My dad devoted his working career to computer programming, so, in a nod to his chosen profession, let me honor his life by iterating through a few thoughts.
First, I should explain. To software engineers, the word “iterate” refers to a programming technique that takes a collection of items — like a list, for example — and goes through it, item by item, one item at a time, sometimes manipulating the data, sometimes passing it over to get to the next. In programming terms, this is called “iterating” through the list.
So, let me iterate through a list of things about my dad that come to mind.
I’ll start again where I started before. My dad was a programmer’s programmer. It was in his heart and in his blood. He had a strong affinity for it that he passed on to me. Then he took it a step further by introducing me to computers at an early age and nurturing in me a love for them and a curiosity as to how they work that continues to this day.
I feel fortunate to have had an early-era computer operator for a father. His foresight put me way ahead of the curve in my current job. It took my labor-intensive warehouse position and, by giving me a reputation as a computer guru when automation came, moved me out of the heavy-lifting department and into the heavy-thinkers department much sooner than otherwise would have happened.
This was thanks in no small part to his taking me to work with him where I could experiment with and play with actual, real-world computers. I quickly grew familiar and comfortable with them. They became like magical electronic friends in a young child’s fantasy prehistoric forest. I’m not talking about these mosquito-sized, egocentric things of today that suck the life out of our relationships; I’m talking about the monstrous dinosaurs of the Pre-Microsoftian Era when spinning tape drives and behemoth consoles filled the cold jungles of corporations, and cables ran helter-skelter around the canyon-sized rooms like vines for Tarzan coders to swing their commands through. Like Jurassic Park for a Programmer’s Apprentice.
I would sit for hours while he worked, right next to all the Pepsi memorabilia his co-workers had given him (he had a reputation for being a big Pepsi lover) and playing old text-based games like Star Trek, Blackjack and Zorkian adventure games. It didn’t take long before I was so intrigued I began looking at the code for the programs and studying how the computer commands were strung together to make the computer perform its magic, inspiring me to code several of my own programs through my formative years.
My dad often helped me with these programs, which brings me to the next item on the list: He had a teacher’s heart. Admirably patient with beginners, he always took the time to explain things as much as you needed and would answer any questions you had. But he didn’t always just give you the answers. He made you figure things out on your own with minimal guidance and direction, only as much as needed to keep you from getting too frustrated, but not so much that you got lazy or bored. This helped you memorize information and concepts through practical usage rather than hours of boring memorization exercises.
He also let you make mistakes. But then he helped you correct them. He encouraged you to experiment with things on your own, doing the things that interested you the most. I don’t know how many little programs I did on my own and with him, but it was a lot.
His teaching style was so subtle you often didn’t even know he was teaching you. You just thought he was participating as a normal participant, not as a teacher. Once he was teaching my son chess, but much of the session was so subtle I thought he was just playing. I didn’t realize he was making bad moves on purpose as a way to help Caleb figure things out on his own.
I should say I didn’t realize it until I stuck my nose into the lesson and spoiled it. I saw my dad make a terrible move, the kind of move that chess players call a “blunder”, and I immediately jumped in telling Caleb how to move in response instead of letting him figure it out on his own. My dad was not happy with me, Caleb was not happy with me, and, after I realized what was truly going on, I was not happy with myself either. I totally blew it and I felt terrible. I never got a chance to apologize, but now that he is with Mom and the throngs of other onlookers standing alongside the rails of heaven watching their loved ones run their races here on earth (like we see spoken of in Hebrews 12:1), I know he has now heard my apology.
Caleb hasn’t played chess since, which makes me realize just how special his style of teaching was, how much it encouraged a passion and joy and respect for the topic at hand. I also now wonder how many times my dad did that for me. How many times did I learn something from him without even realizing he was teaching me surreptitiously?
My dad also had a great sense of humor, at least in my opinion. He told me once that he felt like no one got his sense of humor, but in actuality, a lot of people did, and enjoyed it. I for one loved it when, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he would tell a joke or make a wisecrack and then giggle about it. That’s what his laugh was, more of an endearing bubbling-over of mirth rather than a deep belly-laugh.
My dad was one of the most sensitive and thoughtful people you’ll ever meet, yet it was amazing how he could keep it fun instead of overly sentimental. One of his favorite sayings to speak into the lives of others was “You are special. You are unique. You are loved.” When we were growing up, my sister Lacy was enamored with Princess Diana. Any time a Princess Diana news story came on, Dad would stop what he was doing and take the time to watch a few minutes with her. When Diana passed away, he perfectly mixed thoughtfulness with fun when he mailed Lacy a sympathy card. How ironic — yet somehow fitting — that Princess Diana died on August 31st and the service honoring my dad was also on August 31st.
Although my dad worked a tremendous amount when my sister and I were growing up, he still found a way to make time for us. And the more I think about it, the more I can see just how much. Here are a few of my fondest memories.
Lode Runner: A little white stick figure of a guy scurrying around mazes made of blue bricks, paths, ladders, and monkey bars. The pffttt, pffttt, clunk, clunk of drilling a path through the bricks to collect gold nuggets and fend off the Bungleing Empire guards trying to grab you and steal the gold back. Avoiding the guards making it a game of wits. Figuring out how to drill through the bricks to reach the gold without being trapped making it a puzzle game as well. This is the iconic PC game called “Lode Runner”. My dad and I spent hours working together to solve the drill pattern puzzles, growing closer together with each solved maze.
Basketball: I know, I know. It’s hilarious that a couple of short guys would be out in the driveway trying to show off our laughable basketball skills. Let’s just say we played as much “HORSE” as we did neighborhood pick-up games.
The Denver Broncos: We used to watch the games every weekend. I loved ’em. He hated ’em. Well, that may be a little strong. But he did get frustrated with them. It reminds me of a story one of my blogger friends told, except in my version I see my dad requesting that we have Broncos players as his pallbearers so that when they lower his casket into the ground the Broncos can “let him down one last time.”
Model airplanes: These had little gas-powered engines and were tethered by what amounted to a dual-kite-line control handle for flying them around in circles. He was so excited the first time he made one do a loop-the-loop. I painted a big one with Broncos colors; he just shook his head and smiled.
Model rockets: You know the ones. Those Estes models that actually flew up into the sky with battery-sized engines for lift off and usually a parachute recovery system for floating back to earth. We had a cool three-stager, as well as “Big Bertha”, a 6-foot-tall (seriously) rocket that I painted solid black and looked incredibly menacing. (Until it landed on the elementary school roof and broke one of its tail fins.)
A memorable vacation: When we took a family vacation to Disneyland, the three of us went on the teacup ride while my mom watched. We were all laughing and giggling and having a grand time. Until Lacy grew nauseous. Her face turned as gray as Dumbo the elephant and her face as contorted as Pukey the eighth dwarf, the one that Walt Disney decided to cut. (Not really.) My dad was such a hero. As soon as he saw his little girl in distress, he grabbed that spinning wheel in the middle of the teacup, the one you normally use to spin it around, and, with the strength of Hercules, brought that entire ride to a standstill. To this day I have no idea how in the world he was able to do that, but there were several disgruntled riders that will attest to it. They were the ones pointing at us as everyone was exiting the ride and complaining about “that guy over there that made the ride stop and cut it short!”
Family games: We had several family favorites. We played Marbles, but not the kind most people think of. This was a “Sorry”-style board game that my great-grandfather made out of half-drilled holes on a wooden board with marbles for pieces and dice for moving.
And speaking of Sorry, we played that as well.
Uno was another family favorite, although before we could afford the actual card game, we first played it with a regular deck of cards and called it the bowdlerized name of “Spit on Your Neighbor”. We also played a card game called Spoons.
A board game called Careers was one of my dad’s favorites, but one of my favorites was called Payday. Talk about hilarious! We both loved the punny, satirical humor of the bill notices.
And of course, chess. Some of my earliest memories are of him teaching me how to play “The Game of Kings”. I don’t think I had even started grade school yet when he started showing me how the pieces moved. One of the happiest days of my life was the first time I beat him. I still have a deep love for the game and play whenever I can.
Even though I’ll never totally understand all the complexities of chess, I think I now understand more of the reasons my dad made the choices he did. Even though I may have misunderstood him when I was younger, I can see now that it helped me become the person I am today.
Which segues nicely into the next iterated item on the list. Even when I didn’t totally understand why my dad did things the way he did, I always knew he was doing the best he could to keep his priorities straight. It was always God first, loving his family second, followed by work, and last but not least, helping others.
He always strived to put God first. He loved Jesus, and he wanted everyone else to know Jesus, too. For most of us, that’s enough said. If you don’t understand why he felt that way, be sure to find any one of us that called him family and we would be happy to explain it to you.
My dad always told me, more in actions than with words, that my wife is the most important person in my life and she deserves to be respected and treated like a princess. He encouraged me to treat my kids similarly. And he practiced what he preached. That’s just the way he was.
His work was important to him, but he tried to keep it in the proper perspective as much as one can. He was a very hard worker, and his success at his career proved it.
And he never forgot others. If you needed his help, he was there if at all possible and in any way he could. I guess my best example of this is when he helped my cousin fix his car. If I remember right, the transmission needed to be rebuilt. I don’t think any of us will ever forget Jeff’s old, bright yellow, Plymouth Valiant with the fuzzy interior. I used to love running my hands through that fur on the ceiling! But without my dad, it may have never made it back out onto the street.
I’ve heard my dad was quite the whiz with cars even in high school and has helped more people than just my cousin keep theirs in good repair. I know he enjoyed working on them a lot. I don’t remember the red Chevy Bel Air I’ve heard he had, but I do vaguely remember his dark blue Chevy Chevelle and, even as a young boy, how sporty I thought it looked. I spent a lot of my time watching him work on our cars: stooping in front of a wheel in a white t-shirt changing the brakes; leaning over the engine with grease on his cheek adjusting the carburetor; laying on an old blanket under the car twisting a wrench over his head. I even saved his life once. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating, but I did save the day when a jack slipped and pinned his hand under the car. He told me to run to the house to get Mom so she could jack the car back up. I don’t know what he would have done if I hadn’t been there. Yay for me! I could feel how proud he was of me.
He also helped me with my own cars. When he taught me how to change the brakes, he told me to always sand down the drum to keep from having to replace the brake shoes as often. (A skill I appreciate learning even though it’s no longer needed since brake drums are all but extinct and I don’t work on cars anymore. But little did I know, I learned more from that lesson than I realized!)
For my final thought, I am amazed at how much of him I can see in myself. To borrow from some clichés, as concerning my father I am…
Cut from the same cloth…
An apple that didn’t fall far from the tree…
A piston off the same block…
Programmed in the same language.
Like the song says, “I see my father in me.” I’m far from perfect, but I’m thankful to him for instilling so much of himself into me. In addition to the traits I’ve already mentioned, here are a few more that we share: He was humble. He had laser-like focus on the task at hand. He usually took all the blame even if it wasn’t totally his fault. He was also very wise.
And he was kind, always. As Lacy puts it, “No matter how much he was suffering, he was still the kindest person I knew. It was truly amazing.”
May I carry on in me these positives of his legacy while sanding the rough edges off the brake drum of my soul. (See, I do still need that car repair skill!)
So, my iteration is done. In programmers’ terms, FOR EACH item in my list, I COMMENTed on it, THEN, WHILE there was still another, moved on to the NEXT. IF a NEXT was NOT, OR, in other words, IF the NEXT EQUALS NULL, THEN I had reached the END, and the paragraph block was EXITed. (Don’t worry if you didn’t catch on to all that. My dad is smiling at all the capitalized computer commands I strung together in those sentences.)
And now that I have finished this iterative tribute to his life, won’t you join with me in my pledge to continue to honor him in all areas of my life:
I will honor him in my relationship with my God, and in my relationship with my wife.
I will honor him in the way I treat my kids, and in the way I treat the rest of my family.
I will honor him in my work, and in the help I give to my friends.
I will honor him with my programming, and with my writing.
Because I am proud to be…
The Next Iteration of my dad’s heart and of his spirit.
I love you Dad. A lot. I know you’ve loved me for as long as I’ve lived, but I have loved you my whole life.
And always will.
NOTES and ATTRIBUTIONS:
If you’ve explored my blog much at all, you know that one of my best and most popular posts was the eulogy I wrote for my mom . Yes, that means I am now am orphan. I feel like a little boy again, one that has fallen out of the pages of a Charles Dickens novel. If you’re interested, it is called “The Fingerprints of Mom“.
If you attended my dad’s funeral and are here looking for a copy of the original piece as read at the service, contact me with your request. Let me know who you are along with an email address and I’ll send it to you in whatever format you prefer: pdf, docx, txt, or the content of an email. Just let me know in your request which one you would like. If you like this blog version, I can send you a copy of it as well. Or instead. I’m happy to send you whatever you want.
I couldn’t make it to the funeral, so I wrote this tribute to him for my sister to read at the service. The names have been changed to protect family privacy.
My sister released a flock of balloons into the sky at the graveside segment of the funeral service. Thus the featured image.
“I know you’ve loved me for as long as I’ve lived, but I have loved you my whole life” is a quote from my sister in a conversation she had with my dad.
The computers, teacup ride, and blue Chevelle images are courtesy of WikiCommons Media.
The pictures with my dad are courtesy of The Clark Family.
Other images are from Pixabay.
The Broncos joke was adapted from a joke I read about in a post on a blog called The Phil Factor entitled “Death Doesn’t Have to be Boring“. (Be forewarned if you check it out, though. Some of you, my dear readers, will have to take some of his content with a grain of salt.)
One version of Lode Runner I have and still play often is the classic version for Android on my phone. It’s available on Google Play.
If you’ve ever written a eulogy for a loved one, I’d like to read it. If you have a link to it, post it in the comments so I and others can check it out when we have the chance. If you don’t have it online and would still like to share it with me, you can email it.
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