Say Something. Anything.

I blame my Dad for this blog. Not only because he was and will always be my story-telling mentor, but also because it was in the sadness of his death that I first wrote something, anything, that I felt was worthy of being written down. It's been a little over 15 years since he died. In that time period we raised our son. As a father, I often looked back to Dad, both the good and the bad, for help, guidance and perspective on how to be a parent. Have some kids. You'll know what I mean.

B.A. & G.A. & Aunt Barb & Uncle Bill
Billy Andrew Turner was born April 25, 1918 in Alanreed, TX and died February 24, 2001 in Amarillo. Though his death was not entirely unexpected, the cancer had come back and he chose not to fight it the second time, it was difficult for me. I was a relatively new father, a recently gone-back-to-church Christian, and a positively guilt-ridden son. When the time came for his funeral, I knew I wanted to say something, anything, to stop the circulating questions - what's the point? where is the meaning? when will I understand? why am I numb? how am I to blame?

Sometime during the week before his funeral I woke up at 2AM, wide awake, with no chance of getting back to sleep. I was anxious, too anxious to sleep, and fired up the computer to write, hoping that I could come up with something that was worthy of being read at my father's funeral. When the sun came up I thought, "This is it. I'm done. This works, and says what I need to say." Recently, in getting ready for our upcoming move, my wife found the one page eulogy I wrote and read at my Dad's interment in the Alanreed cemetery. I'm adding it here below, not to brag or for posterity, but because it signals, for me, a connection to writing with a purpose, with inspiration, with divine assistance.

Over the years I have had the honor to write and speak at several funerals. My Dad's. My father-in-law's. My friend Beverly Ewing. And I have had occasion to write about a loss, specifically a letter to our youth group regarding the loss of Libby Fellows, the beautiful young daughter of a dear friend. I have often wanted to write about the loss of my niece, Colby Turner, but I could never be as eloquent and heartfelt as my brother's writing, which is as it should be. I mention these not to brag, but to make the point that in all these situations I have felt that the writing has been purposeful, inspired, and healing to me. I hope it has been healing to others as well.

I spent the first 17 years of my life living with Dad ... seeing first hand, and often criticizing, how he worked, how he lived, how he managed relationships. I spent the next 17 basically ignoring him. There was the occasional visit, the occasional 'thank-you for helping me get my car fixed,' and the very rare Sunday afternoon truck ride to Hedley or McLean or Booker, but for the most part, he left me alone and I enjoyed my freedom.

I can't quite put my finger on the key point in our relationship recently. Mutual respect, maybe? Well, it probably didn't matter to Dad. When I look back, it seems he always treated me the same way, regardless of what 'phase' our relationship was in, and I think the key point over time was always respect. Oh, we had differences of opinion on many, many things. But I always listened to his point of view. And then he'd listen to mine. And then, after about a half hour of silence in the dusty cab of some old truck, I'd get a story.

Sometimes the story fit the situation. Sometimes it didn't. Usually, I listened to the end. I wish I remembered them all. Well, I suppose, in a way, I have remembered them all. I always listened to Dad's stories with a pinch of disbelief, and sometimes more than a pinch. As I got older I realized that the stories were not just a historical retelling of some event, but were little morality plays and parables. The embellishments, the level of detail, and the consistency of the message made them all hang together and presented a rather complete version of the Gospel of Life according to Bill. I've forgotten most of the stories. I couldn't write a list. But the message got through somehow, and I think Dad would be proud of how I've turned out  ... at least so far.

Well, now I've done it. I promised myself not to bring up religion here, not because Dad wouldn't appreciate it, but because, frankly, it's awkward. We all have different beliefs, and I'm certainly in no position to comment from authority, but I do have two things, two religious things, that I want everyone here to hear.

First, when I was around 10 years old someone in our church told me that if my father didn't start going to church, he was going to hell. That comment was a significant factor in driving me away from church, and it was also important in getting me to go back. I needed to figure out on my own if that was a true statement. I've done a lot of searching and questioning, and I think I've found an answer that satisfies me, which leads me to my second religious point. I actually asked Dad, more than once, why he didn't go to church. Usually, I got a smart ass reply like 'Well, if they'd put some real wine in that Lord's Supper I might' or 'Maybe if they had a pi-an-er.' But I think his basic theology boiled down to, 'I don't have to attend church. I'm willing to let God judge me on my own merits.' That's fine with me, and I'm pretty sure it's worked out for him.

Obviously, I'm writing all this beforehand, but if I was gonna bet, I would bet that the weather for this specific day wouldn't be perfect. Seems like it is always too hot, too cold, too windy or too dry here in the Panhandle. Somehow, that seems just right for Dad. Like the Panhandle weather, Dad never seemed to be perfect. Then you come back for a visit and get the wind and dust in your face and your hair, or your skin gets chapped by the wind and burned by the sun, and it brings back a flood of memories. And you remember the weather specifically. And you appreciate it. And accept it for what it is. And you admire and understand its influence on your life.

This cemetery in Alanreed isn't exactly a 'peaceful valley' either. It's not a picture perfect place; it's not a Norman Rockwell painting. But I think it fits; I think as Dad would say, "it'll do." Dad loved the Panhandle. I love it, too. It has a unique beauty that stays with you. You can't look at this place and say, "Man, it's going to be great living here!" So when you see someone who lives here, loves it, understands it, and appreciates it, you have to admire that person. You have to say, here's a man who respects nature. You have to say, here's a man who deserves my respect. His life wasn't always easy, but he survived, he earned respect, and he was a good father. That ought to be good enough.

B.A., leaving Bill's, avoiding the camera
I hope it hasn't taken as long to read this as it did for me to write this. I said all along that Dad would only want a short, simple ceremony and here I've started preaching. But I have to share one more thing. First, not more than a month ago, out of the blue, Griffin tells Cindy as we're all riding in the car, "Mom, I'm taking Daddy lessons from Dad." Talk about pressure. It dawned on me that I'm not just trying to raise a good kid, I'm trying to raise a good man. And not just a good man, but the next generation of Dads. And when I understood the implication of that, I finally understood a comment Dad made to me last year in one of the final, meaningful conversations we had. We were discussing putting him in a nursing home and he said to me, "Deck, I'm a good guy." And all I could say was, "Yeah, Dad, you're a good guy." And now I know that for Dad that was the whole point, all along. It's a good point to make.

I love you, Dad. Thanks.

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