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.

I’m Here

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

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

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

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

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

And most importantly, he was there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I needed to get away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re where?” I replied nervously.

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

“Oh, uh….I’m not home,” I answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comeback? Anyone? I had nothing.

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

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

“I’m here.”

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

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

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

He was there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Letter From Dad

A good teacher will teach you something that you didn’t previously know. A great teacher will teach you how that knowledge can make your life better.

And a spectacular teacher will change your life in ways you might not immediately recognize.

I’m thankful that in my many years as a student, I’ve had some pretty spectacular teachers—and one absolutely spectacular teacher who gave me an assignment that has helped me hold onto my Dad, even after I can’t hold on to him in person.

Of all the nicknames my Dad enjoyed giving to me over the years, I think he probably enjoyed my 9th grade school year more than any other because for an entire year, he was able to call me “Freshie.” Nearly every day when I was getting ready for school, I can remember Dad calling me “Freshie.” He loved it, mostly because I hated it. He could see the annoyance on my face every time he said it…which basically encouraged him to keep saying it. My Dad had a thing for nicknames.

I have many memories of that year as a Freshie. My first struggles with Algebra and Spanish happened that year. I met friends that would last far beyond my high school graduation. That was the year I started playing golf, and also the year that I would learn some fancy new adult words on the golf course that I would never use around my Mom! My freshman year of high school started in 2001, and I remember being in Art class when another teacher ran in and turned on our television, and for the rest of the day in every class we watched as the horror of September 11, 2001 unfolded before our very eyes. I knew on that day that my world would change, and it was probably the first time I really felt the pain of death, even though I didn’t personally know any of the people who died. My year as a freshie, in many respects, was extremely monumental.

But of all the things I remember from that freshman year, I remember and am eternally grateful for an assignment in my Work & Family Life Class.

My third block of first semester was Work & Family Life with Ms. Schultheiss. Ms. Schultheiss was a caring, personable, and relatable teacher who I immediately knew that I would like right away. She taught with a simple kindness and a sense of humor that made her immediately endearing. Having been pretty nervous about my first semester in high school, I was so appreciative that I would have a teacher who could help calm my nerves and validate me when I needed it most. Over the semester, Ms. Schultheiss would help me learn many things: how to cook, how to sew (I made my own stuffed lizard), and how to prepare for my journey after high school. These were all extremely valuable skills that I draw on quite often…well, maybe not the sewing as much as she would have hoped. But I remember walking away from that class with a feeling that I had grown tremendously as a student and as a person.

As the summer before that year drew to a close, I was extremely nervous about the anticipated academic difficulty of life as a high schooler. Not having an older sibling or any older friends, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had heard horror stories about hours and hours of homework, papers that stretched on for pages, and material that was difficult to grasp and comprehend. And then there was that whole Shakespeare guy. As a naturally nervous and neurotic little freshie, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations of my teachers and parents.

That’s why I was surprised when Ms. Schultheiss shared our first assignment in Work & Family Life. It was not what I had expected high school work would be.

And I was thankful because…I really didn’t have to do much!

Ms. Schultheiss gave us a simple handout that explained our assignment. We were to ask a few adults in our life to write us a letter. Simple as that. These loved ones were to write us a letter that would share why they loved us. They would highlight our character, our good qualities, and why they thought we were special. Our loved ones would put the letters in an envelope, seal them, and give them to us. We would then bring the letters into class, show them to Ms. Schultheiss, and the assignment was complete. She wouldn’t even read the letters—we just had to show her that we received them.

I immediately knew who I would ask to write me a letter. I asked my Grandpa Vern and Grandma Sharon to each write a letter, which they readily agreed to. I also asked our neighbors and close family friends Shawn and America to write a letter. They both joked about all of the embarrassing things they would share in their letter, and they too agreed to write.

And, of course, I asked my Mom and Dad.

A week or so later, I collected the letters from each of my loved ones, took them into class, and showed them to Ms. Schultheiss. She checked my name off of the list indicating I would receive full credit (score!), and I returned to my desk, probably in my Nike sandals and a shortsleeve plaid button down, with six little envelopes in my hand. Ms. Schultheiss then told us that she was going to give us some quiet time to read our letters to ourselves at our desks.

I opened my Mom’s letter first, and if you know me well, you can probably guess what happened next…I began to cry. Yes, that shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m an emotional guy, and I’ve always been pretty sensitive.

But this was no time to be sensitive! I was a freshman in high school! The cool freshman weren’t sensitive. I could already tell that my sense of style and natural tendency to get lockjaw any time an attractive girl so much as stared at me were already going to make it difficult to make friends. If I started crying in class during my third week of high school, I would need to start lifting weights quickly to fight off all the butt-kickings I would receive over the next four years.

So I did what any mature, wise, and confident high school freshman would do…I became a complete coward. Like I’m sure many of my classmates did, I opened each of the letters, stared at the blank space in the corner of each page and pretended to read, and put the letters in my binder completely void of any tear stains.

But when I got home that afternoon, I could hardly contain the excitement of reopening each letter and reading the words my loved ones had written about me. I went through each letter and let the tears I had successfully contained in the classroom earlier that day pour freely.

I’ll never forget getting to my Dad’s letter. Always the jokester, Dad had even taken the envelope as an opportunity to show off his humor. In his familiar and precise all-caps handwriting, Dad wrote his full name and address in the return corner of the envelope. Then, he addressed the envelope to “Tyler S. Bradshaw (Same Address).” And if this wasn’t enough, in the postage stamp corner of the envelope, Dad wrote “No postage required if mailed to same household.” Typical Dad. #dadjokes

IMG_2987

I opened the letter to find a typed page from my Dad, emblazoned with the header “A Letter to My Son.” I read through his letter, and I cried like a baby at the words he shared with me.

And I still cry today every time I read it.

Yes, I still have all six of those letters that my loved ones wrote to me, but obviously my Dad’s letter took on a whole new meaning after his death. I remember going to the keepsake box where I kept some of my most valuable personal mementos shortly after Dad’s death. In the constant buzz and coming and going of family and friends in the days after Dad died, I knew that I would need to find a moment to myself to uncover that letter and read it before I said goodbye at Dad’s funeral.

So, one evening a few nights after Dad had passed, I locked myself in my home office, threw open the closet door, and took out my box of mementos. I shuffled through cards and drawings and photos, and then my chest tightened when I saw it.

Dad’s writing on the outside of the envelope. His message to me. Right there in my hands.

I cried before I could even get the letter open. Just seeing his handwriting there and knowing that his hands would never write those words ever again on this earth made the pain of his death impossible to comprehend.

There was lots of hysterical crying that night on the floor of my home office, but I was eventually able to collect myself enough to open the envelope and read the words my Dad had written to me.

In the midst of all the heartache and all the loss I felt in that moment, I also felt like my Dad was still there. Like he was still speaking to me. And that he was there telling me that, although my heart was bursting at the seams with pain right now, I would get through this.

Of course, Dad couldn’t just contain his humor to the envelope. He would have to make some jokes inside the letter too, and as I sat there with tears streaming down my face, I also couldn’t help but laugh. He told me that he liked me because two-thirds of my name was also two-thirds of his name. He also pointed out that I had captured many of his physical features and, as a result, had become a “fine-looking young man.” I would point out to him after first reading it that I still had a full head of hair, but that’s not the point…

Dad then went on to share how he admired me for my ability to be compassionate, and how he admired my intelligence. Dad also told me how he admired the fact that I was different from most children of my age.

Dad shared a lot of other things with me in that heartfelt letter. I could tell he had taken a lot of time to think through what he would write and how he would write it. His letter had touched my heart, and now it would continue to do that long after he was gone. I hugged the letter close to my chest, and rocked back and forth as I continued to cry, wishing he was next to me.

When I made the decision to start this blog, I knew that I would have to abandon the nervousness that had plagued me as a young freshie. I knew that I would have to become extremely vulnerable and share pieces of my life that I hadn’t previously shared before; all in an effort to help people who are suffering.

In that midst of that drive for vulnerability, however, I also knew that there would be areas of my life that would be off-limits. There would be things that I would not share. There would be things that were private and stories that would be just between my Dad and I. And to respect the intimacy of the letter he wrote to me, I’m choosing not share the content of that letter (and I hope you can respect my decision). Dad wrote that letter to me, and I’d like to keep it that way. I hope you can respect that.

And I’m also making that decision for this important truth: What matters is not what’s in the letter. What matters is that I have the letter.  

I am so thankful to Ms. Schultheiss for giving us that assignment. I am so appreciative that she found a creative way to teach us a lesson, while at the same time giving us a priceless artifact, a family heirloom that would be much more than a simple assignment. Ms. Schultheiss, you gave us a touchstone that we could come back to when times got tough and when life seemed unlivable. I’m sure that this particular assignment doesn’t satisfy a governmental decree or a requirement of No Child Left Behind, but it’s an assignment that every student should be fortunate enough to complete in their life. I’ve written many papers and essays throughout my life as a student, but I’ve never read and re-read an assignment even close to the amount of times that I’ve read my Dad’s letter and all the other letters I was written on that day. What I got in that assignment was even more important than the self-esteem boost that I’m sure Ms. Schultheiss had intended. I got a piece of my Dad that I could hold onto forever and ever. I’ll never be able to say thank you enough for that gift from a loving, wise, and brilliant teacher.

Even though I’ve chosen not to share the entirety of my Dad’s letter to me, I will share the closing sentences of my Dad’s letter, even though it’s so very, very difficult for me to read those sentences and write about them.

At the end of my Dad’s letter, right before he told me that he loved me, Dad wrote “I hope that sometime you will have to write a letter to your Mother and I for extra credit. It’s nice to see it on paper so that you can read it from time to time.”

Yes, Dad, it certainly is. And I’m sorry that I never wrote you that letter.

I’m ashamed to admit that in the midst of my self-absorbed freshiness, I never got around to writing my Dad a similar letter. It hurts my heart to know that the letter I would write to my Dad was not the one he hoped for, but one to include in his casket at his burial many years later. Amidst many of the regrets I have in my life, I think that not writing my Dad a letter is chief among them.

Nevertheless, and a bit selfishly I might add, I am grateful that my Dad was as mature and compassionate as he was. Compassionate enough to sit down and type a letter, even though I’m sure it took him longer to type it with his “hunting and pecking” approach. I’m thankful that my Dad was loving enough to be emotionally vulnerable to tell me, in words, exactly what I meant to him. I’m unbelievably happy that my Dad encouraged me to be who I was and live a life consistent with my values and faith.

I will cherish that letter for as long as I live. I hope to be able not only to pass that letter on to my future children who will never get to meet there Grandad, but to someday write them a letter—hopefully without the provocation of one of their teachers. I want to write them a letter to make them feel the way I do when I read my Dad’s. I want to be able to give them the words they deserve to hear. It’s amazing how a simple letter can touch one’s heart in such a profound way. Although depression might have taken my Dad, nothing could ever take away his love, his memory, and the words he wrote to me that day.

And in this post, I encourage you to write letters to those you love. Even if you don’t have a teacher who was as awesome as mine was, take the time to write letters to your loved ones. Let them know how much they mean to you…and when it’s in writing, it will be there forever.

I’m thankful for the teacher who assigned the letter, I’m thankful for the Father who wrote it, and I’m thankful that even though he might be gone, I can hear him speaking to me each time I read it.

dad-in-easter-suitDad, In lieu of the letter I should have written to you before you died, I have been writing letters to you ever since. Letters that share my love for you and my sadness that you are no longer here. There isn’t a single day that goes by when I don’t miss you. You writing such an honest and authentic letter to me as a young freshie is just one of the many spectacular gifts you gave me as your son. I read your words, and although they still bring tears to my eyes as they did on the first day I read it, they also bring a sense of gratitude that I had you as a Father here on earth for all the years I did. I wasn’t just lucky to have you as a Dad—I was blessed beyond belief. Your words in that letter are so important to me because I know they aren’t just words. They are reflections of your innermost beliefs, and you lived and loved me in a way that made those words come to life. Thank you for writing that letter, Dad. I’m sorry that I never wrote you the one you deserved to read. It breaks my heart knowing that I never handed you a letter in return, but it gives me hope knowing that I’ll get to tell you exactly how much I love you face to face someday. Until that wonderful day, seeya Bub.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:34-35 (MSG)

“Let The Young Guys Play: Guest Blog by Dave Hicks

Ty: There is a deep mystery in my life. One that plagues me to this day…

How is it possible that my Dad could raise a son who was such a terrible, horrible athlete?

I’ve written on this topic in a number of different posts, mainly because so many of my childhood exploits involve my failures as an athlete. I should probably link to a post so you can sample it, but it’s impossible to link to so many different stories, because my lack of athleticism has been a frequent topic of conversation on this forum.

This probably surprises you if you knew my Dad, because he was a naturally gifted athlete. My Dad was a super-speedy runner, which served him well at about any sport he tried. My Dad absolutely loved playing basketball. Even as he aged, he could beat most of the younger players up and down the court at our weekly church pick-up games on Monday night. He was a natural wide-receiver for backyard football games because he could outrun any coverage. Even when he played kickball with my neighborhood friends, it was easy to see just how fast he really was. He could scoot around the basepaths quicker than anyone. I guess the moniker “Scooter” was well earned.

More than any sport, however, I think my Dad excelled at baseball and, later in life, softball. I will always remember my Dad as a softball player. From the time I was little, I remember tagging along with him to the North End softball diamonds on Joe Nuxhall Boulevard and watching him play with our church teams. I remember the countless weekend tournaments he played in, usually always playing for a team that had a legitimate shot to win. At least once a week, and usually multiple nights, my Dad was having fun at the softball diamonds: playing in some games, and usually talking with his teammates for hours after.

I, on the other hand, just hoped that if I went with him as a little boy that he would take me for a Flubb’s ice cream afterwards.

Most guys who play softball annoy me beyond belief because they think that being good at softball means being able to hit a ball over the fence (even though it’s an underhand pitch, but I digress…). My Dad, however, took a different approach to the game of softball. Never the power hitter, my Dad learned how to “hit it where they ain’t.” He could place his hits, which is extremely valuable in softball when defense really isn’t a popular option. Then, my Dad would speed around the bases, legging out doubles and triples on a regular basis. In fact, my Dad never hit a homerun over the fence one time in his entire career…but he had a few inside-the-parkers which, in my opinion, is even more impressive.

Where most softball players begin to tire out as they age, my Dad just got better and better. Always wearing an 11 across his back (he only wore numbers that were “symmetrical”), Dad continued to play softball until the week he died. I made it a regular habit to go and watch his games as often as I could (still, secretly, hoping for that ice cream). I look back on the times that I didn’t go to his games for one reason or another, and I wish that I could turn back the clock and see him play once more.

As he got older, however, my Dad did a curious thing. He would take himself out of the lineup. I would show up to his games, knowing he was just as talented as anyone on the field, and I would see him sitting on the bench with his hands by his side in his uniform, watching the game intensely.

When that was the case, I would always go and sit next to him and ask him why he wasn’t playing, and I would always get the same answer from him:

“I’d rather let the young guys play.”

I would shake my head at my Dad and get mad at him when he gave me this answer. Oftentimes, I would look out onto the field and see the player who had taken his position in left center. And usually on cue, that particular player would misplay a routine fly ball or miss the cut-off man on a throw to the infield. It was infuriating because I knew my Dad, even as he aged, was better in every aspect of the game.

Late last week, right when I needed it most, my pastor, Dave Hicks of Walden Ponds Community Church, sent in a story about my Dad using the “Scott Stories” feature at SeeyaBub.com. It gave me a different perspective on why my Dad did what he did, and it reminded me of why he was such a special person. I’d like to let Dave share that memory with you.


Dave: I met Scott Bradshaw in 1987 at a softball tournament in Hamilton, Ohio. I was asked to play with a bunch of guys from his church. It was the first time I played with that team before, so I was a little nervous. I remember being casually introduced to the team by the guy who asked me to play (coincidentally, he was the same guy who set my wife and I up on a date for the first time) and I put my stuff on the bench. I hadn’t warmed up yet, but was too shy to ask any of those guys to throw before the game started. My plan was to just to pretend that my shoes needed to be re-tied so I could keep my head down and wait for the first pitch.

As I was trying to be inconspicuous, Scott came over, introduced himself, and asked if I needed to warm up. I accepted his offer and, at that moment, began a friendship that would last for decades to come.

As I got to know Scott more and more, I noticed that his friendliness to me that summer day was just another day in the life of Scott Bradshaw. I know it sounds like a cliche, but Scott literally never met a stranger. And if you remained in his presence for more than a few minutes, he quickly became someone you wanted to know better.

Scott has his mischievous side, as well. One time, I attempted to install a piece of linoleum in the kitchen of my in-laws’ house. I am not a handy guy at all, but I gave it a shot. When I finished, it couldn’t have been more of a disaster if I had done it blindfolded. My father-in-law called Scott and he came over to help salvage the project. As soon as he arrived, Scott started laughing, along with my father-in-law, at the mess that I had created. And, because it was Scott, I laughed along with him.

You see, a person couldn’t get mad at Scott because you knew it was never malicious. It always came from a place of love. So, from that failed project on, Scott managed to work that story into conversation as often as possible. And, as I did that day, I would laugh with him every time he told it.

Normally, people don’t enjoy being teased. But, today as I remember those moments with Scott, I would give just about anything to laugh with you again, even if it is at my expense. And, I would give anything to be able to say to you, as you always said to your son, Tyler, “Seeya, bub.”


Ty: I look at Dave, who is now the pastor of my church and someone who challenges me to be a better follower of Jesus each and every day, and I see the impact that my Dad made on him. I see how a simple gesture, like saying hello to the new guy on the softball team, could make a huge difference. And it makes me feel bad about ever questioning why he would voluntarily sit out of a game.

To my Dad, softball was fun; but life was always bigger.

My Dad made a habit of letting the young guys play and making them feel welcome on the team because he knew how much it would mean to them to have somebody as good as my Dad give up his spot for them. He was validating them. He was making them feel that they mattered. And he knew that, even if they made mistakes, they needed to play and learn to get better.

But my Dad didn’t just give up his spot for that player. You could watch him and you knew right away that he was making an effort to support and coach that player from the dugout as he sat and watched. If they made a good play, Dad would run out of the dugout during the middle of the inning and give them a high five and a pat on the butt. If they made a mistake, he would talk to them when they came in the dugout and give them some pointers—but people always took his criticism well because they knew it came from a heart that wanted to make them better, not a heart that wanted to show off how much he knew. Dad would shout base-running instructions or coach third base, and even though he wasn’t technically in the lineup, he was still in the game.

I have many words I use to describe my Dad: thoughtful, considerate, kind, loving, hardworking, faithful, hilarious, and many, many more. But if I had to pick just one word, I think that word would be humble. My Dad was well-liked by so many people because he was one of the most humble individuals I’ve ever met. And although there were many places throughout our community where my Dad was well-liked, he was extremely admired by those who played softball with him—and even those he competed against.

The beautiful part about all of this is that my Dad found a way to be humble while never losing his competitive spirit—and never failing to teach those younger players. One of my favorite memories of my Dad is when he played on a church team that had a number of young players (mostly high schoolers) who were some of the most egotistical athletes I have ever seen. They thought that softball would be easy because they had some athletic ability, but time and time again at the plate and in the field they showed athletic ability was not enough to outweigh stupidity (yes, I said it). They swung for the fences every single time…and 90% of the time their swings would end in an easy fly ball for the opposing outfielders. They would make simple base running errors, and my scoresheet was absolutely littered with “E’s” from their mistakes in the field. And they would often violate one of my Dad’s cardinal rules by failing to run out a ball in play regardless of whether or not you were likely to reach first base.

There was one player in particular (I’ll call him Shawn here) who had a sense of arrogance about every single thing he ever did. My Dad would often get frustrated with him because he was living in a dream world in which he thought he was God’s gift to softball. Oftentimes, he was God’s gift to the other team.

One night, Shawn made a comment about how he could outrun my Dad. My Dad just smiled, but then Shawn continued to make the comment. So, having heard enough, my Dad told Shawn he would race him down the line after the game was over. The team gathered eagerly, and I said a quick prayer that Dad wouldn’t injure himself. Shawn ran harder than I had ever see him run in his life once we said “Go!”, but he was still a good two lengths behind my Dad when they crossed the finish line. Shawn’s face was red and strained, but my Dad looked like he was just getting started. He made it look effortless. He did a little strutting and a dance I can still picture today, gave out some high fives, grabbed his ball bag, and we got in the truck. I’ll admit (and ask for forgiveness) that I probably said a few “non-Christian” things about that little jerk adversary on our ride home. But Dad just smiled, knowing he had proven his point without completely humiliating his competitor.

I think my Dad did this, to show that young punk…I mean, child of God, that he wasn’t all he thought he was. My Dad did this not to show him up, but to show him humility. To show him that in life, there is always room for improvement.

My Dad really was playing some of the best softball of his entire life right up until his death. He played with Dave on the Walden Ponds Community Church team, Dave often in left field with my Dad next to him in left center. When the team got word of my Dad’s death, the coach of the team, Mel, went out and bought a bunch of white sweatbands, just like the ones my Dad always used to wear on his arms. Mel sat down and drew the number “11” on each of those sweatbands, and with a heavy heart, the team went out and played for the first time without my Dad—each player wearing those handmade sweatbands.

I have one of those sweatbands that I’ll cherish forever. I have trouble going to softball games now, because it’s just too hard for me to go and look into the outfield and not see my Dad. But I hear memories from people like Dave, and I think back to the numerous people that Dad came in contact with, and I know that he played the game the way it was meant to be played. And I’m not talking about softball. I’m talking about the game of life.

Dad's Softball CollageDad, Even though you weren’t able to mold me into a terrific athlete (yes, I’m going to blame this on you), you never quit teaching me that athletic competition was just a vehicle to deliver some of life’s most important lessons. You taught me about humility, hard work, dedication, courage, and competition. You knew that, when you compete, there are lots of people watching how you react to adverse situations. And you always, always made sure that your character was on display. I wish I had been a better athlete because I wanted to make you proud, but I hope you know how much I enjoyed watching you compete…and how much I desperately wanted to be like you. Dad, you made a tremendous impact on people each and every time you played. Thank you for being a character-giant in my life. Thank you for always giving me a solid example of Christ-centered love to look up to. And thank you, seriously, for putting up with my pathetic arm when we would toss. When I’m perfected in Heaven, our games of toss will be a lot more fun. And until that day, seeya Bub.

“Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the Word should share all good things with their instructor.” Galatians 6:6 (NIV)

 

Dave HicksDave Hicks

Senior Pastor, Walden Ponds Community Church of the Nazarene

Dave serves as the Pastor of Walden Ponds Community Church of the Nazarene, located in Fairfield Township. For decades, Dave has served in youth and adult ministry at the local and district level, preparing the hearts and minds of young Christians, and encouraging them to serve others. Dave’s belief that “God is good, all the time” drives his work in the church, as he continues to grow and serve the local congregation at Walden Ponds with an innovative approach to Christian ministry.

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.

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.