Dad

A few days ago my father’s life came to a quiet and peaceful end. While it was not a joyous occasion, neither was it one which I mourn deeply, for Dad had lived a long, eventful and productive life.

 Vernon D. Michael February 9, 1914 – December 23, 2010 
 
Dad was a complex man, and like a precious gem there were many facets to his personality. Perhaps his most obvious characteristic was his caring and concern for others. Throughout his life he was dedicated to the service of others around the world well beyond himself and his immediate family. He rarely placed his own needs above those of others.
 
Early in his life he began a career as a teacher in a one room country school and as a Disciples of Christ minister in small churches in Oklahoma and Kansas. He later taught science in high schools in Oakley and Minneapolis, KS. In 1940 he married Hazel Miller in Larned, KS, a marriage that lasted over 50 years and produced my sister Barbara and myself.
 
My earliest memories of Dad are from my preschool days when we lived in a small house in Lawrence, KS where he was pursuing his masters degree in education at the University of Kansas and working the night shift as a linotype operator setting type for the local newspaper, the Journal World. It was during this period that he began giving one of the greatest of his gifts to me, the thirst for and the love of gaining knowledge.
Through activities such as science experiments in the kitchen I learned things like what happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar even before heading off to kindergarten. On picnics and outings he taught me things like how to skip stones on water and how to make sounds blowing across a blade of grass used as a reed placed between my hands.
He instilled a sense of adventure in me through such gestures as giving me my first two wheeler and teaching me to ride without training wheels a full two years before my peers gave up their tricycles. When I was only 3 years old he chartered a small plane taking me on my first venture into the air, along with the rest of the family, to see first hand from above the power of nature as one of the worst floods in the history of the Midwest was just beginning to subside. Dad always seemed to have an infinite array of interests and at least a little knowledge of nearly every subject imaginable, a trait he has passed on to me.

When I was 7 we moved to Baldwin City, KS where Dad had taken a position as a professor of education at Baker University. It turned out to be the longest job of his career. At the same time he began his pursuit of a doctorate degree. When working as a full time college instructor while still a graduate student proved more challenging than he expected, he demonstrated his tenacity. He never gave up on acquiring the higher degree until finally receiving it 17 years later.

In the diversity of an academic community Dad was surrounded with colleagues and students of widely varied ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. He seemed to relish the opportunity to expose my sister and me to this cross section of humanity, and by both word and example taught us not only to be tolerant but accepting of others, to find common ground with people of all walks of life and to celebrate differences rather than fear them. While I doubt he never truly regretted teaching us this lesson, later in life it did create some conflict when Barbara and I demonstrated our tolerance and acceptance by befriending people he might have preferred we hadn’t taken into our lives.

Dad held strong in his beliefs as demonstrated by his avid pacifism. He was a conscientious objector during World War II, a position that was not generally looked upon favorably by most U.S. citizens at the time and is still considered a negative by many to this day. He never wavered in his belief that it is wrong to take a human life, holding steady to his belief throughout all later military conflicts the U.S. was to become involved in. This was just one example of how he taught my sister and me to think for ourselves and not accept things simply because we were told them by people in positions of power and authority whether they be teachers, religious leaders or government officials. This too was a lesson that in later years led to some conflict when he realized that in learning to think for ourselves, Barbara and I did not always arrive at the same conclusions as he.

In recent years the ravages of age took their toll on Dad. As happens to many who live so long, his mind began declining before his body. No human is rational 100% of the time, and that becomes more apparent when dementia sets in. Many in the Michael family seem to have a unique and quirky sense of humor, and Dad was certainly no exception. He was never afraid to laugh at himself nor with others.

While other portions of his mind were failing conspicuously he retained his sense of humor. Once during the early stages of his dementia when he was still lucid enough to realize what was happening to him, I was trying to get him ready to leave for an appointment that I had reminded him of several times in previous days. After obvious initial confusion he accepted the fact that I might have previously informed him, and he just didn’t remember. He commented, “When one has dementia I guess he should expect surprises.”

Another time I was giving him a ride back to his nursing home after a brief stay in the hospital. He was conspicuously confused as he rambled about things like needing to get back to school and talking as if his parents were still living. It was a bitter cold winter day. As we passed a sign that said Michigan Street he appeared to suddenly snap into a state of lucidity. He looked at the sign and with a big smile on his face turned to me and said, “Michigan? We shouldn’t be going to Michigan on a day like this.”

On one of the last occasions I visited him in the nursing home I arrived as he was in the dining room waiting to be served dinner. A lady across the table from him who also suffered from dementia picked up a fork and began going through the motions of eating from a plate that clearly wasn’t there. Again with a grin he turned and whispered to me, “That lady is eating air with a fork.”

Dad was a good parent, not a perfect one. I have no doubt he always loved me. In his nearly 97 years he gave me much to appreciate. The important gifts I remember are not material ones, but rather the life lessons he taught me through both his good qualities and his flaws. I think one of the greatest gifts Dad gave me is an appreciation for the importance of working with others, not against them.

Even through his flaws he taught me the importance of forgiveness and an understanding that I too have flaws, some of which I recognize and some which I’m sure I don’t. It would be fruitless for me to deny being my father’s son. In many ways I am like him, both in ways I am proud to claim and a few I’d rather not.

In recognizing he was a good man and not a perfect one I hope one day others, especially my children, will be able to say the same about me. I thank Dad for his part in making me the man I am today.

To see more pictures and words about Dad click here.

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Your feedback is always appreciated.  Please leave a comment by clicking here.

Images and text Copyright 2010 Dave Michael.  No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the author.

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Visit these related links:

The Arbor ~ Memory Care at Brandon Woods at Alvamar

Baldwin City, KS

Baker University

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13 Responses to “Dad”

  1. Cousin Carol Says:

    Excellent tribute to your Dad, and my Uncle! Nice job Cousin Dave!

  2. B Michael Says:

    Dave, sorry for the loss of your father. Thank you for sharing about him. From what I’ve just read, he sounds like an amazing man. I’m sure he will be missed by many. Take care. B (jellybiscuit)

  3. Phillip Lamb Says:

    Dave, very well done. I think your dad would be pleased with his tribute. He was a special person from my memories of him. I will always remember his voice and comments about things we were doing back in the day.

    I remember the house down the street from me there in Baldwin. I am not sure when it was I was aware of your family but it was during high school. Take care Dave and thanks for make my day better.

  4. Jim Yatman Says:

    what a wonderful tribute,Dave ! I was not priviledged to know your dad,however, I was blessed to know and loved his brother (Marvin)who recently passed. You provided your Dad the greatest gift any son or daugher could give…..LOVE. Our thoughts are sent to you and your family !

  5. George Lenard Says:

    Very nicely written Dave. One hopes one’s children will value lessons learned from family; one never knows exactly what those will be and how they will be viewed in the end.

  6. Donna Barr Says:

    Lovely thoughts, David!

  7. lyn Says:

    Dave,

    What a beautiful set of memories. We should all be so lucky at the end of life to have someone write about us like this. I feel I know you more deeply having read this, and I wish I had known your dad. xo lyn

  8. Joy Says:

    Dave, what a nice tribute to your father! I know you will miss him tremendously, but what lovely memories you have to cherish, always.

  9. Karla Grosdidier Says:

    What touching and beautiful memories. Your dad was a wonderful, patient and caring man. I will always remember him with great fondness and love. I imagine he is sharing some wonderful memories with your mom right now.

  10. Roger Boyd Says:

    Dave,
    Great job! I too remember you, your dad and mother and Barbara fondly. Many shared memories. It brought back many of those memories as I read your essay. Many of those, of course were activities in scouts along with Phil Lamb, Jim Turner, Mac Leitnecker, Bob Hey, Bill Beedles and others.

  11. AnnMarie Says:

    Thanks for sharing all of your thoughts and memories. You did a beautiful job. I was glad to see photos of your dad sitting at the organ. This is one of those memories I have of being at your parents’ house.

  12. Trevor Says:

    Life is one thing that is always only ours, all carefully stored away in our heads ready for us to use, even if we are not aware or lose the awareness to use it.

    This is a very fine thing you have done to write this since the end of life is, for some reason, largely ignored by society. I suppose it is like many things in society, people have to suffer in silence rather than disturb the thoughts of a few who could make a difference.

  13. J. Robert Danley Says:

    Dave, I remember your father from my days spent at Baker U. and your sister Barbara was two grades behind me in high school. Although I never took any of his classes in my two years at Baker I do remember how well respected he was by my fellow students who attended his classes as well as by members of the community. He and others like him created an atmosphere of learning in the entire town that was remarkable. Your words were well written and are a well deserved tribute to your father.

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