Thursday, August 26, 2004

A Life Well-Lived

“Honor thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
~ Deuteronomy 5:16

I’m seein’ my father in me
I guess that’s how it’s meant to be
And I find I’m more and more like him each day
I notice I walk the way he walks
I notice I talk the way he talks
I’m startin’ to see,
My father in me
And I’m happy to see
My father in me

Lyrics to “Seein’ My Father in Me” ~ performed by Paul Overstreet

Our Dad
Written in 1973 for my dad’s 59th birthday

Our dad is something special,
He’s not like all the rest
He’s funny, charming, good-looking, too
He’s got to be the best.

Our dad takes good care of us,
With him we have fun,
And if we were to rate him,
He would be # 1

Our dad is really great
He’s our most favorite pop
You could look all over the world
And find our dad comes out on top!

Our dad means a lot to us
We love him so, you see
And that is why he holds the name,
Pleasant Padre or P.P.

Our dad is special in so many ways
I couldn’t begin to count them
You can talk with Dad and joke with Dad
He really is somethin’

So you see, there are dad’s in Singapore,
And dad’s in Timbuktu,
But there isn’t a dad anywhere,
Half as great as you!

This is an excerpt taken from the diary I kept when I was a teenager:

April 1, 1974

Dad is so funny. Every morning he leaves off to
work singing some made up song. Like this morning he
sang, “I don't think I'll ever see...a guy as cute as me!”
Then he joined in laughing and said: "You know, that bugs
your mother...she doesn't like me telling her how lucky
she is." Then he went on to sing: "Lucky, lucky thee, you
have gone and married me!"

As I mentioned in my last column, the highlight of the annual Van Kirk reunion was the celebration of our father’s 80th birthday. What an amazing milestone! After putting our heads together, we tried to “honor our father” in a way that did justice to a well-loved man and his well-lived life.
Our brother Bill came up with the idea to have everyone send him a list of “Dad-isms” – quotes that they remember our father saying when we were growing up – and have them printed on the back of a T-shirt. Bill ended up with more Dad-isms than he could fit on the shirts, so he had to narrow them down to about forty.
Here’s a list of my personal favorites:
How are you, Dad? Better now.
That’s a good idea, Dad. It’s the only kind I have.
Are you ready? I stay ready.
I’ll review it with a forward moving posture.
You’re a gentleman and a scholar – and there’s damn few of us left.
Some of the world’s greatest people are left-handed.
You'll never know unless you ask.
Now don't go getting your Irish up!
Are you trying to give me a heart attack? You drive like a drunken sailor!
“Que, sera sera" – followed by a rendition of the song.
What was your contribution to society today?
If you have a tongue in your head, you’ll never be lost
You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
Moderation in everything
Less said – easier mended
If the Good Lord’s willing and the creeks don't rise
I'm going to pull the car over and spank every one of you to make sure I get the right one.
I'll give you something to cry about!
You can’t kid a kidder
I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but I wouldn’t do it for all the tea in China!
Where’s my ukulele?
The world is your oyster!

When Bill was reading them at the reunion, someone hollered out from the crowd: “And you thought we never listened to you, Dad!”
On the night of his birthday party, Dad was pleasantly surprised to see a whole group of our dear family friends from Hudson. It really made the celebration special to be able to share it with all of them.
The festivities were emceed by Bob, who presented Dad with a scrapbook filled with cards, letters and poems sent in from friends who were unable to attend the birthday party. The scrapbook was put together so creatively by our nieces, Emily and Jenny (Joe & Cindy’s daughters).
After that, the grandkids all participated in performing an entertaining production by The Van Kirk Cousins – co-produced by Joanne’s two talented children, J.P. and Amy. (They write and direct a cousins’ skit every year.)
Next, Peggy read a heartwarming poem she wrote for Dad titled “Memories of a Daughter.” How she was able to keep her composure while reading it, I’ll never know.

By Peggy Van Kirk

I know a father who…
•Let us dance on his feet around the living room
•Taught us to behave in church and restaurants and to always say, "Please and Thank You”
•Put on funny hats, strummed a ukulele, sang and made us laugh
•Drove our toboggan on icy winter days and yelled "Bombs Away!" from the top of the hill
•Skated gracefully across a frozen lake to join his children in their new found past time

I know a father who…
•Agreed we could enter a contest to win a puppy and watched with pride when we appeared on TV to claim our prize
•Took us on car rides down dark, windy roads so we could have fun being scared
•Bought wagons, swings, a Whirl-Around and bikes to enjoy and then had to move our toys to get into his garage each evening
•Gave us the first air conditioned house in the neighborhood and a new station wagon for cross country trips to Pennsylvania
•Carried his young, sleeping children from the car to their beds
I know a father who…..
•Saw that music filled our house and his songs filled the air
•Spent an arduous week on the road and the week-end at play with his children
•Finished the basement in our new house all by himself so his children would have more room to play
•Taught his children to speak French at the dinner table, and…
•Always asked about their day

I know a father who….
•Ensured that each of his 9 children were given all the opportunities in life that he could provide and who…..
•Replied when they came asking – “Did I ever say no to you?”
•Gave his teenagers the freedom to make their own decisions and taught them to accept responsibility for their actions.
•Made sure we treated our “elders" with respect
•Believed in the importance of telephone manners

I know a father who….
•Valued, his work, play, family, and religion
•Took regular vacations to renew his spirit and relationship
•Remained intensely loyal to his employer, co-workers, and customers
•Made time for daily physical activity to protect his health
•Modeled the importance of honesty and integrity in his actions

I know a father who…
•Cried when he should and laughed when he could
•Offered advice and suggestions when we started something new and congratulations when we accomplished our goals
•As we grew, he remembered us by singing the happy birthday song each year on our voice mail and ….
•Years ago started the tradition of reunions so we could join together each year to strengthen the bonds of family and who today….
•Finds candy in the ears of his grandchildren and sings to them about the Elephant's Fair

I know a father who….
•Cuddles sleeping grandbabies in the church pew
•Climbs on swings and takes a spin
•Has a zest, vitality and joy de vivre that has earned our admiration
• Is loved and honored by those here today

Happy 80th Birthday, Dad, Joe and Grandpa!

Ish Ka Bibble!

Finally, we all watched a video tribute to Dad’s life that I put together with the help of my sister, Patricia, who contributed countless pictures to the project and shared in half the expense, and my brothers and sisters who took the time to go through their photo albums and send me pictures of their family members with Dad. Gordon Schmid, owner of Story2Tell in Council Grove, worked a miracle by putting all the pictures and music together on a single DVD.
By the time the evening came to a close, it was all my dad could do to utter a few short sentences. As he choked back his tears, he turned to our friends from Hudson and said, “It’s like this all the time….really….all the time.” Then he went on to say that the credit belongs to our mother. “And those of you who knew Peggy understand what I mean.”
In short, when it was all said and done; he laughed, he cried; he sang, he danced – and it just doesn’t get any better than that.
I’d like to close by sharing a few lines from a letter Dad recently sent to all of his children.
“[I am] struggling to find words to express my feelings of gratitude and appreciation for one of the more memorable weeks of my entire life; the Family Reunion and the tribute you paid to me on my 80th Birthday!
“Let me say, I felt your affection and I felt your love! Who could ask for more at any age and at my age please know that if I’m lucky enough to make it through those Pearly Gates, I shall then, as now, be Eternally Grateful!”

“…the glory of children is their father….”
~ Proverbs 17:6 (NKJV)

God bless ~

The Van Kirk Family
Peggy, Patricia, Connie, Joanne,
Joseph, Mary, Eileen, Bill, Bob
and Dad