Sunday, May 31, 2015

Wedding Planning and other Young-Adult Memories of my Dad

Two more posts to go in my series about my dad for his 60th birthday!  Thank you for the comments—I didn’t know if anyone would even be interested in reading these memories of my dad (and it’s fine if no one is), but it’s really cool to know that others are inspired by him and by his example of fatherhood.  Dads are so important!  And every dad is different and interacts differently with their children, but those that truly love and care for their families have an immeasurable impact.

Now on to my memories of my dad in my young adulthood…


The summer that my mom was dying, my dad helped me buy a brand new, reliable car to get to and from college and to use for the next 15 years.  Unfortunately, the very next summer, I crashed it.  I was working as the activities director at a camp in the mountains, and I hydroplaned during a rainstorm and went off the highway into a mountainside.  I rolled several times and landed upside down, hanging by my seatbelt.  Surprisingly, I was totally fine.  Not-surprisingly, the car was not.

I remember how strangely calm I was when the car started to hydroplane.  It was like time slowed down, and I had totally clear and coherent thoughts, including, “Oh, so this is what it feels like to hydroplane.  I am going to hit that mountainside.  I hope I don’t die; that would be really hard for Dad right after losing Mom.”  I’m glad that my first thought in that situation was of my dad.

While sitting in a police car as they finished the accident report, I called him at work to tell him about the accident.  I assured him that I was totally fine—miraculously, not a scratch on my body—and that he didn’t need to drive up to the mountains.  Who was I kidding?  Within an hour, he was at the scene of the accident.  I remember the surprise and relief that surged through me when I saw him approaching, wearing his suit of course.  I knew in that moment how much he loved me, that nothing would keep him away when I was in need.  Sure I wasn’t hurt physically, but I was shaken emotionally, and it was really nice to have him by my side.  I know my dad so I never worried that he would be angry that my new car was totaled—and sure enough, he never said a word about the car.  He was just glad I was okay.  I remember that he took me to dinner at the only restaurant nearby (a Burger King in a gas station!) and then he took me back to Camp and talked to the Director and Nurse to call him if I showed any signs of distress.  I was 20 years old, and my daddy was still looking out for me!

He made my 21st birthday a special occasion by spoiling my friends and me.  I invited a few of my best girlfriends over, and we sat in the dining room while he served us as the waiter.  We had Olive Garden fettuccine alfredo (my special request) and then he made my mom’s famous strawberry pie for dessert.  Later that week, he took me out for a one-on-one birthday date to The Melting Pot (a fancy fondue restaurant) and I remember that we discussed relationships and marriage because Ryan and I were seriously considering getting engaged.  I was also about to leave for a semester in El Salvador, so Dad and I were soaking up our time together before I headed out of the country.

He drove me to the airport on the morning that I left for El Salvador, and I was so nervous.  We ate breakfast at a Mexican place at the airport, and I could hardly eat my burrito because of the nerves. When we said goodbye at security, I started crying (and I am not a crier), and I remember Dad standing back and watching me go through security with a look of concern on his face.  He knew that I would have the experience of a lifetime (which I did!), but he really felt for me in that moment—I could see it on his face when I looked back over my shoulder and waved my tearful goodbye.

Shortly after I got back from Central America, we spent a weekend in Bear Lake, Utah, with my family, my grandparents, and Ryan.  My sisters and I stayed at a small condo with my grandparents and my dad and Ryan shared a hotel room nearby.  My dad knew that Ryan wanted to ask him for permission to marry me, so he made plenty of opportunities for that conversation to happen.  Of course Ryan was way too shy and nervous, so the conversation didn’t happen until the very last day of the trip when they were in the car on the way to the condo. Hahaha—typical.

My dad didn’t just say “yes, you can marry my daughter,” he talked to Ryan about me and who I am.  He told Ryan how much he cherished me and how he hoped Ryan would always treat me. He told Ryan that I am a people person and that I would always have many dear friends and people that I wanted to take care of—that Ryan would never be the only person in my life, but he would always be the most important.  He said, “If you want to be happy with Rachel, you have to realize that she is going to spend a lot of time taking care of other people, and you have to be okay with that.”  I think this advice is spot-on for my personality and I love that my dad knew this about me.   I also love that Ryan has always taken that advice in our marriage: he has encouraged me to develop my friendships, to spend time outside of our home serving others, to travel to see friends that I love, and to spend one-on-one time with my sisters.  Truly, Ryan is very much like my dad in a lot of ways, and maybe that’s why I was so drawn to him.  I couldn’t have a better father or husband!

Since my mom wasn’t around, my dad planned my wedding, and I must admit, he smashed it out of the park.  If he ever decides to give up being a lawyer, I think he could definitely be a wedding planner.  He had all these various spreadsheets with the guest list, the different options for venues and menus, and different possibilities for bands.  It was quite hilarious and endearing.

After the wedding ceremony in the temple—we call it a “sealing” because a husband and wife are sealed together not just for this life but also for eternity—family and friends come up to the bride and groom in a line and hug them.  When my dad hugged me, I couldn’t hold back the tears.  I whispered how much I loved him and how I wished my mom could be there.  He said, “She’s here, Rachel.  I know she is.”  I responded through tears, “But I want her here—I want to hug her too!” and then I broke down into sobs.  My dad just squeezed me tighter and said, “Me too, Girl.  Me too.”  I can’t imagine what that must have been like for my dad to celebrate those milestone events in his daughters’ lives without his beloved wife by his side.

That night at the reception, he gave the most amazing toast.  He started it off by praising Ryan and all of the qualities that made him proud to have him as a son-in-law—and then he threw in a little of his signature humor when he added, “And on top of all of that, my daughters tell me that Ryan is ‘hot.’  I cannot be the judge of such matters; so all you ladies in the house, if you think Ryan is ‘hot,’ put your hands together!”  Everyone was laughing, hooting, and cheering.  It was a perfect moment.

He followed that up with an incredible tribute to me that I will never forget, and then we had our daddy-daughter dance to “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” which I know is meant to be a romantic song but the lyrics are perfect for my relationship with my dad: “You fill my heart with gladness, take away all my sadness, ease my troubles that’s what you do.” Truer words couldn’t be spoken about my dad.

Shortly after our wedding, Ryan and I moved to Buffalo, New York for Ry to complete dental school.  During those years far away from family, I talked to my dad several times a week, usually during my commutes home from my job as a teacher. I kept him updated on my students, my service work at church, and just my daily life.

He would sometimes call me for advice as well, such as when single ladies from our church started bringing him casseroles and he didn’t know what to do about it.  Hahaha!  I love it!  I never thought I’d see the day that I would be giving my dad advice on how to politely tell someone that he wasn’t interested in dating. ;)

I remember calling him when I was in the midst of fertility treatments, bawling into the phone about how I’d always wanted a bunch of kids and now I wasn’t sure if I would even get one.  He was so patient and supportive during those years, always offering wise words of encouragement and sometimes even sending flowers when I was especially down.

One summer, he took me on a trip to Jerusalem with him.  He has taken each of his daughters on one big international trip so he wouldn’t have to travel alone.  That was the trip of a lifetime, and I love that I got to experience the Holy Land with my dad.  There were serious moments of contemplation about the life of the Savior, such as our visit to the Garden Tomb, and funny moments of laughter, such as the time that Dad was forced to wear a “man sarong” on the Temple Mount to cover his bare legs.  (We didn’t realize you’re not supposed to wear shorts?)

I remember swimming with him in the Sea of Galilee, and we talked about if he would ever get remarried.  He has never dated since my mom passed away, but I don’t want him to be alone forever and I know my mom didn’t either.  While we were floating in the water, he told me that he just couldn’t imagine going on a date with anyone other than my mom.  He also worried how it might affect the dynamics within our family and extended family if he remarried.  He said maybe someday he will find a nice widow to settle down with, but for the time being, he was content.  It was a great, open conversation, and I love that we can have those sorts of talks.

A few years later when I was in the midst of my struggle with eating and body image, I mentioned to the family something about my “self-loathing” due to weight gain.  I tried to brush past it like it was no big deal, but my dad saw through it.  He approached me the next day while I was alone working on the computer, and he sat down next to me.  He said, “It broke my heart when you said you feel ‘self-loathing’ about your body.  You are an amazing person, and I never ever want you to ‘loathe’ yourself.”  I remember feeling so uncomfortable with this conversation that I couldn’t look at him and I just wanted to run away.  I am a very open person, but my eating disorder issues were a hidden shame that I never talked about.  Yet my dad was willing to have this tough conversation with me because he could tell how much I was struggling.  He said, “If there is ever anything I can do to help, like if you ever want to do any nutritional or emotional counseling and you and Ryan can’t afford it, please ask me.”  A few months later, I timidly approached him and told him about a counseling center that I had found to help me, and he willingly paid for my treatment.  Ryan and I never would’ve been able to get the help I needed at that time in our lives if my dad hadn’t helped us.  I realize how incredibly blessed I am to have this kind of support, and I want to “pay it forward” throughout my life.

My dad has been there cheering me on through all of the ups and downs of my life.  As I sit down to write these memories, I am amazed by how more and more just keep coming into my mind.  I set out to record sixty in honor of his 60th birthday, but I think I am going to have more than that by the end of the series.  He is truly a remarkable father and has become an amazing grandfather as well…more about that in my next and final post!

(Part five here.)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Memories of my Dad in the Midst of Losing my Mom

This is part three of a blog series for my dad's 60th birthday. (Part 1 here and part 2 here.)  I am hoping to chronicle 60 memories by the end of the week. Today's installment is not fun and lighthearted like the first two; in this post, I will share memories of how my relationship with my dad grew stronger through my mom's battle with breast cancer and her death.

Over President’s Day weekend of my freshman year of college, my life changed forever when I got a call from my dad.  I was in bed with a horrible cold, and I remember that I was lying there surrounded by used tissues when my Dad’s number came up on the caller ID.  I answered it cheerfully and asked when he was doing, “Oh your mom, Laura, and I are just driving to Utah to see you,” he said.  There had been no plan for them to visit that weekend, so I sat up in bed, confused.  “Now??” I asked. “Yes,” he continued. “We need to talk as a family.”  The moment that those words left his mouth, my heart seized inside of my chest.  I knew at that instant that I was going to lose my mom.  There was no other reason that they would be driving all that way to Utah just to talk to us.  Her cancer must be back, and if it was back, it was deadly.

I don’t remember the details of that weekend; I don’t remember the conversation where they broke the news.  I do remember that about a month later, my mom and Dad again drove to Utah, this time to support me as I ran my first half marathon.  My mom had had a laser operation on a tumor in her brain just a few days before, so she had little scars near her hairline, but she was there nonetheless.  Both of my parents were so proud of me.  I was new to running, but my dad had been a recreational runner for years, and he was excited for me to get home for the summer so we could jog together.

We ran together a lot that summer.  I think it was an outlet for both of us as we watched my mom deteriorate—a way to run off the grief we were feeling, an escape into nature, a time to talk and think.  On the weekends, we would wake up early and run four or five miles on the beautiful canal trail by our home.  Sometimes we would talk about my mom’s illness; sometimes we would just run.  I remember getting home from our jogs and sipping cups of Gatorade with ice on the backporch while my dad read the newspaper.  The routine was comforting during a summer that was anything but.

We did have some fun as a family during that difficult summer, and my dad's signature sense of humor shone through on occasion.  We would often laugh about the hilarious things Mom would say when her morphine kicked in (she once told us that John Elway was on his way to visit her).  One evening, I waxed my mom's upper lip and chin because the medications that she was taking caused facial hair growth.  My dad came into the room and teased, "You were starting to have a better five-o'clock-shadow than me!" and my mom swatted him good-naturedly.  Even in the midst of so much sadness, there was laughter.

My mom passed away on July 14, 2003.  I was my mom’s caregiver during the day that summer, and she was having a really difficult morning so she asked to call my dad at work.  She had become child-like at the end of her life, and she sounded timid and a little whiny when she admitted to him that she had fallen down and wasn’t feeling very good.  He comforted her, and I remember that she called him “Bert,” a nickname that started in the beginning of their marriage but that I didn’t often hear her use.  “Oh, Bert,” she said at one point, “what are we going to do?”  My dad told her to hand the phone to me, and he asked if he should come home.  I told him that I thought she was okay, just a little sad from her fall earlier.  I don’t remember how they finished up their call—I’m sure they said their usual I-love-yous.  None of us knew that it would be the last time that they would speak in this life. 

A few hours later I called my dad sobbing uncontrollably.  My mom had lost consciousness and the paramedics were there.  He was already in his car halfway home when he got my call, and he started driving over medians and running stoplights to try to get home to us.  He pulled up to the house just as the ambulance was pulling away with me and my mom inside, and he followed us to the hospital.

My older sister was with my dad (she worked at his office that summer), and my little sister was out with friends but happened to come home just as my dad did, so we all met up at the Emergency Room and held hands around Mom's bed.  She passed away about an hour later, with her husband and daughters surrounding her.  I don’t remember many of the details other than the devastation that I felt, the total numb.  I lay on a couch in the ER waiting room, my face turned into the scratchy pillows, my eyes swollen from crying, and when I looked up, my dad was staring blankly at a clipboard as the doctor explained next steps to him.  I will always remember how he looked: defeated, devastated, drained of any joy or hope.  I had never seen my dad look that way, and I have never seen it again since.

The next night, my dad came to my room and sat on the edge of my bed as I sobbed into my pillow.  He put his hand on my back and let me pour out all of my grief and fear:  “What if we never see Mom again?” I asked him through tears. “What if everything we believe about heaven and God is a lie?”  He didn’t immediately reassure me that of course it is all true, and he didn’t censure me for having doubts either.  He merely let me cry, and when I was done, he said, thoughtfully, “Rachel, I absolutely do believe in God and life after death--I want you to know that.  But I also want you to know that of course there have been times in my life when I have had questions and doubts.  But during those times, I’ve always decided that no matter what comes after this life, this is the best way to live.” I have never forgotten that conversation or his understanding of my fears.  I have also never forgotten his assurance that having faith is the best way to live: it gives us hope and stability in an otherwise tumultuous world.

In the months after my mom’s passing, my sisters and I surprised my dad by recording a CD of us singing some of his favorite songs, to bring him comfort and to let him hear our voices after we were gone back to college.  My mom had actually planned this gift with me shortly before her passing, and it was a joy to make it happen.  We gave it to my dad on my parents’ wedding anniversary.  We arranged for our friend who plays the piano to come over and play for us while we gave Dad a private concert, and then at the end, we said, “And there’s more…” and pulled out the CD.  My dad has never loved a gift so much.  He embarrassed us by making dozens of copies and giving it to family and friends.  Seriously, I’m pretty sure the mailman must have a copy.  And my dad still listens to it on repeat in his car at times and calls me to tell me how much he loves it.

When my older sister, Sarah, and I headed back to college at the end of that summer, my dad stepped into the “Mom” role more than ever as he helped us get ready.  Hours after he got home from dropping us off in Utah, my older sister’s very serious boyfriend broke up with her (worst timing ever), and when my dad got the phone call from Sarah, he turned around and drove back to Utah to spend the weekend with her.  He had always been invested in our lives, but without our mom to rely on emotionally, he really stepped up to fill that gap.

He sent us cute care packages for holidays, something my mom had always done.  They were not elaborate: a t-shirt from Old Navy, a bag of candy, and a funny card or gag-gift from him, but they meant the world to us.  He talked to us on the phone several times a week and counseled us about our classes, our relationships, and our worries and dreams.  He sent us flowers on important days, such as my first day of student teaching.  (And in subsequent years, he always sent me flowers on my first day teaching school.)

Back at home, he developed an extremely close and special relationship with my little sister, Laura.  She was 16 and about to start her junior year of high school when my mom passed away.  The two of them had a “date night” one evening of every weekend (isn’t that the cutest?) and supported each other during those first few years of terrible grief.  When my little sister was applying to colleges, my dad was the one to help her with that involved process.  When she was rejected by Stanford, she called him at work to tell him the disappointing news.  He came home a little early and made a banner that said “Stanford Sucks!” and hung it over our garage for my sister to see when she pulled in after her dance class.  So hilarious!!!  He also had her favorite ice cream waiting for her.

Truly, the only blessing to come from my mother’s passing is how close it brought my sisters and me to our dad.  We had always been close to him, as evidenced by my childhood and teenage memories, but this extremely difficult trial brought it to an entirely new level.  

Last year, my dad gave a talk in church on Father’s Day and explained a little about the special relationships that he has been able to develop with us since my mom’s passing; he said that he wished he would’ve been as involved when she was still living.  He encouraged all of the dads in the congregation to connect with their kids emotionally and not just allow their wives to do that.

My dad has taken such good care of us in the twelve years since my mom passed away, and I hope we have taken care of him.  Our healing was his first priority, and we have all navigated our grief together.

I love him.  I don’t know what we would do without him.  He has shown us how to grieve with faith, how to reach out to others even in the midst of our own pain, and how to move forward with hope through life’s most difficult struggles.

(Part four here.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Studtholomew and other Teenage Memories of my Dad

This is part two of a blog series for my dad's 60th birthday.  (I am hoping to chronicle 60 memories by the end of the week.)  If you are interested in reading part one, click here.

Tonight I record some of my memories of my dad during my teen years.  Let the fun begin...

My dad is mega smart.  He wouldn’t like me bragging about him, but I am going to anyway.  He graduated with honors from Harvard Law School, which is why it’s perhaps even funnier that he played immature bedtime games and gave himself swirlies in the toilet with us when we were kids.

I benefitted from his intelligence because he was my personal tutor when I was in high school.  I am terrible at math (truly), yet he patiently helped me through my advanced algebra class.  We spent many late nights at the kitchen table with me in tears and his shoulders twitching, working on math homework. (How he stayed patient with my drama, I will never know.)  And for the record, I never took another math class again after advanced algebra my sophomore year of high school.

English was my strong subject, but I certainly had room for improvement there as well.  Dad always edited my essays throughout high school, and when he gave me back a draft, it would be covered in red ink. Because of his individualized feedback and modeling of sentence structure, punctuation, and clarity of thought, I progressed quickly as a writer, and it has become one of my passions.  It is always humbling to me now when he asks me to edit something for him.  It wasn’t my English teachers who taught me how to write; it was my dad.

My dad has always been known for his crazy nicknames, and during my high school years, he started calling me “Stresstholomew.”  For some reason, he decided that everyone in the family would be a “-tholomew,” and “Stress” was the best prefix for me during those years (sad but true--I am a perfectionist to the extreme).  And for himself, he chose an even more appropriate prefix: Stud.  So yes, he was the self-proclaimed “Studtholomew.”

He also called himself “SD,” which stands for Super Dad, obviously. ;)  He still sometimes signs emails to me as “SD.”  I wish I had a full catalog of all of the nicknames he has given us and himself over the years, but there are too many to even track, and now he is doing it to our children (more on that in another post).

Some new bedtime games were born during my teen years (yes, he still played bedtime games with us when we were teenagers).  A favorite was based on The Lord of the Rings movies.  Dad would come creeping into the bedroom pretending to be Gollum and start talking to us in a creepy voice, calling us “The Precious.”  Then out of nowhere, his arm would shoot forward in a claw, attempting to attack us.  We would be laughing hysterically at this point, as he used the other hand to grab and try to subdue the claw.  He would then thrash around and act like he had multiple personalities like Gollum, “Don’t hurt The Precious!  But me wants The Precious!  Me wants to grab The Precious.  No!!!”   So random and ridiculous!

He liked to pretend he was up on pop-culture and then tease us and our friends about it.  He learned the popular song “Jumpin” by Destiny’s Child (remember them?), and sometimes when our girlfriends were over, he would come out of his office and start doing a subtle robot dance while singing in a monotone voice, “Ladies leave your man at home, the club is full of ballers and their pockets full of chrome.  And all you fellas leave your girl with a friend, cause it’s 11:30 and the club is jumpin’, jumpin.”  And on those last two words, he would do two little hops into the air.  So hilarious.

Both of my parents loved our friends and were beloved by our friends.  My dad insisted on having a “first dance” with each of his daughters at our 16th birthday parties (my parents threw us big shin-digs with DJs—super fun).  I love that we weren’t embarrassed by our dad or our closeness to him.  It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to dance to “16 Candles” with my dad at my party.  


And then after that serious moment was over, the party music started, and my dad entertained all of the teenagers by lying on the floor and doing his signature dance move: The Twitch.  I have no idea how he does it, but he twitches his entire body off of the floor.  The teenage boys were impressed and tried to do it too, but no one mastered it like my dad.

And speaking of teenage boys, my dad was one of my confidants when I started dating.  I have always been extremely open with my parents (it’s just part of my personality—I can’t hold anything back), and when my dad was the bishop of our church congregation, I went into his home office one night, shut the door, and said, “Dad, is French kissing bad?”  Hahahaha!  My poor father!  I remember that he looked up from the legal document he was editing with an expression of surprise, took off his glasses, leaned back in his chair and said, “Well, let’s talk about this.” He went on to give me very thoughtful, wise, loving, and reasonable advice about protecting myself, my body, and my heart during the dating years.  Because he handled that conversation so well, I knew I could come to him in the future with my questions about relationships and chastity.

I come from a family of night-owls, and it was not uncommon at all for all of us to be awake until 1 a.m. when I was a teenager, particularly on the weekends.  One time when a boy brought me home from a date at midnight and we were standing on the porch talking, my dad came out and started watering the flower pots.  My dad was oblivious to how awkward this must have been for my date, and honestly I did not think a thing of it either because it was completely normal for us to water plants at midnight; but my date obviously thought that my dad was spying and giving him the hint to “get lost,” so he took off quickly.  Poor kid.

I mentioned in my last post that my dad is known to fall asleep anytime he sits down (it's no wonder when he was watering plants at midnight, right?), and this was even true when he was the bishop.  When someone else was speaking to the congregation, my dad would sometimes drift off to sleep in his seat on the stand in front of the congregation, and my sisters and I would watch him, amused, knowing that at any moment, he would wake up and do his "lost in thought" act.  He would wake up mortified that he had fallen asleep again, so he would keep his eyes closed and nod his head thoughtfully as he raised it, pretending that he had merely been pondering the words of the speaker.  So funny.  I'm pretty sure no one bought it.  But everyone knew how hard he worked at the office, at church, and at home, so no one took it personally.

I did a lot of performing when I was in high school, and my dad never missed a concert, vocal recital, or musical theater production.  After each event, when I was hugging other family members or friends who had come to support me, I would spot my dad hanging back from the rest, watching me and smiling proudly.  He was always wearing a suit and tie--he had always come straight from the office

I knew how important I was to him.  I knew he would always be there for me and that I mattered more to him than any work obligation.  I knew that he was proud of me not because of my talents but because of my hard work and my efforts to be kind and honest.  He was proud of me when I was chorus girl #100 and he was proud of me when I was the lead role, and in either case, he was there to watch and encourage me.

I am so glad that I had my amazing father as my role model, friend, and confidant during those pivotal teenage years. If it's possible, he became even more important to me after I left home for college because that is the year that my mom's cancer diagnosis became terminal and we eventually lost her.  Because of the foundation of love and trust he had built with his daughters when we were young, we relied on him greatly while we were losing our mother and have ever since.  I can't wait to share some of my memories of that difficult but sacred time in my next blog post.

(Part three here.)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Rotten Peach and other Childhood Memories of my Dad

Today is my dad's 60th birthday, which, frankly, is very hard for me to believe.  Sixty seems old, and my dad has never seemed old to me.  He is active, hardworking, healthy, and, if I do say so myself, quite handsome.  I feel like it was just yesterday that he was not pleased about turning forty:

And now he is sixty.  Wow.

And if he is sixty, what does that make me?  Oh yeah--thirty-one next Sunday!  Why do I still feel like a little girl when I snuggle up to my dad and put my head on his shoulder??  (Yes, I definitely still do that.)

So in honor of feeling like my dad and I are both still young, I thought I would take a few minutes tonight to record some of my favorite childhood memories of my dad.  This is Part 1 of a series of blog posts I am going to do about him this week.  Yes, a series.  Because a sixtieth birthday is a pretty big deal--and he is a pretty awesome dad.  I want it documented for my posterity, and this is as good a chance as any.

So thanks for indulging me as I journey down memory lane.  I think by the end of it, you will love my dad *almost* as much as I do.


One of my earliest memories ever is scoring a goal for my recreational soccer team.  I was about seven years old, and I was so excited that I immediately ran off the field into my dad’s arms and he spun me around and celebrated with me.  I remember that he was wearing his suit because he had come straight from work, and I think he was walking up to the field just in time to witness my big moment.

My dad worked a lot when I was growing up and still does (we’d have to ask his secretary, but I’d say he averages 60 hours a week, even now), but he never ever missed the big stuff.  I always knew that he would be there.

In later years, my dad refereed some of the soccer games for my league.  He never played soccer growing up, so he must have taken on this responsibility because he wanted to spend more time with me and invest in what I was interested in.  I remember him running up and down the field with his dorky socks pulled high, blowing his whistle.

Another early memory happened when I was probably three or four years old and I woke up covered in throw up in the middle of the night (a lovely rite of passage for children and their parents, right?).  I remember calling out for help, and my dad came in and tenderly cleaned me up.  I remember him putting me in a bath and helping me get all warm and clean.  I felt so safe and cared for.

I loved falling asleep in the car because Dad would carry me into the house and tuck me into my bed.  As he picked me up, I’d always slightly wake, but I would hold very still and sink deeper into his arms, not wanting him to know that I was awake because I loved feeling the warmth of his arms and his kiss on my forehead after he tucked me in.  I’m sure he knew that I was awake, but he never let on.

When he would come home from work, he’d loosen his tie and yell, “Who wants to play BOOM?!” My sisters and I would run up the stairs shrieking with glee, and Dad would scoop us into his arms and throw us on our backs onto his bed, shouting “BOOOOOM!” We could’ve played that game for hours.

When my mom was in the hospital for three-months after her bone marrow transplant, my dad became a master of doing little girls’ hair. He was much more patient and gentle with our hair than Mom was (she would just rip that brush right through), and he would meticulously curl my bob under with a curling iron.  Even after Mom got better, Dad continued to curl my hair for special occasions and family photos. ;)

He taught us girls how to ski, and we loved it.  His little girls were dardevils and tried our best to keep up with him on the mountain.  He was always willing to ski the moguls with me, and I remember him shaking his head in amusement as Little Laura bombed down the hill with her long ski hat flailing out behind her.  Who needs sons when you have the crazy Westover daughters?

Though my dad comes across as serious and quiet, he has a silly side that he likes to pull out to amuse kids and teenagers.  He endeared himself to the children at our church when he performed “Three Blind Mice” at a Spring Sing and came in as the Farmer’s Wife.  He wore a blue dress and a pink bandana tied around his head. I will never forget his hairy legs and tennis shoes poking out from under that dress.  He let out these ridiculous woman-shrieks and jumped all around pretending to be afraid of the “mice” (the boys in his Primary class) and then he chopped off their tails with a cardboard knife.  I remember how everyone in the audience laughed and laughed, and I knew that I had the coolest dad of all.

When he later served as the Bishop of our congregation, he taught the young men and young women about a Prophet in The Book of Mormon named Captain Moroni who ripped off his coat and made a flag declaring the liberties for which he would fight and die.  In the midst of the lesson, to everyone’s surprise and delight, my dad ripped off his white collared shirt, pretending to be Moroni and declaring his allegiance to the cause of liberty.  (Don’t worry, he had a shirt on underneath.)  So classic.

His silliness perhaps became even more exaggerated within the walls of our own home.  He was the king of bedtime games.  One of his earliest was “rotten peach.”  He’d get us all calm and tucked in (or he would come into the room after Mom had gotten us all calm and tucked in), and as he leaned over to kiss us goodnight, he would say, “Mmmm, I think I smell a juicy peach.”  He would then pretend to take a big bite out of one of our arms or legs or something, and after a moment of “chewing,” he would pretend to violently vomit and then shout, “This peach is rotten!!  Put it down the garbage disposal!” Then he would pick us up, toss us on the floor, and start spinning us around wildly while making disposal noises.  As you can imagine, this charade put us into fits of giggles, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy to fall asleep afterward. ;)

As one of my most random memories, I vividly remember my dad giving himelf a swirlie in the toilet on a dare from his daughters.  (What in the world, Dad??  Did you clean it before you stuck your head in there?!)  Of course we thought it was so hilarious that we had to try it too.   And to top it off, we had some friends over that night who also got in on the action.  I cannot imagine what their parents thought when they came to pick them up and heard what Mike Westover had allowed us to do!  Naaaasty!

His bad influence continued as he took his daughters and our friends “toilet papering” late at night and taught us how to get the TP roll up high in the trees.  Apparently he had done a lot of this as a teenager, and he was a master.  This is so funny to me now—we would probably get arrested or something in this day and age.

When we were littler, he would let us jump off of our big stairs into his arms.  Again, all of our friends got into it as well, and we kept climbing higher and higher onto the steps and then throwing ourselves into his arms.  We never doubted he would catch us, though I think there were some close calls.

For some reason, my dad hated the song “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston.  He couldn’t understand why it was so popular because he said it sounded like a howling dog when it got to the part where she started singing “I-----ei-----ei!” over and over.  Of course he played up his hatred and we totally fed into it.  We would blast the song at opportune moments to get a reaction out of him.  One time we turned it way up on the car radio, and he kicked us out of the car and made us walk home.  Too good.

When my mom threw Halloween parties for our friends or family, my dad played the part of the vampire mixing up the “potion” (which was actually rootbeer).  He wore vampire teeth and fake blood, and, in a dramatic vampire voice, he told all the kids the different things he was adding to the pot, such as “frog brains” and “witches’ fingernails.”  For the grand finale, he dumped dry ice into the cauldron and shouted that it was “NUCLEAR WASTE!”  None of us knew what nuclear waste was, of course, but we all screamed in terror as the potion started to smoke and my dad threw back his head and bellowed out evil laughter.

Can you believe how fun my dad was??  It's even more hilarious when you know him in person because he is quiet, intelligent, and introspective.  But deep down inside, he is a nut.  Either that or a really good sport and a total sucker for his daughters.

In the midst of all the fun, he was sensitive to our needs and had serious talks with us at times. The first Sunday of every month, he had daddy-daughter “interviews” where he would take us individually and snuggle on the couch and talk to us about our lives.  Of course we loved it as kids, but as we became pre-teens, I remember groaning when he called us for our turn.  We thought it was so awkward (and it was), but he persisted and laughed good-naturedly at our moaning.  We even nicknamed our Daddy Interviews "Torture" and everyone in the family, including Dad, started referring to them as that.  "It's time for Torture, Girls!" ;) Despite our teasing, my dad wanted to make sure that he had at least one serious, one-on-one talk with us each month to get some sense of how we were doing emotionally and spiritually.

In classic Dad fashion, he sometimes drifted off to sleep in our interviews.  Hahahaha!  That man works like a dog, and he is always always sleep-deprived.  It is a running joke in our family that if Dad sits down anywhere he will fall asleep (it has happened at major league baseball games and even on a Tilt-o-Whirl).  It kind of ruined the whole “undivided attention and interest in my daughter” vibe during our interviews when Dad started snoring beside us, but it just makes the story even better.  Hey, he was trying!

My dad is endlessly patient and calm, and it was very rare for him to lose his temper with us girls.  We always joked (and still do) that you know when Dad is annoyed or angry because his shoulders twitch.  Yet he would never yell or say anything unkind to us.  He disciplined us with firm but patient love.

In 30 years of life, I only have one memory of my dad losing his temper with me.  I was about 11 years old (way too old to be having a temper tantrum) and in a fit of rage because my parents wouldn’t let me do something, I stomped up to my bedroom and slammed the door so hard that it broke.  Yes, the door broke.  I then heard my dad stomping up the stairs (not a good sign) and he came into my room, swatted me on the behind, and picked me up and put me in my bed.  Then he walked out.  I remember lying there and thinking, “Well, I deserved that.”

As I relive all of these memories, I am reminded again and again that I truly had a beautiful childhood.  And that is all thanks to my amazing parents.  My dad was so loving, so patient, so fun, and so invested us.  I adore him, and there really aren't words to communicate how much I admire him.  I hope the memories that I share this week will capture that.

HAPPY 60th BIRTHDAY WEEK, DAD!  I love you!!

(Part two here.) 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Quotes from Mr. Personality

Look at that handsome boy.  Oh I love him!  He is so spunky and way, way too smart for his own good.  I want to put together a post of some of the parenting lessons I’ve learned from this strong-willed boy, but that will have to wait for another day.  Today, I just want to capture some quick “Noah-isms.”

-Noah is the life of the party wherever we go—people love him and know him.  At a recent church clean-up activity, he was amusing everyone, young and old, with his commentary as we picked dandelions, saying things like, “Wow! Look at this big bopper!”

-When I was nagging him one day to pick up his toys and come eat his lunch, he responded, “Just let me do my thing, Mom.  Just chill out, okay?”

-When we were all sitting around the breakfast table last week, he said out of the blue, “The sun is made out of hot burning gas, you know.”

-Noah hates it when I tell him that he can’t grow up.  I have no idea why.  But he always tells me, “That’s not a nice word!” and recently also added, “I’m gonna tell my teachers that you say naughty words!”  Hahaha!  

-When Noah found out that we were going to be in Denver for Callum’s birthday party, he excitedly suggested, “Mom, we can make Callum’s birthday cake!”  Then he thought better of it and said, “Well, maybe we should have Aunt Sarah and Jade make it so it actually looks good.”

-When he was being out of control at a Café Rio recently, I picked him up and started carrying him out to the car for a time out, and he was thrashing around violently in my arms shouting, “I don’t love you anymore!  I’m never going to love you again!!!” Everyone in the restaurant was amused at my expense.

-Noah loves to say the prayer over dinner, and he never fails to include this line: “Bless everyone in this whole world!”  It makes sense--he literally loves and talks to everyone he comes in contact with.  He is a people person.

-In the midst of a grumpy day recently, I lost my temper with Noah, and when I came back into the room, I heard him saying to his baby sister, “Punch Mom for me, Sally.  Just punch her--she’s always being mean to me!”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I actually burst out laughing because I realized I kind of deserved it--but seriously, so naughty!!!

-With the exception of when he encourages Sally to punch me, Noah is a really good big brother.  He adores Sally and always baby-talks her and gets the biggest grins out of her.  It’s the sweetest.  He says things like, “Hello there, chubby girl!  Hello there, my chubby-wubby.”  Let’s hope he never says that to any other women in his life!

-Sometimes when we drive by the temple, Noah wants to talk about marriage.  He asked the other day if he can marry me when he grows up.  I told him that I am already married, so he asked who is available. I listed off some of his little girl friends from church and school, and he thought about it for a moment, apparently unimpressed because his next question was, “Are those really all my options, Mommy?” 

-A favorite recent memory of Noah is definitely the 5K run we had at our church.  Noah wanted to wear one of the free race t-shirts, but it was an adult size large so it was massive on him.  We tucked it into his sweatpants, and as he raced along on his little strider bike, the shirt filled with air and billowed out like a fat-suit.   He was trying so hard to keep up with the big kids so he was cruising ahead of me and Ryan, his legs flying out to the sides, his head tucked in determination.  It is a picture I will never forget. 

-When we were at a friend’s house, Noah was being very demanding and shouting for a juice box.  As my friend headed into her pantry, I said, “Noah you can’t have one until you ask nice.”  He looked at me and said, “Why?  She’s getting it for me anyway.”  Ooooh such a stinker!  Can you see how I have my hands full??

I love him too much.  Most days he’s really very pleasant to be around, but he has this defiant streak that I’m not quite sure what to do about.  Ryan and I are doing our best to be consistent and loving, and I feel like we are learning which things to let go of and which things to insist upon.  I am a better, more patient, less controlling mother because Noah is my firstborn.  He is good for me!

Couldn’t possibly love this handsome boy more!