Today would have been my Dad’s 74th birthday. His life shaped and influenced many people. As a German immigrant, he came to the U.S. with his new bride seeking financial security. He had a five year plan, ending with a return to his homeland and family. You know what they say about the best-laid plans, though. It didn’t quite work out that way.

I was born two years later. My parents bought a house. They both found jobs; Mom taking care of six children for a wonderful Irish-American family and Dad as a brick-layer and stone mason. They became active in a small Lutheran church. They made many friends. After five years, they did go back to Germany for what turned out to be a short visit. Their new home was back in the U.S.A.

My parents were far from perfect. Dad struggled with his temper; Mom was a traditional, submissive European wife. I was your typical American kid and rebelled against both of their styles. However, as I experienced my own growth as an adult, I saw their behavior for what it was. They had a lot of pressure as people who were learning a new language and a different culture. They worked hard trying to provide for their children in a country very far from their family and their support system. As I grew to see life through their eyes, I understood their motivations a little better. They weren’t right or wrong; they were doing the very best they could. I was being unreasonable and unrealistic by expecting them to be any more than that.

As he entered the later phase of his life, Dad was enormously proud of his two children, our spouses and especially his three grandchildren. I don’t think that any of us could do wrong in his eyes. He saw each of us as blessings in his life and what a blessing that attitude was to us. He took great joy in our lives. Dad struggled with colon and then lung cancer for nearly ten years. Through all of his personal struggles, he lovingly cared for Mom as she began the slow journey into Alzheimer’s disease. Dad was an example for everyone that came in contact with him of a life lived in faith and hope.

Dad died two months after his 70th birthday. There was much more life to live, but it wasn’t to be so. On this anniversary of his birth, I am filled with a sadness for what I miss. But I have moved beyond the grief and choose each day to live my life in part to honor him. I have opportunities he would have never dreamed of. I celebrate the strength, integrity, work ethic, family focus and positive attitide that he instilled in me. By choosing to be fully present everyday, I can pay tribute to his life and how hard he worked to be the best he could be for all of us.

Happy birthday, Dad.

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