The first time I met my father-in-law was over the phone. He was working in Honduras. Actually, at that time he was my future father-in-law. My future mother-in-law was back in Utah for a couple of weeks to take care of a few routine matters. I called my fiancé’s father to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He asked me why I wanted to marry his daughter. I can’t remember what I said, but I was madly in love with her.
Months later, I met my father-in-law in person the evening before I got married. He had flown in that day from Honduras. I soon learned where my wife’s family’s touchable side came from when her dad reached out and pulled me into an embrace, calling me, “Son.” And I responded by calling him, “Dad.” That’s the way it went for the next couple of decades. This in no way diminished my relationship with my own dad.
My father-in-law was a smart man. He was an electrical engineer who was known for being able to tackle difficult tasks. He was a patriotic American. He served in the Air Force and spent his entire civilian career working for defense contractors. He enjoyed stints in foreign countries, but gave it all up for many years so that he could be at home with his family. But after becoming empty nesters, he and my mother-in-law decided to bulk up their retirement savings by taking higher paying jobs at foreign outposts once again. Only, this time, they could be together.
They worked in Central America, Europe, and the Middle East. During the first Gulf War and for a while afterward, my father-in-law worked in Saudi Arabia. He wouldn’t allow my mother-in-law to be there with him because he disagreed with the way the Saudi culture treated women, including foreigners.
During the times my father-in-law spent back in the States, we were able to spend concentrated time with him. I was recently burning DVDs of old home movies and was moved by a scene at the Salt Lake airport where my two oldest, who were about to turn four and two respectively, ran up and hugged my father-in-law incessantly as he walked in from the Jetway.
After years of globetrotting, my mother-in-law was ready to sink down roots again. After a short retirement, Dad discovered that it didn’t settle well with him. He was soon working in the Middle East again. After living in camps during the run-up to the war in Iraq, he was finally ready to call it quits. But even then he couldn’t just retire. He ended up helping with the office management of my brother-in-law’s contracting business, where he continued to work until recently.
My father-in-law was a quiet man. You could tell when he was getting hot under the collar because he would clench his jaw and roll his eyes. That pretty much means the same thing as when I turn into Mt. Vesuvius and the top of my head blows off in an eruption of fire and smoke. He had a loving personality and a truly unique wit, which was sometimes masked by his calm demeanor unless you knew him well.
Last fall Dad pulled something in his side when helping to move a pallet of building materials. Like an average guy, he demurred to get it treated. After a number of days the pain was so intense that he agreed to treatment. Eventually they discovered cancer lesions on his lung lining. Soon he was undergoing aggressive treatment for the cancer. We knew from the beginning that the kind of cancer he had kills most of its victims within 6-8 months, but we were hopeful that Dad was in the minority that achieves remission.
The treatment was almost as bad as the disease. But after a while it appeared that the cancer had halted its spread. Within a short time, however, it came back with a vengeance. It soon spread from the lining to the lung. And then to the other lung. And then to the brain. He had his ups and downs. My mother-in-law did her very best to care for him properly as he lost 80 lbs.
A couple of weeks ago he perked up and managed better than he had for weeks during the visit of some family members from out of town. As soon as their visit was finished, it was as if he was finished. He was never really coherent after that as he progressed through the normal stages of death. For the past couple of days he has been quite unresponsive.
Last night, as his loving wife held his hand and told him that if he needed to go, it was OK to go, he slipped the surly bonds of this mortal sphere and was released from the physical pain that has held him bound for the past few months.
How I will miss the man that raised my wonderful wife and has been a wonderful grandfather to my children. Rest in peace, Dad.