A sad milestone

My father, Glen Christiansen, died when I was 17 years old, in my senior year of high school. As of today, he’s been gone for half of my life. As of tomorrow, I’ll have lived longer without my father than I did with him.

(I grew up in the US Midwest, where normally this kind of thing generally isn’t talked about in public. Part of me is fighting my instincts in writing and posting this note. But I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and feel a real need to mark this milestone in public. It’s quite a departure from my normal blogging; and is likely the last time I’ll post something this personal.)

My father was a wonderful man. I still have great memories of working with him on projects around the house, on my Cub Scout Pinewood Derby cars, on Boy Scout camping trips, and just as a loving father. My work ethic can easily be traced to the example that my father set. What would start out as a simple project at the beginning of a weekend would transform to a massive project by the end of the weekend, largely because he insisted on doing things right, and designing something that built a product with long-term flexibility and options. He also worked incredibly hard at his job, and in the service of others. Literally days before he died (and during Christmas vacation) he was at home processing paperwork so farmers that worked with his company could get bonuses that were owed them.

No father is perfect, but I think my dad came pretty damn close. And as the years have gone by, what remains are the most warm and generous memories of my childhood. He was diagnosed with cancer just about two years before he died, so our family had two years of knowing the end was near and in that time we were able to really savor that time together. Considering the late-stage cancer, he was in pretty good health that entire time.

I should mention here how much my mother means to me. My mother and father were such a great team, particularly during those last two years. She has always been a strong influence in our lives, but in my father’s final years really became the backbone of our family, and remains so today. We couldn’t have gotten through the experience without her. Her emotional support of our whole family was incredibly strong, despite the fact that she had just lost her husband and partner of 25+ years. I love and admire her strength and character.

What saddens me to my core is knowing how much of my life I haven’t been able to share with my father; how much more I could have learned from him. When he died, he knew that I had a full scholarship to college through the Navy ROTC program. But after he died, I ended up going to a different university. I had amazing experiences at the University of Michigan, and then spent six years in the Navy. I’ve lived in London for the past eight years. More importantly, I met my wife, fell in love, married and now have our first child on the way. I look back and see what I’ve done and how much I’ve changed in the last 17 years.

I wish I could have had him experience racing through the Australian Outback with my university team. I wish I could have had him out on my submarine for a Tiger cruise; I can only imagine the pride we both would have felt. I wish I could have taken him around to all of the amazing places in London. I wish I could have introduced him to my wife; I know he would have loved her nearly as much as I do now. And as I approach fatherhood now, I really wish I could turn to him for advice.

I still remember the last time I saw my father alive; up and walking off to the surgery that we hoped would prolong the time he had left. (It’s still painfully ironic that he survived his very first incredibly risky surgery when a football-sized tumor was removed from his body, but didn’t survive the surgery that was virtually routine.) While this memory will always be bittersweet, I try to focus on the fact that he lived a full life and literally walked with life, energy, and purpose to his dying day.

As sad as this all is, I’m incredibly grateful. For over 17 years, an amazing man helped raise me and become the person I am today. I’m very happy I had a loving father, who taught and guided me and set such positive examples of how to live life. While I’ve missed him for 17 years, and will miss him every day for the rest of my life, I am blessed and grateful for the life and love he gave me. I had a gift of 17 years with a wonderful man, a wonderful father (and two wonderful parents).

I love you, Dad.

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