I’ve heard it said that life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. The last year of the first decade of the new millennium provided us an incredible hello, when our newborn son greeted us with the first of many wails. But last year also brought a heartrending goodbye. Micah took his first breaths on May 18, and my dad breathed his last on September 6. The one was greatly anticipated, while the other came much too soon. It may seem cliché, but life is indeed defined by hellos and goodbyes.

The first goodbye of the year was when Cindy’s younger sister Amy left Toledo to return home to Yuma, Arizona. As a teenager, she used to visit us during the summer and became quite fond of Toledo—for some reason. She decided to try to make it her home a few years ago. After years of being so far from family, it was wonderful having Amy, who is ten years younger than Cindy, in the same town. And so it was sad when she left, but we were glad she did since we ourselves would leave soon.

We said hello to many visitors after Micah’s arrival. Cindy’s mother was a wonderful help in the first few weeks of Micah’s life. While he may have appreciated her warm grandma arms, I definitely was thankful for her warm, authentic Mexican food. Cindy’s brother and his wife and one-year-old son also came for a couple days, having driven from their home near Washington D.C. Braving the long flight—she hates to fly—my sister came for a couple weeks in July.

Those were welcome and memorable visits, but there is one I’ll cherish in my heart for many years to come. My mother arrived the day before Micah was born. (I guess he knew he had a grandma waiting for him.) And a week later my dad flew in. Because of busyness—the reason his stay was shorter than hers—he’d actually considered not coming at all, but we’re ever grateful my mom convinced him to make the trip. For our final memories of him would be at the airport passenger drop-off in Detroit, a somewhat annual occasion we anticipated would continue.

But there’ll be no more visits from Grumpy—what his grandchildren call him. The next time we saw him, he lay lifeless in a casket at the service where we commemorated a life suddenly cut short. Less than 48 hours after we received the news, we were in our packed van headed across the country to be with our family.

I’m not sure if I ever shared how I received the news of Dad’s death. If ever there were a manner of receiving such news it was the way I received it, for it allowed me, though three time zones away, to feel somewhat present. I’d been traveling back to Toledo from Eaton on an early Sunday evening and chatting with my sister. We’d been talking for over an hour, when she decided to take another call, having already ignored a previous one. After a couple of minutes, she returned in a frantic voice and told me she’d just learned that paramedics were at Mom and Dad’s house, that Dad had died in his sleep that afternoon. She promised she’d call back after she got to the house. I waited only about 15 minutes. I was already connecting to I-475 in Toledo when she called confirming the earlier report. I requested and was able to speak to my mom to whom I had few words to offer. Her broken voice startled me. I guess sometimes you forget your dad is your mom’s husband. She’d just lost hers. Phones are ineffective in such times, for touch, not words, is what is needed.

The drive was by no means easy with a 3½-month-old baby, who really never stopped wailing since the first back in May. Staring out at what would be 2,200 miles of asphalt, I thought for hours about Dad. I listened to some of his favorite music I’d hastily added to my iPod, songs by Patsy Cline, George Straight, Jim Croce, and Dan Fogelberg. I remembered those last moments together working on the dryer in our basement, how we’d given up on the chore and how he talked my mom into a trip to Sears. I remembered that grave Sunday evening returning home and informing my family; how Lindsay sobbed uncontrollably and Jacque, who tends to stifle her emotions, stood incredulously, how our hearts were lifted as we scrolled through pictures on my laptop, images that captured our visits to Arizona and theirs to Toledo, how I held Micah and sorrowfully realized he’d never know his Grumpy. I remembered the time Dad and I built a red toy box, the time I lost his expensive pair of scuba goggles at Senator’s Wash, the hours we’d spent playing computer games. (Even now I’m reading Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes partly in Dad’s honor; we shared a sort of fascination with pirates, despite that most were murderers and thieves.)

I thought about what I’d say at his funeral, since Mom had asked me if I’d share. I had a song ready: “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,” a hymn I hadn’t been familiar with but had discovered that next day. I thought about how we’d guide our girls through such a loss, how I wished someone would guide me. Oh, but in truth, the one who holds tomorrow is the one who held my hand those difficult weeks.

Lindsay’s therapeutic drawing
(click for a larger image)

It may have been somewhere in Oklahoma, when I realized I was in the driver’s seat—figuratively. Perhaps it’s because I like to be in control, but I seldom allow Cindy to drive, even on long trips. It’s not that I don’t trust her—or maybe it could be. But I think it’s because if something goes wrong, I want to be the one responsible. If there’s a tragic accident, I want to have been behind the wheel. Not that we shouldn’t allow our wives to drive, I just think that when it comes down to it, we as dads are the leaders, the ones responsible for our families. Along with our partners—our wives—we protect our children and train them up to know God. We teach our boys to be strong and care for and protect the girls. And we esteem and give value to our girls, who may be weaker physically but just as tough, and maybe tougher, in every other aspect. In life we are the ones perched in the driver’s seat of our minivans. And when we embrace such responsibility, I mean fully embrace it, we’re afforded the privilege of controlling the music.

Someday, hopefully far distant in the future, my kids may be hurriedly adding my favorites to their iPods—or whatever they’ll have 50 years from now. Until that day, I want to with urgency build into their lives and create lasting memories. In 20 years or so, my boys will find themselves in the driver’s seat of their own minivans, and, along with Cindy, I want to have prepared them well to lead their own families. In 10 years or so (or maybe it should be 20 too) if they won’t allow me the decision, my girls will be picking out their driver and partner, and I want to have shown them what he needs to look like and what kind of music he should play.

My mom visited us a couple months later for Lindsay’s 11th birthday, she’ll be coming in February for Jacque’s 10th, and there is, of course, the chance she’ll come in May for Micah’s 1st. She may travel more now, something we welcome, because if there’s anything we’ve learned over the past year, it’s that life is brief and we should live as though we’ve numbered our days. (And perhaps I ought to start numbering my words, for I’m becoming quite verbose. Ah, 14 in that last sentence. Oh, six more!)

This finally wraps up “A Look Back 2009.” But please join me here in 2010 and feel free to comment, though like the radio dial I still have control.

3 thoughts on “Hola, Adiós

  1. Awesome post, Matt! And, yes, I definitely needed to be home to read it. This feeling of loss still weakens me to the point that I can only draw on the strength of my God because there is absolutely nothing within me! I love Lindsay's picture and I'm so glad the girls have some good memories. I'm also so glad I took all those pictures of Grumpy with his grandchildren.


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