Dad, I went back to work on the Monday before classes were set to resume for the Fall semester. My day was moderately productive, as I would weave in and out of being able to concentrate on my work and finding myself spiraling into my grief while trying my best to hold it all together.

I woke up on Tuesday morning after a largely sleepless night, and I just knew I didn’t have it in me. I knew that I was not going to have the mental energy to go in and slog through the day like I had done the day before. I grabbed my phone, and I texted my boss, Megan. I had known Megan since my undergraduate days at Miami University Regionals, and she had always done so much to support me—especially in the month since losing my Dad. I told Megan that I felt guilty because I had just been off for an entire month, but I didn’t know if I could come into the office today.

“Tyler,” she responded “Take the time you need. And take care of yourself.” Megan shared how much she was thinking of me and our entire family, and told me over and over again that she was willing to help in any way she could. She reinforced that she knew what I was dealing with was not easy, and she didn’t try to minimize my pain. And that level of care and compassion that she and our entire team at Miami’s Regional Campuses shared with me never ceded, even as the months after Dad died wore on. My colleagues were always, always there, and they always gave me the room to do what I needed to do to be okay.

I did take that day off of work. And over time, I found the courage to continue doing my job and taking care of myself. And it was because Megan and so many of my coworkers at Miami showed me grace.


After losing my Dad, Father’s Day has turned into a particularly painful recurrence. I have difficulty being able to celebrate the fathers that make our community special, but in the years after losing Dad, I was also on staff at our church as an outreach and connections pastor. I had responsibilities during every Sunday service to get up and offer the announcements and our opening prayer. I wanted to try and persevere on this particular Father’s Day and celebrate my own Dad by putting on a brave face and being at church that morning, but I knew it was an impossibility. My Dad’s funeral had been held in that same exact sanctuary, and every time I looked to the front of the room near the stage, I didn’t see the pulpit. Just as if it were still there, I still saw my Dad’s casket. I wondered if I’d ever stop seeing it.

I talked with my Mom about being scared to go to church on Father’s Day. I talked with my pastors, Harville and Dave. I talked with my therapist, Jeff. I talked with friends. In every conversation, I shared my concern about not wanting to be in church on Father’s Day, and the guilt I felt for having that feeling. Every person I talked to reassured me and told me that it was absolutely okay to not be there.

All of these people—every single one of them—gave me the freedom to grieve in my own way. And I did grieve, and eventually I did start going to church on Father’s Day again.

And it was all because the world and the people I loved showed me grace.

Grace, in my opinion, is the firm cornerstone of the grieving process, but more importantly than that, it’s the cornerstone of the human experience in general. When I reflect on the healing I went through during my own bouts with mental illness, my Dad’s struggles, and his eventual death from suicide, the common thread that weaves through the tapestry of those moments is grace. It was grace that always redeemed and carried me through—both the grace given to me by those in my life, and ultimately as a result of the grace given to all of us by God.

I’m confident that, in the months and years leading up to the loss of my Father, God positioned people full of grace into my life to serve as a shelter from the storm. I look back on how God moved people into my life that only He knew would need to be there when everything went dark. Those people, all in their own unique ways, let me know that it was okay to be grieving, okay to be hurting, and okay to have questions that would never receive answers. I’m thankful that they were all there to let me make mistakes and experience unpleasant emotions without ever judging me or expecting more of me than I could give. All of these individuals gave me the grace to grieve. The grace to take a moment and breathe. The grace to make mistakes, to cry unexpectedly and uncontrollably, and to do whatever was helpful for me to be well again.

I think especially of Paige. It can’t be easy living with a spouse who is grieving the traumatic and unexpected loss of a Father; but every single day, I know that it will be a bit easier to grieve because Paige will show me the grace I need to do it successfully. She will be there to hold my hand when I can’t explain how I feel. She will help find creative ways to honor my Dad and to celebrate the life he lived, even though she never met him. She is a living example of God’s grace in my life, and I’m thankful he blessed me with her.

My Mom. My grandparents. My cousins. My colleagues. My neighbors. My Dad’s coworkers. My church family. My classmates. The list goes on and on. It feels like I have a grace-inspired team that’s constantly in my corner, and I know I have God to thank for them.

And what makes this grace from God and those in my life even greater is that I had done absolutely nothing to deserve it. I can’t help but see that the same grace that was given and continues to be granted to me throughout the grieving process is the exact same grace that God calls us to embody and live out when we interact with those who are suffering from mental illness—a grace that I was unwilling to extend when it mattered most.

It’s not lost on me that, the first time I had the opportunity to show my Dad that grace when he revealed his mental illness, I failed the test. It’s not lost on me that, on the night my Father came home after being missing for three days while I was in high school, I had an opportunity to extend him grace but instead chose to be judgmental. I chose blame as my weapon. And accusation. And hurtful words and unnecessary threats. And self-righteousness. Instead of offering a hug, I offered a clenched fist. I reacted in anger when I should have responded with compassion. It’s the greatest regret of my entire life, and even though God has forgiven me for that severe misstep, I don’t know that I’ve often forgiven myself.

So, even if I don’t do it well all the time and often do it imperfectly, I’m working harder to realize the role that grace has played in my life, and I’m doing all I can to give it out more freely.

Quote Tile - GraceAs we’ve unfortunately seen over the past few months and years, we live in a world where grace is a rarity. It’s as rare to find grace as it is a full shelf of toilet paper or hand sanitizer (this joke will make absolutely no sense to people reading this fifty years from now, which makes it even more fun). We live in a world where grace is an exception to the rule rather than the expectation of it. We live in a world where grace towards others that we dislike, disagree with, or even despise is a gift we are simply unwilling to give. We decide to dole out grace in a different way than God directed us to. God gives out grace freely, but we ration it like it’s a resource that only deserving people deserve.

God just doesn’t see it that way.

We are all hurting in our own unique, unrecognizable ways—especially those struggling with mental illness. And if we know that everyone around us is hurting, we have to do more to extend grace their way—even when they don’t ask for it, and especially when they don’t deserve it. God doesn’t unequally administer grace, and I’m grateful for that. He doesn’t only administer grace to rich people, or good-looking people, or people who can tell funny jokes, or people who live in certain countries. No matter your hurts or struggles, no matter your missteps or mishaps, no matter your most sinister and evil thoughts, actions, or desires, God’s gift of grace waits for you each and every day.

When it comes to mental illness, we have to do more to be grace-filled healers to those who are hurting. We have to find ways to let people know that, if they are suffering, it is not their fault. We have to be able to let those who are hurting know that their struggles with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideations, or any other host of mental illness is not a reflection of their character. It’s easy to cognitively believe that this is true, but the way we live our lives must also reflect that we accept it. That’s why, from day one, the motto of this blog has always been “It’s okay for you to not be okay, but it’s not okay for you to stay that way.” It’s a grace-filled mantra, and one that I repeat to myself often on days where I feel inadequate or unworthy. As much as I might be saying that to others, I’m also saying it to myself regularly, even if I imperfectly execute it.

And if you are struggling with mental illness or suicidal ideations, you have to do more than just receive grace from others. You have to be willing to extend grace to yourself. You must be willing to forgive yourself for any mistakes you’ve made, while also understanding that the way you feel is not always a result of what you’ve done or haven’t done. It’s that grace given to oneself that opens up a roadmap to healing—one that might include any regimen of treatments. To go and talk to a therapist or mental health professional, you must give yourself grace to escape the expectation of perfection. To regularly take medication, you must give yourself grace to accept your body and its unique physical/psychological processes. To exercise regularly, you must give yourself grace to realize you don’t have to be chiseled to set foot in a gym for the first time (if that was the case, they wouldn’t even let me set foot in the parking lot). Our ability to pursue any path towards healing requires that we accept that we are doing things to get better because we are worthy of being better.

And perhaps most importantly, if we are in the midst of a grief-filled period of life, grace will be the tool in the toolbox that we must rely on (and give to others) most frequently. Grace got me through my grief. Grace got me through the most difficult days. Grace got me through the days when all I wanted to do was sit in the bed and cry. Grace got me through those seasons of life within which all I could think about was how much I was falling short. Grace got me through all of that. And the only thing that will sustain me in the years to come will be receiving that grace from God over and over and giving it to everyone else in my life in return.

We don’t have to be perfect to receive that grace—I’m thankful for that!—and we also can’t hold back in extending grace to only people who get it right all the time. In fact, if people got life right all the time, there’d be no need for grace at all, and ultimately there would have been no need for a Savior. But because the world is imperfect and the people who inhabit the world are just as broken, we all need to find a way to both give grace and accept it. We have to be able to live with our mistakes and missteps while not keeping a permanent score of the same missteps of others.

I’m thankful that the God I serve is one who doesn’t expect perfection, but instead is in the business of redeeming lost children, like me. If God expected perfection, I would have had to throw in the towel a long, long time ago. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way. I’m thankful that God has forgiven me for all the things I’ve gotten wrong, because it’s allowed me (over time) to not expect that same perfection of others. My faith has taught me that grace, not perfection, but grace is the key to being loved by God and being able to love one another.

Just like my Dad was, grace has been one of my greatest teachers.

Dad Leaning Back in a ChairDad, I’m sorry that I did not extend you more grace when you needed it. I’m really sorry that, on that first bad day when you were hurting and suffering and feeling inadequate, I didn’t do more to make you feel loved. If I’m being truthful, it still haunts me when I think about the way I reacted to you with anger and judgement. It was ugly. It was unbecoming of a son who loved his father. I’m glad that I had other opportunities to be more kind and compassionate to you when you were hurting. Perhaps more than anything, I’m thankful that you were a Dad who didn’t expect perfection out of your son. You were a Father who helped me learn through my failures. You were a Father who taught me because you believed I could learn. Dad, I don’t judge you for your death and the way you left us. I’m not angry at you or bitter because you left too soon. I’m sad, and there are days when I’m devastated, and I miss you like crazy, but I don’t blame you for those things. I blame depression and mental illness and processes that, in our limited human understanding, we can’t make sense of. And that’s why, in your memory, I do my best to extend grace to everyone around me because I know, in their own ways, they are hurting too. Thank you for reminding me why this is important through the way you lived your life. Thank you for always living out grace in your own life. I so desperately wish you had been able to extend that grace to yourself in those last moments, but I know you’ve received it now in the full glory of Eternity. I’m looking forward to the day when we can experience that together. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT)

Dad’s Rules: Little Pleasures

(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 #55: Enjoy life’s little pleasures.

“I’m telling you—they have the absolute best salads here,” Dad would say as we sat in a booth at LaRosa’s while Mom was working or busy for the evening. As I’ve written before, LaRosa’s was always our go-to spot when we were “bach-ing it” for the evening because Dad’s only skill in cooking was blackening (A.K.A. burning the living bajeezus out of everything). I think he misinterpreted the phrase “grilling a steak” as “sacrificing a calf to Hephaestus the god of fire” somewhere along his culinary training. Had he tried to make the salad at home, he probably would have burned that, too.

“You’re telling me again because that has to be about the 476th time you’ve mentioned this to me. You say it every time we eat here,” I’d respond in adolescent-frustration that, in retrospect, now sickens me.

“Well, I keep saying it because they’re still good!” Dad would say with a smile—and then he’d mention it at least 475 more times during our dinner just to try and get me to laugh.

Eventually I would laugh—because it was amusing to think that any person could get this much pleasure out of a bowl of lettuce with some toppings.

But my Dad did—because he loved life’s little pleasures and he found them at every turn.

This salad-banter would not have been an atypical exchange between me—an annoying know it all—and my Dad—a yogi in the school of appreciating simple things, and my annoyance was largely born out of that fact that I had a tremendous childhood. As a youngster who grew up in a world where, largely, all of my immediate needs were met and exceeded by two loving parents, I could lose sight of what I was given because I was always (sickeningly) focused on what was coming next. When you’re a kid in the first-world, you run from pleasure to pleasure because the world tells you you should. I’m thankful that I had parents who constantly reminded me that I should live life for the moment. My Dad, unlike me, was really never focused on that next thing. He was always deeply immersed in the moment he was living in—that exact moment and whatever he was experiencing.

My Dad, you see, was the king of little pleasures.

In my life I’ve met lots of interesting people, and nearly everyone has a skill or character trait that I find myself wanting to emulate. I think we all have those people in our life who, in their own loving way, frustrate us as a result of our own incompetence or shortcomings. “Gosh, if I could just be a little bit more generous, like Bill.” Or “Jan is so fun-loving. I wish I could get outside my comfort zone and just let my guard down like her.”

When it comes to my Dad, I have a long list of attributes that I hope I can live up to by the time I reach life’s finish line. Whenever I look at my Dad and think back on his life, however, it’s the appreciation of those little pleasures that I wish to emulate most.

My Dad was a guy who could soak up the beautiful simplicity and grace of any given moment. Absolutely any moment. He didn’t need frills, a fancy production, or something that cost a lot of money to appreciate life. He appreciated life for the little things. It was those little pleasures that he loved so much—and it’s those little pleasures that I still find myself taking for granted more than anything else.

I think about the times my Dad would take an evening bike ride in nearby Rentschler Park at our family home. Dad would come home an hour and a half or two hours later with beads of sweat rolling down his bald head, talking about a cool bird he had observed, or a running stream of water, or a deer off in the distance. As he would habitually remove his glasses and use his elbow to wipe the sweat from his forehead, Dad would talk about the things he had observed on his bike ride as if he had just pedaled through the most gorgeous rainforest in the Amazon or the depths of the Grand Canyon. You would think that he had witnessed one of the wonders of the world on a 10 mile bike ride. And as a kid, I’d marvel at how someone could find such pleasure in a park around the corner from our house. I had been there. It was nice. But it was almost as if my Dad was seeing a different park than everyone else.

But it was real. My Dad soaked up the little pleasure of that moment.

When I got my first announcing gig at Miami University Hamilton, my Mom and Dad came to every single game. I joked that I was the only announcer at any level whose parents came to every game. Maybe it was because I was such a horrible athlete as a kid and they were simply making up for lost opportunities. My first gig wasn’t glamorous by any means. There were only about 75 or 100 people at each game in a gymnasium that was smaller than the arena at my high school with hard wooden bleachers and modest concessions. The sound system wasn’t that great, and the games weren’t always that entertaining; but my Dad acted as if he were at an NBA game every single time he walked in. He was happy to be there. Happy to be talking with people he came to know and grew close to. Happy to be there with his family. Happy to be watching a basketball game—a game he really loved to play. I don’t know if I ever saw anyone enjoy a small town basketball game more than my Dad.

But that was who he was. A man who enjoyed pleasure in everything, but especially the small, everyday, unsuspecting moments.

My Dad could find joy—real, authentic, unadulterated joy—in just about any situation. I think that’s why I had such a hard time comprehending how he could suffer from depression. It was hard to reconcile Dad’s happiness—which was so frequent that it could be a bit annoying to those of us who didn’t have that natural buoyancy—with a despair so deep and unending that life felt unlivable. The two mental states just didn’t compute with one another, but that was before I understood depression for what it truly was. That was before I saw depression as a mental illness that could plague anyone regardless of their status in life or their outward-facing emotions.

At the same time, I often think that is how my Dad coped with his depression. I think, when times got tough and when his depression began to overtake him, he would focus on the little pleasures in life and constantly train his mind to seek out joy and happiness. I think it was his way of dealing with the extreme sadness and shame he felt, and even though it may not have been enough to save his life in the end, it did keep him healthy for the majority of his adult life.

Little pleasures. My Dad’s joy. I’m glad I’m at a point where, when I think of him, I don’t think of the heartache and the way he died. I think about how he was vigilant in seeking out those little pleasures. And it makes me think of how my Dad’s example can help all of us in times like this when life seems to be so very, very difficult.

Life has looked very different for all of us over these past two months, and some have been hit harder than others. But we’ve all been inconvenienced and disrupted and put into a lifestyle that we likely wouldn’t choose. The pleasures that we’ve come to know have suddenly disappeared for many. When many of the big pleasures of this life have been ripped away suddenly, it’s easier to focus our attention on those little pleasures—and to also realize that we’ve been taking them for granted all along. Those little pleasures have always been there; but sometimes, we are so focused on the “next big thing” on the horizon that we are blinded to their existence. It’s time for a bit of a refocusing.

That’s what my Dad would have done if he were here in this moment.

When you lose a loved one and the world continues to turn, it’s only natural to wonder how that loved one would have dealt with the current episodes of life. I often find myself daydreaming and wondering how my Dad would have handled having a smartphone—he never owned one but talked about it in the last few months of his life. Or how he would have enjoyed certain restaurants he never got to try (my verdict is that he would have loved Chuy’s and eaten there enough to help the manager buy a new speedboat). But I also find myself pondering how he would have reacted to big life moments and changes. I would have absolutely loved to have seen his face and taken pictures with him on the day I married my stunning and strong wife, Paige (while burying my head in my hands at their dance moves during the reception). And as painful as it would have been, I imagined my Dad at his Father’s funeral, recounting stories of a man with a bitingly sharp wit coupled with a loving appreciation for those good things in life.

Even when life’s moments are hard, you still want that lost loved one there with you to experience them and walk alongside you.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s only natural for me to think about how my Dad would have handled this entire situation. Yes, I’m glad that he is in a place—an Eternal place—that knows no pain and records no hurt. But I still wonder how he would have responded to the uniqueness of this pandemic, the shutdown, and all its other challenges; and selfishly, I wish he was here because we would have been such a good pillar of strength for my family during this unpredictable age.

Although, in some respects, my Dad also would have been completely wigged out by the Coronavirus. A bit of a fun fact for those of you who did not know my Dad—and even some of you who knew him in his life might not have known this. My Dad was a complete germophobe. We are talking off the deep end anti-germ. In all the years that he and my Mom shared a loving marriage, they never once shared a drink. My Dad absolutely refused to drink after anyone, no matter how desperately thirsty he was. When we would go out to restaurants, he would inspect the silverware with the finely-tuned eye of an expensive jewelry dealer, looking for the most infinitesimal speck of unwashed substance that would allow him to send back the silverware for a chemical cleaning. And amidst all of the rugged tools and construction items that he always kept in his truck, there was always a bottle or seven of hand sanitizer in the main console.

Dad would have been very, very concerned about how quickly this virus spreads. He would have used this quick spread as a reason to scold my Mom and I for not taking seventy-two thousand milligrams of Vitamin C like he did every day (even though he got sick more than any of us). He would have washed his hands more than he already did, and I know he would have obeyed the six-foot rule as often as he could.

There is a part of me, deep down, that knows Dad would have also found a way to bring a smile and a laugh to peoples’ masked faces. Always the jokester, I know that my Dad would have been the guy to go viral—not the scary viral but the YouTube variety—for wearing a full welder’s mask and coveralls into the grocery store. He would have looked like The Mandalorian as he grabbed a gallon of milk from the dairy case, and he would have loved every moment of it. I think my Dad would have known that now, more than ever, people needed and deserved a good laugh (while simultaneously appreciating the fact that no cough is getting through a welder’s mask). It makes me cringe, but I could totally see him making “I’ll have a Corona—hold the virus” jokes to waiters, even though the man never drank (and then he would quickly correct and say he’d just have a Coke).

Aside from the new comedic opportunities, the best of my Dad would have shone through in the ways he would have served other people. I know that my Dad would have been constantly checking in with people over the phone and doing anything he could to help them in their troubles (with plenty of hand sanitizer in his back pocket). He would have been making repeated trips to the grocery store to pick up supplies for my grandparents, our neighbors, and those other individuals in our lives who needed him. He would have been calling, constantly, to check in on people he loved (I can hear his hearty chuckle during hour-long phone conversations from the recliner in our family room). And he would have gone above and beyond to help his friends and family who were financially impacted by this awful situation because my Dad was never greedy, never self-centered. I know that’s what my Dad would have done, because that’s what he always did. He was the helper that we should all strive to be in this life, and he would have been now.

There are elements of this pandemic, however, that would not have suited my Dad’s strengths, namely the idea of quarantine and staying away from others. My Dad would have struggled mightily with any type of isolation or separation from people because he thrived on friendship, connection, and love. He would have missed his daily lunches with his coworker, Brian, and the meal and laughs they always shared together. He would have missed going out on Saturday nights to watch UFC fights with his friends—and much to my chagrin, he would have watched the reruns of those ridiculous matches on our family room TV with the volume on 63 and the surround sound rocking. But he would have deeply, deeply missed being around people. Talking with them at church. Giving family members a hug. Playing in softball games. Going to family reunions. This would have been very difficult for my Dad to overcome because he was at his best when he was with others—and he was always fully present.

But in those difficult and trying moments, I know that my Dad would have found a way to focus on the little pleasures that were still there—and he would have reminded people like me how much we still have to appreciate.

Opening DayAnd just like he did when life was “normal,” I think my Dad would have loved the little things even more in the midst of this pandemic. My Dad would have taken this opportunity to go on more bike rides, to watch more sunsets, to sit in front of more bonfires, to watch more (stupid and idiotic) UFC reruns, and to spend more time appreciating what he did have rather than focusing on what he would have lost. He would have created beautiful things around the house with his talented hands, likely transforming our entire home with only a few Tim-Allen-Home-Improvement-esque explosions along the way. He would have gotten creative and used his downtime for even more phone calls to friends and families that he missed, and he would have constantly told them how much he appreciated them and that he was always there to help.

Essentially, Dad would have used a bad time to make good things happen. That’s the guy he was. It was the rule he lived by.

It’s the reminder I’ve needed in this moment for sure, and the rule I need to do a better job of living by, too.

So, in the midst of this pandemic, when life frustrates me, I try to step back and live by Dad’s rule. I try to remind myself that I am healthy, that I am employed, that my family is protected, and—most importantly—that my God is still on the throne. I remind myself that, for all that may have been temporarily taken away, there are so many more good things that are still here and ready for me to appreciate. And in those moments, I remind myself of all those little things that I still have that my Dad would have appreciated beyond belief.

I think my Dad was able to focus on those little pleasures because he never got obsessed with the “big” pleasures that our world tells us we should be concerned with. My Dad never craved money or fame or recognition or power. That freedom that comes from being controlled by God and not the things and experiences of this world gave my Dad a different focus in this life, and in every moment, I saw him appreciating God’s creation and His gifts to all of us.

May 21 just passed on the calendar—a painful reminder that, on this past May 21, my Dad would have turned 57 years old. As I do every year, I think about all the things we would have done had Dad been around, and I can guarantee you that our celebration would have been simple—and that’s exactly how Dad would have wanted it. We would have gathered for a home-cooked meal by my Mom and ate on the back patio as we admired nature and Dad threw down a couple Coca-Colas. Then, we would have enjoyed a Graeter’s black raspberry chip ice cream cake and exchanged a few presents before Dad started a bonfire in the backyard that he would watch burn slowly into the evening with all of us at his side. There would have been an ever-present smile on his face, and he wouldn’t have needed to leave his house to find it.

Dad wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, and I’ll always cherish my Dad’s appreciation of those little pleasures.

I’m thankful that my Dad taught me this lesson each and every day that he was here with us; and I’m thankful that nearly seven years after his death in the midst of a global pandemic, he’s still my greatest teacher.

And I’m especially thankful that my Dad taught me to bathe my extremities in hand sanitizer at regular intervals throughout the day. The man truly was a visionary before his day!

Dad Mom and Lucy Walking with SB LogoDad, I don’t know that you’d believe the world right now if you saw it firsthand because it’s so unlike the one you lived in. I’m thankful that you’re in heaven and away from much of the pain we are watching, but selfishly I wish you were here to give me the advice and guidance that you always offered. You were a rock for me and for so many people, Dad. You were that smile on a dark day—that laugh at just the right moment. You were that reliable, dependable friend and confidant to so many, and there are so many people hurting that need your help and companionship more than ever. But Dad, in the midst of our heartache over losing you, I feel you still teaching and guiding me in every moment. I’m thankful that for 26 years I had a Father here on this Earth who was more than my friend—you were my teacher. You taught me what to value in life, what to prioritize, what to cherish, and what to stray away from. Although you’re not here and I wish you were, your memory and legacy continue to teach me and give me peace in the midst of the storms of this life. Thank you, Dad, for always enjoying the little pleasures afforded in this life. Thank you for teaching me that there’s more value in a beautiful sunset, a good meal, or a conversation with a family member than there ever will be in those false gods that tempt us. Thank you, Dad, for always showing me what joy was truly rooted in. I can’t wait to thank you in person, but until that day, seeya Bub.

“Don’t be obsessed with getting more materials things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,’ we can boldly quote, ‘God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me?’” Hebrews 13:5-6 (MSG)

Shine a Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was definitely the bird.

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

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

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

A mangled pizza box.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come Home”: A Guest Blog by Kathy Dolch

Ty: It’s hard to understand the suicidal mind—both for those who are experiencing the suicidal ideations, and for those of us who have loved ones who die from suicide or suffer from mental illness.

Thanks to the bravery, courage, and unbelievable faith of my next guest blogger, we now have that opportunity.

For the longest time after his death, I really wanted to get inside of my Dad’s head at the time leading up to his death from suicide—no matter how dark and depressed it might have been. When you lose a loved one to suicide, there’s an innate desire to feel what they felt, see what they saw, and try your best to answer questions that are largely unanswerable. I knew that one of the only ways to grasp the severity and pain of the depression that catalyzed my Father’s death would be to search out first hand experiences of individuals who attempted and survived a suicidal catastrophe. I read books (Kevin Hines Cracked, Not Broken is one of my favorites), listened to podcasts and videos, and devoured the writings of psychologists and psychiatrists who did their best to capture and share the true nature of mental illness that can lead to such a drastic end.

But a few evenings ago, I found someone better and more powerful than anything I’ve ever read before. I found Kathy Dolch.

While speaking at the inaugural Butler County Walk To Remember event, a woman sat next to me at a table near where I stood. As I talked, I could see the pain on her face, but I also sensed tremendous hope. A hope that can only come from someone who has seen the valley, scaled the mountain, and is ready to face life’s darkest moments head on.

After I finished speaking, Kathy made her way over to me, shook my hand, and then told me her story—a story that I was so privileged to hear from one of God’s most faithful servants. I knew, in that moment, that Kathy was put here in that moment, to help me understand the severe and unyielding pain my Dad must have been experiencing in the moments leading up to his death; but I also knew that God put her in front of me so she could have an opportunity to share her story with the world.

On that night, I invited Kathy to share her story of hurt, resilience, forgiveness, and love at Seeya Bub, and she accepted without hesitation. It is the honor of a lifetime for me to share her words with you now.


Kathy: In 2002 (seventeen years ago), my husband and I were planning to go out for dinner; but for some reason, my husband did not arrive home.  I called his office, friends, emergency rooms and finally the police trying to find out where he was. No one had any answers, and the police would not do anything until midnight, telling me he would eventually call and finally come home.  To my surprise, the police also suggested he was with another woman. It was a shock to think that could ever be true.

I was unable to eat dinner and also unable to sleep on that night. Finally, the police called at midnight and filed a missing person report for both Ohio and Indiana.  After a painful and sleepless night, my husband called and left a message for me to return phone call. I was glad to know that he was okay, but worried about what he might say to me from the other end of the line.

I had no idea how earth-shattering his message to me on that day might be.

My husband told me he was not coming home and said that he had been with another woman for eight or nine months. He also encouraged me to see a psychiatrist.  I ended the conversation quickly, unable to comprehend how the man I had been married to for decades could turn his back on our life together.  He tried to call back, but I refused to answer the phone.

There was nothing he would be able to say to me on the other end of the line to prevent me from the only desperate path I could envision.

I put my dogs in their crates.  I removed the gun from the dresser drawer and walked to the basement. The news my husband had given me left me no alternative—at least none that I could see through my heartache and pain. I did not want to suffer through the pain that my husband had inflicted upon me.

Holding the gun in my hand, I looked up and said “Father please let me be with you. Please take me home.” With what I thought would be my final words ever spoken, I shot myself in the right temple.

After he was unable to reach me and he began to grow suspicious about what I might have done, my husband called the police and told them I had received a little bad news on the phone. He asked if they would perform a welfare check to ensure I was safe, letting them know where the hide-a-key was hidden at our home. At the same time, my husband was in Indiana with the other woman and decided to drive back to our house with her.

After entering the home, the police found me clinging to life in our basement with a nearly-fatal gunshot wound. They immediately called the paramedics, who rushed me to the hospital.

I eventually arrived at the hospital, where I had surgery and remained in recovery for ten days.  I do not remember any of that time. My entire memory is completely wiped clean because of the physical and emotional trauma of that moment.

My husband did not visit at all during those ten days.  He did arrive to take me home once my recovery was complete, and he placed me in psychiatric therapy.  The second week in psychiatric care, I was moved to lock down.  My neighbor visited me, and I asked him to find a way for me to leave, as I desperately wanted to go home. My neighbor was told that I would have to sign myself out in order to be released, which I did the next day. On the day I was released, my neighbor drove me to the home that my husband and I had once lived in together—the same home where my life had almost ended as a result of my suicide attempt.

In the time that I was gone in recovery and recuperation, my husband had given my seven dogs to another home, and in that moment I knew that I was all alone. The house felt so empty, and I was alone with my thoughts and a mountain ahead of me that I knew I had to climb.

That mountain of recovery was not easy, but I committed myself to overcome the physical challenges that I was now facing. After the suicide attempt, I was diagnosed as legally blind. I have a hole in the back of each eye and all the direct vision cells and most of the optic nerve in my right eye were completely destroyed. I had surgery on the left eye a few weeks after the attempt to improve my vision. I went to the Cincinnati Academy for the Blind & Visually Impaired (CABVI) and was introduced to a large number of things to help me be more independent, and each and every day since then I’ve been working at this ever since.

The emotional hurdles were just as daunting. A few months after the incident, I was served divorce papers. I was completely shocked. The divorce proceedings were complicated and painful because of my husband’s self-centeredness. We spent an entire year in divorce court and after seemingly coming to an initial agreement, my husband tried to make many changes to the agreement in the final moments before the divorce was declared final—changes which would have left me in an even worse position than the one I was currently in.

Finally it was over. We have been back to court many times because my husband did not want to pay alimony.  Unfortunately, my husband stopped paying alimony for a while just three years after my suicide attempt, and the bank foreclosed on my home and I lost the home. We had been married for thirty-one years, and it was hard to come to terms with how a man who said he had loved me and would take care of me could inflict so much pain upon me. In fact, in the aftermath of my suicide attempt, I learned that my husband had committed adultery throughout our entire marriage. None of this made sense with what I thought my marriage was and could be.

In that moment, trying to rebound from a suicide attempt, economic ruin, and a crumbled marriage, I knew that my only way to recover would be God. In the immediate aftermath of my suicide attempt, God talked to me one day and I heard that quiet, still voice say to me “Start attending Mass again, come home.”

I’m glad I listened.

I was given a ride to St. Francis de Sales by another member of the congregation.  I walked up the stairs, opened the door, and having suffered unbelievable vision loss, I was so overjoyed that I was able to see the stained glass window in front of me. Standing in front of that window with tears, I heard chorus from all in heaven saying “Welcome home.”

I’ve been a member of St. Francis de Sales ever since coming home on that day, and now I am a member of  the church prayer chain, a Lector, and an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. My story is a painful one, but it is also a story of hope—God led me through one of the deepest, darkest valleys that has ever existed. He literally reached down His mighty hand and rescued me from the grips of death and my own despair, and I’ll never, ever stop loving him because He loved me at my weakest.

Throughout this experience, unfortunately, I felt I couldn’t trust anybody. My husband had lied to me for thirty-one years, and it left me in a place in which I felt like I could never trust anyone again. But God has shown me that there are still trustworthy, loving people in this broken world. I was amazed at how many people at CABVI wanted to help me cope with my blindness after the suicide attempt. My church has become my family, and they have given me such unbelievable support and encouragement. And everyone in heaven is my family. I know that those looking down on me will always love me, and feeling that love makes a huge difference.

But most importantly, knowing that God loves me has been my steady support since that awful day in 2002. Once I discovered I was alive after the attempt, my first words to my neighbor were “Even God doesn’t want me.” My life felt so hopeless, but after saying that to my neighbor, she simply responded, “Kathy, God does want you—just not yet.” I know that God has a purpose for my life, which is why he refused to let me die on that day. I pray for help all the time and I realize I should not have attempted to commit suicide. Even though I feel the pain of my suicide attempt and the vision and health issues it created, more than anything I feel the hope and love of God Almighty, whose love is everlasting in a world where too much pain exists.


Ty: On the night I first heard her story, I cried; and now, having read it many times in preparation for publication here, I find myself crying still.

I’m crying because, in her story, Kathy helps us understand just how desperate the world can seem to someone with a suicidal mind. To someone suffering from depression or any other mental illness, life’s obstacles (and life in general) can feel so overwhelming and painful that there seems to be no other escape but death. My heart breaks when I think about the hurt that Kathy must have felt when hearing about her husband’s infidelity. How alone Kathy must have felt in that moment. I am full of sorrow when I think about how isolated and hopeless Kathy must have felt if death seemed to be the only acceptable alternative.

But Kathy Dolch’s story, more than anything else, is a story of hope. Kathy’s story is not defined by her near-death experience, but by courage, determination, and sheer will she showed to survive and thrive in the years after. Kathy has not had an easy road at all. Imagine yourself in her shoes. As if surviving a life-threatening, self-inflicted gunshot wound isn’t enough, Kathy then had to learn how to live and function as a individual afflicted with blindness. She had to deal with the mental and spiritual anguish of unanswered questions, doubts, and guilt. And on top of all this, she had to make her journey towards recovery without her husband—a man who had pledged to stand by her side through sickness and in health, but had instead chose adultery.

Make no mistake though—Kathy was never, never alone. All throughout her recovery walk, Kathy was walking arm in arm with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Kathy had the power of the God who has known her since before she took her first breath, and in her most critical moment for reasons we may never know on this side of Eternity, God refused to let death win. I’m thankful for His grace in watching over Kathy, even when she felt like there was no one there to support her.

On the night I met Kathy, I told her that God had kept her on this planet for a reason, and I really believe that that reason is to share her story with those who are hurting. In my conversations with Kathy, I could tell how remorseful she was for what happened on that fateful day when her life almost ended; but more than anything, I was inspired by Kathy’s hope and resiliency. I commend Kathy for so many things, and I am so proud of her for sharing her story here.

After reading Kathy’s story, it’s only logical for you to feel more empathetic for those who are hurting and struggling with mental illness. Our world is broken, and the difficulties of this life can take quite a toll on our mental health and well-being. Kathy’s story is a heartbreaking example of a how a life well-lived can be attacked by sin. Her story shows how powerful and real suicidal temptations and ideations can truly be. Kathy had lived her life well and, by all accounts, had lived a life that bears many resemblances to me and you; which should be a warning that suicide isn’t just an epidemic that affects individuals on the fringes of society. Unfortunately, suicide isn’t an irregular incident; it’s an all-too-regular occurrence happening to all-too-regular friends, families, neighbors, and others that we love.

Kathy’s story has helped to give me perspective about how my Dad—a man who loved life—was driven to death by such tragic and avoidable means. In sharing her painful story, Kathy has helped me see how life circumstances coupled with mental distortions and drive someone, like my Father, to feel full of desperation.

But in her remorse, Kathy speaks directly to those individuals who may be reading and contemplating suicide themselves. When the dust settled, and to this day, Kathy felt extreme regret and wished to live. I imagine that every individual who dies from suicide, in their final moments, regrets the decision.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I believe Kathy’s story is a reminder of the value of life and our actions towards our fellow man and woman. Don’t get me wrong—suicide is never, never anyone’s fault. It is always the fault of mental illness. However, it’s easy to see in Kathy’s story how the selfish, hateful actions of her husband led her down a path towards suicide. Each and every day, we all have an opportunity to either build people up or tear them down with our words and actions; on this particular day, and on all the days that he committed adultery, this individual chose to destroy rather than encourage. If we want to build a world where suicide and mental illness are eradicated, kindness and decency towards our fellow man and woman is the ultimate foundation.

Kathy has shown all of us kindness by sharing her story so powerfully. I’m proud of her for sharing, and Kathy, all of us are proud of you for overcoming this tragedy and living a life defined by courage.

Dad Leaning Back in a ChairDad, For so long, I’ve tried to understand the level of despair you were feeling in the moment that your life ended. For the longest time, I wasn’t able to empathize with your pain. But individuals like Kathy have come into my life since losing you and have helped me gain that level of empathy. Dad, I am so sorry that you were hurting for so long. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t more forgiving in the times when you were hurting. I wish we had been able to help you find the healing that you needed and that you deserved. Dad, you had so much more to accomplish in this life. You had so many talents to contribute, and so many people left to love. I don’t know that I’ll ever understand how someone with such an unbelievable level of kindness, skill, and grace could feel as helpless as you did. But Dad, I promise to you that you will never be defined by your death. I will do everything I can to make sure that people remember you for the vivid life you lived, and I’ll make sure that your death (like Kathy’s story) gives people a hopeful reminder that life is worth living. Dad, thank you for equipping me with the courage to face life head-on in the aftermath of your death. It’s amazing to think that you were always teaching me the skills I would eventually need to deal with life after you. I’ll never stop learning from you, and I can’t wait to thank you for always giving me that inspiration. Until the day when I see your face again, seeya Bub.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

 

Kathy DolchKathy Dolch

Kathy Dolch is a survivor of suicide, having overcome a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2002 which rendered her legally blind. Kathy is a member of St. Francis de Sales Church where she serves as a member of  the church prayer chain, a Lector, and an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Kathy was a middle school math teacher for five years, having earned her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education from State of University of New York Oneonta. Kathy showed cairn terriers in the United States and Canada for obedience and confirmation prior to her suicide attempt. Kathy is now a resident of Lebanon, Ohio.

Eyes Wide Open

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it was; and I was ashamed.

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

My Dad saw it, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


References:

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

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

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

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

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

Jealous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I just couldn’t take it anymore.

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

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

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

More than anything, I was jealous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter

Peter Headshot

This piece is dedicated to Dr. Peter Magolda:

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only Peter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snow cones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank God for Dr. Peter Magolda.

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

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

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

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

Thank God for Peter Magolda.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without hesitation, I chose Peter.

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

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

“Of course,” I said to Peter.

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Magolda Graduation


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

And I am a better person because of Peter Magolda.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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