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Don’t waste what I can’t have.

I caught a glimpse of something the other day that might have gone unnoticed by most people, but my eye lingered for a minute.  Two men in quiet conversation, in no hurry and apparently with no agenda.

That’s what struck me at first –  it was obviously not a meeting.  It wasn’t two guys hammering out a deal or making a plan or crafting a response.  It was two grown men, one twenty five years older than the other, talking and laughing about everything under the sun.

They looked like they had all the time in the world.  I wanted to walk over and tell them that they didn’t…that there was a clock ticking somewhere and this conversation would end one day.   I wanted to tell them that those agenda-free conversations are rare…and that even among my friends now, we usually have something to talk about when we talk.

My eye lingered on the two for a minute.  It’s probably human nature to notice what you cannot have, and for a moment I saw what I can’t have.  I saw a grown man having a quiet talk with his dad.

Marvin Jacob Bohlender was a small bear of a man.  With me in my socks and he in his boots, he was still shorter than me, but thick like a barrel.  In this final years – his early sixties, my late twenties – he was still markedly stronger than I was.    One of the hardest things about accepting his passing was my almost illogical belief that he was just too tough to die.

We were in northeast Ohio when I got the call. His heart surgery had gone poorly.  He was still on the operating table hours after his surgery should have been done.   My mom’s voice wavered a bit as she told me “It’s not good.”.  I couldn’t translate “It’s not good….” properly and relayed the information to Kelsey in a non-emotional manner.  She stared at me.

“This is serious…..” She said.

“I know….” I said quietly, but went about my business.

“We have to go immediately.”  She announced.  Praise God for a good wife.  We were on the next morning flight to North Dakota, where we landed in Bismarck and family members rushed us to the hospital.

You’re never quite ready to see your father on a ventilator, his hands swollen, feet a tint of blue.   He lingered for 21 days in ICU, briefly out of ICU, and then back in.  We had a few short hours together when he was able to communicate off the ventilator.  We both wanted to talk, but we knew that as he did, his blood oxygen level would drop, so we sat quietly together.  Soon he was back on the machine and our verbal communication would be no more.

Kelsey and I were standing at the foot of his bed with my mother when the heart monitor let out it’s piercing wail.  The room flooded with medical professionals doing the dance they need to do at times like this.  They were doing their best to do what I knew I’d already done – gone the last mile with him.

I borrowed a computer from my home town high school to peck out a eulogy, and a few days after, I officiated at my fathers funeral.   After the service, as they rolled the coffin into the hearse, I remember exhaling as if I’d been holding my breath for days.  I really did go the last mile with him.

It was important to Dad to end life with no regrets towards family members.  He talked about that even in full health.  I’d lost a sister to a tragic car accident, something for which a parent can find no solace…yet he did find a measure of comfort in that fact.  They had no regrets towards one another and in that there was a certain measure of peace.

This week, with the fingers of Fall beginning to brush the tips of the trees, I sat in my truck at watched a man talk with his father, knowing I will not talk to mine again in this life.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little envious.   I bear no regrets regarding our relationship, but would pay nearly any price to enjoy for a moment what I watched those two enjoy for quite some time.

My life is radically different than his.  He would understand little of what I do, although he would understand why I do it.  We wouldn’t talk about that anyway.  I’m not sure what we would talk about.  I’m not sure it even matters.

He’s been gone for nearly fifteen  years and I still miss my dad.


16 Responses

  1. I understand.. all about those last paragraphs.. yes. mine has been gone for 18 years. more than half my life. im sure my life would have looked different had he lived. i miss him every day. and think about what id say to him if i had the chance for last words.. just simple.. ‘i love you’

  2. Randy,

    Thanks for a beautiful entry–we all enjoy following you and Kelsey via computer. About missing your Dad. . .you always will. . .but look the other direction and see those sweet faces looking expectantly back at you. What a legacy!

  3. I only met my dad once. That drives me to be the kind of father that would cause my son to write a post like this about me fifteen years after my passing.

  4. I guess I should pretty much resign myself to the fact that I will cry every time I read a blog that you have written.
    What a heartfelt post.

  5. You’re one of the best dads I know if. No surprise you’re a great son too.

  6. My dad just finished chemo and radiation. He lives in California and I live in Kansas City with my wife and kids.
    This blog touched my heart in a profound way and despite all the cards I send and all the emails and texts, I’m now inspired to do more.
    The distance from Orange County to South Kansas City shrinks considerably when compared to the distance between you and your dad.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Randy:

    Thank you. I also miss my Dad 28 years later. I went a long time reaching for the phone to call him, then remembered he was gone.


  8. must be this time of year… been missing my dad lately too

  9. Thanks Randy I miss him too.but allways remember the good times

  10. It’s been 10 years since my dad died. It seems like the older I get, the more I miss him, in a different way. Heaven will be sweet.

  11. Thanks for sharing your heart and your struggle. My little sister has been gone for a year and a half.
    I know very well the feeling of watching others enjoy what I will never have again in this life (and to be honest about my precious sister, possibly not even in the next one).
    I’ve learned that life is about that sometimes. We often have to watch others enjoy what we wish we had ourselves and it can hurt.
    So I’m learning to lean. God is teaching me to rejoice with those who have what I don’t, to mourn with those who have lost and receive my comfort from Him in the midst of it all.

  12. Love your post, my Dad usually had an agenda, my Mom always had one. But last year she had a series of mini strokes. She can’t plan an agenda anymore. So, we are having some really sweet talks these days.

    Jude & I are so happy with Skype. It allows us to have these moments with our three kid’s. Our only daughter who is married & deaf in Minnesota. Our oldest boy who’s New Bride is waiting for her green card, so they’re stuck waiting in Germany. Our youngest boy can talk to us from a war zone.

    Thanks for reminding us the preciousness of these unscripted talks.

  13. This really touched me too – not just to be so thankful for my parents now, but also thinking about having relationships without ulterior motives or agendas.

  14. It’s been almost seven years for me and I still miss mine, too, my friend. I’ve had dreams of him laughing and slapping me on the back as he throws his head back with a smile. One Day…

  15. Beautiful, stirring and thankfully received. I am at the pre-planning/planning phase (depending on the day or the hour sometimes) of making a physical and emotional move. I live and work in IL. My parents are retired in LA. My desire from youth has been to be there for them in their later years. I am there. Not looking forward to the stress of the move but happily embracing the future of what will be. Time with them. Thanks for the encouragement. God is so good!

  16. Randy,
    My dad passed just last Sunday.
    God gave me this last year to reconnect and restore a relationship with him after many years of little communication. I learned mercy and grace and true forgiveness from Abba, and extended that. I am grateful. My dad’s name was also Marvin.
    You do a great job living the dad role. It will be worth it all.
    thank you.

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