Remembering my stepfather

posted by Jeff | Friday, October 19, 2012, 12:05 AM | comments: 0

My stepfather, David Beecher, died last night at home in The Villages, Florida. He's been in home hospice care for a couple of months now, and my mom said the last few weeks in particular have been kind of rough.

I'm not sure how to react, or how I think I should react, in part because this is a day I knew was coming. I suppose I've prepared for it a number of times, with various heart attack scares going back 20 years. This is a guy who couldn't catch a break in terms of his body doing battle against him, from the multiple bypass surgeries to the knees that made him largely immobile in his later years.

Fortunately, I also remember a time when he was able to play tennis and chop wood on camping trips. David and my mom got married when I was in grade two, at which point he had already raised another family. It takes a brave soul to virtually start over like that and do it again, and at least for me, that's certainly the thing that I will always remember him most for.

I remember in the very earliest of years that his baldness was a frequent topic of discussion and humor. I guess I didn't know anyone else who was bald at the age of 7! I also remember one of his kids, which were essentially grownups for me at that point, joke about the way he would stare over his glasses at you when you were in trouble.

We didn't always have the greatest relationship, which probably wouldn't come as a surprise to most children of divorced parents. You're always confronted with the weirdness of having a biological father and a stepfather, but if you're lucky, the issues between your parents are mostly hidden from your view, as they were for me (until my adult years). As with any parent, I challenged his authority more and more as I went through my teen years, but by the time I was in college I wanted to chop that wood on camping trips. By the mid-90's, we had plenty of good conversations as adults, thankfully.

When I look at the years that I knew him, one of the most remarkable things about David's life is that he was really from the last generation of people who had a predictable professional life, to a point. For years he worked for the North American Coal Corporation, which had an office in Shaker. He wore a suit and took the bus every day across town, and had a pension. He was a traffic manager, and from time to time brought home really cool toys from railroads, including a Burlington Northern die-cast engine that I vividly remember.

In 1987, they showed him the door. I don't remember if the company in general was in trouble or what, but he had a nice sendoff from his co-workers, and in some ways, the whole thing was a blessing in disguise. It enabled us to move out of Cleveland, which was a real shit hole at the time. They also gave him an old Apple II+ computer that was used to do spreadsheets, and I don't have to tell you what that did for me in the long run. It also made things harder, because pushing 60 doesn't exactly put you at the top of the list of people companies want to hire. I never really knew how bad things got, and he took his duty as family provider seriously.

David was also a competitor, almost to a fault. We obtained a used ping-pong table when I was in high school, and he did not hold back. For someone who mostly sucked at sports at the time, it was good to be challenged. It was the only thing I was best at in my sophomore gym class. But he was cut throat even in Yahtzee on camping trips, which was only luck to begin with! He would also make up words in Boggle, so we had to keep a dictionary on those camping trips. Those were good times, holed up in the camper on rainy nights.

I owe some of my curiosity in mechanical things to David. When I was in grade school, he often had a way of improvising with stuff, whether it was with some kind of home repair or fix. He never prevented me from using his tools, and I know I trashed a number of drill bits cutting through Radio Shack project boxes and such. He taught me how to solder, and I think it was a broken headphone jack on a cassette walkman.

I loved that he was always very sweet to Stephanie (my first wife). He always turned on the charm for Diana, too. The last time I spent with him was a bit over a year and a half ago, when we were last in Florida. Simon made him smile, and I was surprised at how well his mind was holding up relative to his body. It was hard to see him so immobile, the guy who used to chop wood on camping trips.

On a reflective day like this, I don't think much of David in his later state, but rather in those other times. It's most remarkable to think about how his life with us was really part two after raising his first family. If we measure a person's life by the impact they have on others, he had twice as much as most people. We should all be that lucky to have that kind of life.


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