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.

Papa Sully: Guest Blog by Jeff Sullivan

Ty: I have a confession. A confession that is completely unnecessary for anyone who lives near any of the local golf courses in my community.

I have been, and likely always will be, a terrible, horrible golfer.

I’m almost embarrassed to even call myself a golfer. I do a lot more sand digging and deep-woods exploration than I do golfing when I hit the course.

I could fill an entire book with stories of my atrocious golf exploits. There was the time my friend Chris (most of my horrible golf stories involve him) coerced me into trying out for the high school golf team. I quit halfway through after slamming one of my wooden (yes, I had woods that were actually made with real wood) into the ground, only to start again with about four holes left in the round. I think my groupmates gave me eights on all the holes I skipped.

There was the time I nearly got into a fight with a man who “claims” I almost nailed his wife with an errant Nike Mojo ball. It wasn’t my fault. I yelled fore as loudly as I could, but I guess it didn’t carry the two holes over where my ball landed within a few feet of his wife. I told him rather than yelling at me he should probably get his ears checked. He didn’t care too much for that response.

Then there was the sign from God that almost made me give up the game entirely. This was when I hit a tee shot that went so far right so quickly that it actually nailed a tree to the right of the tee box, bounced straight back, and nailed me in the chest. I HIT MYSELF WITH MY OWN BALL. I didn’t think that could even happen. Between Chris’ hysterical laughter and my writhing on the ground, the local residents must have thought we were going insane. They weren’t far off in their estimation.

As bad as I am at golf, I’ve always wanted to be a great golfer. And in high school, I always remember thinking one thing: I wish I could be like Jeff Sullivan.

Jeff Sullivan SwingJeff didn’t know me in high school, but I knew of him. Rather than equitably distributing golf talent across all the boys at Fairfield High School, God had taken mine and consolidated it all into Jeff Sullivan. Jeff was a graceful golfer. He would hit shots that I wouldn’t even believe I could hit in my own dreams. Natural talent? Maybe a bit. But more than anything, Jeff is one of the hardest working athletes I’ve ever seen. He spends more time honing his abilities than anyone, and it shows in his competitive spirit.

I got to know “Sully” in earnest when I helped emcee the Fairfield High School Athletic Hall of Fame where he was there to support a friend being inducted—he’ll be inducted soon enough, I have no doubt. If it weren’t for my ability to speak in public, I’d never come within a hundred yards of one of those functions.

Jeff and I are miles apart on our golf capabilities, but we have one very unfortunate thing in common: we are both grieving. We are both members of a club where unexpected loss is the common denominator. And although the mechanisms causing our grief are very different, we are both trying our best to honor our loved ones in ways that keep their memories alive. He reached out to me shortly after the Seeya Bub launch, shared his story, and together we’ve been finding ways to support one another through a similar journey.

Jeff has an unbelievable story to tell. He’s been sharing his exploits on a fantastic golf-themed blog he created called Sully’s Sunday Feels, but I’ve invited him to share his story of grief, loss, and the journey that follows here at Seeya Bub. Together, we are creating a community of sufferers to prove one truth: Yes, we all grieve differently, but we never, never have to grieve alone.


Jeff: Thursday, May 12th, 2011. A day and date that I will never forget for as long as I live. This is the day that I unexpectedly lost my Dad.

Before we get into that day, I want to tell you a little bit about the time leading up to that day.

For those of you that know me, especially throughout high school and college, you know a couple things for certain.

  1. If I’m not working, I’m prooobably thinking about, practicing or playing golf.
  2. Wherever and whenever I was doing that, my Dad was there. If for some reason he wasn’t, it was because it was physically impossible for him to be and you better believe he was always the first person I’d call after a tournament.

Another thing you might know is that my birthday is two days before the date I mentioned above. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

Me, my Dad and my brother were ALWAYS playing sports growing up. It didn’t matter what time of day, what the weather was like or what he had going on. If there was an opportunity to help us be better at a sport, my Dad was going take that opportunity to do whatever he could for us.

Like most kids, when I was younger, I had no idea what he and my mom did in order for me to be able to play whichever sport I wanted when I was a kid, and that support continued all the way through college. I didn’t realize or appreciate the time and ungodly amounts of money spent to allow me to do that, and now that I’m old enough to understand, it’s unfortunately a little bit too late for me to show that appreciation to one of them…

Now, what role did my Dad play in my love for golf? THE role. Well, maybe with a little help from Mr. Eldrick Woods. For those of you that are unfamiliar, that’s Tiger’s real name. What a nerrrd, amirite?! (Don’t tell him I said that.)

Jeff Sullivan and DadI was 9 years old when “Papa Sully”, as my high school teammates would later name him, first took me to the driving range. One trip, and I was hooked. As I mentioned before, this was when Tiger madness was really starting to hit its peak. Tiger had already won 3 U.S. Junior Amateurs and had just locked up back-to-back U.S Amateurs. The next year, he would turn pro, and I was probably on my Dad’s last nerves!

Every single chance I got, I was trying to get him to take me to the driving range or to head over to Golden Tee or Lake Gloria to play. The really cool part about playing and practicing with him is that he was a lefty, so I would always just try to mirror what he was doing. Eventually, there came a point when I was able to take his 7 iron and hit it almost as far as he could. As much as he loved that and got a kick out of it, I’m sure the competitor inside him hated losing. Hmm, wonder where I got that from?!

Once Tiger turned pro, Sundays turned into the best day of the week, always. Early in his career, you could almost guarantee that Tiger would be in the hunt on Sundays, so my dad and I basically planned our entire day around that.

First, I’d bug the crap out of him to make a tee time, typically at The Mill Course (shout out to the place where I had my first win!) and we had to make sure it was an early one! We’d finish that round around noon and from there it was lunch time. Skyline or Penn Station. To this day, there has never been a trip to either one of those places when I haven’t thought about him. We’d talk about our round, I would probably be a little upset for no reason and was too hard on myself while he probably just laughed on the inside at how silly my expectations of myself were. After that, we’d start talking about Tiger, who was about to tee it up just a couple hours later and most likely bury whoever his challenger was that week. My dad and I would commiserate with every bogey and jump off the couch and celebrate every birdie. It was just great. This is how my love for Tiger was born.

Fast forward to high school and college golf. Now, for the sake of length, I’m not going to go into all the great times, wins and celebrations I had with my Dad during these years but instead, I want to focus on the thing I regret most now that he’s gone. My completely idiotic and utter misunderstanding of what was really important.

College is where this stands out to me the most. If you know college golf, you know that it’s not easy for parents to make it to tournaments and even when it is, who in their right mind would want to watch mediocre, spring, college golf when it’s 37 degrees and raining?! Papa Sully, that’s who. A lot of people don’t know this, but he actually tried to find and took certain jobs in life just so he could make it to as many of my events as possible. He also worked at a golf course just so I’d be able to afford to practice as much as I wanted to (shout out to Meadow Links and Golf Academy for letting me hit a zillion balls and destroy natural turf from 2000-2004). A typical week during college golf season for my Dad was to drive from Hebron, KY to Laredo, TX and back which took him about 3 days. And then, as soon as he was back, he’d be heading somewhere else in Kentucky or Tennessee to come watch me play again. My teammates would always be so bummed when I told them he couldn’t make it, but that might have been like twice a year. Oh, on top of this, he was also spending a LOT of his money on things I needed to play the game. Right before a tournament started he would buy me new gloves in the pro shop because he saw my hands slipping on the range or go buy a towel and umbrella if I forgot mine. Whatever I needed, it was done thanks to him.

Now that you know the lengths that he went to support me, let me tell you about how stupid I was. I had, and still have VERY high expectations of myself any time I step on the golf course. I had these for a few reasons. Number one, I know the amount of work I’ve put into my game and I always want to win. Number two, I always wanted to help my team win. Last, but certainly not least, I wanted to make my Dad proud because I knew how much he had done for me. At the time, I thought that shooting low scores and winning was what made him proud and what would make me happy. Boy was I wrong.

Younger golfers who may read this: If you don’t take ANYTHING else away from this, PLEASE take this advice. No matter how you perform on the golf course, as long as you prepare, give every shot all that you have and carry yourself well, I PROMISE you that you’ll never walk around from any round of golf with regrets.

Unfortunately for me, it took losing the one person who mattered the most to make me truly understand that.

My skewed perceptions of what mattered, and my extreme competitiveness made me do some things that I’ll never be able to take back. So many times, my Dad was there to greet me after a round and because I was so dumb in those moments, I would walk right by him, slam my clubs in our team van and just sit in silence, pouting for absolutely no reason other than my own selfishness and lack of perspective. Other times I literally threw plaques and trophies in the trash because they weren’t for first place. I didn’t support teammates like I should have, and I didn’t respect my coach like I should have. I hope that those of you who end up reading this understand how sorry I am for that and can or have forgiven me. Most importantly for me, all my Dad wanted was to be there and to spend time with me. It didn’t matter if I shot 65 or 105, all I had to do was have fun playing the game and enjoy that time with him, but I didn’t. That is my biggest regret and something I will never be able to take back.

That attitude didn’t start to change after college either. I remember a tournament that I ended up winning by 10 shots, and I was pissed off when I walked off the course in the final round because I didn’t break the current course record. I mean, who the hell did I think I was?!

When did it start to change? Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 5:30am.

5:27am –  I wake up from a dead sleep to see that my brother is calling me. That’s weird, probably just a butt dial.

5:28am – My brother calls again but I don’t answer and tell myself I’ll call him back when I’m up for the day which would have been around 6:30-7:00am.

5:30am – My mom calls me. Okay, this is crazy, and something isn’t right. I answer and immediately know it’s something terrible. All she can tell me is that the police called, and something has happened to my Dad but she can’t say what other than that he is at a hospital in Springfield—roughly an hour or so from where I was.

When she told me that, deep down I knew he was gone no matter how much I tried to tell myself to have hope. If the police call you and they can’t say what happened, it’s pretty obvious.

My Dad had a history of heart problems for a few years leading up to this day but hadn’t mentioned any recent issues in the weeks and months leading up to the day. The last time I talked to him was on my birthday, May 10. Two days before he died, and you know what we talked about? You guessed it. Golf.

He was out on the road and based on what I was told, he had a heart attack, was able to call 911 from his phone and pull off the side of the road; but by the time they got to him, it was too late. I’ll never, ever forget showing up to the hospital after what seemed like a 4-day car ride. I walked to the front desk praying that they were going to tell me something. I told them I was one of Rick Sullivan’s sons here to see him and they told me where the room was. There was no mention of what state he was in or what had happened, so I had a small glimmer of hope that he was okay. I walked down the hall, turned the corner, looked at my brother Matt and step mom Sheryl, they looked at me, and then I saw my Dad.

I’ll never be able to find the words to describe that moment when I saw him laying on the table with a breathing tube that was used to try and resuscitate him still in his mouth. Utter disbelief. Anger at the receptionist who could have warned me about what I was walking into. Shock. All the strength in my body left me, I dropped to the ground and sat against the wall, head in my hands, sobbing, while my brother and Sheryl walked over and tried to console me (they had already been there for a while). I glanced over and saw the bag with my Dad’s clothes and belongings in it, shirt and jeans torn from where the paramedics cut them off him. All I remember saying out loud was “No way, no…way” (with some sporadic adult verbiage inserted throughout) because I couldn’t believe that he was gone. this wasn’t real, it couldn’t be. Sometimes I’ll still have dreams with him in them, but then I wake up and know that yes, it was real, and my biggest fan is gone. Physically, that is.

The days following that were a blur and for those of you that have gone through something similar, you know what I mean when I say that.

The year or so following that were hard to say the least. The moments immediately after traumatic loss are actually some of the easiest because your friends and family all know that you’re in pain and want to offer support. It’s no fault of their own, but after a couple weeks or months go by, people just forget and that’s when loss was the hardest.

The one place I could feel okay about things was the golf course.

I actually ended up at my home course the morning after my Dad had passed. I was off work and that was the first thing I could think of. How do I get my mind off this? Well, that was impossible, so the next best thing was to go to the place where I knew my Dad would want me to be. It wasn’t just any golf course though, it was my home away from home, Fairfield Greens South Trace. Most of you know how much I love that place and how much passion I have for our city tournament but may have never known why. Now you know. That was my Dad’s favorite tournament to come to. That’s where he got to watch me play the most matches. He and I played countless rounds together there and I also know he had something to do with the love and support I felt from everyone there after he passed whether they were friends or employees. Dave, Crutch, Kess & Mrs. K-dog, Wyatt, Meow, Ryan, Sara, T.J., Schnee, Trotter, Tyler, Siggy, Verbs, the rest of the Sunday Skins game buddies and the list goes on. Without all of you, there’s no way I’d be the player and person I am today, and I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that. You helped me through the toughest time in my life to date and I hope you are all proud of who I’ve become.

Jeff Sullivan on GreenFrom that day forward, my golf is played for him. Not only to win, but to show him that I can be the man and player that he always wanted me to be. To show great sportsmanship, character and class on the golf course. That’s why I play the game now. In 2011 and 2012 I wanted to win our city tournament SO bad, even more than ever before because I wanted to do it for my Dad. I couldn’t get the job done until 2013 and I will remember that win more than any other as long as I play the game.

I’m 7 shots behind with only 15 holes to play. 99 times out of 100, you don’t win that battle, but this was a day when I knew I had something more on my side. That something was Papa Sully. From holes 4 through 16 I was able to rattle off 7 birdies and tie for the lead. On #17, I had a putt to take a one-shot lead from about 12 or 14 feet. I guessed wrong on the break, but somehow the ball wiggled its way into the hole and I took the lead heading into the last hole. Pumped full of adrenaline, I blew a 7 iron over the back of the green to a back pin and then hit one of the most nervous flop shots of my life to 8 feet. Make this putt and you win for pops.

I hit the putt, see that it’s rolling dead center, it goes in and I look straight up in the air. I knew who made this happen, and it wasn’t me.

The exhilaration and love for my Dad in that moment was great, but the best feeling I’ve had was actually the following year. Same 18th hole, now I have only a 2 foot putt to win. I missed it and now we’re headed to a playoff. Not a playoff with just anyone, but with a great friend and mentor of mine, T.J. Oddly enough, 4 years prior to this is when my attitude on the golf course was at its worst. You know, that time I talked about winning by 10 and was pissed off? I knew that this was happening for a reason too and with T.J. being involved, it was the perfect time for me to dig deep and show everyone, including Papa Sully, that I get it. T.J. hit an incredible shot on the first playoff hole and made birdie while I missed my putt to tie him. I held my head high, congratulated him and little did I know that the response and praise I got for how I LOST that tournament would be more meaningful than any tournament I could ever win.

Jeff Sullivan Message

This post was extremely hard to write, but I can’t thank my buddy Tyler enough for allowing me to share my story on the wonderful platform that he has created with Seeya Bub. If you haven’t read any of his posts yet, you need to. I haven’t known him long but I can tell you that he’s one of the most brave and influential people I know and I can’t wait to see where his courage takes him next.

Thank you all for reading!

-Sully


Ty: Sully has a deep admiration for Tiger, but I have a deep admiration for Sully. He has done what we are all attempting to do when loss is dealt into our lives: to stand back up, to never forget, and to let that loss lead us into a more consequential life.

I have no doubt in reading this story that Papa Sully is watching over his son. Yes, guiding the extra wiggle on a clutch-putt, but more importantly he is there guiding his son’s character. Even though he isn’t physically here any longer, he is still teaching his son. He is still instructing him. He’s giving him a greater reason to play the game he loves. It’s more than wins and course records, although those things are good and admirable and worthy of the chase. It’s the character, more than anything, that matters to Jeff’s Father and his memory.

And every time Jeff steps on the course, his Dad is watching over him—just like he always did—giving him the courage he needs to step through the fire and cope with his grief.

“My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.” Proverbs 6:20 (NLT)

 

Jeff Sullivan Bio ShotJeff “Sully” Sullivan

Jeff Sullivan is a 32 year old weekend warrior who still has a huge passion and love for the game of golf. Jeff was introduced to the game by his Dad at age 9 when Tiger Woods was making his run through U.S Junior and U.S. Am titles. Ever since his first trip to the driving range, he’s been hooked. Jeff lives in Charleston, South Carolina with his wife Sarah after growing up and living in Ohio his entire life. He played high school golf at Fairfield High School and went on to play college golf at Campbellsville University in Kentucky. Currently, Jeff writes for his blog Sully’s Sunday Feels where he shares his love of the game and purpose for playing.

Words Matter

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

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

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

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


“My Dad committed suicide.”

“My Dad took his own life.”

“My Dad died from a suicide.”

I just didn’t know how to say it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Meggie: Guest Blog by Megan Turner

Ty: “Quit wooking at me!” was all she ever yelled when we were little. I must have heard it a thousand times, but we always kept looking.

Megan and Ty in PoolShe is my little cousin, Megan—and she’s more than a little cousin. I’m an only child. I always imagine that my parents took one look at me when I was born, realized they couldn’t possibly create another child as perfect and naturally adorable, and abandoned their plans for any additional little ones. Hey, at least I said I imagined it…

Although I grew up without any technical siblings, I was blessed with my cousin Jake when I was four. The son of my Aunt Beth and Uncle Lee came into the picture, and I immediately took a liking to him…which is not easy because I was constantly obsessed with how ginormous his baby head was.

Jake must not have been perfect enough, because his parents decided to give him a sister, and that’s when Megan came into the picture. I remember thinking she was always so cute, and our family constantly told her that even though she would constantly yell at us as a youngster and tell us to “Quit wooking” or looking at her.

Megan's Baby Photo

But no matter how loud she yelled, my Dad never quit looking at her because she was always so very special to him. I think that Megan was the daughter that my Dad never got to have. She was always a really playful child, and my Dad loved that about her. He had an uncanny ability to make children laugh, most of the time as he made a complete fool of himself, and Megan was no exception. I still have so many childhood memories that are flooded with the sound of Megan’s laughter as she watched my Dad do something ridiculous.

And I also remember Megan’s tears on the day she found out that he was gone. I remember her trying to simultaneously comfort my Mom and I while grieving herself. And I remember, in those moments, looking at a young girl that I was tremendously proud of and watching her mature in the midst of a terrible tragedy.

When Megan sent me an essay that she had to write in one of her college classes about a life-changing experience, I was moved to tears as I read. It reminded me that I lost a Dad, but in losing my Dad there were also many other people who lost someone special to them—a husband, an uncle, a friend, a coworker. My Dad is no longer here, and neither is Megan’s uncle. Her words remind me that we all lose when we lose someone special, and that we all suffer uniquely and in our own way. And thankfully, God puts the people in our lives that we need most to carry us through the storm.

Megan Jake Ty and Dad at Beach


Megan: I never imagined, at the age of eighteen, my small, extremely close family could change so drastically, in one day, so unexpectedly. It was summer, around the end of July. I had been driving around with my Dad all that morning and everything seemed fine. Little did I know that day was getting ready to completely turn for the worse.  I was about to receive some horrible news about someone I dearly cared for. Though I thought my Uncle Scott was one of the happiest men around; I was not completely aware of what he struggled with, as well as what several others do too. Never assume that just because someone is outwardly happy that they are not struggling with something bad on the inside.

As I got back into the car from receiving an important job, I knew everything was about to go downhill and change right away. I buckled my seat belt and as I glanced at my Dad, I saw he had the saddest look in his eyes.  I knew something was not right at that very moment. My Dad was a tough, strong, hardworking man that never showed any signs of weakness or sadness. This time it was different; he had tears running down his face.

“What’s going on Dad?” I instantly said to him.

“Megan I have something I need to tell you,” my dad replied “Something really bad happened a little bit ago. Uncle Scott attempted to take his own life, and they weren’t able to save him. He’s passed away.”

I could not believe what I was hearing. “What do you mean passed away?” I could not even imagine my outgoing, always happy, funny Uncle Scott doing something like that.

“Honey, your uncle Scott has been suffering from depression for a while now. I know he never showed any signs, but the past few weeks he has really been in a depressed state.”

I did not want to believe a word I was hearing. There are a lot of things in life I do not quite always understand, but this was something I knew for the rest of my life I would never understand. We instantly started driving to my Aunt’s house where all my family was waiting for us.

While the sun was shining warmly on my face through the window on the drive there, a handful of memories were rushing through my mind. Every time I would see my Uncle, the very first thing he would do is give me a huge hug and smile, saying, “Hi Meggie, how are you?” How was I going to be able to go to family events and be around my family not being able to hear those five words every time like I always did? Right away I began to think about all the memories I shared with him. My Uncle Scott was adventurous and always up to doing something. A few summers before, he spent hours and hours with me at the pool teaching me how to dive. I continued to get frustrated every time I could not get it right, but Scott never gave up on me. He pushed me and told me to try again, and eventually, I was able to do a dive in the swimming pool just like he had shown me. There were so many things he was talented at. He had a huge heart and would do almost anything for anyone. He was a hard worker who could fix almost anything, enjoyable to be around, great with animals, and most importantly a huge part of our family.

When we finally got closer to my Aunt’s I could not even think straight about how upsetting everything was getting ready to become. There were quite a few cars parked around the street. I noticed my Mom was there, as well as my Grandparents. As I got out of the car, I saw my Grandpa standing there talking with a detective. My skin, right away, had chills going down my arms as I realized that something terrible like this really just happened.

I rushed into the neighbor’s house, where my Aunt was at the time with my Mother and Grandmother. I dramatically threw myself in my Aunt’s arms, with tears dripping down my face. She held on tight, squeezing me tighter every few seconds and whispered in my ear, “I love you so much, Megan.” My heart started beating faster as the tears from both mine and my Aunt’s eyes continued to tremble down our faces. As my Brother approached us, while standing there, she grabbed him close to her and I both, and the tears began coming out faster. “Your Uncle Scott loved the both of you so much and don’t ever forget that. He thought the absolute world about you.”

Walking next door to the house that my cousin Ty lived in, I could not put the puzzle pieces together in my mind that this tragedy in my family really just happened. What were we going to do the next time we gathered for family events and without him there? How were my Aunt Becky and cousin going to be strong enough to get past this? How was I going to be able to hold up at his funeral?

I never imagined seeing my cousin the way I did. His face was pale, and he sat on the couch as if he was deer in headlights. Only blinking a few times every minute, he had nothing to say. My cousin was just as outgoing as my uncle and always had a smile on his face. This time it was different. It seemed as if a different person was inside my cousin. Sitting in the living room for hours and hours letting it all sink in was the most hurtful and painful thing my family had to do.

Time has gone by now and the thought of my uncle no longer being with us crosses my mind first thing every morning and last thing every night. The day was here that I was dreading all along. It was the day that my family and I gathered around and had to set up the arrangements for the devastating loss of my wonderful Uncle Scott.

That was one of the most challenging days my family and I had to face with one another. Nothing about it was easy, and the thought of that day crosses my mind over and over again. Death is a very common thing that everyone goes through at some point in their life, several times. Everyone handles the death of loved ones differently. It is important to be close to those that you love and care for, and know whether or not they are struggling inside with something. Depression is a very common disorder that many people have and face on a daily basis. It’s important for those to get help and see the doctor when they are feeling that way. Never believe that you could never lose someone that you love unexpectedly. Cherish the memories you share with the ones that mean the most and always be there for your family. This day was a very difficult day for my family and I that we all still deal with the pain of my Uncle being gone every day. My Uncle Scott was a strong man that could not fight any longer. He is an amazing man that is truly missed by so many, and I’ll never stop loving him.


Ty: I knew that I wanted to speak at my Dad’s funeral, but I didn’t know if I could. I tried numerous times to write down notes in the days leading up to the funeral, but every time I sat down my mind would fog or I would start sobbing uncontrollably. I wondered if I’d be able to give my Dad the proper eulogy that he deserved.

I remember talking with my Grandpa and him asking me whether or not he thought I would be able to speak. I told him that I was going to try, but that I honestly didn’t know if I would have the strength or the emotional stability.

And then, he told me “I’ve talked with Jake and Megan, and if you’d like, they would like to stand next to you at the pulpit when you speak.”

Immediately, I felt a new sense of courage. I wasn’t going through this alone. I was suffering with people who loved me. I was suffering with family members who were heartbroken, too. I was suffering with two individuals that I loved like a brother and a sister. Two very special people who would be there next to the pulpit.

And if they were there to suffer with me, I knew they would also be there to help me heal.

They weren’t leaving. They weren’t going anywhere. I was never in this alone, even though my Dad’s death made me feel so lonely.

Megan and Ty EasterI don’t remember everything I said that day at my Dad’s funeral, but I remember turning to Jake and Megan, telling each one of them how proud I was of them. I’ll admit, I don’t often do that enough to those I love, and I’ve been trying to do it more ever since my Dad’s death. I am tremendously proud of them for the love and care they showed to my Mom and I when Dad died. In that tragedy, Megan grew from a little girl to a courageous young woman. She still grieves, like we all do. She is still suffering, too. But her experience reminds me that although we suffer uniquely, we never suffer alone. There will always be someone there, even in the moments where it doesn’t feel like it, to stand next to you when you can’t stand on your own.

She doesn’t yell at me anymore, but I’ll always be “wooking at her” with the admiration of a proud big cousin brother.

Megan and Dad with SB LogoDad, You would be so proud of the young woman that Megan has become. I know I am. She is intelligent and beautiful and caring—all the things you valued in life. I know you are watching over all of us and smiling, but it just isn’t the same without you here next to us. Family get-togethers just seem to lack the same fun and excitement that they had when you were at them. We all lost a piece of our heart when we lost you on that July morning, but we’ve never lost your memory. I pray that every day, God will help me live the type of life that you lived, and I pray that I can treat my family with the same amount of love and dedication that you always did. We miss you terribly, and until we are all together again, seeya Bub.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.” Psalm 73:26 (NLT)

Megan TurnerMegan Turner

Megan is Ty’s younger cousin, and she currently works as a medical assistant at the office of an Allergest. Megan enjoys watching sports, being outdoors, and spending time with her family. Megan is currently planning to return to college to pursue a degree in Special Education, as one of her passions is working with the mentally and physically impaired.

The Bench

I don’t think I had ever smelled so bad, felt so tired, or been so dirty in my entire life. If this was what home ownership was all about, I was ready to sell.

I had just purchased my house about a month earlier, and although the inside just needed some fresh paint without any major renovation, the outside was a completely different story. Standing there with sweat dripping down my brow, I knew I had grossly underestimated the amount of yardwork that needed to be done, or I had overestimated my ability to be a green-thumbed workhorse.

The list of things that needed to be done was both exhaustive and exhausting. Cut the grass and spray for weeds. Cut down numerous overgrown trees and shrubbery. Pull the layer of weeds that had almost created a natural green carpet covering over the large brick patio. Pull more weeds from all of the flowerbeds, which were many. Take out some of the flowerbeds to prevent me from having to pull that many weeds next time. Pray that there were no snakes inhabiting any hidden areas in the yard (that prayer was not granted). My yellow legal pad ran over with chores to complete. I wondered if I would ever get to complete them before I paid off the mortgage.

But my real nemesis was the pond. Or at least the hole in the backyard where the pond had once been.

The previous owners of the house had been wonderfully nice people, but their landscaping credentials were questionable. When they inherited the house, they were welcomed by a beautiful tiered pond directly off the back patio. Two small pools resided at the top of a flat-rock covered raised bed, with rushing water flowing into a 15 foot by 20 foot main pond. There were lily pads, Koi fish, and all the other amenities that make a pond peaceful and relaxing. Trees hung over the water, shading the fish as they scurried through the slightly green water. Frogs would croak at night, and birds would bathe by day. I rarely remember seeing many backyard ponds that could match the majesty and naturally-disguised beauty of this one. It rivaled many postcard ponds that I had seen!

In nine years of owning the house, the previous owners never took a liking to pond maintenance (and in their defense, there isn’t much to like about it). Slowly, the pristine nature of the pond gave way to algae and plant growth, and eventually, the owners relented to Mother Nature. They let the pond go—completely. As a matter of fact, I don’t think the previous owners had even touched the interior of the pond for a period of at least six years.

I remember trying to conceal my shocked face when I toured the house with the owners the first time. I didn’t want to let them know that I was appalled by the overgrowth of the pond, but I have the worst poker face in the history of the game. I remember standing at the sliding glass door looking out over the back yard and saying something to the effect of “Wow. This is really bad.” I’m really good at sugarcoating my feelings, if you can’t tell.

“I know, I know…we are so embarrassed!” the owner exclaimed to me. “We just didn’t think it would be as much work as what it was. We hate what it’s become.”

Despite my better judgement and lack of interest in all things landscaping, I bought the house and inherited all the yardwork that came along with it. And to think I was only indebted to the bank for 30 years because of this! The pond was on the top of my list of things that needed to be tackled immediately. But looking at the pond as an owner brought on a whole new level of doubt as to whether or not I could actually make this happen.

I know that people often exaggerate when they talk about the height of plants, but I’m not making this up—the weeds and cattails growing in the pond were taller than I was. A huge root mat at least a foot and a half thick had tangled itself in the bed of the pond. The root mat looked like a 15 foot by 20 foot package of Ramen noodles. It was impossible to pull any one weed. It had to be all or nothing. And in the midst of all the overgrowth, there didn’t appear to be a drop of water in this entire pond.

I can’t take credit for eventually getting that pond back to its original working order. There were two people who helped me get things under control.

The first, to no one’s surprise, was my Dad. While every ounce of my soul absolutely despised yardwork, my Dad seemed to find a quiet stillness and peace when he was working in the yard. The sun was his fuel. Sweat and dirt were his tools. His hands were calloused and dirty, and he wouldn’t have them any other way. Planting, chopping, growing, and maintaining came naturally to him, while complaining, procrastinating, and accusing my Dad of child slave labor were my natural responses to any yard-related chores I was assigned. When I bought the house, Dad didn’t hesitate to jump in and help any way he could—even when it included yard work after a long day in a hot steel warehouse. There were even days when I would find him digging up plants or weeding when I hadn’t even asked him. I was lucky to have a green-thumbed Dad.

The second person to help me with the pond and many of the other chores when I bought the house was my good friend, Steve Adams. I met Steve in 6th grade. We shared a study hall table by virtue of our last names being at the beginning of the alphabet. All throughout high school, we become good friends. Steve and I would often leave school together for an afternoon trip to Skyline for a few coneys, and then make our way to Fairfield Lanes where we would bowl (albeit pathetically) a few games. Over the years, we continued our friendship, playing in weekly poker games and attending Reds’ games as often as we could.

Steve went away for college, but ended up transferring back home and attending Miami at the start of his junior year. Steve was a logical roommate for a number of reasons, ultimate among those being his desire for cleanliness, which honestly borders on the level of OCD. I have never seen anyone keep a cleaner and more organized apartment than Steve Adams. I’m sure that our parents must have thought we had girls living with us because our apartment was so clean, but I can assure you from the multitude of rejections I received from the bulk of the female student body at Miami that that was definitely not the case. Steve would vacuum constantly, clean any surface, and straighten any item that was askew. As a matter of fact, I would often move things around on our kitchen or bathroom counters just to see how long it would take him to put everything back (maybe this kind of stuff is why I was constantly rejected by females). In most cases, it was within the hour that he had returned everything to its original place. Unbelievable.

Steve eventually graduated, got a job as an engineer, bought a house, and kept it as clean as it was the day he moved in. Fortunately, his house was just down the road from mine, and we were able to maintain a great friendship. Steve and I would usually see each other four or five nights a week, and I was lucky to have a friend as true as him in my life.

Aside from being a clean freak, it’s more important that you know that Steve is one of the most hardworking and genuinely helpful friends that I’ve ever had in my entire life. Steve has an attention to detail that is absolutely remarkable, which has made him an exceptional engineer and a talented DIYer. His methodical approach to his job translates into being able to do a variety of things around his house, from constructing furniture and hanging televisions to remodeling entire rooms and repairing broken equipment. This is a handy trait to have, but it’s even more powerful when you couple it with his thoughtful heart.

We all have one of those “anything you need” friends. The person who will drop whatever he or she is doing to be by your side and help you when you need it. And when I bought my house, Steve was definitely that person. He jumped right in, so much so that I felt guilty for my name being on the deed instead of his. Every night after work without fail, Steve would drive over to my house in a cutoff and cargo shorts, ready to work. He did absolutely everything. He helped me paint. He helped me move furniture. He helped repair things that had been broken when I had tried to do them myself and failed tremendously. He was an absolute life saver.

And when it came to yardwork, Steve had two green thumbs and an unbelievable amount of energy. He often pushed me when I felt like I was too tired to work. He would shake my shoulders and tell me to “man up” and that we had too much to do to sit still. Steve would pull weeds until his hands were raw. He would work in the hot July sun until it set and had completely zapped him of his energy. If there was something I needed to do in the yard, he would do it right alongside me until the job was done. I was lucky to have him by my side.

And on this particular night, to all of our glee, Steve, my Dad, and I were all standing in the nearly weed-free pond with our hands on our hips and sweat covering our faces. It was another brutally hot night, but we were so close to completing the work in the pond that we pushed through. The root mat was so thick and so tangled that we actually had to saw through it with a machete (which my Dad owned for reasons I will never know or understand), hauling out chunks of weeds that weighed nearly 75 pounds. We eventually ended up with two trailers full of weeds from the pond alone. We were proud of the work we had done because it was unbelievably exhausting, but we also knew that the end product—a beautifully glistening pond right on the back patio—would be well worth the time and sweat we invested. We surveyed the pond and the surrounding landscaping, which was full of trees and ornamental grasses as we tried to catch our breath. Then, my Dad pointed at a bare spot just to the right of the upper pond and the rear waterfall.

“Hey boy. That would be a great spot for a bench. It would be a perfect place to sit,” he said.

“Yeah, that would be really nice. Maybe I’ll look for something the next time I’m out shopping,” I replied.

“No, don’t do that,” he said. “I’ll build you something. I’ll make you something really nice.”

It was just like my Dad to promise to build something we could just as easily buy, but I agreed because I knew anything he built would be top of the line, beautiful, and perfectly crafted in every way.

And with the vision of a bench fresh on our minds, we went right back to work. All the while, Steve stood silently and listened to our normal, commonplace conversation. And like he always did, he started pulling weeds right along with us when we started to work again.  Typical Steve—thank goodness.


My Dad never got a chance to build that bench. He died nearly a year from the date that I had bought my house. I felt his absence in every facet of my life, but especially when it came to repairs and projects around the house. My Dad was the handyman, and I was the son who reaped the benefits of having a handyman father. I didn’t know how to build anything. I didn’t know how to fix a dishwasher when it failed to wash dishes. I would go to Home Depot, pick up a “Plumbing for Dummies” book, and ask the store clerk if they had anything that was easier to read. Needless to say, that spot where my Dad had proposed we construct and place a bench would remain vacant until I could buy something…and pray that it was already assembled upon purchase. It saddened me to sit by the pond and reminisce on all the hard work we had put into it, because Dad hadn’t been able to enjoy it long enough. It wasn’t fair. And there were so many nights where I would stand on the shore of that pond where the bench should have been as my salty tears fell endlessly into the churning water.

But one Sunday morning, my tears began to splash into the pond for an entirely different reason. I woke up that morning tired and emotionally exhausted from the day before. Our neighbors, who had also been childhood friends with my Dad, were kind enough to put on a benefit for my family after my Dad’s death. They went to so many businesses collecting items for silent auction baskets, getting more donations than I ever thought would be possible. Hundreds of our friends and families, as well as many of my Dad’s old friends and coworkers, came out to show my Mom and I how much we were loved. And even through our desperately painful heartache, we felt their love.

As I prepared to start my day, I went through my familiar routine. I left my bedroom, brushed my teeth, and proceeded to the family room where I would throw open the curtains and survey the back patio and the pond.

But what I saw that day stopped me dead in my tracks.

As I looked out across the water, in the exact same spot my Dad had identified a year ago, sat a beautiful wooden bench.

Steve's Bench

I rubbed my eyes because I thought I was hallucinating. This couldn’t be real.

I threw open the door and ran across the waterfall of the front pond, splashing water into my flip flops. I clambered across the rocks towards the bench with my mouth wide open and tears streaming down my face.

I touched the bench, and it was real. I ran my hand across the smooth wooden armrests. I admired the rich brown stained wood and the tremendous craftsmanship. Precise, functional, and completely perfect—all qualities that my Dad would have put into anything that he had created.

And there, at the top of the bench’s backrest, a beautiful silver plaque was mounted:

In Memory of

Scott Bradshaw

1963 – 2013

I lost all composure as I ran my hands across the engraved words. I wanted the pain that those words inflicted to disappear, but I never wanted to let this plaque or this bench go. I was simply astounded—and I had no idea how the bench got there or who put it on the banks of my backyard pond.

I ran back into the house and grabbed my phone, dialing my Mom’s number. She answered the phone, already in tears herself, most likely anticipating my call.

“Mom,” I sobbed, “How did this bench get here? Who did this?”

She immediately responded, “Steve. I can’t believe this, Ty, but he built that bench by hand. He brought it over yesterday while we were at the benefit.”

Mom and I cried together for a few minutes, talking about how much we missed my Dad. After hanging up with her, I immediately called Steve and, through tears, tried to tell him that I couldn’t believe what he had done.

“You’re so welcome, buddy,” Steve said in his ever-gracious and reassuring tone of voice. Then, he said a phrase that I’ll never forget that captures the essence of his heart.

“I couldn’t let your Dad not fulfill a promise he made to you, so I built the bench in his place.”

If I wasn’t emotional enough at this point, I lost all control when I heard those words. Steve had remembered what was probably an unmemorable conversation we had on a busy day of landscaping work. He had remembered a moment in time and a promise my Dad had made me when even I had begun to forget about it.

I shared with Steve how lucky I was to have him in my life, and how I couldn’t imagine navigating the tragedy of my Dad’s death without his unbelievable support. I thanked him over and over again, and after hanging up the phone I went back outside and took a seat on my new bench.

I sat there looking out over the water with my hands clasped around my mouth, still in a state of utter shock and bewilderment. I sat alone and cried, wishing beyond belief that my Dad could have been there sitting next to me.

He was right all along. It was the perfect spot for a bench.

And then I prayed, and I thanked God. I told Him how much I missed my Dad and how I didn’t understand why he was gone so soon, but I thanked Him for positioning so many amazing, caring people in my life to help support me when I was weak—just like Steve. I thanked God for being able to see down the road much further than I ever could. I thanked Him for bringing us together so many years ago, knowing that I would need someone with his steadfast trust and courage to help pull me from the depths of my own despair. I thanked God for giving Steve a heart that sought after Jesus—a heart that desired to turn God’s words into tangible actions in the lives of those around him. I thanked him for giving Steve both the talent and the compassion to give me such an extravagant gift.

And after saying “Amen”, I did what my Dad would have done. I sat and I enjoyed the sound of pond water rushing over a rock ledge. I admired the glory of a perfect pond-side perch. And I smiled as I admired God’s creation and the heart of His people.


It’s a few years down the road from that wonderful morning, and the bench has some slight signs of typical wear. The stain has started to fade a bit, and the wood has started to age—and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That bench has character and it tells a story. A story of a friend so true and dedicated that he taught himself to build a bench to help heal a friend’s broken heart. I have no doubt that that bench is exactly what my Dad would have built me, which is another reason why it’s so special to me.

On occasion when I am feeling low, I’ll traipse out onto the back patio and spot the bench—and I’ll know that I just need to sit on it and rest. But I rarely sit there without having a conversation with my Dad. I will talk with him about my day, toss about my problems, and just tell him how much I miss him. He may not answer, but I know that he’s there with me. That bench is a constant and tangible reminder that no matter what his headstone may say, my Dad will always be right here with me.

But of all the things I hear my Dad say when I sit on that bench, more than anything I hear him saying “thank you”. Not to me, but to my friend Steve. A friend who stepped in for my Dad and built a bench to fulfill a promise to a son when he couldn’t be here to do it himself.

I’ll always be thankful—both for a Dad who knew where a bench belonged, and for the friend who built it after he was gone.

Dad Turned Around in Chair with SB LogoDad, I’m so sad that I never got to see you build the bench that would have sat by my pond, but I’m thankful that I got the next best thing. I know how much you thought of Steve and how grateful you were for him being such a good friend to me. I see a lot of your character in my friend Steve. He is hardworking, trustworthy, and caring—just like you. You inspired so many people why you were here with us. I wish you were still here to keep building benches for all the people who need you most, but I’m thankful that God has dispensed his angels here on Earth to carry on where you can’t. One day, I know you and I will be sitting on a bench by the water again, talking about all the wonderful times we shared. But until then, seeya Bub.

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10 (NIV)

Think to Feel: Guest Blog by Jeff Yetter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

A Little History…

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

The Birth of a Theory

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

Think to Feel

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

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

Powerful

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

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

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

Positive Thoughts: That’s It?

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

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

Always Help

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

Bless you all. Until we speak again.

– Jeff

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


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

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

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

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

Quietude

“You better slow down.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Responders: Guest Blog by Dr. Bob Rusbosin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bob-rusbosin-muh-timeline

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

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

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

bob-three-amigos


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

bob-and-ty-mister-rogers-statue

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

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

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

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

bob-working-with-students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bob-rusbosin-headshotBob Rusbosin

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