Sunday, October 28, 2007


18 years ago today, my dad passed away quite suddenly from a heart attack. He had just turned 65 and had decided to work one more year and then retire. He never had a chance to sit around watching sports and drive Mom crazy, which I assume were his plans.

Rather than be maudlin about it, I'm more inclined to remember the happier times. Dad had a good sense of humor and was loved by an awful lot of people. Over a thousand people showed up the day of his funeral. Popular guy.

He loved puns and told the same ones over and over again. It drove us nuts. After dining with new people he always broke out the, "Sirloin! Nice to meat you. Sorry you couldn't steak around" during the good-byes. He could also tuck his ears in and make them 'pop' out at will. This was endlessly fascinating to my friends when I was a kid because it was pretty goofy-looking and appealed to that kid sense of humor. "Your dad is SO funny!" Kids tend to like it when dads attempt to charm them.

Dad was a salesman and he spent his life charming whomever he met. He worked his way up the ranks in his company and eventually became the President of one of the subsidiaries. A self-made man who came from humble beginnings, he used the GI Bill to go to college (after serving as a fighter pilot off aircraft carriers in WWII) and lived the American dream. His father was from Norway, his mother American – they worked hard, never owned a car, and lived to see their son become a genuine success. Pretty cool.

He had an 800 number at work and no matter what he was doing, if I called to chat, he'd greet me with genuine joy. More than once he was actually in a conference but he put his underlings on hold so that he could talk to his daughter. I always found that amazing. As much as he loved his job – and he absolutely adored it – he loved us best of all. There was never any doubt.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had very little money, no car, and no job. He came out on a business trip and stayed for the weekend to be with me. "Whatever you want to do, that's what we'll do." I desperately wanted to see the musical "Evita" so he bought us the best seats in the house and we went together. We both loved it. There was a Hitchcock retrospective playing at an art theatre and he happily took us to a double feature. He had a rental car and that meant even the small inconveniences were finally within reach. He took me to a music store to get new strings for my guitar. We went to the grocery store and I bought heavy things and bulky things – the stuff I had the most trouble carrying the several blocks to my apartment (I refused to steal carts on principle). In short, the entire weekend was about me and what I wanted and he greeted each activity – regardless of his own tastes – with enthusiasm and smiles. It's amazing to be that loved and adored. But then, Dad never made a secret of it.

So here's to my Dad. He didn't live nearly as long as he'd expected, but he sure did a great job with the time he had.


Anonymous said...

What wonderful memories you have of your dad, Joanna. My dad also died suddenly of a heart attack, 26 years ago (I was 23). He'd just finished his bachelor's degree in history, after starting college the year after he retired. He loved school!

Sadly, I never got to know him well as an adult, since I left home at 20. But your story here helps me to remember the things he said and did, and that he loved us. Thank you.

~Dullcie Bat (aka Anne)

Amelia Elias said...

Extremely touching post, Joanna. You make me appreciate my father more. I'm going to visit my parents next weekend; I'll be keeping this in mind and making a real effort to let go of all the things that tend to come between us.

Josh Lockwood said...

My dad's still alive, though he's fading fast and I know it. The thing that bothers me most about it is that I also know he sacrificed his entire life ... all the things HE wanted to do ... to provide for us kids. I just hope I can be half the man he was.


Joanna Sandsmark said...

Dulcie - It's so tough when they die suddenly because there's no sense of closure or of getting to say all the things we want to say. It sounds like your Dad was like mine -- a good man who loved his family. Keep those good memories close because those are what are important.

Amelia - I hope things go well on your trip. Give him a big hug and tell him that you love him. It'll matter down the road.

Josh - From everything I've seen, you're much more than half the man -- you're one of the good guys. Your dad made those sacrifices because it was important to him. That made them the "things he wanted to do".

-- Joanna

F.S. said...

I'm playing catchup on some of your older posts and just read this one. Thanks for sharing the memories.

One question and one catch: What does "Arty Boomer" mean? Was that your dad's nickname? And the catch: Remember, the principal is your pal.

Joanna Sandsmark said...

Hi Fred -- yes, Dad's name was Arthur and although most people called him Art, one of his college friends always shouted a boisterous "Arty-Boomer!" whenever he visited.

Thanks for catching the typo!

-- Joanna