Today I was asked to write my dad’s obituary. There is so much to say about my dad, it was difficult to narrow things down to a place where it would fit into an obituary, so I opted to give a fuller account here.
Dad was born on October 8, 1946 to Bob and Betty White. I don’t know a lot about his childhood, just a few stories he would tell. He lived up the road from the twins who went on to star on BJ and the Bear and the Doublemint gum commercials in the 70s. He was a Boy Scout and played football at Carmel High School. He excelled at horseplay telling a story about throwing pencils in class when his teacher walked in the room and the pencil lodged in his forehead.
After high school dad was drafted into the US Army where he served in the first infantry division (Big Red 1). He was a combat medic. As with most combat veterans, he didn’t come home without his share of mental and physical damage. Though dad was proud of his military service, he didn’t spend a lot of time talking with us about his experience. The closest we have are a series of letters he wrote home from war. When I was 12 he took me to see the Oliver Stone movie Platoon. The movie was extremely graphic. I remember walking out of the theater and asking dad if that was what it was really like. His response through tears was that everyone’s experience was different, but that was pretty close.
Dad had been involved in the Native American powwow circuit since he was a teen. When he got back from Vietnam he moved to Oklahoma. He ended up getting a girl pregnant there, and being raised to take responsibility for his actions, they got married. They ended up having a son and a daughter before they divorced and he moved back to Indiana with his parents. They are my older brother and sister Robby and Andrea.
In September 1973 while attending The Festival of the Turning Leaves in Thorntown he met Linda Skow, my mom, a 19 year old single mom. He asked her out. She gave him her number. By the end of their first date he proposed. She said she needed to think about it. On their second date behind Thorntown High School he proposed again. She told him to take her to the football field and get on his knee and do it properly. He did. She said yes. December 1, about 9 weeks after they met, they were married. He became my dad. Mom and dad celebrated their 43rd anniversary last month. A year and three months later they had my little brother Chebon and our family was complete.
Now, when I say our family was complete, there should be an asterisk. I can’t begin to remember all the people who stayed with us or even lived with us over the years. I have no idea how many people who are not biologically related have referred to my parents as mom and dad or aunt and uncle. And it is impossible to begin to count the number of lives my dad has impacted. I’ll give a few examples.
My dad was a Boy Scout leader. He loved working with the scouts and imparting his stories, his experience, and his wisdom into young lives. I still hear stories all the time about lives my dad impacted as a Boy Scout leader.
My dad would take in and talk to or listen to anyone. Among people who became close friends of my dad were the town drunk, and a local troublemaker who had several years before shot and killed our pet dog. Many hours were spent talking in our garage, at our kitchen table, or around a campfire with people whose lives had crashed around them and were at the end of their rope. Dad would talk them through whatever they were going through.
Dad’s artwork also gave him the opportunity to reach into people’s lives. Most recently he taught woodcarving classes to students of all ages. I have met many of his students who would rave about how much they loved spending time with him.
Lastly, he has been active in his church community. Through several churches over the years, and for about the last decade at Freedom Church dad has regularly imparted his wisdom and experience into the lives of those he has encountered.
And one of the greatest ways dad impacted my life was seeing the way he loved my mom. He would go to war to defend her honor. I have almost never seen my dad’s temper turn physical, but when I did it was defending my mom. I also spent my childhood and teen years watching my dad be openly affectionate with my mom. Whether kissing, a smack on the butt, or chasing her around the house, I learned what it looked like for a married couple to love each other. I model that with my own wife, which my kids don’t appreciate. But one day they will.
Don’t get me wrong, my dad wasn’t a perfect man. He had a bad temper and was extremely opinionated. He would let out racial slurs and insensitive comments without a lot of thought. We stopped talking about politics years ago. But he was an example to me of how to love my wife, and how to love those I encountered. He was deeply compassionate, and that had an effect on this world that may never be known.