Today is my dad’s birthday.  He would have been 97.  He died when he was 61. (My mom told me she said, to herself, over and over, after becoming a widow at 59, “61 is just too young.”

My dad died of a heart attack while visiting friends at their ranch, miles and miles from his Tulsa, Oklahoma home.  The helicopter they called never came, and the ambulance took ages.  He had forgotten to take along his nitroglycerin.  These are only a couple of the several oddities around my father’s death.  And it makes me appreciate my amazing good fortune and the incredible care I received when I had my stroke, eight weeks ago tomorrow.

Fact is, Joe Kremer is gone now.  He was a bright light in my life, and in the lives of many other people as well.  After my dad died it was not long until the cards, letters, and calls started pouring in.  From family and close friends, of course.  But we were blown away by the other people who got in touch…people we didn’t even know he knew, like the little old lady elevator operator at his office building, and the gas station attendant at the local filling station!  They wrote how his smile and warmth had often been a real pick-up in their day, about his friendliness and good nature, how they were always gladdened when they saw him coming… The anecdotes were many, eye-opening, and heart warming. He made a beautiful, warm, positive difference in many people’s lives.

One of my fondest memories is of my dad taking my hand, then scooping me up in his arms and heading out into the ocean, beyond the breakers.  What an experience — it is impressed indelibly on my soul — the support, the safety, the adventure, the closeness, the thrill, the beauty…

The kicker is the startling juxtaposition of all this to Joe’s own perception of his life.  One of the essays in BECOMING is called Finding My Niche (pg. 36).  It relates to our connection with our fathers, and invites reflection on their ‘unfinished business’.

In contrast to the stories above, my dad often felt as though he had ‘wasted his life.’  He lived with a sense that he never ‘found his niche’, a meaningful way to use his potential, to make a difference!

In the essay I explore how noticing this ‘unfinished business’, this ongoing and unresolved issue in my father’s life, gave me a jolt, because I realized I was living out the same pattern to some degree in mine.  Revisiting the issue now, after the stroke, brings new dimensions, poignancy, and, happily, softness and acceptance.

I have found it most fruitful to look at the challenges my parents faced, the issues they dealt with, in particular the ongoing ones, and then to explore resonances in my own life. Maybe this is true for you as well. On this 45th anniversery of my dad’s death, I offer these questions for your consideration:

What do you perceive as your father’s ‘unfinished business’? What role did and does this issue play in your life?  How did his choices around this challenge affect your life?  To what degree have you made the same, and/or different choices?  What would you tell your children, or a young person, about what you learned, or are learning?

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity. Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.

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