This past General Conference of the Church Elder Ballard gave a talk about how Fathers and sons could communicate better. During that talk I had a very strong impression to write a letter to Dad about how great a Father he has been to me. I knew I could never get him to listen to me talking about how great he was any other way. I started writing the letter the Sunday before he passed, and I was going to stop and get ready for bed, but I just had a feeling that I needed to get this done sooner than later. I thought that was strange because I had no reason to think that things would be any different for Dad that week. I didn’t quite finish it, but then on Monday night I really felt like I had to get it done and e-mail it to my Mom to print out that night. Mom brought it over and read it to Dad on Tuesday, which was literally the last possible chance for him to hear what I wrote. I wanted to share just a few parts of my last letter to Dad:
“Some of the best memories I have are our adventures we had traveling...I remember going to California with you many times. I remember one trip in particular where you took me to several different skateparks in several different cities. Looking back on that I realize that there were probably plenty of other places you would have liked to go see, but we spent the majority of that trip going to those places just for me.
And then there was the time you took me over to Chicago. I thought it was such a fun, cool city. And I still brag to people that I got to go inside the Nauvoo temple before it was finished. That was really fun getting to explore the inside of the temple and seeing things in more detail than you normally get to. I really liked that one spiral staircase. I think that trip was the reason I applied to so many schools out in Illinois. Little did I know that I would be calling Illinois home for four years.
I could go on and on about all the fun times I had going on trips with you. Now I want to tell you about your example of service to me. What always stands out to me is your selfless service you gave to Frank and his brother John.”
For those who don’t know Frank Sepko and John Kilian, they were a couple of men in our neighborhood that Dad spent countless hours helping. John was a little bit of an odd fellow, but Dad didn’t mind and he faithfully gave John a ride to church and the grocery store and let him sit with our family every week. Frank was very demanding and was always calling Dad with orders more than asking for help. Now back to the letter:
“I don’t think many people would have gone to the lengths that you did in serving them. Many people were turned off by John’s quirky behavior but I always remember you just saying good things about him. I think through that and other experiences you taught me not to judge people on their outward appearance but to enjoy them for who they are. You were able to see that he was actually a sweet man that had a difficult life living with his brother. I also was always impressed with your patience with Frank and your willingness to help him even when he was not always very polite.
...I can honestly say that I can’t think of one time in my whole life that I thought you were angry with me or that you raised your voice about something. I am even more amazed at that now that I have children of my own. Looking back, I am amazed at your self-control and that you never lost it on me during my teenage antics.”
In addition to these thoughts from my letter I wanted to share just a few stories about Dad. At my Grandpa Jack’s funeral Dad got up there and just ‘told it how it was’ about some of his quirks. I thought it only fitting that I should do the same for Dad now.
One thing you should know about Dad, that even though he loved good food, he really could not cook. In particular I remember one horrific grilled cheese sandwich he made for me. He liked to experiment with different spices, and this time he about emptied the spice drawer onto our sandwiches. I remember distinctly the sharp crunch of the spices followed by an overwhelming assault on my taste buds. He actually seemed pretty satisfied with his creation, but I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it.
If you’ve ever driven with my Dad you would know that he tended to either slam hard on the gas or hard on the brake. Once I was old enough to learn about the speed limit, I dutifully let him know that he was speeding. Then he informed that “actually, white Chevy trucks are allowed to go ten over the speed limit”.
Christmas was always big for us, and like any other kids we wanted to wake up early to get our presents. I think one year I wanted to wake up at the precise moment that it was Christmas. This was when he let me know that the next day actually starts at 4:00 a.m., not at 12:00 a.m. I went on believing this until I was well into elementary school.
He never could get our names straight. I really don’t remember him too often just calling me Jacob. It was usually Bret...uh...Jacob or Sar...uh...Jacob. And before I came around he just called all three of them “Sarahvalabret”.