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
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
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.