Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Two years ago in February, my father, Henry S. Easter, Jr. passed away in a hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida. I know I wasn't there with him when he was born some 69 years earlier, but I was there in the room with him when he passed.

About an hour before he passed, I said my goodbye to him. I told him that he had raised me and my brother and that we would take care of my mom. I told him that it was ok to go if he was being called. He was so peaceful.

It had not always been that way for my father. He grew up on Somerset just south of 16th Street. As a child, he remembered selling Indianapolis Star papers at the track for extra money. My grandfather was a union man working at International Harvester as a tool designer, and my grandmother was a fine mother. My dad would tell stories of her chasing him off the roof when he tried to jump off it with an umbrella. She loved him.

For my father and my aunt, things weren't so easy. My grandparents provided for them the best they could, and my dad often talked about how he never knew he was poor. For him, a sports scholarship was his ticket to an education. He had been a football and baseball star at Indianapolis Washington High School. Angus Nicoson extended an athletic scholarship for my dad at Indiana Central College. Dad played baseball and football, and he also played golf and wrestled. He was a four sport star, and he was inducted into the Greyhound Hall of Fame in January of 2008. It was just a year before he died, and it was one of the proudest moments of his life.

Somewhere around the time he was at Indiana Central, his father, my grandfather, accidentally stepped on the family dog and broke its jaw. They took the dog, Missy, to the Lafayette Road Animal Hospital where a young receptionist named Marjorie Miller caught my dad's eye. He asked her out on a date, and she said no. So, he settled for asking her out for a Coke. She accepted. A few months later in March, they were married.

Dad was teaching and coaching at Avon High School where he was the first football, wrestling, and golf coach. My brother was born in September of 1962. Then, a series of tragedies hit as my sister, Maria, lived four days before dying in 1964. I also have a brother named Eric that passed four days after birth in 1970. Those were dark days.

Another dark day for my dad was losing his father.  Henry S. Easter, Sr. passed away at the young age of 62 on Feburary 14, 1972.  It was three years before I was born, but my entire family felt the pain of losing Henry Sr. for years afterwards.  Grandpa Easter was an intense family man who literally worked almost until the day he died.  Later, when dad was failing in health, he would often talk about his father visiting him in dreams.  One particularly poignant dream occurred on a golf course when Grandpa convinced Dad that it wasn't his time to go yet.  Dad lived another 17 years.

I came along in 1975, and I know what a challenge and struggle that must have been for my dad. He was, I'm sure, cruising along pretty comfortably at the age of 36 when he found out he would be a father again. Suddenly, the thought of a more comfortable and perhaps early retirement crashed to the ground. He went back into provider mode. By this time, he was done teaching and into counseling and administration. When I was born, he was the Dean of Boys at Howe High School. He got his Masters Degree and his Principal's License around that time from Butler University. In four years, he would move on to Broad Ripple High School as Vice Principal. For 100 days in 1990/1991, my dad was interim Principal of Broad Ripple. He tried for a couple of principalships, but with his health in decline (he suffered a heart attack in 1986 and had open heart surgery later that year and again in 1994), he finally retired in January of 1997. My grandmother had died the month before, and that really shook him.  Grandma Easter was an amazing woman who I really need to write about in another blog post.  I think of her daily.  My dad and my careers overlapped by about a week as I was student teaching at Franklin Central and my dad was finishing up at BR.

For the next 12 years, he was a devoted husband and family man. Where he had sometimes been distant was now replaced with a loving and sometimes surprisingly emotional man that simply loved the people in his life. He spent time playing golf and catching up on his coin collection. They moved to Florida where he became active in the mobile home community association there and made new and great friends. They found out in 2007 that my mother had breast cancer. She needed surgery, and he became her primary caregiver even though his health was declining.

He held on for her until she was cancer free. In the last few weeks of his life, he spent time tying up loose ends. Finally, on the day after the Super Bowl, he went into the hospital with double pneumonia. On February 19, he fell into a coma. He died on February 20 at about 11:20 p.m. Literally, my mom, my aunt, my brother, his wife, and I were surrounding him and watched him take his last breath of this life.

I was tasked with the job of telling the nurse that my father had passed. When I walked out of the room, Aquarius was playing over the public address system at the hospice. It made me smile because it was one of Dad's favorite songs.

My dad was a good man. His family was always first in his life, and he did pretty well for a kid that grew up poor.

Thanks for indulging me. I had to get this story off my chest today, on Father's Day. Enjoy your parents while they are here. Take all the pictures you can, and save the memories.

Finally, Dads...don't be afraid to tell your sons that you love them. I never went a day without knowing that, and I still feel my father's love today. I know he will always be with me. The stories and memories survive. I still hear his voice, and I still find myself thinking about how he might deal with situations.

Happy Father's Day to you all!


Ryan said...

Thank you Mr. Easter!:)

lori said...

John, thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute to your dad and for reminding us all of what is really important in life.

iPOPA said...

This is an outstanding tribute, Jon!