Remembering my Father: Part II

Friday, April 19, 2013

In the mid 70s, shortly after his baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, my father moved, with his mother and two sisters, from Southern California to Salt Lake City, Utah. His thick dark hair and impressive bell-bottoms were fashionable for the decade. Disco was in and my father was hip. He drove an orange ‘69 Plymouth Road Runner and shared the bench seat with his beloved Irish Setter, Ladie.

On the evening of May 4, 1974 my father headed to Cottonwood Mall for a local church dance. He had just finished his freshman year at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. Summer was fast approaching and the air hummed with the energy of adulthood. My mother, who had grown up just a couple miles from the now demolished mall, was just finishing her first year at Dixie State College. She too was attending the Saturday night dance. Throngs of young adults packed the mall hallway, while the chaperon served up tepid punch. But that evening was different. When he met her, he knew right away.

Impulsive and easily persuaded, my father soon moved from Idaho to Southern Utah to be closer to my mom. After a few months, Joseph and Wendy borrowed his roommate's VW, checked out $75 from the bank and took off to Las Vegas. In stocking feet—shoes mistakenly forgotten for the occasion— my mother married my father at the Little Chapel Around the Corner on April 14, 1975. A year later they were sealed in the Salt Lake City temple. Together they started life as a married couple in St. George, Utah, where they both attended Dixie State College. They lived with Ladie in a trailer home and planted a small vegetable garden. A couple years later, they picked up their belongings and moved to Logan, Utah to continue their education at Utah State University. My father studied management, while my mother worked on a degree in family and human development.

During college and after graduation my father made a living in sales. Whether he was peddling office copiers, motivational tapes, or brick-sized cell phones, his natural people skills and ambition were an asset to his work. At his heart, though, my father was a sportsman. He hunted elk, deer, and pheasants; fished mountain streams and lakes. He played in racquetball tournaments and entered dutch oven competitions, winning handily at both. His outdoor enthusiasm translated into camping and hiking adventures. He liked to travel and often praised the breathtaking beauty of nature. He liked Star Trek and reading. But my father’s greatest love, his crowning happiness, was the woman he married; his companion and confidant.

My father was a romantic. He bought my mother flowers and laid new dresses out for her on the bed. He took her out on regular dates and brought her unexpected surprises. My parents worked together and were dedicated to a common cause. My father had the disposition of an eldest child, which he was, and the discipline of a perfectionist. My father liked things neat and tidy. He was a disciplinarian and an enforcer. I met my father the summer of 1979; he was 24-years-old. I was his first child.

I remember my father in snippets now; stories from a fragmented past, things people tell me. From pictures and people that still speak his name. I remember his deep belly laugh and see his manners manifest in conversations with my brother. I remember feeling both in awe of and scared of him. I remember wanting his approval and his instance that any job worth doing was worth doing right. We clashed, he and I. Mainly because we were a lot alike. But I also remember tender moments. How he made my special birthday dinner (taquitos, beans, and rice), even if it was an all day production. 

On a bleak January afternoon in 1993, my mother gathered her five children together, huddled at the foot of the pink wing-back chair in the living room, to deliver the news. My father had pancreatic cancer. He had 3 to 12 months to live. Our world stopped. We tried to understand the magnitude of her words. What is cancer? Is he going to die? The coming weeks brought out-of-town family, doctor's visits and healing herbs; powerful blessings and a last-minute family trip. Every minute was measured. We rallied together and figured our faith could reverse a terminal illness. Cancer was not in the cards. Disbelief shattered our existence. Then, on an early spring morning, just as the earth was returning to life, with his mother and my mother, his wife, at his side, my father passed away.

Has it really been 20 years already? Pieces filter in as vivid as if they happened yesterday, while other parts fade away, lost to the recesses of time. Do you remember that first Christmas after you left us? We decorated the outside douglas fir with ornaments that reminded us of you; launching dozens of helium-filled balloons into the inky night sky. I think of you still, my father, and wonder, what would our adult relationship look like today? What advice could I ask of you? What would we say to one another if you dropped in for dinner tonight? Honor thy father and mother. Have I?

I believe this parting is only temporary. I believe you are, and have been, involved in my life (our lives) over the years. I imagine you’re busy, doing whatever it is you're doing, but that doesn’t stop you from checking in now and again. From keeping an eye on the ones you miss too. Twenty years hardly seems possible. A lot has changed, as you might imagine.  What hasn't changed is I'm still your daughter and you're still my father. It's springtime again and I remember my father.

*For Christmas of 1976 my mother gifted my father a hardbound journal; the inscription encouraged him to write his thoughts and keep a record for his posterity. Though barely half full, the pages span several years, giving insight to his decisions and personal inspiration. My words are a tribute to his legacy.

**Read Remembering my Father: Part I here.


  1. Oh how I remember that day, when we got the phone call, how my heart ached for you. It does again today as I read your touching words. I think your father would be proud of the woman you have become and the great insight into life you have gleaned. My heart reaches out to you across miles to offer a hug or maybe just a moment to reflect with me as a long ago friend who feared and loved your dad also. He was an amazing person, from what I remember, and the stories my own father has shared with me. I know he considered your father a great man, teacher and friend. Love you!

  2. Oh, this made me tear up! What a lovely tribute. I'm sure he would be proud of all you've become. Just imagine your reception when you get to the other side!

  3. What a touching memorial. Thank you for sharing!


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