Saturday, February 26, 2011

A few words about my Dad

I lost my dad last Monday morning unexpectedly. He was only 64 years old. The fact that both his grandfather and father lived into their 90s led me to believe he'd be around at least as long. But it wasn't to be.

Trying to sum up a lifetime in a few short paragraphs is impossible. Especially for someone who lived and loved life as much as him.

I remember many things about my father. Good times, and good lessons.

I remember how much he loved camping. How the entire family would go camping practically every weekend during the summer. And no camping trip was complete without putting the camper on the pickup, a campfire, pitching the tent for me and my brother Brian (my younger sister Laurie slept in the camper), and marshmallows. And of course the video camera. I can’t even guess how many hours of video of trees, lakes and mountains were generated. Those shots of rolling landscape always seem like a good idea at the time.

And I’m sure some of you remember how much he loved having everyone out on the 4th of July for fireworks. Bottlerockets, snakes, smokers, ground displays, and huge rockets we’d light and run away from. Oh, and sparklers of course. The kids and some of the grownups always got to play with the sparklers.

I remember how he used to love riding his motorcycle. It was an 1100, a big bike. So big he never let me ride it. I remember him and Mom rode to Sturgis for several years, how they rode in a local club, and how he loved to wear his jacket with “colorful” slogans ironed on.

I remember how much he loved his cat Mouse, how that cat would bite the living daylights out of your hand or attack your leg out of the blue, but Mouse had his sweet moments, and my Dad still loved him.

He helped me build my matchbox derby car in boy scouts, getting those lead weights inside just right—heavy enough so the car would race down the track, but not so heavy they’d disqualify the car for the races.

My dad also taught me a lot of things. Taught all of us kids who grew up in his house I suppose to a greater or lesser extent. A few highlights:

He taught me how to throw a football, and how to punt and catch one too. Same thing for baseball; he even gave me his old catcher’s mitt. If there was any downtime in the summer, count on Dad to say, “Let’s go throw the football.”

He taught my siblings and I how to wheel and deal in games of Monopoly. Trading properties, hotels, cash, even turns. No deal was ever too convoluted for him. Of course, if he ended up with Boardwark and Parkplace out of the deal, all the better.

Along with my Mom, he taught me how to care for animals, with all the kittens, dogs, and even a few calves that lived at our place. It was a regular menagerie, and I suppose it explains why I’ve had a similar situation in my life, with more pets than sense.

He taught me how to canoe. I remember one time he let Brian and me off near the lake that had flooded over its boundaries, and we canoed for hours over flooded roads, ditches, and fields.

He _tried_ to teach me how an engine worked, but I was a poor student. I never could figure out the difference between a 5/8ths and a 11/16ths wrench!

He taught me that for the big things, there was such a thing as grace under pressure. When I slid off the road and crashed into a telephone pole in the middle of South Dakota miles from anywhere, and that car was subsequently buried under a blizzard for three days, he didn’t freak out, yell, or ask me how I could have done such a thing. He just nodded, and started making plans on how to deal with it. I’ll always remember how calmly he handled that.

But the best lesson my dad ever taught me was this: If you practice something long enough, no matter HOW AWFUL you are at it, eventually, in time, you’ll not only improve, but master it. You see, I joined the wrestling team in grade school. Even though I wanted to quit every year on account of how bad I was, my dad convinced me to keep it up. After 8 years of this, in junior high, I was the best wrestler on the team, and the 2nd best wrestler in South Dakota (in my weight class /qualifier).

The great thing about that lesson is that it applies to everything in life. Reading. Writing. Juggling. Computer programming. Martial Arts. Whether physical or mental; he made me realize

that Talent Is Practice. Sometimes long grueling practice, but so it goes.

And I have my Dad to thank for teaching me that.

My dad taught me a lesson I’ll never forget.

Just like I’ll never forget my dad, Leroy Robert Cordell.