Snapshot of my father

Today is the first father’s day that I won’t be able to call my dad on the phone. Not that he ever was much for talking on the phone. Usually if he answered, he’d say hello, followed quickly by “Here’s your mother.”

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Dr. Robert Sieling during a patient consultation in the early 1990s.

It’s been 10 months since he died. I’ve wanted to call him many times to tell him about trips that I’ve taken or stories that I’ve read, and then I remember that I can’t.

In this time I’ve spent many hours trying to sort out my feelings about him. The sadness and emptiness after a death is easy to recognize. But there is something that digs deeper inside of me that pulls out those deep grieving sobs that sometimes emerge without warning. This grieving has been complicated by the added layer of pain left by the ending of a nine year relationship, creating a molasses-like coating of sorrow that makes it hard to extricate one feeling from another.

A couple months ago I was finally able to separate the two. I saw that I not only was grieving over the death of my father, but the fact that I never felt that I ever connected with him personally. My father held many things inside and usually my siblings and I wrote it off to the fact that it was just the way he was. He only gave us little snapshots of his life. He infrequently volunteered stories about big parts of his life like his work as a surgeon or his time during the war in Vietnam, but he always liked to chat about the latest front page story in the newspaper.

I spent much of my life trying to connect with him, hoping to tell stories that would amuse him or impress him with my work. I would feel triumphant if I could make him laugh or smile. He may have been proud of me, but he rarely said so, so I will never really know what he thought about me. It’s something that I hope that I can let go of some day.


Lessons from Dad

I haven’t written most of the year. It’s been busy–a new job and a new position taking up most of my time since when I last wrote on here in February.

It’s also a year that I’ve experienced emotions that made me feel like I had my insides scooped out with a metal spoon. It left me so exhausted that every time that I wanted to write, I figured that what I put down in words was trite, or I just didn’t feel like sharing because these kind of feelings are a bit hard to understand until you go through them. I certainly didn’t understand the depth of those feelings that others had in the same situation until I experienced them myself.

My father in college

My father in college

So, when my sister suggested the family create a book about our memories of Dad to share with Mom for Christmas, I had a hard time sorting out what I wanted to write.

The one common thing that did come up over these past few months is how much I called upon my father’s usually unspoken lessons when things got tough for me. Below is my contribution about my father.

“Lessons from Dad”

Because Dad worked so much and at all hours, when he was home, he was exhausted. He reverted to his room to rest and get his energy back, either by sleeping or reading books. So, our time at home with him was usually either around the kitchen table at breakfast while he drank his coffee and read one of the two or three newspapers that were delivered to the house, or at dinner when we all talked about what happened during the day.

A trip after church on Sundays to either Chuck’s Donuts or Ed’s Smoke Shop for magazines and sweets was one of the few times during the week that we got to spend time with him outside of home, but even that depended on if he was on call at the hospital that day or not. Overall, there wasn’t a lot of talking on these outings, but even when I was young, I knew that the time I had with Dad and what he said was special because it wasn’t frequent.

Now when I think of Dad, I think of someone who taught me lessons during the few moments that he could, often without words, and instead by example. Here are just a few of the lessons that Dad taught me:

  1. People are…not always good or reasonable (that’s a nice way to put what he actually said). You just have to learn to deal with them and get on with what you have to do.
  2. Do the best job you can do and take pride in it, but don’t expect an award or praise for it. Do it because you want to do it.
  3. Be financially independent. While Dad was generous with money, it was clear he believed it was important to support yourself. No one else will do it for you.
  4. Work will take its toll on you. Take time to go off and be by yourself when you are tired mentally and/or physically, even if it doesn’t seem to be the socially correct thing to do at the time.
  5. Cycling is one of the most practical ways to get around. Dad rode his bike to Kaiser every day for some years. I now don’t own a car and rarely drive. Though, he taught me to drive a car, too. Of course, as the automobile lover he was, not being a car owner isn’t something that Dad would have necessarily encouraged.
  6. Gardening and yard work is a great way to keep busy and be outdoors at the same time. With Dad, it was a social time, listening to the baseball game on the radio while we all dug in the dirt or raked the leaves.
  7. Learn how to read a map. I think he taught me how to read a map on our family trips to keep me quiet in the car, but now I have a pretty good sense of direction and don’t have to rely on GPS to get me places.

Of course he taught me so much more than what is written above. In the end, I think he led by action because he wanted to make sure we had the tools necessary to be responsible and independent people and so he could be proud of us. I’d like to think that he was successful.