Happy Father’s Day in Your New Home!

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Originally titled, “Virtue in Simplicity; Strength with Humor.  We’ll miss you Dad”

(This “tribute” was started after my father in law died in November. I had written much of it but just hadn’t finished. I thought with Fathers Day coming up, I would finish it and post it as a tribute to him for our first Father’s Day without him. So, to my biological dad, I want you to know that I love you and by no means want to diminish the impact you’ve had on my life but I hope you understand if I share this tribute on behalf of my “other” dad this Father’s Day)

Those words in the title are ways I would describe my father in-law, Jerry Carlson who died this past Monday morning (November 29), exactly 1 year after his bride of 58 years also left this Terra firma to be with our Lord.  One of Webster’s definitions of virtue is, “conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.”  If that doesn’t befit my father in-law, nothing else does.  He was a man of principles, ethical, upright and a man of moral conduct.  But he was also fun with a great (and very dry) sense of humor.

Jerry crunching through a crossword puzzle in Florida

I’m sure there have been some who’ve felt intimidated by this 6’3″ stoic man.  But, as long as I’ve known him, intimidation wasn’t something he promoted but simply emitted.  His stern look, tall stature and firm responses elicited a sort of intimidation.  Yet beneath the seeming gruff exterior was a man who cared.  He cared about his family.  He cared about his friends.  He cared about his work.  And, he cared about his God…our God.  That was evident from the time I first met him as I began to date his fourth eldest child, third eldest daughter.

He was a leader.  I suppose even I was a little intimidated the first time I met him.  I don’t intimidate easily.  Not because I’m anything of note myself but because I learned early in life that if I could have a relationship with the God of the Universe, all else was easily accessible.  Yet, it’s always a little tense when it comes to a young man meeting the father of his newfound love interest.  So it was when I met Jerry.  But that quickly dissipated as I began to establish a relationship with him that would continue to elicit my increasing admiration, love, and respect as the years went by.

In some ways, he was the father I never had.  This is not meant to bring any disrespect or reduce the effect of my own father’s impact on my life.  But, as the child of a divorced family from an early age, I never truly experienced a family dynamic as designed by God.  Unfortunately, given the state of marriage in our culture I am in the company of too many who’ve experienced similar or worse situations.  Jerry and Peg Carlson provided that place where function met design.  Of course they weren’t perfect.  I wasn’t looking for perfect.  I was looking for intentional.  I needed (without recognizing that need) to find a family that would provide a solid foundation for the building of my own family.  They provided that.  They loved God and they loved their family.  And, they invited me in as if I was one of their own.  I’ll always feel that honor no matter how old I get.  I was one of their’s.  In some way, it was a clear picture to me of how I could be grafted into God’s family through Jesus Christ.

Jerry introduced me to activities that I had never known before.  He was an outdoorsman.  Not Daniel Boone-like.  But, he enjoyed outdoor activities.  Sue has told me stories of their camping trips across the country in those faux-wood sided station wagons that once populated our highways and bi-ways.  I fished in my first Minnesota fishing opener with Jerry and his sons and friends.  I loved it.  I was never much of a fisherman and there were many times that I think he slyly tested my mettle during the early years of these events.  He positioned me in the front of the boat as the “anchor man” during my early fishing openers.  Though I can’t prove it I wonder if he wasn’t snickering as he watched me stand at the bow of the boat as the wind whipped up the waves on a cold Minnesota spring day.  I mean, how hard can it be to toss an anchor into a lake?  Well, if you don’t know how deep it is or how to properly set the anchor, it can be challenging.  Especially as you try to keep your balance while the water laps up high over the bow, down your waders and into your clothing.  I’m sure he laughed.  He had a good sense of humor.  And, I truly didn’t mind because I felt like I was part of the family.  I didn’t mind getting the holey waders the first few years of our fishing trips.   Or, getting into the lake with them to put the dock out into the nearly frozen spring lake or at the end of the summer in preparation for another cabin closing for the season.  Frozen feet or wet pants were just a part of the initiation into this great family.  And it was worth it.  Every memory.  I just hope I did well by Jerry.  I think I did.

Though he and his son annually emulated Elmer B. Fudd going after Bugs Bunny (with more success and going after ducks and pheasants — not rabbits), I only went out with them once into a pheasant farm field.  Even then, I seldom shot the gun.  Never mastered the art of the shot.  Yet, I could certainly see how time in the field with these men would have been a wonderful experience. And, in retrospect, I wish I had gone with them at least once on their duck hunting excursions.

As much as he introduced me to adventures I had previously ignored, we shared some common loves of life.  We both loved to golf, watch (and loathe our local NFL team) the Minnesota Vikings, watch college hockey (but cheered for rival teams – I am a MN Gopher fan and alumni and he a ND Sioux fan and alumni) and, of course my wife—his daughter.  He was as cynical a fan as I was and am.  So, our discussions about the Vikings, Twins and other MN sports teams would quickly denigrate into complaining about the team and its performance.  In the scheme of life it’s not a big deal but I wish the Vikings could have given him one Super Bowl victory before he departed (just like a lot of Cubbie fans over the years).

I’ll always have the image of Jerry standing over his golf ball and taking that unique swing of his that almost always defeated me when we played head to head.  It was just fun playing golf with him.  I will miss that a lot.  And, I will miss playing with Peggy too.  She always made me feel like I was Jack Nicklaus when she talked about a shot that I hit that she “couldn’t believe”.  There were a lot of forgettable shots but not many that were memorable but she was able to make you feel like a golf king.  Jerry also crowed to the clubhouse gang about memorable shots his family hit during a round.

He loved crosswords and Sudoku. The image of him sitting with his right leg crossed over his left knee to form a lap table as he worked on the daily crossword puzzle is etched in my head.

Jerry loved his family.  He never said much but his actions and reactions showed how proud he was of his children, his “grafted in” children and his grandchildren.  Mostly, he loved his wife.  I think that when all is said and done and the mountain of memories stand tall, the one thing that will stand out to me when someone asks me what I thought about my father in-law, I will say “He adored his wife and loved and led his family well”.  His strong, silent leadership was evident but it was the way that he interacted and choreographed the dialog with his wife of 58 years that still touches my heart as I think about it today.  They made each other laugh….sometimes to the point of pain.  They chided and cajoled, scolded and corrected each other and always in fun or respectfully. Jerry always seemed to light up around his wife. When she went home to be withe The Lord, much of him went with her. They were truly a couple that was made “one” in Christ through marriage. I miss them and I miss those times.

So, as I close out this written tribute my memories remain and bring much joy as I remember my “other” father this Fathers day, that won’t be the same without him.

Your loving son-in-law

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