Yesterday my dad should have turned seventy. He passed away this year on my birthday, so this weekend we’ve been missing him on his.
Ironically, I could still practice my favorite joke-ritual, which was not to call my dad (whose depth of phone-phobia was rivaled only by my sister’s and my own) on his birthday. I even found him a card one year that offered a “no-call” option as a birthday present. (Actually, I usually did call anyway—and this week I’m glad of that.)
One of the horrible ironies of memorial services is the fact that grieving people are expected (worse: expect themselves) to brilliantly and eruditely sum up LOVE, as it applies to a suddenly-missing person, at a point in time when their hearts are most broken and their brains are most fried. In such a case, the best you can hope for is that God will get some of the right words into your mouth (or out of your pen), and that the other people missing him will be able to fill in the rest through their love and memories.
The single story I most wanted to share about my dad didn’t seem appropriate for either the obituary I wrote nor the eulogy at his service. Somehow, alcoholism (in either the speaker or the deceased) doesn’t seem like a welcome subject in those venues… But this story says SO much about my dad, and here’s a place where I can tell it.
My Thanksgiving Daddy-story…
When I first started thinking about getting sober eight years ago, I’d string together 30 days and fall on my face again. Repeatedly. Furious and frustrated by my own “weakness,” I wasn’t above some blame-shifting into the bargain…
Facing my first (post-divorce) Thanksgiving without my kids, I’d accepted a plane ticket from my parents to spend the holiday with them. My godparents were arriving from out of state, and my mother planned to entertain in her usual exuberant and extravagant style, great-grandma’s china and all. It would have been a solid coping strategy… except for my dad’s drinking. Having just (again) made it to 30 days, my Sobriety was raw and shaky and completely lacking confidence. I knew I would end up drinking at that house.
Still, I couldn’t very well tell my mother I wasn’t coming for the big Thanksgiving! So I swept aside the concerns of my new A.A. friends, packed a bag, took a cab to the airport, went through the security screening and sat at my gate… And didn’t get on the plane. Of course, that was even worse than if I’d made the decision rationally and in good time—now I had to call my mother and tell her I wasn’t on the plane she had already left the house to meet! And told her why. And to compound my awfulness, I took my miserable butt home and got really drunk.
Any guesses what my parents did? You won’t guess, so I’ll tell you. They cancelled their big Thanksgiving, called off the out-of-town guests, put the turkey and side dishes (everything but great-grandma’s china) into their car, and drove the 300 miles to my house.
Dad walked in the door already crying, folded me in a hug, and told me, “I love you. I’m an alcoholic.”
And that was the beginning of the end of his drinking. He took about a month to wean himself off of alcohol (safely and scientifically, as he did most things) and then he never drank again. If I have to pick one story to tell about my Dad, that’s the one I want to tell.
This year on Thanksgiving day my mother sent a photo to my sister and me: a single rose that had materialized (in November cold!) on the rose bush we planted the day Dad died. I agree with my sister’s idea: “Dad is saying hello!”
Impossible to “summarize” a LIFE! (…BUT someone is expected to attempt it…) My Obituary for Dad, Sep 2016.
We lost a kind and gentle soul when Bob Dwelle died on Sunday due to complications of congestive heart failure.
Bob Dwelle arrived in this world on December 3, 1946, to the delight of his parents, George & Edith, and the possible consternation of his older brother Dick. Bob shared his brother’s impish sense of humor, as well as a penchant for getting both into mischief and out of scrapes. The stories they would tell on themselves and each other in later years might not fall in the traditional category of “moral storytelling,” but Bob’s young daughters delighted in the tales of their Wisconsin childhood.
An active and athletic young man, Bob enjoyed camping and canoeing, and spent his college summers leading groups of teenage boys on lengthy canoe-treks through Wisconsin lakes and Canadian wilderness. As a Freshman at Carleton College in Northfield MN, Bob met Anne Zier, and the two of them married in March of their Senior year, incidentally becoming the first Carleton couple to be permitted to marry, or live off campus before graduating.
With his Carleton degree in Biology, Bob was admitted to the graduate program at University of Montana, where he bypassed the Masters program and went directly to work on a Ph.D. in plant physiology. After completing his Ph.D., Bob accepted a position at the University of Idaho’s potato-growing Experiment Station, located in the small farming town of Aberdeen ID, despite the fact that he had never seen a live potato plant. On the way to his job interview, knowing that potatoes were in the tomato family, he stopped at a likely looking field to scope out a real potato plant. From that shaky start, Bob cooperated over the years in research projects with scientists around the globe, and gave papers in locations ranging from Peru to the Ukraine, from Israel to Germany, and taught Potato Physiology for years.
He and Anne soon added a pair of “tater tots” to the family with the arrival of daughters Janna in 1974 and Karin in 1977. He was deeply involved with the Aberdeen community, within the church (St Paul’s Lutheran) as well as in community groups like Rotary and Girl Scouts (yes, Bob too), and served for some time on the Aberdeen City Council.
After a decade in Aberdeen, the family relocated to Moscow ID, where Anne had enrolled in UI’s Law School. With his typical generosity, Bob rearranged his career to accommodate this goal, and in the process discovered his deepest professional calling: teaching! The “temporary” teaching reassignment transformed into one of the most fulfilling aspects of his professional life.
The family remained in Moscow, where Bob continued to teach and rose to the position of Plant Science Chair in the College of Agriculture. Bob’s graduate students became Family Friends, and wherever in the world the family traveled, they could be assured of welcomes in the homes of Bob’s colleagues and former students. During his career as a Potato Physiologist, “Dr. Spud” was able to indulge his own love of travel, and instill the same in his daughters. The Dwelles’ 1984 European Sabbatical (just one of many memorable trips) spanned six months and eighteen European countries, all meticulously planned in advance by Bob (by letter in that pre-Internet era).
Bob had to retire early from the teaching he loved, when his cardiac health became precarious. Before ill health took its toll, he served on Moscow School Board, but even later he continued to serve in positions such as Treasurer with Emmanuel Lutheran Church and preschool, and the Campus Christian Center.
“Plant-Guy” that he was, Bob delighted in his garden—but his greatest joy in his last years was the arrival of his three grandchildren, Christian and Elena Grace (both of whom affectionately called him “Boboo”) and Clara.
Bob… Dad… Boboo… We love you. God’s got you!