Here's to Life...

It’s been almost a year since I’ve published anything. I’ve started to write a variety of times but got distracted by one thing or another. That’s life, isn’t it? A series of moments split up by distractions. Maybe those of you who don’t struggle with the fun little thing some of us call ADD, can’t quite relate but the others who do, know exactly what I am talking about. Honestly, if life wasn’t this way, I’d probably be bored. Maybe it’s time to slow down…

I’m writing words in between staring out the window of a Dodge 2500 diesel pickup. I’m on my way down to Arkansas for opening day of duck hunting with my father and uncles which promises to be spectacular. I’m reading a book entitled “Life and Life Only” by Dave Moyer. It’s a fine book about a child baseball prodigy who’s dreams and moments got split up by distractions such as a shoulder injury and an unexpected pregnancy.

Life sometimes goes places you don’t expect...

I didn’t expect to be married at 20 and I surely didn’t expect to be divorced at 28. I didn’t expect to do jail time in high school, develop a drug problem, and have to rely so heavily on my family and friends for recovery. I didn’t expect to lose my ass in the first business I tried to develop (although it was good that I did) or be motivated to step back and watch a business I helped start continue growing without me.

I guess looking back, I never really had a plan. I just assumed things would work out because I saw how great the life was that my dad and mom had provided for us. Super naive huh?

Ok so back to Arkansas, the book, my dad, and the real reason for this post.

In the book, the main character Dan, just suffered the passing of his father and was giving the eulogy. Eulogies are something of a mystery to me. I guess I get that one is trying to communicate how much a loved one has meant to them so that other people can hear it. That seems to be the time most of us do it…when it’s too late. Well, I’m about to break that mold and tell you some of the reasons why I believe my father kicks all kinds of ass. Mom, I love you too but this one’s for dad :)

My father is not college educated but is brilliant. Street smart and wise is another way to put it. He is the second youngest of a family of 5. His father, Marinus, was an Army man who fought in WWII and then became a truck driver and his mother, Viola, was a stay at home mom who ran a salon out of her home. I am thankful to my entire family for having the foresight of changing times and giving me the name Michael instead of Marinus…the 90s may have been tough with the Dutchest of the Dutch names, even in the Dutchest town in America. My dad was raised on a hearty diet of hunting, fishing, and old school Dutch love which may or may not consist of my grandmother chasing him and his brother Bill around with a wooden spoon (possibly a wooden shoe, the truth is still out there…).

He graduated high school, married my mother, and started working construction for my mothers father. Over the next 10 years, he and my mother decided to try to start their family while dad built houses and mom worked as an executive assistant. Luckily for me, God had other family plans and I was adopted in 1983.

I grew up wanting for nothing. My dad worked his ass off in blazing heat and blistering cold to provide for my our family and mom contributed too dealing with horrible corporate politics to ensure we had a extra for vacations, vehicles, basketball camps. etc. Basketball was my thing since 3 (my birthfather had been an excellent baseball and basketball player), and I was given every opportunity to succeed. My dad never missed a game or a tournament unless it was unavoidable. I was a 3 sport athlete for many years so I know this was a burden. If he did have to miss one, he would always tell me in advance and I know it would kill him. He never missed a chance to shoot hoops with me in the back yard or throw the ball around. In fact, he bargained with the small school behind our house to let us put a hoop up in their parking lot so I could practice. He always pushed me to be the best. Motioning to me during games from the stands to “turn it up a notch” and “keep your head up”. That was the most important one…keep your head up. I didn’t understand it at the time. I felt pressured and like I couldn’t perform well enough. This, of course, was not the motivation.

I grew up fishing and hunting, two sports which I cherish now more for the time I get to spend with my dad and family than for the actual activities. As many hunting sons of hunting fathers know, communication is sometimes difficult but there’s something about the outdoors, something about God’s creation that brings shalom to even the most uncomfortable of situations. Love between father and son exists in the pictures, memories, and sunrises of hunts across the world, even when not blatantly expressed. That’s what make’s this trip, and all the others so special. I remember one time when I was bargaining with my ex to go one year she made a comment like, "The time for these trips in your life is over. It's time for us now." I cannot tell you the rage and disappointment I felt at that time. She seriously thought she was going to keep me from my family? Nope. Not happening. Unreal...thank God that's over.

Dad was never Mr. Dokter to my friends. He was Jimmy-Poo...a name, I think, he still finds some sort of pride in. He was an awesome dad-friend. He would always pop in on us in the basement while we were watching Tommy Boy or Billy Maddison or some other brain numbing, brilliant movie from the 90's. He liked them as much as we did for their childlike shenanigans. That's one thing about my father that will live on forever and one thing I remember about my Grandpa, the childlike twinkle in their eye. Get that if you don't have it. It will serve you better than being fussy all the time.

My dad stopped working for my grandfather when I was about 14 after 25 years in construction. He decided he wanted to be in business for himself and started doing home inspections. This was in 1997 or so and since then, he has grown his one man show into the most respected home inspection company in West Michigan. He’s the guy you either love or hate depending on if you are buying or selling your home. He works for the people and bleeds integrity.

Dad and I first took duck hunting trips to North Dakota and Arkansas when I was in middle and high school. The hunting was great but the experience was better. Beautiful country, all of God’s creation at your fingertips to enjoy, and a camaraderie that can only be understood by those who love the sport.

When I was a junior in high school, I chose to no longer play basketball. At the time I guess I felt like it was too much pressure. I wasn’t getting the minutes I used to, I thought I was entitled to more, I didn’t really get along with my JV coach the year before and hadn’t grown since 7th grade. I went from playing center to point guard in one year and decided that varsity ball was not for me. This was a far cry from the projected “kid wonder” who shot hoops for the varsity coach before he was strong enough to even push a lawn mower and made every all star team at every basketball camp he attended.

My father was crushed. I think this was possibly one of the first times I visibly saw him disturbed. It was my dream to play college ball and possibly even stay in that world a while longer. I don’t know exactly what my dad was thinking at that point. We’ve never spoken of it. I know there was some disappointment and I know there was some heartbreak. This was true on both sides. I think the thing that disappointed him the most was that the one lesson he was constantly trying to teach me I hadn’t grasped yet…Anything worth having is worth working really, really hard for. I wasn’t ready to work.

When I was 18, I got popped with a weed charge, dropped dirty, and spent a week in jail. My senior spring break for that matter. At this point I was well on the way of dragging the family name through the mud. Unfortunately for my family, I wasn’t quite done yet. Fortunately for me, my parents weren’t either.

When I was 19, I got involved in MLM businesses and lost a ton of money. For those of you who don’t know what MLM businesses are, you are lucky. Stay away. Stay far, far away. At the age of 22 my ex-wife and I declared an $18,000 loss on our taxes. I was stubborn this time. I wasn’t going to fall away again due to lack of work so quitting was not on my agenda…not until my ex threatened divorce (the first time). I was upside down, inside out, and inverted. I had no money, no education, nearly $25,000 in debt of all kinds, a wife who had just threatened a bond we made in front of God and everyone else after just a year of marriage, and no idea what to do next. My dad…my dad let me go through it. He let me become a man. He let me get my ass kicked. He let me fail. He could have saved me easily but then I would have been no different than the other spoiled brats who came out of the prep school I attended (yeah I know that struck a chord but you know who you are and who you aren’t so don’t bother getting fussy, I’ll just delete all the comments anyway).

3 or 4 years later, I can’t really remember, I was spiraling into a serious drug problem. Facing divorce for God knows what time, I was kicked out of my house and, at 25, moved into my parents basement. Great representation of the family name I had been so graciously given, huh? I had a moderately successful sales job in advertising at the time and was attending school for my bachelors in marketing. I don’t remember much of that time of my life outside of the fact that I was horribly ashamed and embarrassed. Word was beginning to spread that Dokter was living with his parents again. We even had a pizza delivery guy I went to school with call me out on it one night when I went to the door to pay. Holy shit that was embarrassing. The pizza guy for goodness sake! I do remember one specific event however. My mom, dad, and I were sitting around the family room talking about what was next. My ex was making a variety of demands and threats I believe and things were getting heated mentally for all of us. I hadn’t made the decision on rehab yet but I knew that I didn’t want to get divorced (for all the wrong reasons by the way) and my dad and I were discussing options. He said two things that night that stuck out to me.

“Are you sure you want to save this marriage?” he said.

This baffled me. I didn’t know if he was testing me or giving me an excuse. My dad is a devout Christian so I knew he wasn’t giving me an excuse and the only other option was a test.

“Absolutely” I replied, assuming it was the right wasn't.

“Ok then, lets save it.”

What I found out later was that this was an, “I got your back” statement. My dad and my ex didn’t get along all that well. Come to think of it, no one really got along with my ex…especially me, hence the ex part.

The second thing he said was more of an event than anything else. We were discussing options for recovery and I, still broke and now basically “homeless”, was concerned about being dropped from insurance due to a divorce threat and wondering if Insurance would even cover the treatment at all.

I’m not sure exactly how it happened but for the first time that I can really remember, my dad and I hugged for an extended period of time. We began to tear up. He said to me: “I don’t care if this costs a million dollars. We will fix this and I love you.”

We wept and all of a sudden I understood. All desire he had for me to succeed, all the money he had invested in my life and my dreams, all the “pressure” as I saw it, was only his way of expressing love. It was his way of helping to provide the life I thought I wanted and making me the best I could be at the time. I understood my father loved me and that it was time to start fixing my life.

There are many more events that I could describe many other moments that I could narrate to try to give you an idea of who my father is but I fear you will be less interested in them than I. What I do know is this. My dad never told me how to live. Not one time. He never said, “You must do this”. Rather, he showed me how to respect people. He showed me how to hunt, how to tie a fishing line, how to shoot a basketball, and how to grill perfect steaks. He showed me forgiveness. He showed me how to chase integrity instead of money. He showed me how to show love to those less fortunate by his generosity. He showed me how to build a successful business. He showed me how to pay my dues till I’m 44 before I really can be successful on my own (although he could have done it earlier I believe). He showed me how to take pride in my work and in my name, the name that was offered to me freely. He showed me that it’s important to let those you know more about life than, figure it out for themselves. Possibly most important to this point in my life, he showed me how to keep my head up during turmoil. He showed me it’s ok to lose, but it’s never ok to quit fighting. As long as you have life in you, you fight for what is right. My dad never told me how to live, he showed me. Does this mean I do these things? Well, the track record above says no...thankfully that's not my entire life. I fall short of my father daily. Luckily, the track record above also shows that he's going to love me anyway, just like most fathers love their sons.

My dad’s 61st birthday is this coming Wednesday. By the time he was my age, he had just had me for about a year, he was 14 years and dreams away from building his own business, and he and my mother had just paid off the house they still live in. Oh, how much has happened to us in 30 years! Oh, the hope that gives me as a heirless, career wandering, early 30s male!

My dad is the pinnacle of success for me. Not because of what he’s achieved, but because of who he is. Is he perfect? No. Far from it. He knows that too although he may be reluctant to admit it. Am I half the man he is? Not even close. I could only be so lucky. He is, however, my father and I am insanely grateful for that. Everyone who knows him well will tell you he has a passion for bringing joy to peoples lives, whether its telling a ridiculous hunting story, swinging his screwdriver around during a home inspection, or going at it with his brother during Thanksgiving dinner, he lives for joy. I think if you can get to that point in your life, you are pretty damn successful. I am proud to be called my father’s son and I hope he can say the same for me.

Happy Birthday, dad. I remember the biggest bass I caught, off the North Point on a Sluggo, I remember the biggest pike I caught out front of the channel that insanely hot 4th of July weekend. I remember being so proud of the plaques you won at all the Father & Son, Holland Fish & Game Club meetings for biggest bass of the year. I remember the North Dakota hunting trips and watching Emma with those amazing retrieves, the town squirrel, and watching you almost drown in an overpass pond trying to retrieve ducks while Joe and I laughed our junk off. I remember hunting on Thanksgiving day with you and Grandpa. I remember all the games you attended. I remember Arkansas, and the amazing friendships you've created for us down here, the picture books, and the Pintails. I remember it all, man! Here’s to the life you showed me how to live! Thank you. Thank you for everything. I love you and I hope one day people will look at me the same way they look at you.