I lost my dad earlier this month. Just 2 days after his 60th birthday.
I debated strongly as to whether I wanted to even share this (as it feels so intimate) or just move on with writing about our latest foster care happenings, but I decided it needed to be written about. For a couple of reasons.
♥Reason #1: My dad made a huge impact in and on this world.
It was evident in the amount of people who poured into his visitation and packed the pews of his funeral. It was OVERWHELMING in the best way.
Friends and family entered the visitation room talking about how hard it was to find a parking space & then quickly began sharing stories that led to both tears and laughter. You see, my dad was the most likable man. I am fairly certain he had no enemies. He lived a generous life and had a way with people. He made you laugh & genuinely tried to connect with those around him, taking interest in their life and their needs. Stories shared included a time he took in a homeless man and gave him a roof over his head (potentially dangerous, yes, but my dad felt people were worth the “risk”), and a time he begged his boss to take his raise and spread it among those who worked below (for) him.
Money & things did not matter to my dad. People did.
He was teased for still using a flip phone & for being very “anti-texting”. He had a TV, but it was from about 2000 and never plugged in. Instead, a painted picture from his son (my brother) sat directly in front of the screen. He would never be found on any form of social media and could not understand the hype behind it. In many ways, I aspire to be like him & the way he lived his life left a huge mark on mine.
♥Reason #2: The battle my dad faced the past 20 or so years, and the one that ultimately took his life, is a battle very close to all of us who are passionate about this mission of foster care.
Substance abuse accounts for (at least) 70 percent of foster cases in the state of KY. It is a HUGE component of foster care and it’s easy to judge, easy to ignore, until it is your own family.
My dad fought alcohol most of his adult life. But that is NOT what defines him. He was a WONDERFUL man. NO ONE would choose the life of someone imprisoned to an addiction.
Addiction is a disease and people need to treat it as such (and talk about it more openly) because it is tearing our families apart at alarming rates. It is a progressive, chronic disease of the brain often precipitated by underlying mental health challenges and or genetic generational predisposition.
Adoption studies on children separated from biological parents show that sons of alcoholic biological fathers were more likely to become alcoholics themselves even if they were separated and raised by non-alcoholic parents. Just as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers genetically run in families, so too does alcoholism.
SO for me to “gloss over” my dad’s death, or more specifically the disease that took his life, is to further the stigma associated with alcoholism. My dad battled this daily & it was heart-wrenching to witness the gradual decline in his health, and his mind. But what was far harder was to think about the shame, the loneliness, and the isolation that compounded his other symptoms.
My brothers and I spent the week planning services to highlight the man behind the disease. It was obvious that he was SO much more than the addiction that took him from us. And my hope is that all of you (still) reading will look at the “bio dad” or “bio mom” or perhaps family member or friend in your own life who struggle with addiction & see them for who they really are. Ask them their story. Genuinely listen and care.
Perhaps that is why my dad left such a legacy. Despite all he battled, and maybe partly because of all he battled, he took time to care about those around him, to genuinely listen, and to do all he could to lessen their burdens.
I will leave you with a poem I wrote for the funeral, in memory of my dad who loved more than anyone I know:
“How You Remind Me”
The way you lived your life reminds me
Of who we are called to be.
Branches of generosity reaching out,
Spreading loving kindness all about.
Planting seeds of joy in the hearts of others,
Looking out for the needs of our sisters & brothers.
Clothing ourselves in humility,
Aiming to live life with sincerity.
This is how you remind me
Of who I really want to be.
(Love you Dad. Always in our hearts.)
John 15:5 (NIV)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”