Friday, March 23, 2012

Happy Birthday JerBear

Today would be my dad's 62nd birthday. It is the sixth one that we are celebrating without him.

 A few years ago, I made the decision that March 23 was not going to be a day that I would be sad. Birthdays are meant to be a day of joy and celebration, and so I embrace that. And the best way to carry on his memory is to share with others all of the wonderful things that made him our JerBear.

He was the first in his family to go to college, where he played baseball and had intended to be a coach. JerBear was the jock in the family. I don't know that either Rachel or I lived up to Coach JerBear's talent. He loved baseball, and played at Carthage College (where he also joined a local fraternity, Tau Sigma Chi, the Turtles). He graduated with a degree in Physical Education, and hoped to be a high school coach. Unfortunately, there weren't many jobs in the area, and so he went back to school at UW-Madison for his graduate degree and headed into the world of banking where he spent his whole career. He did eventually get to do some volunteer coaching for Rachel's soccer team. I think it would have been cool to see him coach baseball though. How different life might have been...

He met my mom at a meat packing plant. True story. He was working there during the summer to save for graduate school, and my mom was working in the office as her summer job. He would bring the orders into the office each day (what a meet cute!). He asked her out, and she stuck her nose up at him, until my grandpa dared her to go out with him. When he showed up for their date, driving a red Firebird, and all clean shaven and nice looking (not covered in meat blood), she changed her tune. And the rest is history. 

He embraced living with all women. JerBear was fortunate to have two daughters, which left him constantly outnumbered in our house. He was the kind of dad that would paint his three year old's toe nails or dress up in funny clothes. He never once complained about having to go to dance recitals (which thankfully didn't last long). He did well.

He loved the Badgers.  My parents purchased their season tickets and were loyal Badger fans throughout a lot of crumby seasons, pre-Barry Alvarez. They even kept their tickets when we moved to Iowa for eight years, making it back whenever they could and selling or giving away the rest. I remember going to games with my dad, back when I was a very small child. He would pack lots of snacks for me - the longer I stayed quiet and happy, the more of the game he would get to see. When the Badgers made it to the Rose Bowl in 1994 for the first time in over 30 years, my parents were definitely going - it seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. I later found out that they had been planning to take us to Disney World around that time (we didn't go until we were 16). The last game he saw live was a win against Purdue in Barry's last season. He was scheduled to have surgery around the Iowa game, and so I took a friend instead. Knowing his hatred of the Hawkeyes, it is probably a good thing that he wasn't there to see them lose.

He had the best lawn and landscaping in the neighborhood. JerBear took his gardening quite seriously. He watched HGTV for the garden shows, and would speak this foreign language of plants that none of the rest of us would understand. He put so much time, energy, and money into making the backyard beautiful, that he was known to shoot bunnies with a pellet gun if he caught them eating the foliage. I may not have agreed with this, but I knew him enough not to argue. I have to imagine that he would be pretty irritated with all of the watering restrictions we have now, because it would prevent him from achieving his perfect lush green lawn. There is a reason that we have cats and not dogs in our house. Neighbor dogs - go pee somewhere else.

He loved Harry Potter. We all love Harry Potter, but I don't know if anyone can ever match JerBear's love. He would read all of the books, and then excitedly share his own theories for how it would all turn out. Was Dumbledore really dead? Was Snape good or bad? When he told us about his cancer diagnosis, one of the first things he said was "I'm not going to get to read that last damn book." Rach and I considered contacting JK Rowling to see if she would send him an advanced copy, but we knew that was unlikely to happen. While going through chemo, he had to get a special okay to go see HP and the Goblet of Fire in the theater, since he wasn't supposed to be in public places where he would be exposed to germs. He went twice. When I first read the last book, I knew he would be happy with how it all ended.

He could live on popcorn, pizza, and chocolate chip cookies. JerBear wasn't a picky eater, he just had his favorites. And on the average day, he was known to grab a box of popcorn for lunch while walking the downtown area. He also loved pizza, and no place more than Balistreri's. You knew better than to give him Pizza Hut or Papa John's - he liked paper thin crust, loaded with toppings. He also loved cookies (really of any kind). He didn't bake all that often, but when he did, his were better than mom's (No offense Mom!).

He rocked one awesome mustache. I think that JerBear's stache was right up there with Tom Selleck's back in the day. It just fit his face so well. I couldn't tell you the date that he first grew his mustache, but I do know that it was before he met my mom. Rach and I had never seen him without one until he shaved his face when I was in middle school. In fact, his mustache was so distinct that he once ran into his mom in the mall, and she legitimately didn't recognize him "without his mustache." She asked her friends who the strange guy was that was trying to talk to her while she was having a cup of coffee. Of course, at that point he hadn't had a mustache in several years, and she had seen him several times without it - she just always thought of him as her son with a mustache.

He was a great storyteller. His eyes would light up with excitement whenever he had a story to tell. One of my favorites was when he would talk about buying his Honda CR-V. He went into the dealer and asked to test drive the car, but made quite clear that he "wasn't buying a car today." After the drive, as the salesperson when to make their pitch, he repeated, "Sir, if there is one thing that I'm not, it's a liar.  And I told my wife that I was not buying a car today. I may buy that very car tomorrow, but I'm not buying it today." Sure enough, he walked out. Went back and bought the car the next day. JerBear: A man of his word.

He was a good boss. We didn't really get to know the work side of our dad, because he was the guy that didn't bring work home with him. When he was at home, that was family time. In fact, when people used to ask us what our dad did, Rach and I would usually repeat what he told us, "he reads and highlights stuff." The true story is that he was a senior vice president at US Bank.  In his time at US Bank (which was his entire career, from starting at First Wisconsin, then when it became Firstar, then US Bank), he supervised a lot of people, and when we met many of them at his funeral, they all talked about what a great boss he was. That he was kind and fair, and that he mentored many of them in their careers. It was a part of his life that I wish we had gotten to see.

His life revolved around his family. My dad was by himself at the appointment where he learned that his cancer was spreading even more quickly than anticipated, and that he likely had no more than a month left. My mom and sister had come to visit me in Ames, because at that point all signs were that he was doing really well. He had gone back to work, and all of the treatments had been deemed successful. The appointment was supposed to be a routine follow up. Although we knew his cancer was terminal, the news came as a total surprise. He spent what was his last good weekend completing a bunch of house chores - tasks to be checked off the list that he didn't want my mom to have to worry about later. If there is one action that really speaks to his character, it is that one. Taking care of us, even when we were supposed to be taking care of him.

I miss him every day. But I know that his spirit shines through in all of us.

Love ya, JerBear.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...