I was talking on the phone to my little brother, Steven, a couple weeks ago, catching up and trying to hammer out dates for a small family reunion this summer. As sometimes happens, our conversation turned to our dad.
“Do you realize that next week, it will be 30 years since Dad died?” Steven asked.
I could hardly believe it. I quickly did the math in my head, shocked as I always am when I count the years since he’s been gone. I was 13 when he died. I’ve lived much more of my life without him than with him, and yet I think of him every day. Sometimes, the grief still hits me so hard that I can’t keep myself from crying the tears of someone who has been robbed.
My father was perfect. Or at least that’s how I remember him. My memories have been gilded by time and a child’s perspective of a parent who was taken too soon. In my memories, he never spoke an unkind word, never had a misstep in judgment. He was always wise, always witty, always golden.
I asked my mom about it recently, if it ever bothers her that my brothers and I remember our dad as a paragon of perfection while she was the very human one left behind to be the actual “boots on the ground.”
Every sick child, every student loan application, every car accident, every broken heart, every wedding, every graduation – she was the one there to see us through it. But my dad is the one we place on a pedestal.
“It doesn’t bug me; it never even entered my mind,” my mom assured me. “I probably put him on a pedestal more than you kids ever did. He didn’t do much wrong. But,” she added, “he was a normal guy that sometimes you wanted to punch.”
As proof, she told me a story about their days as young parents, when their first baby, my older brother, Jonathan, was about 6 months old. My dad – a genius computer engineer who worked first with Apple and then Hewlett-Packard – was working feverishly on some project at the office late one night, completely oblivious to the fact that it was 2 a.m.
My mom, awake for the umpteenth hour with a fussy baby, decided enough was enough. She dialed his number at work, held the phone up to their screaming infant and then hung up without saying a word. My dad apparently got the message; five minutes later, he came through the door, sheepishly apologizing and promising to do better.
After my dad died, his friends and co-workers flooded us with stories about the kind of boss, friend and leader he was. Frequently mentioned was his love for peanut M&Ms, which he would dole out to everyone in paper cups before project meetings at work.
Lots of people talked about the interest he took in each individual. No one who worked under Jon Selden was merely a cog in a machine. A little “maverick” in his leadership style, one of my dad’s favorite quotes was, “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.” And, according to pretty much everyone I’ve ever heard from, he was fun.
One time, he took his project team members and their wives to dinner at Patsy Clark’s, which was about as swanky as you could get in Spokane in the 1980s. When the waiter handed him the bill, my dad looked at it, then dropped to the floor as if he had fainted, right there at the waiter’s feet. According to my mom, the waiter was mortified. Everyone else thought it was hilarious.
My brothers and I love hearing stories about our dad. As we ended our conversation the other night, I remarked to Steven that I wished I could gather stories from those who knew him.
“Yeah, if only one of us had a newspaper column where we could reach a large number of people who might have stories about Dad,” he hinted as only a sarcastic little brother can.
Right. So here is my shameless plea: If anyone reading this has a story about my dad, Jon Selden, please send it to me at the email address below. My family and I would love to hear it.
Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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