May 19, 2011

The Life of (My) Dad

My Dad unexpectedly passed away last weekend at the young age of 55. Here is the tribute I delivered at the funeral. Thanks to everyone for your love and support—this has been way harder than I ever imagined.

A little story most of you probably don't know about my Dad is that he actually started his own fan club when he was 10 years old. This is 100% true. He put an advertisement in the paper and it read:

To the Editor,
I would like to ask people to join my fan club. I think I should have one because I am so great, kind, handsome, polite, generous, and most of all humble.

Thank you,
Roger Klems

Surprisingly, he got dozens of letters. Some of them very kind, some not so kind. These letters sparked him write a follow up which also got printed:

To the Editor,
Thanks for printing my letter recently about the fan club for me. I am sure you don't realize the great service you have done. Since it appeared, I have chosen my fan club officers and they are as follows… Also, an answer to those who think I'm conceded, they are terribly mistaken. I just think highly of myself.

Everybody's hero,
Roger Klems

My Dad was a warm, loving, passionate, selfless man who cared deeply about his family, his friends and making the world a better place. He was a big guy with a big personality, who loved to smile and loved to laugh and loved to tell stories. He believed everyone he met was not a stranger, but a friend in the making. And given enough time, he'd win you over with his charm and make you think you'd been friends all your lives.

He grew up in Clifton as the youngest of four. His brother and sisters adored him. They'd always tell me stories about how their little brother was one of a kind. "When we were little," my Uncle Clem told me, "Your Dad and I used to share a bed. But every morning I'd wake up with his feet in my hair. It'd drive me crazy. Finally I said, 'Roger, why do you keep doing that?" His response: 'It feels nice on my feet,' as if my Uncle were the crazy one."

My Dad played in the Marching Band at Roger Bacon High School and won two national championships, which were commemorated by a plaque that still hangs on his bedroom wall. Shortly after high school he got a job at Central Trust Bank, which is where he met my Mom. They were so lucky to have found each other.

I'll remember my dad for a lot of things—loving black and white movies, wearing shorts when it's 37 degrees outside, taking me to the early mass on Sunday mornings then cooking me breakfast, carrying around his giant mug, punishing me and my sister for fighting by making us hug for what seemed like hours, running the finances at my school summer festivals, singing Harry Chapin songs around the house all day long, collecting change around the house for Men's Club, heading out to dinner with "The Gang," reading me Dr. Seuss' The Lorax over and over and over again.

I'll remember him for the way he worked so hard to support our family, and the way he loved me and my sister, supporting us in every decision we ever made.

But what I'll remember him most for was the way he took care of my Mom after she had her stroke. He'd do anything she'd ask, run any errand, drive her anywhere she needed to be. He'd put in late hours at work so he could break away during the day when she needed him most. My Mom called him her "Sweety-Petite-y" and she was his. He made her his top priority—always. And he never complained about it. He never said, "This is too hard" or "I can't handle this." He just did it. It was his unrelenting love of her that caused him to do everything in his power to make her life easier. He was her hero for that. He was my hero for that.

While I'll remember him for all those things, I'm 100% sure what he'd want to be remembered for most was being an amazing grandpa. Since he passed away last weekend, I'd received nearly 100 e-mails saying kind words about my Dad—telling us how funny he was or how smart he was or how or how kind he was. One note from Rick Noble really hit home with me. It said:

"Roger possessed qualities that simply drew you into him. I was first attracted to his incredible mind and ability to reduce complex businesses to a few simple elements.  Roger and I butted heads quite frequently, but I never wore out his patience or ability to explain why my analysis was not complete.  He would often make his point with his keen wit, that left you speechless until the moment his point became evident."

But even through all those compliments, there was strictly one common thing mentioned in nearly every e-mail: "Your Dad LOVED being a grandpa." He'd brag about those grandkids any chance he got. He loved spending time with them, reading to Ella while she sat on his lap, chatting with Chris as they folded laundry together, singing to Anna while she rocked on the rocking horse, snuggling with Carson as they napped on the couch. He often called holding one grandkid in each arm "Heaven on Earth" and said he only wished he could grow more arms to hold all of them at once.

And while I'm crushed he won't get to do that anymore, and I'm crushed the kids won't have him to hug, and I'm crushed he won't get to meet his newest grandchild who is due to join this world any day now, I take comfort in knowing that his love, kindness, humor and legacy will live on through them. I take comfort in knowing my sister and mom and aunts and uncles will share stories of him for years to come. And I especially take comfort in knowing that I will try every day to be as amazing of a father to my kids as he was to me.

And if he were here today I'd hug him so tight, tell him how much I love him and how much I'm going to miss him—and let him know that I will always, always be the #1 member of his fanclub.

I love you Dad.

Also, my Dad always told me that this was his favorite post of mine. He said it really embodied being a parent and made him smile every time he read it. That makes me smile knowing that.

Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl
(A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters)

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sarah said...

Beautiful tribute Brian. He sounds like an amazing man. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Yo Momma said...

That was simply amazing, Brian. I never met your dad, but I wish I had. He seems like a great man and I agree with the others who said he raised one hell of a son. While you may not be able to talk to him any more, it seems you and your family will always be a tribute to him. I only wish I can be half the parent and spouse your dad was.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Great post, Brian. That your dad was an amazing person is no surprise to anyone who knows you. Sending good thoughts your way.

Terri Boes said...

This is beautiful, Brian. You are so lucky to have had such an amazing dad even if it was for such a short time.

Katie said...

That was so touching. You obviously received your wit and story telling abilities from your father. I'm sorry for your loss.

Kara Gebhart Uhl said...

This made me cry. You and the girls were so lucky to have him but I'm just so sorry it was for such a short time. This was beautiful a tribute.

Becky said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Brian. What a loving tribute to your dad; he was just as lucky to have you as you were him.

Caren said...

i never met your dad, Brian, but my dad also adored him. i am sitting here teary after reading this. thank you for sharing and i have no doubt you will be a super dad just like yours.

Tom said...

Wonderful tribute to your father Brian. I never met him, but feel like I have through knowing you as I do.

I am absolutely sure that your father was as proud of you as an man can be of his son. I know that if EJ and Cooper turn out to be the husband, father and man that you are I sure would be damn proud.

Tina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tina said...

I don't know if I ever met your Dad, Brian, but he sounds a lot like mine, who unfortunately died at 58, too.

The world is a better place having had them in it. It's so very hard to think everything that he'll miss, but it usually makes it easier when you get to think of all the things he didn't. Ella and Anna will always know their Grandpa loved nothing more than being just THAT!

Hugs to you and yours. Great Post. Thank you for sharing this with us all.

Tina (Haithcoat) Harris

Karen said...

Brian, I read both this post and your linked "Searching for Sponge Bob" post. Thank you for reminding us all of the dear people in our lives, to whom we need to show love and gratitude while we have them here with us. Your dad was a great man, because he knew WHO was important, rather than WHAT. I pray your memories and God's grace will comfort you and your family in this tremendous loss.

Dr. Pearl Ketover Prilik (PKP) said...

Dear Brian

As others write, I too  read your tribute to your father through tears..
Thank you to Robert for his post to you and in so doing bringing me here to the place of love you created.  Your father was the rare man who even as a child recognized the sparkling authenticity of himself and as you quoted was not " conceded". ( this is actually a second posting my first disappeared) and now I see that the bottom line is the love that was your father can and shall never be " conceded." 
You have expressed how profoundly fortunate you were to have been held in his arms, I thank you for a generosity of spirit that seems inherited, in opening your arms to include us in this celebration of a rare life of pure acceptance of self and love for and by others.  I humbly ask that  I be added to what would be an exhaustive list of members of your father's " fan-club"  You have spread the warmth of his hug to us all.  May you feel his love- always and a day.  Hugs to you and all who were privileged to know your father personally.  You have done him proud.  I think this now, might vie for first place as his favorite piece.       

Woz said...

Klems this post brought tears to my eyes. The way you describe your father has a warmth that made me wish I had met him, if even for an afternoon, because I'm sure a fond memory would have been made. My heart goes out to you and your family right now.

I've heard before that when we lose someone that someone else enters our life right behind them. I have no doubt that the newest Klems is going to have more of your dad in him than you could have imagine. What a lucky little one who is just about to enter this world.

George Z said...

Having just had surgery to re-attach a retina a week ago I'm not sure these tears are good for my rehab.

Chuck said...

You were right to post. There was no way to do this justice through a summary. Just so touching and amazing. Somewhere your dad heard this and is smiling.

WriterSideUp said...

Brian, I have quite a few of your posts in my inbox, waiting to be looked at, but I've been consumed with the organization end of our upcoming writer's conference in about 10 days. I saw your notice about Mia and wanted to congratulate you, but the link wouldn't work for me. That's when I scrolled and clicked on your most recent article which was this one. I had no idea it had to do with your Dad's passing. I had tears in my eyes from beginning to end and just wanted to let you know how sorry I was to hear of your loss. I hope memories sooth you and God helps you heal.

Pat Lenius said...

I write this through my tears on your behalf. Your tribute was heartbreakingly beautiful. I have just returned from a trip with my parents and I know how lucky I am, how very blessed, to be able to spend time with them. I know you had to be a source of great pride to your Dad and the fantastic Dad that you are now is a tribute to him. God bless your whole family.

Hallie Sawyer said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Brian. I can't imagine losing a parent so young. I truly believe our parents were born to be grandparents and it sounds like your father was one of the best. My husband lost his mother last year and I've seen the pain you are going through. I think of my children losing their grandmother and of all the memories they aren't able to make together. But the ones they have, they cherish more than any others.

I hope you are comforted by your own memories, knowing they are a gift you can pass those on to your children. From their grandpa.

This is such a wonderful tribute to him and again, I'm so sorry for your family's loss.

Jennifer said...

I stumbled upon how to write a blog and ended up here and crying. Don't know you or you Dad...but this was such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing from your heart.