Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Man Named Dale


"I never knew the silence could make me so deaf, 
I never knew that I could miss someone I've never met, 
Miss someone I've never met..... yet."   -Wes King


My father died while my mother was still pregnant with me. When I was a child I pretty much accepted this reality. I've known for as long as I can remember and that's just the facts jack. Emotions would only stir when I visited his place of rest.




I'm in my late thirties now and something has changed. These days a song lyric or a tender moment with one of my children can act as a trigger for grief. These highly emotional responses catch me off guard, my eyes well up, and I retreat to be alone for awhile. I was sharing this with my pastor the other day. I explained how peculiar it is that I never grieved like this growing up. He said, "Well, it's difficult to miss something you never had."

Exactly.

I am a father of three beautiful children now. I have my flaws, believe me, but I have fully embraced being a dad. In fact, I've loved it- all of it. I have bonded with each one my children in different, special ways and I pray that those bonds remain after they leave the nest.

Perhaps someday they'll ask more about their granddad. Maybe you're wondering what happened too? Well, here's what I know about Dale Dawson Westfall 1950-1979.



Senior Photo

A Man Named Dale

My Father grew up in Greeley Colorado, just as I did. Friends describe him as a shy but extremely kind man. A big ol' teddy bear with a resonant bass voice. Dale was a scoutmaster who loved folk music and playing guitar.  In remembrance of him, a friend once said: "Dale's lesson to us was always one of optimism and be the best you can be right now. Can't change what's past but you can influence now and hopefully tomorrow."

Some of my father's classmates recently shared a story about the time Dale sang "Ole Man River" in a high school musical. Evidently that silky bass voice fit the bill because his performance brought the house down.



My grandparents owned a drive-in and enjoyed a nice home life until my grandfather, Cecil, made some poor choices (morally and financially). All of it all came crashing down soon after Dale graduated. My dad spent the next few years trying to help my grandmother support the family. Cecil was estranged from the family and I never met the man.

In his early twenties Dale married a woman named Mary but that marriage was fairly toxic and ended prematurely. I have a half-brother named Shawn in Oregon whom I've never met.




By his mid-twenties Dale was a foundry worker in Pryor, Oklahoma. One evening after work he had some beers at the local tavern. As the evening wound down, he gave two other men a ride home. On that drive as they were crossing a major bridge in town they were involved in a terrible accident. Dale told my mother that one of the men was depressed/suicidal and jerked on the wheel in an effort to go off the bridge. Either way, they slammed into the guard rail. With the icy conditions, a few other vehicles piled up behind them. A couple men died, my father barely lived.



Dale was in a body cast for a while. Eventually he went back to Colorado to recuperate with family. That's when he met my mother, Diane. She had two children and was still reeling from an abusive first marriage. Diane waited tables at the Moose Lodge. The two would flirt as my dad hobbled around with a cast one arm and another on the opposite leg. The two were quickly married, I was conceived, and soon Dale was moving his bride back to Oklahoma to resume his job at the foundry.

Honeymooners


My mother would tell you that Dale was her true love, and that those were the happiest days of her life. Dale adored her two children and planned on adopting them. Unlike Diane's first husband, Dale was kind and slow to anger. My mother recalls the only time she would get upset with him was when he would give the last twenty bucks in his wallet to a co-worker in need. This happened several times.

Unfortunately their time together was brief. Dale continued to have lingering internal issues from the accident. About a year after the accident his pancreas quit all-together. Their days together were numbered.

My mother vividly recounts their last hours at a hospital in Tulsa. My father kept complaining about a bright light. She had shut off every light in the room, closed the curtains, but still he persisted. The light was just too bright. That evening he went into surgery, and never came out. Why or how that man lived another year after that terrible crash we'll never know. But if he hadn't, there'd be no...me?

My poor mother. Her newly-wedded husband was gone and the only evidence left of that union was growing in her belly. She was a widow now with two small children and one on the way. I can't even imagine what she was going through. Just a teaser of happiness only to have it ripped away.

Her parents went to Oklahoma to retrieve their daughter and the remains of our broken family. Three months later I came into the world. She named me "Daniel" as my father had chosen.

That's all I really know about the man.

A Boy Named Daniel

The tragedy on that side of the family didn't end with my father. I lost my grandmother, LaVerne to cancer at age ten. Then I lost my favorite aunt, Candice, at age thirteen. I still don't totally understand the circumstances around her death. That was the hardest one on me as a child. Aunt Candy was the coolest chick in the world according to my siblings and I. Like a lot of Westfalls, she was sharp as a tack. She had a cool job at Lockheed Martin and would take us on all kinds of adventures. I wasn't just hurt by the loss of Aunt Candy, I was pissed. The anger was only amplified by my new home life.

Instead of Dale, I grew up with a step-dad named Jack. I didn't care for the man, nor did most of my family. I addressed that debacle in a previous blog, Jack was an addict and eventually took his own life the summer after I graduated from high school.



"Let it all work out, that pain gon' make you stronger, that hurt gon' make you a leader, don't let that make you a monster." -Lecrae

It all seems so sad, doesn't it? My first eighteen years sort of went like that. It felt like the deck was stacked against me and I would never get ahead. I suppose this story would be called a tragedy if that's how it all ended, but it didn't. I dug in, tried to make good choices, and pressed on.


Blessings

Each person has a choice when tragedy strikes. We could wallow in self pity or we can count our blessings as the come. And my blessings did come, one by one.

"So keep on comin' with these lines on the road, 
and keep me responsible, be it a light or heavy load, 
keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise, 
I'll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes."
-Derek Webb

Despite whatever anger/social issues I had in my teen years, good people seemed to find the good in me. I made friends. I found mentors in the form of a youth pastor and the parents of my friends. I got some scholarships to a Christian college and I went off to find my way, in Oklahoma of all places.

I met a girl there. Within weeks Heather was the best friend I'll ever have. She taught me about family. She taught me about true love- the kind of love that only occurs when you dare to love someone more than you love yourself.

We married and had a little boy together. It was the proudest and happiest day of my life.




One by one those blessings came.

Two little girls joined us too. They're pure magic, just like my Aunt Candy, and they have my heart.



I landed a good job with Union Pacific and I've worked there every since. Even been promoted a couple times. Oh, then there's those wonderful people who helped me and encouraged me along the way. I've been able to share my family and express my gratitude to them as well.

Today

It's human nature to put the one's we've lost on a pedestal. I try not to. There's no way to quantify how things might have been different if my father had lived but I think about it sometimes. By all accounts, it sounds like my dad was a pretty special guy. Maybe I honor him by being kind and generous to my neighbors? Maybe I bless him by being a good father? Maybe I show my love for him by extending grace and love to my mother...something I need to do a better job of.




I'm thirty eight now. My father has been gone for just as many years. Why now more than ever do I grieve his loss? Why would a grown man as big and tough as me go into his bedroom and sob, grieving over a man he's never met?

I think it's because I'm a father now. I get to come home every day to shouts of "Daddy." I get to soak up bear hugs and butterfly kisses. It's crazy and it's beautiful.

That's why I mourn. Now I know what I missed, what my mother missed, what HE missed.

I grieve the void. I weep for how things might have been. I long for a reunion.

"I'm gonna wrap my arms around my daddy's neck, And tell him that I've missed him
And tell him all about the man that I became, And hope that it pleased him
There's so much I want to say, There's so much I want you to know
When I finally make it home..."

-Mercy Me

Lord willing, I will be blessed to watch my children grow. Maybe even a few grandchildren too. We'll see. All I can do is run my race the best I can.

I do pray when I lay down to rest for the final time, that I too will be blinded by the light. Then I'll say, "Sweet Jesus, take me home."

I've got two fathers in heaven, and I can't wait to see them both.


Dan Westfall
January 2018