Monday, June 30, 2008

Still Snowy at Camp Loll

I have often mentioned Camp Loll, a Boy Scout camp in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest between Yellowstone and the Tetons. Camp Loll made today’s D-News for still being in winter mode. I can personally attest to that.

The staff was originally slated to head up there on Saturday, June 14. When some of the senior staff drove up there the week before that, they found themselves driving through blizzard conditions and eight inches of new snow until they arrived at a six-foot deep drift that stretched down the road for some distance about six miles from camp.

They next planned to go up on June 17, but the forest ranger called on the evening of June 16 to say that the road was still impassable. The senior staff drove up again a few days later to discover that, despite a lot of meltdown, the road was still blocked with oodles of snow.

Finally, some of the staff drove up on June 23. They had to park their truck more than five miles from camp up against a five-foot deep drift of heavy slush and ice, but they were able to hike into camp. They felt certain that they could make the trip on June 26. The high adventure staff went to Yellowstone for training by park rangers on June 25. They managed to get to camp and sleep there that night.

Early last Thursday, the anxious staff finally loaded up in a small bus and various 4WD vehicles. I volunteered to drive. The trip went well until we arrived at the spot where the staffers had parked their truck on the 23rd. It was quite warm — around 80°. The five-foot snow drift was gone. In its place was a couple hundred yards of mud. The 4WD vehicles could make it, but the small bus and the large panel van full of equipment definitely wouldn’t.

We spent the next 2½ hours manning shovels and hauling rocks from the forest to restructure the road base by hand. Finally, we sent the first 4WD truck through. No problem. The next truck was hauling a sailboat on a trailer. That was a bigger challenge, but it made it. The bus driver rammed the passenger-free bus through the muck and emerged on the other side. The panel van survived the first portion of the bog, but sunk in the second portion. After much digging and pushing and pulling with 4WD trucks, the panel van made it to the other side.

The next five miles were alternating stretches of dry dirt roads, mud, and snow. Finally, we came into sight of the roof of the lodge. Everything was going OK until I watched the panel van slouch to the side as it sunk into a mud hole. I thought it would tip over. We ended up unloading it halfway (which was six pickup loads) until a 4WD could pull it out. After that, it was work, work, work, as the staff unloaded gear and moved gear to where it needed to go.

I walked around the camp taking over 150 photos. I was told that there had been significant snow melt since last Monday’s visit. But the amount of snow there was astonishing. I have tramped all over that camp many times during my lifetime, and I’ve never seen anything like this. I made sure to take photos of most of the spots where I have pitched tents. Every one of them was covered by at least two feet of snow, but some had more than five feet.

With the exception of the campfire bowl (which was dry), where there was no snow there was water. With the temperature being quite warm, all the melting snow has to go somewhere. While they ended up canceling the first week of camp — which would have been this week —they should be able to run the program next week. A few campsites might prove problematic, but one of the staff’s main duties right now is clearing snow so that they can set up their own tents and so that troops will be able to set up camp next Monday.

Camp Loll’s mosquitoes are quite renowned for their size and number. They produce well as long as they have good breeding area, which is what the snow drifts and water puddles provide. This season promises to provide plenty of mosquitoes until everything dries out. I garnered a number of bites, even while wearing repellant that is 99% DEET.

I left my son up there to fend for himself along with the other staff members. The staff consists of hard working, high caliber, dedicated individuals that don’t make much money. 16-hour days are the norm, but they love it. I still recall with fondness the time I spent working on staff up there as a teenager. That’s why I go up and volunteer to work on projects for the camp when possible.

The camp season will be shorter this year at Camp Loll. There will be a number of challenges, thanks to Mother Nature. But they’ve got the right crew up there to address those challenges. I’m sure my son will have a great summer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

GOP Primary Upset

Yesterday's primary election included only two races on which I could vote: state legislative district representative and state treasurer.

My four-term state representative was on the ropes. This was clear from the county convention last spring, where he lost to his challenger by one vote. As the spring campaign came on, it was clear that the 31-year-old challenger was doing a heck of a lot more legwork than was the 70-year-old incumbent. Usually, it is difficult to unseat an incumbent — even with lots of legwork — unless the incumbent has upset a lot of voters in his party. Past challenges have been relatively easy for my rep to win. But this time it was different.

My rep has a strong track record of holding the line on spending and of opposing tax increases. But his public reputation has increasingly been built upon his hard-line stance on illegal immigration. He has been convinced that his constituents hate illegal immigration and want the state to do everything possible to curtail it. I wrote about a differing conservative view of the immigration issue in a two-part post (part 1 and part 2) last month. I suspect that many of my district's voters aren't nearly as testy about immigration as my rep has assumed. It's just that a few have been very vocal about it.

Over the past several years my rep has increasingly come across as harsh rather than feisty. His public image (often due to press portrayal) has been that of a callous old politician.

Just how threatened my rep felt became clear in the last few days before the election. While we got no phone calls from the challenger, we were inundated with phone calls from the incumbent. Most of these were recorded calls. Many of them came from various advocacy groups or people associated with the legislature. Some were live calls from volunteers manning phone banks. One live call was from the incumbent himself. Just in the past week, I think we counted more than two dozen phone calls encouraging us to vote for the incumbent. We let all of these calls go to the answering machine.

I have personally known my rep for many years. And frankly, he's a bit of a nutcake. A couple of his votes this past session really chapped my hide. I did not like his brush-off explanation of his support of a bill that is the precursor to formal socialization of the entire medical industry in Utah. But, should I vote for the devil I know or for the unproven challenger with whom I disagree on education issues? It was a quandary, but as I went to the polls yesterday, I sensed that it somehow wouldn't matter much.

It was no surprise when I picked up the morning paper to see that the challenger had won the race. But I was surprised that the margin was 61-39 percent. While this sounds huge, it is important to realize that only 1,880 people voted in this race.

Anybody that follows politics in Utah already knows that the state treasurer race was an upset, with the Governor's stooge Richard Ellis beating out the legislature's stooge Mark Walker by a 60-40 margin (see SL-Trib article). Ellis proved to be a good closer with his accusation that Walker tried to bribe him to drop out of the race. That was a hard political calculation. It was difficult to know up front whether it would help or hurt Ellis. But with him trailing in the polls, it apparently seemed like it was worth the gamble, and it worked out great for him.

Upon hearing both Walker and Ellis on the radio in recent days, it seemed to me that both candidates were sensing the changing ground swell as the race came down to this single issue. Frankly, Ellis came across as credible on the issue while Walker, an investment banker, came across sounding like a lawyer.

I live in the 1st Congressional District, but the biggest news in Utah this morning is that in the 3rd Congressional District, challenger Jason Chaffetz beat out six-term incumbent Chris Cannon 60-40 percent (see KSL article). It seems that Chaffetz and Cannon are both far more surprised by this outcome than are the district's voters. Cannon whines that total voter turnout was too small for him to win. But with that large of a margin, it is doubtful that any get-out-the-vote effort by his campaign could have resulted in a Cannon win.

Like my rep, Cannon has come across (thanks to media portrayal and Cannon's own missteps) as increasingly callous and clueless. His negative public image overcame the fact that he has a very good track record on voting against spending increases and voting for tax cuts.

I was completely wrong on the Cannon race. I had predicted that, like past races where Cannon faced a serious challenger, Cannon would ultimately come out on top because not that many voters were mad at him.

Since this is Utah, the winners of the three races listed above will (unless something cataclysmic occurs) beat their Democratic opponents in November. While they still have to campaign, they can be considered for all intents and purposes to have won their respective offices.

Does this mean that voters have finally gotten mad enough that they want to kick incumbents out of office? LaVarr Webb of Utah Policy Daily says no (see Wednesday Buzz here). Webb writes:

"At first glance, I would say primary results are due more to local race factors than any overriding trends and patterns. Before anyone extrapolates primary results into the general election I would point out that this was a small number of races with a tiny turnout. Hard work and the basics of campaigning are still important factors."

This strikes me as about right. The common wisdom that all politics is local applies here. And it certainly appears that hard campaigning work really does pay off.

I will be watching to see how my new state legislative rep performs. If he messes up, he will be easy to unseat in two years. Otherwise, I'm not sure that having him there will be substantially different than having the former incumbent there.

As far as state treasurer goes, let's face that fact that most Utahns won't even remember the guy's name unless he does something bad that makes the news in a big way. Only the people in the executive and legislative branches that have reason to interact with his office will likely pay any attention at all to what he does in his job. When he comes up for re-election in four years, most Utahns will have totally forgotten the episode of the past few weeks. As long as he doesn't mess up, he can likely keep this job as long as he wants.

Many eyes will be watching Chaffetz as he goes to Washington. But quite honestly, little is expected of a first term congressional rep in the minority party. So it shouldn't be difficult for him to meet expectations.

Elections have consequences. But it is never clear up front what all of those consequences are. Only time will tell.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Just Religious Superstition?

I first heard George Carlin when I was a kid. He was one of the early shock comedians, engaging in juvenile, potty-mouth humor that appeals to the immature. It was popular for kids to buy or bootleg his tapes, so I occasionally heard his routines at friends' homes. Some learned to repeat Carlin's routines, so you could hear his schtick on drugs or profanity in the hallways at school.

In this AP story memorializing Carlin upon his death, a 2004 interview is cited where Carlin defended his use of harsh language.
"The whole problem with this idea of obscenity and indecency, and all of these things - bad language and whatever - it's all caused by one basic thing, and that is: religious superstition. There's an idea that the human body is somehow evil and bad and there are parts of it that are especially evil and bad, and we should be ashamed. Fear, guilt and shame are built into the attitude toward sex and the body. ... It's reflected in these prohibitions and these taboos that we have."
Carlin is certainly welcome to his opinion. But he is wrong on this count. Or at least, his view is skewed enough that it fails to account for the real reasons that society aspires to a higher standard when it comes to profanity. Not that profanity hasn't achieved greater general acceptance during my lifetime, but there is still a more pure touchstone that society at least romanticizes about.

Although some religious thought sees the body and its sexual exercises as inherently evil, it is far more common for religion to regard the body as a sacred creation of God. Sexuality is regarded as spiritual and special. It is to be reverenced.

I suspect that even Carlin recognized this in his own familial interactions. Failure to do so diminishes the ability to enjoy the types of relationships humans hold most dear and leads to all kinds of dysfunction.

Dropping the F-word and other coarse and bawdy references to human intimacy is considered blasphemous because it detracts from sacred nature of humanity's most intimate expression. The fact that some misuse this expression is no excuse for others to do so. You can call this religious superstition. But Carlin's secular I-know-better-than-all-the-stupid-religionists insistence is itself a form of superstition. It comes complete with its rites and observances.

Another reason that we regulate profane expression is that children's minds are not fully equipped and are unprepared to grapple with such concepts. I wonder if Carlin thought it was OK for his daughter to view pornographic films when she was young. I suspect that he did not, although he was into drug use. Part of the reason we regulate such junk is that society generally believes that children should be shielded until they are capable of classifying and filtering content themselves.

George Carlin was a genius. But like many geniuses, he led an unbalanced life and engaged in skewed thinking. He could be very funny. But he could also be very wrong, as he was on this subject.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Value of Political Involvement

“Which presidential candidate are you going to vote for,” asked a colleague “seeing that you don’t like either of them?” He asked this before acknowledging that he is the least satisfied with the available choices of any election in his adult life.

I told him that I had three answers to his question. The first reflects the reality of living in a republic that is a representative democracy. In Utah, it simply won’t matter who I vote for. Senator McCain will undoubtedly garner far more than the necessary number of votes to win all five of Utah’s electoral votes. I could vote for Senator Obama or anyone else, but it won’t matter.

The second answer comes from humorist Uncle Jay. When a supposed viewer asks whether dissatisfied voters can simply vote NO when voting for president, Uncle Jay says, “No, they can’t.” But they can select from a number of third party candidates or they may even write in a name. Doing so, Uncle Jay explains in a humorous aside, is essentially casting a vote for the major candidate they dislike most. (Click here to see 3-minute video segment.) The suggestion is that you derive the most benefit from voting for the guy you dislike least. More about that in a moment.

My third answer is that what the Supreme Court does probably has greater and longer impact than anything a chief executive does. Democrats have a strong track record of appointing liberal justices and judges. So do Republicans, for that matter. But Republicans sometimes end up appointing more conservative members of the judiciary. If you care for judicial restraint, your best chance — such as it is — is to vote for a Republican. If you prefer judicial activism, you would do better to vote Democratic.

True libertarians would disagree with Uncle Jay about voting for the major party candidate you detest the least. In fact, many libertarians argue that the marginal value of voting is lower than the cost of informing oneself about the candidates. They argue that from a results-based analysis, the margin of difference between how the different candidates would actually perform in office is incredibly small.

While rhetoric tends to differ substantially between opposing politicians, their tangible actions in office vary minimally, the argument goes. Once in office, they respond to the incentives produced by whatever political winds happen to be blowing at the moment. This is true, they say, for our most revered and our most despised politicians, as well as all in between. When their actual behavior differs from their campaign rhetoric, they always have an excuse for the difference: changed conditions, newfound understanding, bipartisanship, traded for something of greater value, it’s in the best interest of the country, etc.

Some of my libertarian friends argue that a President Obama simply isn’t going to be much different than a President McCain. It will simply be a rearrangement of the deck chairs. The ship will pretty much continue sailing as before.

The political differences about which we argue so vociferously are actually infinitesimally small, says my friend. We are really quibbling about nothing. The same old stuff will happen regardless of who is in office. And for that reason, people like my friend see no sense in spending their valuable time messing with politics. After all, choosing not to vote is a way of voting against the political system altogether.

The usual comeback to this kind of attitude is that people that refuse to vote get the kind of government they deserve. They have no right to complain about it because they did nothing about it. They are slacking and leaving the rest of us to do their duty. The counter to this is that they are already doing their part to make a positive difference simply by living their lives and making their choices.

Those that favor doing one’s civic duty find these kinds of attitudes abhorrent. GMU economist Don Boudreaux thinks otherwise. Check out his post titled Get Involved By Avoiding Politics for a sampling of this brand of thought. To be sure, Boudreaux paints private business to look cleaner than it really is, but he makes a valid point.

While we wring our hands about the politically uninvolved, participation in general elections has steadily increased over my lifetime. To people like Boudreaux, that’s a bad thing. It indicates that people are increasingly incentivized to participate politically because politicians are continually expanding the amount of control they have over citizens’ (and even non-citizens’) individual lives. In fact, it is my observation that many people clamor for and welcome such increased government control.

As a side note, many libertarians don’t bother with the Libertarian Party because they believe political involvement is a poor investment of their time and resources. Per this viewpoint, the party represents the antithesis of what they believe.

I am in the civic duty camp. I believe in doing my civic duty. I think that some of my libertarian friends underestimate the value of political involvement. On the other hand, I think it would be unwise to dismiss my friends’ arguments out of hand. They aren’t completely wrong.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Programs vs. Dads

For Father’s Day, my wife and children gave me two photographs. It’s difficult for me to imagine any earthly gift they could have given that would have been more wonderful than these two photos.

One photo is a magnificent and cheery portrait of my beautiful wife and daughter. The other photo is a breathtaking portrait of my four sons standing in a line, dressed in age-appropriate Scout uniforms, and saluting while solemnly looking off into the distance. Those that haven’t tried to get well coordinated portraits taken with five children in tow have no clue how much effort went into these two pictures.

I’m even more surprised that none of the children spilled the beans before the gifts were given. All of this is a testament to how wonderful my wife is. She knew that these portraits would greatly honor me. I am also blessed with wonderful children.

I have just written an eight-part series to honor the memory of my father.

My wife, my children, and I have all been blessed to win what is becoming one of life’s greatest lotteries: being born into and raised in a family with a functioning father and a functioning mother. While the number of children raised in homes without a functioning mother is relatively small, the percentage of children raised without a functioning father has increased by about 1,000 percent during my lifetime.

As explained by NPR’s Juan Williams in this WSJ op-ed, the majority of our nation’s poor, drug addicts, illiterates, and criminals — in short, most of society’s dysfunctional people — grew up (or are growing up) without a father. Of course, not having a father doesn’t mean that a child will necessarily fall into any of these categories, but the chances of a child falling into one of these categories increases by orders of magnitude if the child is raised without a father.

Williams writes, “Having a dad, in short, is now a privilege, a ticket to middle-class status on par with getting into a good college.”

We have plentiful government and private programs that are aimed at helping at-risk children. But the sad fact is that all of them put together cannot adequately overcome the lack of an actual dad.

I have a silver maple tree in my front yard. Each year it drops thousands of seed pods onto the lawn. Some of them get blown into neighboring yards. Each year I treat the maple sprouts with broadleaf herbicide. I could mount a huge and expensive effort to pluck the seed pods before the tree releases them. But nothing would be as effective as killing the tree at the root.

The programs I mentioned above are a lot like trying to treat the problem after the seed pods have already grown. What is really needed is to treat the root cause of fatherlessness.

Our good intentions are simply insufficiently effective in countering the sense of worthlessness that comes from “feeling like "throwaway people."” It is not the child’s fault that she or he has no father figure. But many fatherless people still grow up with a deep-seated sense of guilt and inferiority. Another dilemma is that some of our treatment programs actually exacerbate the root problem.

This presents a quandary. How do you get men to step up to the responsibility of fatherhood, especially when an increasing number of them have no role model to use as a basis for positive fathering? Some men that had no father figure amazingly make this jump. Most do not. Many men become biological fathers, but never become caring dads.

The answer is to change the culture, but all indications are that culture is going the opposite direction. There is no quick fix to this problem. We seem to be on a divergent path to a society of haves and have-nots: those that have a dad and those that don’t. This increasingly taxes our nation’s institutions that strive to address societal dysfunction.

The answers to the problem are quite simple and can easily be arrived at with some consideration. That does not mean that the answers are easy. Many of them contradict myths we have come to cherish. And for that reason, few are willing to go there.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Tribute to My Dad (part 8)

Not too long after Mom & Dad’s mission, Mom was called to be the stake Relief Society president. Dad seemed to slow down quite a bit. Mom complained that Dad spent a lot of the day resting. A couple of summers ago, Dad had a series of heart attacks. A lot of people aren’t familiar with real heart attack symptoms. They mostly know theatrical heart attacks from TV and movies. So when they are having tightness in their chest and difficulty breathing, they just think they’ve been overdoing and are in need of a rest.

Denial is another common heart attack symptom. And that’s how it was with Dad. He refused to get it checked, figuring that he’d feel better after a rest. Well, each time he did feel better the next day. But he violated the two-hour rule. If you can get treatment within two hours of first noticing symptoms, they can usually prevent serious damage to the heart muscle. While Dad felt somewhat better, his series of heart attacks left significant portions of his heart muscle dead, meaning that his heart pumped much less efficiently.

Dad probably had been experiencing some level of congestive heart failure for years. But his heart attacks made this a serious issue. Oddly, the primary care doctors failed to accurately diagnose the problem. After tests, they sent Dad to a guy that was a liver specialist because tests showed some anomalies with liver enzymes. In retrospect, we now know that this was mostly a result of decreased blood flow to the liver. Dad had a lot of respiratory congestion and he had a lot of fluid gain. He didn’t feel well at all.

Dad resisted Mom’s suggestion that he needed to see a heart specialist. Eventually Dad’s problems became so bad that I took him to see a different primary care doctor that had a reputation for figuring things out. He immediately determined Dad’s CHF problem and soon discovered that Dad had a clot in his heart that could break loose and cause a stroke. They began treatment for CHF, but the stroke occurred anyway.

Following Dad’s stroke, they tried treating him with this horrendous cocktail of drugs that made him goofy and dropped his blood pressure so low that he could have died. A few months later, a drug interaction with a common antibiotic resulted in a bleeding bowel that almost killed him. The doctors said Dad had dementia, but after getting off most of the drugs, he was able to be quite rational again.

Dad’s heart muscle slowly weakened over a year and a half until it was pumping at only 10% of normal. He finally suffered a stroke that incapacitated the left side of his body. He was already in hospice care by this time. Over the next few days, Dad’s body functions shut down until his heart finally just stopped beating.

As long as I have known Dad, his faith in Jesus Christ has been the chief hallmark of his life. He frequently expressed this faith in the final year of his life. He regularly expressed his willingness to pass to the other side and continue on the next step of his journey. Now he has his wish.

My brother works one day each week in the Salt Lake Temple. The day after Dad passed away, my brother was working in the Temple when he very clearly sensed Dad’s presence. He felt a message conveyed that Dad was happy and busy. That’s good, because Dad never enjoyed being idle.

I have learned many things from my Dad. He taught me loyalty. He has been endlessly loyal to his family and to his faith. Dad was a hard working man and he taught me how to work. Dad was a spiritual man. He was a visionary man. He taught me the value of spirituality and spiritual experiences. Dad was a man of reason. He taught me the value of clear analysis. Those that know my Dad will understand what it means when I say that it is a great honor to be called his son.

Dad is no longer with us in this moral realm this Father’s Day. But I am grateful that he is still my Dad — and will be my Dad forever.

A Tribute to My Dad (part 7)

My older brother married while I was on my mission. There was some dust-up about this, because my parents thought he wasn’t ready to get hitched. But he and his wife have a great marriage that has lasted nearly 30 years.

I had been home from my mission for about a year and a half when my parents did something that really surprised me. They had always been very careful with their finances. But suddenly they decided to install an in-ground swimming pool in the backyard. They explained that they wanted a venue for bringing the family together as children were leaving the nest and forming their own families. They thought about a boat, but that requires a lot of time each time you use it, and only a few can use it at a time. So they settled on a pool.

The pool was fun, but it is a lot of work. In fact, it was really a lot of work for the first couple of years. We installed the gas and electrical lines ourselves — by hand trenching in rocky soil. We leveled the deck area and installed a brick deck. We built the six-foot cedar fence around the backyard. Dad, of course, did most of the work. But the boys provided a fair amount of brute labor. The pool has repeatedly been a gathering point for summertime family activities over the years.

I had been home from my mission for a couple of years when Dad was called to serve as a stake patriarch. That was a pretty stunning thing for him. PCs were just starting to be common for home use. I helped my folks get their computer set up to print out patriarchal blessings. Dad did a lot of fasting and praying. And then he just went forward, relying on the Lord to make it happen. And it did. Over the next 17 years, Dad gave about 750 blessings. Mom typed up most of them. I typed up a few.

Dad was enjoying his employment with Utah Power, when the company merged with another company. They offered an early retirement package for targeted workforce reduction. Dad was not considering the idea at all until he actually analyzed the package. After painstakingly looking at the issue from every angle, Dad turned to my Mom and said that it would only make a difference of $5 per month if he stayed and worked another decade. So he retired. But Mom was still working.

A couple of weeks after Dad retired, he got a call from a company that was renovating all of the major electrical systems at Kennecott. They needed someone with Dad’s skills. But that would have required a three-hour daily commute. But the job was slated to last only two months and they offered Dad a very handsome rate. The job ended up stretching out over a decade. Dad left the job several times, but was always lured back. Although he was not a certified electrical engineer, he was doing that kind of work. The credentialed EEs frequently came to him for help.

A couple of years into Dad’s Kennecott employment, I got married. Within 11 months, my oldest brother and my younger brother each got married. This was challenging for my folks, but they took it all in stride. My older brother had already provided them a couple of grandsons. He provided one more during this time. Within a few years, the three newlyweds started providing more grandchildren. Dad can be rather stiff. But he loves horsing around with younger children. He almost becomes another person when goofing around with his grandkids. It’s fun to watch.

When Mom retired, Dad retired for the last time. Eventually my baby brother left on a mission to Brazil. Mom & Dad both soon found themselves so busy that they wondered how they had ever had time for employment. They did lots of volunteer work. They did a stint serving as workers in the Ogden Temple. My baby brother didn’t last long after his mission. He was soon married to his sweetheart and was attending college.

After a few years of retirement, Dad & Mom were called to serve as LDS missionaries in Hamburg Germany. Their bishop had connections with church headquarters. He pulled some strings to get Dad’s missionary call issued in German. My folks were soon back in their old stomping grounds. But Germany had changed a lot in 45 years. Every day of their mission was busy, busy, busy. They enjoyed many of the duties and associations, but also found some drudgery involved. When they returned home, they said it was like getting off a fast moving carnival ride and standing on the pavement somewhat dazed.

When my parents arrived home from their mission, Dad came into his house, sat down on the couch and said, “It’s good to be back home in America.” I said, “I thought you had just spent a year and a half back home in Germany.” He replied, “I may have been born and raised in Germany, but I’m an American now. I got back over there and remembered all of the reasons I left in the first place.” Dad was a patriotic American from the time he had become a US citizen decades earlier.

Next time I’ll write about the end of Dad’s life.

A Tribute to My Dad (part 6)

Mom went to work for IRS as a seasonal worker when I was five. She worked swing shifts for a few months out of the year. I hated it when Mom was gone to work. But she would bring us little treats from the vending machines each Friday night. They would be on the kitchen counter when we got up to watch Saturday morning cartoons while Mom & Dad slept in a bit. The whole purpose of Mom’s employment was to finance a trip back to Germany.

The fall that I turned eight, the trip to Germany became possible, thanks to some families in our LDS ward. One day four families approached my parents and said that they had talked it over, and that each family would take one of us boys while Mom & Dad went to visit Dad’s family for a month. Mom & Dad were overwhelmed by this generous offer.

Dad & Mom arranged with a Volkswagen dealer to pay for a fire engine red VW Bug that they would pick up at the factory in Germany. They drove the Bug around during their stay in Europe, and then they shipped it home. I missed my parents while they were gone. The wife and mother in my host family was a school teacher that made me and her kids go to bed at 8:00 PM every night.

Our host families mowed and watered my parents’ yard. They also cleaned the home and restocked the pantry and fridge before Mom & Dad returned home. We had difficulty getting to bed the night Mom & Dad returned, but the next day was school. I still remember the distinct European scent of the items Mom & Dad brought back. Dad wanted us to get to bed, so he finally yelled at us, but it was in German. We got a laugh out of that. Mom made the four of us wear lederhosen shorts to school the next day. It wasn’t so bad for me, but it must have been harsh for my oldest brother that was in sixth grade.

My oldest brother got a newspaper route when I was 10. For the next decade, our family had one or two newspaper routes. It was a great source of learning and income for us boys, but it was truly a major pain in the tail. Sometimes Dad would take us out delivering papers in our 1969 VW Bug, especially when the weather was quite bad or when we had really huge newspapers. Sometimes we’d stand on the running boards while riding between houses. The safety Nazis would freak out about that nowadays.

When I was 15, my two older brothers spent the summer working in Hawaii planting pineapples. It seemed like such a fantastic adventure that I wanted to go. After the summer, my oldest brother went on a mission to Germany. Sometime in late winter, my parents sat the rest of us down after breakfast one Saturday morning and told us that Mom was pregnant. We were stunned. Mom said that she was initially stunned as well. Dad informed us that this meant that we would be taking a larger role in the household chores.

One day Dad was in a meeting in Salt Lake City for work when he developed an awful pain. He didn’t know what to do, so he left the meeting and started driving. He ended up driving home and honking until we came out. When Mom saw his condition, she got Dad into the back seat and had my brother shuttle her and Dad to the hospital. It turned out that he had a kidney stone. Life was pretty awful for Dad until he passed the stone.

The following summer, I ended up going to Hawaii to plant pineapples. I hated it. I endured, but there was nothing that would have gotten me to do it again. In the middle of June, I got a telegram saying that I had a new baby brother and that all was well. By the time I got home, Mom was working full time. I did a lot of child care. The next two summers I worked on the staff of Camp Loll, a Boy Scout camp up in the Tetons. During this time, my oldest brother returned from Germany and my older brother went on a mission to Finland.

The night before I was to leave on my mission to Norway, Dad pulled me aside and said that I looked like I was experiencing the same kind of anxiety that soldiers face before going into battle for the first time. While I was in the MTC, my parents took my baby brother with them to Germany, where they met my brother that was returning from Finland. They were able to spend some time with the German side of the family for the first time in years.

After I returned from Norway and went back to college, my younger brother went on a mission to Japan. All of these missions cost money, and my folks footed most of the bill for each of us. Dad worked a lot of overtime to make this all work out, but somehow it all worked out.

Next time I’ll write about the transition to being grandparents.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Tribute to My Dad (part 5)

Although Dad knew it was right for him to join the LDS Church, they had rules in Europe back then that investigators had to finish a long series of lessons and attend church for many months before being allowed to join. Dad felt a closeness with one of the sister missionaries that worked with him. She finished her mission and returned to the US before Dad was permitted to be baptized. But they continued to correspond.

Having experienced a mighty spiritual conversion, Dad visited his family out on the coast and talked to them with great zeal about his newfound faith. They simply couldn’t understand how such an intelligent young man could go off and join some cult centered in the American West. Dad felt that they treated his message with great contempt.

When Dad later announced that he was seeking to emigrate and live in the American West, his family showed increased animosity. My Uncle, who was still in grade school, felt that the Mormons were stealing his older brother away from him. In reality, Dad had been going through the process of trying to immigrate to Australia before coming into contact with the LDS Church. He wanted to get out of Germany. His newfound faith and his newfound girlfriend simply sent him in a different direction.

Eventually, the former sister missionary got her brother-in-law in Colorado to sponsor Dad. This allowed Dad to get a work visa and move to the USA. He took a ship to England. His school English served him fine during his layover there. But when Dad got off the ship in New York, he couldn’t understand anyone. He found the westerners in Colorado easier to communicate with.

A man that was a supervisor at a city owned electrical utility took a chance on hiring an immigrant, and Dad was soon gainfully employed. He and the former sister missionary courted. After Dad had been a member of the LDS Church for a year, he and my Mom traveled to the Salt Lake Temple and were married. My brother was born just over 40 weeks later.

Dad & Mom spent the first five years of their married life in Colorado, during which time three sons were born to them. They served in multiple callings in their tiny LDS branch. Dad fulfilled the requirements to become a US citizen. After that, he was always a patriotic American. He often quipped about coming to America to pay taxes for the bombs that were dropped on him in Germany.

Eventually Dad bid on a better job with Utah Power in Salt Lake City. He was selected for the position, so my parents packed up their family and headed to Utah. But when they arrived, they found that the job was actually in Ogden. They were soon living in a rented small house in a decent part of Ogden that has since become a slum.

They soon built a new rambler (rectangle box) home in a developing subdivision in North Ogden. Dad did as much work as possible, such as the electrical work. Being on a tight budget, he was so careful with materials that he had only a few inches of copper wiring left at the end of the job. Other homes were soon added to the development and adjacent developments. I ended up growing up in a neighborhood full of young kids. It was a great place to be. My younger brother was born about a year after we moved in.

Dad had many interesting experiences in his career. He helped pioneer the construction of power lines hot (with live electricity). The National Geographic even included that in an article. Dad eventually went from climbing power poles to being a relay technician. He ended up doing a lot of electrical engineering work, but it bothered him that he was never able to go to school and get a degree for the work he was doing. He dealt with some highly complex electrical systems.

Once Dad was working at a substation when a crew came to repaint various parts of the substation. They had a number of standard safety procedures to follow. Dad was concerned about one fellow on the crew. He liked the fellow, but didn’t think the man was very bright. Dad was inside the shack when he heard an electrical explosion. When he ran outside, he found the painter had been electrocuted. He had violated one of the basic safety rules and had touched his brush to something live. Amazingly, the man was still alive, but he was badly burned. Dad administered first aid and called for emergency help. It took the painter many months to recover. Dad said that the man would have died had he not been a strong guy.

When I was in seventh grade, we had a massive snowstorm in the middle of March that shut down schools (and just about everything else) for a couple of days. Us kids were ecstatic. But we didn’t see Dad for three days. He was out working on power problems. The power in our home was out for almost a whole day. Dad made sure that our neighborhood was one of the first brought back on line. But the main line to Box Elder County had been destroyed. Some parts of that county didn’t get power restored for over eight weeks.

In the church, Dad served in the Elders Quorum presidency, in a bishopric, and on the high council. Dad was gone to meetings a lot on Sundays. And when he did come home between meetings, he frequently napped.

Next time, I’ll continue the story of American suburban life.

A Tribute to My Dad (part 4)

With time, Dad apprenticed as an electrician. When he passed all of the tests to become a journeyman electrician, he began working for a company that installed telephone systems. He was working on a job in central Germany that was nearly complete when there was a delay in receiving some of the needed parts. The bosses sent all of the workers away for a few days.

With some money in his pocket and some time on his hands, Dad decided to go home and visit his parents. His father took him out fishing in the sea. Dad fished all day with no shirt on. But his skin hadn’t seen that much sun for a long time. Consequently, he was sitting in his parents’ living room the next day in great pain. He had no shirt on because of how tender his skin was.

When the doorbell rang, his little brother answered it and talked to someone briefly. His brother then ran into the kitchen and told his mother that the Mongols were at the front door. “This I have to see,” said my Grandmother. But it wasn’t Mongols at the door; it was Mormon missionaries. Grandma wasn’t interested in religion, but she knew that her oldest son was, so she brought the missionaries into the living room.

Dad said that these two young men had a very poor command of the German language. They wore bad suits and had bad haircuts. Dad could speak some English, so that allowed them some kind of rudimentary communication. Dad thought that what they had to say was rather odd. He was stunned when he found out that they were not professional ministers, but were volunteers that were spending their own money to preach their message to Germans for 2½ years each. Dad invited the missionaries to return the next day.

That evening, Dad wrote down 50 fairly deep philosophical questions to present to the missionaries. When they returned, he told them that if they could satisfactorily answer all 50 questions he would join their church. Some of the questions were ones that Mormon Primary children can answer, but many of the questions were way beyond the missionaries’ understanding.

After struggling through the concept of addressing all 50 questions, the missionaries told Dad that they could teach him a series of lessons and that through these lessons, most of his questions would likely be answered. Dad replied that he was leaving the next day to return to central Germany. They said they would be glad to send missionaries to meet with him. But Dad explained that he would be at that location for only a brief time before moving with his job to an unknown address in Hamburg. They said that he could look up the church when he got to Hamburg.

While Dad chatted with the missionaries, he asked how their church got started. They responded by telling him about Joseph Smith and his first vision. Then one of the missionaries bore his testimony of the truth of this message. Dad felt something go through him that stunned him. It felt new, but somehow also felt like something he had previously experienced. He knew that he had to find out more about this message.

A few weeks later, Dad was settled into a dingy little apartment in Hamburg. He went to the American library and researched everything he could find about the LDS Church. It was almost all bad. It ranged from mildly anti-Mormon to virulently anti-Mormon. But he said that it was easy to see that much of it was bluster and hyperbole. He thought that anything that generated so much blatant falsehood in opposition had much more to it than was apparent.

Dad then looked up the nearest address of the LDS Church. The streetcar went right by there, so he went there one evening. It had the name of the church on it, but it looked like a standard brownstone office building. When he went inside, he saw people practicing for some kind of theatrical performance (road shows). He wondered if this was part of their worship service. If so, it seemed pretty strange. He went back outside and looked to make sure he was in the right place. It looked like he was, so he went back inside.

Someone then saw Dad and asked if he was the piano tuner. Dad responded that he was there to see about joining their church. They got kind of excited and ran upstairs. They returned with two young ladies that introduced themselves as missionaries. They took Dad to a classroom and started chatting with him. They went the rounds with him on his 50 questions again, and ultimately arranged to meet again.

At their next meeting, one of the sisters told Dad that they would start by kneeling and praying. Dad was a bit uncomfortable with this ritual, but he went along. He appreciated the discussion, but he felt like it was far too puerile for him. They arranged for another meeting.

Before starting their next lesson, the sisters again invited Dad to kneel in prayer with them. Dad obliged. Then one of the sisters turned to Dad and said, “It’s your turn to offer the prayer.” Dad was dumbfounded. He had never prayed and he had never thought of God as a personal being. The thought of praying out loud like this seemed a bit ridiculous to him. Still, he figured that it seemed to be a ritual that was valued by these people, so he decided to give it a shot.

As soon as Dad opened his mouth, even before the first word came out, Dad suddenly knew with every fiber of his being that God was listening to him and that God intimately knew him and loved him in a very personal way. Dad could almost not manage to say any actual words. After that experience, the lessons the missionaries taught him seemed unnecessary. He knew in ways that no human can communicate that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are real beings that personally love him, and that Christ wanted to relieve him of the burden of his faults.

Dad found the experience of praying so wonderful that he found himself praying continually. Moreover, he started having visions. Night after night, Dad would lie down in bed, and while fully awake, he would have something that looked like a screen appear in front of him. The scriptures in German would appear just as they look in print, and would begin scrolling. Dad didn’t even own a set of scriptures, since German language scriptures were rather difficult to come by at that time. Yet Dad soon had read the entire Standard Works and was well versed in them.

As Dad learned about the Plan of Salvation, the meaning of his recurring dream finally became clear. Things came into focus and started to make sense.

Next time I’ll write about Dad becoming an American.

A Tribute to My Dad (part 3)

When Dad was five years old, he was playing out by the street. Nearby, some older boys were taunting an old man that was walking down the side of the road. Some were throwing pebbles and small rocks at the old man.

Just then, Dad’s eight-year-old sister rounded the corner and saw what was going on. Assuming that Dad was part of the mischief, she grabbed her little brother and scolded him, saying, “Don’t you know that you’re going to get old and die someday too?!” She then hauled Dad into the kitchen and sat him down to await their Mom’s punishment.

As Dad sat there, his mind started working through the implications of what his sister had said. When his mother came into the room, he asked her why people are sad when somebody dies but happy when a baby is born, being that every birth eventually leads to a death. Within a few minutes, Dad came to realize that this life either has some intrinsic meaning beyond what is immediately visible in this sphere, or else it is ultimately absurd and meaningless. Dad pondered these questions for many years after that.

From his earliest days, Dad had a recurring dream that he found frightening. Since it was so foreign to his life experience, he couldn’t comprehend what it might mean or what might be the source of such phantasms. In his dream, he was in a place where there was a lot of bright light, but it felt good. He was a point of light among countless other points of light. He could move as rapidly as the speed of thought. He could easily think in many different directions simultaneously. He could easily and simultaneously interact with multiple other beings that were like himself. These interactions were ennobling and enlightening.

In this dream, there was a being that was infinitely superior to the other beings present. They all called this being Papa. From this being emanated pure joy and love, as well as great light. The relationship with this being was close and intimate. Then Papa showed my Dad a place that looked dark. Between him and that place was a being that was not light but was dark, arrogant, and powerful. Papa said that he wanted my Dad to go to the dark place. Dad said that he didn’t want to go. Papa said that he should go because he would be able to help others there.

Then Dad felt himself being squeezed into a small, dark containment of some kind. He felt his connections with the other points of light being severed. His ability to see or sense Papa was eliminated. The dark being was laughing. Gradually all connections and feelings of love were severed as he was forced into this uncomfortable containment. All was dark. It was terrifying. Then Dad would awaken.

The whole experience of German life in the run-up to WWII, through the war, and in the aftermath of the war seemed to lend credence to the concept that life was absurd. Yet something in Dad made him feel that there must be something more. Consequently, Dad searched through many philosophies and religions from both Western and Eastern traditions. He found many interesting things, but he never encountered anything that grabbed him as truth.

Dad’s family was associated with the Lutheran state church in northern Germany. But like most of their neighbors, they rarely attended and regarded the whole matter of religion rather lightly. Per tradition, Dad went through the confirmation process. He hoped he would feel something positive, but he felt only coldness and emptiness from the service in the austere cathedral. When the bells started pealing at the close of the service, he wanted nothing more than to be away from that place.

After years of seeking, Dad once had the opportunity to have a private meeting with one of the highest officials of the German Lutheran state church. He thought, surely this man will know something I haven’t yet found. Dad asked many questions. He found this man to be honest and devout. But he also found that the man had no firm conviction about the truthfulness of Christianity. The cleric admitted that he believed many things, but really had no sure knowledge of any them. Dad left that meeting rather disillusioned, thinking that real truth must not in fact exist.

Dad always wanted things to work out logically and with reason. He liked working through something to its conclusion. While most of his companions and family members took up smoking, Dad wanted no part of it. Even before the health ramifications of tobacco use were known, Dad reasoned that it made no sense whatsoever. He followed the same course with alcohol. He couldn’t fathom what value his comrades found in a substance that invariably gave them diminished judgment and made them act more stupidly than usual.

When Dad could not bring closure to his reasoned search for a meaning to life, he began to despair about whether such meaning actually existed. That still didn’t make sense to him because there was something deep within that insisted that life has intrinsic purpose and meaning. So he continued to seek.

Next time I’ll write more about where this search led.

A Tribute to My Dad (part 2)

This is the second installment of my writings about my father.

When Dad was a kid, my Grandfather worked at the local electrical generation plant. Eventually he became the plant supervisor and toward the end of his career oversaw all the electrical plants in the region. He was also a musically talented man that was somewhat renowned for being able to play the guitar while singing and balancing a chair on his chin. Like many others in the town, Grandpa was ordered into the military, where he became a naval officer. This meant that during the war, he was away from the family for very long stretches. As the oldest son, Dad had to fill some of his father’s roles during those years.

Dad rarely told us about the war. He said that he went through many horrible experiences that he didn’t want us to have to think about. In his later years, Dad occasionally let slip bits and pieces of these experiences. Dad had lifelong psychological scars from what he felt was harsh and unloving treatment by his mother. Looking back, it is likely that some of this was probably due to her attempt to manage the harsh situation in which she found herself as a young mother living in a war zone, trying to make ends meet and keep her family safe while her husband was away serving in the military.

Everyone was trained that when the air raid siren sounded, they were to run for the nearest bomb shelter. Sometimes this happened in the middle of the night. The lights were usually doused in the shelters and people were required to be as silent as possible. Anyone separated from family members during the sprint for the shelter would often not know until hours later whether their loved ones were safe and/or alive or not.

For a period of time, Dad served on the school’s fire crew that was to extinguish fires at the building if it was bombed. Sometimes Dad was required to sleep at the school on the floor of the storage room without blankets. Once when the air raid siren sounded in the middle of the night, Dad automatically hopped into his clothes and began running for the school, which was many blocks away. He rounded a corner and found himself in a surreal setting where carpet bombing was systematically leveling every third building. He said it was like he was in a dream. He stood rooted in place, unable to move, but also feeling like an observer that was not personally threatened by the events he was watching.

Suddenly a huge chunk of metal ripped through the trunk of a century-old tree that was just a few feet from Dad. The tree fell in the other direction, but Dad suddenly realized this was reality. He tore out of there and dove into the nearest bomb shelter, where he huddled in a corner in the dark among faceless strangers. He shook for hours as he heard and felt the percussion of the bombs. He didn’t know if he’d ever see his family again.

There were no toys for the children. But Dad and his friends could easily find firearms and munitions to play with in the nearby woods. Throughout his life, Dad was forever taking things apart, improving them, and putting them back together. This skill allowed him to become an expert in weaponry. He particularly specialized in making British ammo work in German firearms and vice versa. But one day, a kid across town that Dad considered to be a much better expert, accidentally blew himself up. That scared Dad so badly that he put his collection in a box, went out into the woods, and buried it.

As the war drew out, provisions of all kinds became scarce. Everyone that wasn’t a privileged NAZI loyalist frequently went hungry. Travel became impossible as the infrastructure was increasingly torn up and fuel became unobtainable. Communication broke down. My Grandmother escaped imprisonment for insulting the family of an SS officer only because a family friend that worked at the police station pulled some strings to get her released.

My Grandfather’s ship was destroyed as it was leaving the harbor in Helsinki Finland. He was the only survivor because a quirk of fate had caused him to uncharacteristically arrive late at the dock. He stood on the dock and watched helplessly as his comrades died. Late in the war, my Grandfather was captured by the Allies. He was a prisoner of war in southern Germany for a few months until he was released along with many other prisoners.

This left Grandpa hundreds of miles from home with no means in an occupied, war-torn country with a devastated transportation infrastructure. He spent months working his way home, walking when necessary, and hitching rides by truck or on the short rail distances that had been restored. Finally, he was able to meet up with his family over 100 miles from their home. The circumstances were somewhat miraculous, given that communication between them was virtually non-existent and travel for the family was nearly impossible.

By the end of the war, my Dad, who was still several years below driving age, had begun his training as a Navy cadet. By then the Germans were tapping ever younger and older males to serve in the military, since their young adult males had been decimated. Thankfully, the end of the war stopped short Dad’s military career.

After the war, Dad and Grandpa kept the family alive by riding bicycles out into the country, finding farmers for whom they could work and that would pay them in produce, working several days, and then riding back home. They had to be careful to avoid checkpoints where occupying soldiers would confiscate their earned goods to be used in mass distribution programs.

Dad and Grandpa would frequently do electrical work, retrofitting British light bulbs to work in German fixtures and wiring buildings with very meager supplies. One time a farmer paid them with a pig. Not having been involved with livestock and having no access to firearms, they wondered how to kill it. They put a large spike in a board and whacked the pig in the head. It squealed, jumped around and bled. Dad had to hold the critter down while his father bludgeoned it to death. The meat was a Godsend, but it was such a horrible experience that Dad avoided eating pork for decades.

Thanks to the Marshall Plan, life gradually improved for Dad’s family. But the last half of the war and the first few years after the war were a pretty hardscrabble existence for them.

Next time I’ll write about my father, the philosopher.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Tribute to My Dad (part 1)

I promised a series of posts about my Dad to memorialize him and as a therapeutic outlet for me. Here is the first installment. I’m really not sure how many of these I will write or how often I will write them, but this is the start.

Dad was born on the Fourth of July, but it wasn’t a national holiday in his country. He was born in northern Germany in an area that for centuries had been in dispute between Denmark and Germany. My Grandmother attended Danish schools and had a Danish maiden name. By the time her children came along, however, the region was firmly German.

Dad was born between WWI and WWII. During those years the German economy was in crisis mode. Consequently, so were German politics. They were continually forming new governments because nobody seemed capable of addressing the crisis. Dad was just a kid when Hitler came to power.

Dad always held that everyone knew that Hitler was a nutcase. But Germans figured that since every other politician had tried and failed, they’d let him have a chance. If Hitler failed like all the others, many reasoned, at least he’d shut up. But Hitler was able to employ the ruthlessness of NAZI elements to impose order that actually did improve the economy.

By and by, government control of many facets of private industry and individual lives expanded. Hitler was iconized as a messiah-like figure. The main qualification for many jobs — especially government jobs — became the level of loyalty to the NAZI Party and especially to Der F├╝hrer.

This extended throughout the nation. Dad lived in a small community on the coast of the North Sea. But even there, positions from Postmaster to dog catcher were turned over to loyal NAZIs. One by one, the teachers in Dad’s school were replaced by NAZIs, many of whom had no teaching qualifications whatsoever. Dad frequently said, “The only thing they knew was how to beat the hell out of you.”

Dad’s class had the particular misfortune of having the same awful NAZI teacher moved up along with the class from grade to grade for several years in a row. Years after the war, Dad went to the local town beach one afternoon. Upon arriving, Dad saw this former teacher frolicking in the surf with his family. Dad was surprised at the angry feelings that swelled up inside of him. He said, “It was all I could do to keep myself from going over there and standing on that guy’s shoulders to keep him under water until he drowned.” Dad found he could not enjoy the afternoon in this man’s presence, so he left the beach and went back home.

During my Dad’s early years, he enjoyed playing soccer with his friends. But they took soccer very seriously. He said that when you played certain teams, you had to plan an escape route before the game because they were very sore losers that would beat the tar out of you if they lost. This was apparently just considered normal behavior for boys in Dad’s town.

Dad was not above pranks. Once on a dare, he crept into the beautiful walled yard of the local (state-paid) priest. They knew that he always napped at that time of day. Per the dare, Dad carefully scaled an apple tree and inched out ever so slowly and quietly toward the biggest apple he could see. Not wanting to make any noise, he carefully twisted the apple to cause it to gently release from the limb. This limb was about even with the second story window.

Just as the apple released, Dad looked into that window and saw that the dour priest had been watching him the whole time. As soon as eye contact was made, the priest started yelling. Dad dropped from the tree and was just getting over the top of the wall when the priest exploded from the door of the house. Dad’s companions scattered. The priest blew through the gate as Dad rounded the corner. He was surprised at how fast the old priest could run. But after about two blocks, Dad finally managed to elude the cleric and hide.

Dad had a friend named Fritz. My Mom tells of meeting this man a few years ago. Per Dad’s telling, Fritz was a continual source of mischief. Dad was forever getting into trouble when he hung out with Fritz. Among their many adventures was the time Fritz claimed to have permission to use a man’s boat to do a little fishing off shore. But it turns out that no such permission had been given. The boys got into pretty serious trouble for their little joy ride.

That’s enough for now. I’ll write next time about my Dad’s World War II experiences.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Then Comes the End

I was tired when I returned from Moab last Friday. About 2:30 AM on Saturday, the phone rang. My wife answered it, talked briefly, then put on some clothes and started to leave. I groggily asked her where she was going.

My Mom had called because Dad had slid down to the floor after trying to get out of bed to walk down the hall. He was on the floor and couldn’t get up. I thought I should go, but my wife insisted that I sleep. My wife returned about two hours later. She told me that my Dad was resting and that she’d tell me more about it when we got up.

When we rolled out on Saturday morning, my wife explained that my Dad’s left arm and left leg weren’t working well. It seems obvious that he had suffered another stroke, but there is no additional treatment that the doctors could give beyond the treatment he was already receiving. My wife said that Dad had been quite distressed, but had been resting. I was about to call my Mom when she called to say that Dad was on the floor again and was unable to get himself up.

By the time I arrived, my youngest brother had fortunately stopped by to visit. My Dad was very agitated and had difficulty being rational. We knew that Dad’s time on earth was short, so we had been in contact with a hospice provider. They offered to bring in a hospital bed. But my brother and I quickly surmised that there was no way Mom could take care of Dad at home without 24x7 competent assistance. We figured that Dad needed to be in a care facility.

But we found out that Dad’s insurance wouldn’t help cover the first 30 days of the care facility unless he first spent three nights in the hospital. It seemed that our only option was to take Dad to the hospital.

I hate going to the emergency room. But midday on a sunny Saturday is generally quite slow. When we arrived, there wasn’t much happening, so Dad was taken in immediately. They moved Dad from the wheelchair to a bed. Dad never left that bed until the morticians picked him up yesterday morning.

After arriving at the hospital on Saturday, I spent a lot of time there as Dad went from being able to communicate to not taking food, to not taking liquids, to doing nothing more than sleeping, to passing on. My Mom stayed right there near Dad’s side the entire time. She slept in his room. My youngest brother was up there nearly as much as I was.

I got to bed late after getting home from the hospital on Wednesday evening. About 2:30 AM my Mom called to say that it was looking like Dad wouldn’t be around much longer, so I high-tailed it to the hospital. Then Dad’s breathing stabilized in a regular but labored pattern.

An hour or so later, a couple of my brothers arrived. We had Mom rest, and we kept vigil at Dad’s bedside. When more than an hour passed with no change whatsoever, my brothers insisted on sending me home for rest. I had been burning the candle at both ends for a number of days. I returned home and hit the sack. Less than 20 minutes after doing that, my brother called to say that Dad had passed away. I was grateful that at least two of the children were with Mom at that time.

I quickly returned to the hospital. One of my brothers had gone out of town on a long-planned cross country RV trip with his family and parents-in-law a day before Dad’s problems started. He has been checking in, but hasn’t been able to be with us, as have the rest of the boys. (My parents have only sons.) My youngest brother soon arrived. We sat around Dad’s bed chatting, reminiscing, and praying until the morticians arrived. They handled Dad’s remains very respectfully.

After going to breakfast, we gathered at the mortuary to make arrangements. Many of the decisions had already been made. We had written an obituary and had planned the funeral program. We knew what kind of casket Dad wanted. It wasn’t difficult to match up the various services offered with my Dad’s personality type. Still, that meeting lasted 2½ hours.

In the meantime, my oldest brother, who travels a lot, started making arrangements for my vacationing brother to fly back in time for the funeral. His family is out on the east coast now, and it really isn’t feasible for them to drive all the way back home in time. This means that some of Dad’s grandchildren won’t be there.

After the mortuary meeting, we took Mom home and made her go to bed. Two of my brothers had other duties, so my youngest brother and I stayed, fielded calls, and started gathering the things needed by the mortuary. We went through boxes and boxes of thousands of photographs to extract a small handful that will be displayed for the funeral. We greeted neighbors, got burial clothes together, etc.

Finally, my wife came around 10:30 PM and kicked us out of the house so that we could go home and rest. My wife stayed overnight so that Mom would not have to spend the first night after Dad’s passing alone.

Today I spent the morning finishing up on getting things together for the mortuary, and then Mom and I met with the mortuary representatives. I helped Mom with some grocery shopping. Then we shopped for headstones. Late this afternoon I finally got home and looked at the computer for the first time in days. I did get a quick post about last week’s Moab trip done the other day, but other than that, I haven’t been on the computer.

The past few days have intensified my feelings about the importance of family and about the eternal nature of the soul — the things that really matter. I will post another time about my Dad. But that will have to come after the funeral. We’re going to be very busy until then.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Moab High Adventure

Last week I went with my son’s Varsity Team to Moab for some high adventure, and that is what we got.

Before arriving in Moab, we stopped across the street from the entry to Arches National Park where there is a huge, steep sand hill. People frequently play there and slide down it like they would slide down a snow hill. The boys did some crazy stuff there. No amount of dusting off boys kept the sand out of the vehicles.

After driving to our campsite and setting up camp, we loaded up our mountain biking gear and headed up to the world famous Slickrock Trail. We did the 2.5-mile practice loop to test out people and equipment. It was extremely challenging. It was good to test out equipment, because we found several cycle issues that needed to be corrected before doing the long trail.

We then high-tailed it to some forsaken desert location midway between Moab and Monticello. One of our leaders realized a few miles out of Moab that his vehicle was running on empty. He assumed we would soon run into a fueling station, but no such thing exists in that barren stretch.

Per arrangement, we met some fine people from Monticello, who took us to a private ranch. They set up two of the finest rappelling courses I’ve ever seen — one was 40 feet and one was 90. The cliffs consisted of rock that is very much like Slickrock. There’s plenty of fairly level area on top. The edge has a nice, gradual round off to a vertical wall. It was almost like poured concrete. Even the members of the group that were apprehensive at least did the 40’ wall.

Our hosts explained that we were just as far from a fueling station either way. We decided to head toward Moab, and then use a second vehicle to go for a container of gas when the vehicle ran dry. The boys had a prayer on the road. Somehow, the SUV pulling a trailer kept going and going up and down hills until we pulled into a gas station, having gone nearly 70 miles on empty.

The next day we hit the 12.5-mile Slickrock trail early in the morning. The weather was perfect. People come from all over the world to do this ride. It’s very technical. (The printed guide says, “Technical = This is against my better judgment, but here I go anyway.”) And it’s incredible. They say to allow four hours to ride it. With a group of 15 with a wide variety of skill levels and equipment qualities, we were surprised to make it in 4.5 hours. We only lost one boy’s bike and some skin from one leader’s leg in the exchange.

My son likes extreme sports. He was doing some pretty crazy stuff on our first day out. He’s quite a physical specimen. But he was feeling ill before we headed out to Slickrock. I gave him meds, got him hydrated, and told him he had to come. He did OK at first, but he kept slowing down. Finally, about five miles in, he was just mechanically pushing his bike with a fixed stare. When he saw how far the others were ahead of us, he sat down and felt he could go no further. He looked awful.

One of the other dads, who had been behind us, came up and offered my son various energy items and drinks. My son refused them. Then the two of us gave my son a blessing. Literally within seconds, it was as if someone flipped an energy switch on my boy. He got on his bike and started to go. We rested from time to time and ate. By the last few miles, my son was doing superhuman feats. It was an amazing turnaround.

Later we took those with a desire to a campsite a few miles west of Moab where there is some ancient rock art (see here). But the main reason we went is that there is a chimney type slot in a rock face that ascends about 50 feet (just to the left of the guy in the picture at the link above). It can be climbed. I found that a bit challenging. The kids found the descent more challenging, but that wasn’t too bad for me.

We took all of the boys into Arches National Park and hiked to Delicate Arch. (That’s the one you see on the Utah Centennial license plates.) There were hundreds of people hiking the trail from all over the U.S. and from various nations. We heard a variety of languages being spoken.

We didn’t spend a lot of time at our campsite, other than to sleep and eat. The place thankfully had shade trees, but I don’t think it had a single blade of grass. We could see lush lawn across the fence on the high school football field, but we camped on very hard-packed dirt. We had nearly perfect weather conditions during our stay. It was clear. It never got cold and it wasn’t unbearably hot. I’m just grateful that we didn’t try this trip in July or August.

I was the safety minder on the trip, continually reminding the boys about adequate hydration and sunscreen. My first aid kit came in handy several times, particularly on the Slickrock Trail.

We packed a lot of high adventure into a few days. The boys all did things they thought they were incapable of doing. Ditto with some of the leaders. I would really like to have had a high quality mountain bike like some of the boys and leaders rented, with a carbon fiber frame, hydraulic brakes, and a superb gearing system. But you could buy more than a dozen of my bikes for the purchase price of theirs, and they paid nearly as much for two days rent as I did for my entire bike.

As with other resort communities, everything in Moab is expensive. So you either bring with you everything you need, or else you need to be prepared to drop a wad of cash while you’re there.

By the time we got home, we were all pretty tired. But it was a good kind of tired.