Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Tribute to My Dad

My dad passed away last week, on September 29th, a day before his 73rd birthday. In actuality, it was 2 hours before his birthday since he died at around 10:00 p.m. My dad was a funny guy, so I can imagine him gloating that he didn't hit his birthday, because my mom (who turned 73 in May) will now forever be older than him. 

It sucks. There's just no other way to say it. I hate that he's gone because I'm going to miss him. But he'd been suffering for so long, and was in so much pain when he died that it's pure selfishness that I wanted to keep him here. He was done. He said so, many times. He didn't want to suffer anymore, so for him, I'm glad he's finally at rest. 

I thought the best way to honor my dad is to share both a bit about his life and about who he was, so I'm posting both his obituary and a copy of the talk I gave at his funeral. I only hope I did him a small amount of justice.

Melvin Rudolph Carlsen, age 72, died September 29, 2014 at home after a long struggle with heart disease.
Melvin was born September 30, 1941 in Murray, Utah to Melvin Richard Carlsen and Lizzie Verona Hardcastle. He graduated from Murray High School in 1959 and married Shirley Ann Ertmann on November 20, 1959 in the Salt Lake Temple. He also attended Salt Lake Trade Technical Institute where he earned his journeyman machinest certificate.
Mel was a hardworking business man. He realized his dream of opening his own business, C&F Machine Shop, as well as being a partner in Salt Lake Cable and Harness, and was able to support his family for many years. He retired early at age 63 in 2004. He was an active member of the LDS church. Mel spent his spare time bowling, doing yard work, golfing, camping, 4-wheeling, and attending Utah Jazz and BYU football games.
Mel is survived by his wife, his son Russ Carlsen and his wife Stacy, daughter Wendy Carlsen and her (husband/boyfriend) Rod Thurber, daughter Cindy Bennett, and son Dennis Carlsen and his wife Janie.
He’s also survived by 10 grandchildren: Ryan Bennett, Mandy Walters, Randy Bennett, Danielle Teerlink, Lindsay Bennett, Lexcie Bennett, Chayton Carlsen, Breann Carlsen, Shailey Carlsen, Lizzie Carlsen, and one-and-a-half great grandchildren: Royal and Khaleesi.
He’s also survived by three sisters: Betty, Carolyn and Barbara, one brother: Richard, and one son-in-law, Kelly Bennett. He is preceded in death by his parents and his brother Keith. 

At most funerals, people stand at the podium and extoll the virtues of the person who has passed away. I’m going to do something a little different. I want to tell you some of the things I blame my dad for.
For example, I blame my dad for the fact that I try to be careful in the words I speak to others. I’m not perfect at it, by any means, but I try. I’m always conscious of something he told me once. He said that if you say something mean or cruel to someone, it’s like hammering a nail in a board. You can apologize, or remove the nail, but the hole will always remain. You can’t take that hole away, only try to make it a little better. So think before you speak. I blame him for the fact that most of the time I do that.
I blame him for my love of music. This might seem strange to you since most people wouldn’t consider my dad musical. Yet, he was always singing. Not always sensical songs or even sensical words for that matter. But he was always singing. Sometimes in the car, if the radio was playing songs he didn’t know, he’d just kind of bounce back and forth a little and hum along. I don’t think I ever realized how much that influenced me, but one day when I realized how much power a song or music can have over me, it occurred to me that it was him and his constant singing or humming that made music a background in my life.
I blame him for my fashion sense. I know what you’re thinking—Mel had fashion sense? Well, if you’re a girl raised by a dad who thinks the height of fashion is plaid short and cowboy boots, or denim shorts and black socks, you learn really fast how you never want to dress. I’m kidding—sort of. Really, my dad was a pretty classy dresser. He had t-shirts, sure. But more often than he wore those, he wore a collared golf shirt, tucked in, with a black belt and black loafers. When I think of my dad, that’s how I picture him.

I blame him for the fact that I find education important. My dad always wanted us kids to go to college. He offered to pay for us to go, no obligation, when we graduated high school. None of us were smart enough to take him up on it. But he still managed to drill into us that education is important, and I now have two kids who’ve graduated college, and two more who are on track to graduate within the next couple of years. My dad wanted us kids to be smart and even if we didn’t continue our education then, he still taught us to be smart, and I think we all are fairly intelligent beings.
I also blame him for teaching us to work hard. If there’s one thing that can be said of my dad, it’s that he was a hard worker. He worked hard at a lot of jobs before he was finally able to open his own business, C&F Machine Shop, which he owned with his partner Flash for I don’t even know how many years. As long as I can remember, really. He worked a lot to make a success of his business. And it was a success. He supported us all very well. We never wanted for anything. I’m sure there were lean times, but he and my mom worked hard to make sure we didn’t feel it, and that we were secure and happy. He taught us that when you are working—whether for yourself or anyone else—that you worked hard and did your best.
I blame my dad for showing me you can achieve your dreams. He did this by opening his business. He made it possible for me to have a stay-at-home mom, which was important to me. I loved that she could be the mom who went on all the field trips and was there when I got home from school. I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, which I eventually was, because he made it possible for me to have that. I’ve achieved many of my dreams because I knew it was possible from watching him.
I blame him for my sense of financial responsibility. When we were teens we had to buy our own cars if we wanted one. That meant we had to work and budget our minimum wages in order to pay for the car. Throughout all of our lives, we’ve all gone to him for help or advice, most always financial. He was smart in that way and was always able to give us the advice we needed. I always feel responsible to meet my financial obligations, and feel guilty if I’m late with a payment, because he was so financially responsible. I admired that about him.
I blame him for the need to make others feel like I’m truly listening to them when they speak. My dad never zoned out in the middle of a conversation, or interrupted to talk over top of you. If you were having a conversation with him, he was in it. He couldn’t always remember someone’s name, but he’d remember faces. If he couldn’t remember your name, he’d call you Ralph or Rebecca, or the all-encompassing kid. In fact, if he did remember your name, he’d likely call you Ralph, Rebecca, or Kid. In this fast paced world we live in, paying genuine attention to someone and the conversation you’re having with them is an art, and it’s one my dad had down to a science.
I blame my dad for teaching me that how you treat others is important. Even at his sickest, when he was suffering, he was still trying to make others comfortable or to entertain them. As a kid, I watched how he was around others. He was never the guy who was making things weird or uncomfortable or being so rude he’d make everyone around him want to leave. Not that he didn’t have bad days, or that we didn’t see the ornery side of him at home. But I saw how he would be with friends or other family, how he was in public, and he was always happy and funny. I don’t want to be the person no one can stand to be around because they’re always unhappy, so I try to follow my dad’s lead and be the one who’s trying to make things lighter.
I blame my dad for my chosen career. I’m a writer of fiction. And who knew how to tell a story better than my dad? It always went something like this: "It was August 4th, 4:00 in the afternoon. I was milking chickens, but only the chickens with lips. Your mom was wearing army boots, and my pancreas was fluctuating . . ." Anyone who knows my dad at all has heard one if not all of those phrases from him. His stories never made much sense, and were completely wild, but they were always funny and entertaining. How could I grow up around that and not think storytelling—fictional storytelling—was the way to go?
I saved this one for last because it was the best thing about my dad. I blame my dad for my sense of humor. My dad was a funny guy. Growing up in a house like ours, humor was pretty much a requirement. We’d have these Sunday dinners that lasted forever because we’d go off on all these tangents about anything and everything, mostly just laughing. Anyone who knew my dad would use funny as the first word to describe him. He had a quip or one-liner for everything. Humor was important to my dad. Laughter was important. And because of this, all of us kids have a great sense of humor. All of Mel’s grandkids have senses of humor. Everyone who’s ever met him has some story about him and something funny he did. Even before I understood all the nuances of humor, I understood laughter. I understood my dad was funny and took great pride in making others laugh. He'd say things like: "If I was any better I'd be two people." Or, at a restaurant when asked how he'd like his steak cooked: "On the stove." And then he'd point at another table when the check was brought: "You can give that to them. They'd like to take care of it." He would say: "I have the prettiest feet in the world" or "No one has a better looking belly button than me" and then proceed to show you. He would make (small) bets on football games and upon losing would either shred the $20 he owed you and send it to you that way, or maybe put it in a jar of some kind of gel, or laminate it, or anything to make sure he paid but that you'd have a difficult time using the money. The last few weeks when he was having almost daily heart attacks, and suffering for hours with them, he'd still be making jokes through his pain.
Selfishly I wish my dad was still here. I’m going to miss him fiercely.  I can’t believe I’m never going to hear his voice again, or see him sign his name, or drive his gray Ranger, or pull his comb out of his pocket and comb his hair. I can’t believe I’m never going to hear him sing, or say August 4th, or ask “does a chicken have lips”, or have him hug me again. But I also know the kind of pain he was in, how miserable he felt all the time, how exhausted he was from all of that, and I know he’s so much happier now. I know he’s at peace. And so I’ll be patient, I’ll wait until I can be with him again, and then all of these things I miss will be there for me to enjoy again. I love my dad, and I’m so grateful I got the chance to be his daughter.

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