I’m proud to say that whenever I think of him hes got a grin on his face, and you know hes been up to no good. Of all the things I’ve picked up from my dad, the best thing he’s taught me is how to enjoy life.
The weekend of Sept 7th 2012 we spent together completing our open water dives to become scuba certified. Now I’m not sure if you know what that all entails, but I’ll tell you two straight days of diving and hobbling around with heavy scuba equipment even wore me out. However, my Dad was always right there with me, darting through the water. So needless to say the news of his heart attack three days later was unbelievable and devastating. The man that nothing could stop was sidelined. When we talked on the phone nothing was wrong, no cough, no defeated demeanor; just the same old goofball I had chatted with on the phone a million times. Sure he had a heart attack but this is my Dad, nothing stops my Dad.
A few days in the hospital and he was out. Unfortunately, I was swamped with class and the three and a half hour drive home just wasn’t possible. He sounded as lively as ever, what’s a few days? You gotta pass these classes. You can make it home next weekend, right after your midterms.
From what I have heard, he was the sweetest man on the planet for the first three days out of the hospital. Poking his head out of his room, eager to joke around and just love his family. Not that this wasn’t usually the case, you just knew at this point he was grateful for what he had. I mean he even ate a vegetarian burrito at Chipotle! If you knew the carnivore that was my Dad, you’d understand how bizarre him eating a vegetarian burrito is.
Five months ago my Dad passed away due to complications from an untimely and unexpected heart attack.
The entire thing was from another planet, Mars maybe. This couldn’t be real life. I woke up at 6AM to a phone ring. Tuesday’s I have class 12-7PM straight, no breaks, all in the same building. What the hell do pointless classes mean! What the Fuck is that… I’m here 300 miles from my family. The first hour with the news of my father’s death I spent crying alone in my bed. This rush of emotion was like nothing I had ever imagined in my life. No nightmare, no memory of mine had ever matched the intensity of what I felt. I had no idea what to do. Within an hour my boss was able to meet with me. I told her what had just been told to me, and I broke down crying as we hugged.
My closest family? Andrew. He’s in Columbus. That’s one hour from me. I just need to hold it together and get to him. He’s more than a cousin to me, he’s a brother. When I got to him not a tear was shed. We are strong, I have to be now. I was quickly realizing this would not only be the longest day of my life, but the beginning of an extremely different world. The drive home with Andrew was erie. The grey skies and constant drizzle fitted this horrifying day. When we finally pulled up to my Nana’s house I knew I was where I had to be. So much love in that home, such an amazing family.
I walked up to the porch where my brother and sister were standing and I hugged them for what was likely a minute, but time may has well froze. My kin, my blood. They both sobbed the entire time; a release of these emotions, this sadness, this never ending sadness. Each sob a release of it, but how can you release all of something that never ends. How can you let go of all the sadness? You can’t. Not in a day, not in a year. As soon as I got inside the house I saw my Mom. There was other family in the room but I could only see my Mom. I held her for another eternity. It’s all that felt right. To know she’s there, she’s okay and so are my siblings.
I never cried infront of them. I couldn’t if I wanted to, and God did I want to. I remained stoic. Not by choice, by nature. After a few hours, could have been days, things calmed. My Dad’s whimsical attitude wasn’t exclusive to himself, my entire family carries that same wit of his. By no means were we happy, but we were together and the eminent love powered us through. After a few more hours, the house was filled with most of my extended family and some close friends. The next three days were spent this way. Looking through boxes and boxes of pictures of my Dad and our family.
The traumatizing event that brought us together was the complete focus of these surreal first days without him. The countless stories and memories that we all shared, the glory that my father represented: The family guy. The cool guy. The funny guy. The guy that anyone and everyone wanted to hang out with. The guy that totalled his car going 80mph head on into the statue in front of his high school, and lived to tell about it. The guy that could brilliantly make anything his mind desired out of wood. The guy that every girl wanted, and how he chose my beautiful, driven, and extremely intelligent mother.
I was given the duty to make a playlist for his wake. Nothing was ever a more important task in my life. Music is the heart of the bond between myself and my father. When I was a tiny tot I remember running around signing “The Bloody Red Baron of Germany” as it resonated from the Jukebox my father had obtained by trading his guitar when he was in High School. I knew every song my Dad liked and why. It wasn’t the traditional music you’d hear at a wake, it was the music you’d hear at my Dad’s wake. It was perfect, it was him.
My Dad never told us how he’d want his wake to be. Why would he, he was only 49. But somehow you could feel his presence everywhere at his wake. His closest family manically and diligently planned it over three days. It captured him perfectly. I remember people telling me “I never met your Dad, but after his wake and watching that video I feel like I knew him, like a friend would.” That 15 min video my aunt Kathy brilliantly made. I’ve seen it at least thirty times. A compilation of photos and videos of my Dad being my Dad perfectly fitted to the songs I had suggested to her. It was him. Rarely could even a stranger watch that video without shedding a tear.
The thing that moved me the most about his wake was the people that came to see him, the endless line of friends patiently waiting to say goodbye to my father. The grown men in tears, tears shed not only for their friend but their hero. The man who brought them some of the best fun in their lives. That complete clown that was my Dad. That ball of youthful energy, always instigating a good time. That joy had just left their lives. If you didn’t hear it in their words, you saw it in their tears. And my friends, my friends had lost a friend too. My Dad wasn’t Mr. Kronenberger to them, he was Jeff or Mr. Man. Somehow my Dad mastered being the perfect role model and good friend to not only myself, but all of my closest friends. They didn’t come because they wanted to support me; they came because they lost an idol, a video game buddy, the goofy dude that always had a joke to keep them laughing.
I’ve always thought my Dad was a cool dude, but it was never more evident than it was that day. I learned the most important lesson of my life that day. One last gem of knowledge my Dad had bestowed on me. My Dad got it. He understood how to live life. He never made a fortune, he didn’t show up on TIME magazine, he was no supreme athlete; yet how did all these people feel so strongly about him? How did he touch so many lives? It wasn’t money that drove my Dad, wasn’t fame. It was the relationships he had with friends and family.
If my Dad cared about you he’d do anything for you. You got behind on an addition you were putting on a house? He’d drive down to Florida, work for free, show you how to build it better, and take you out to lunch each day. If you had a bad day he always had a sure fire way to get you to smile. It was the little things. If my Dad was your friend, you had the best friend in the world and my Dad had so many friends.
On the day of his burial the Pastor asked if anyone would like to share some words about my father. Of course my uncles had some well written and enticing stories about what made my Dad so special. However, the most memorable speaker that day was Larry Mason. Larry is the husband of Penny, the women that runs the daycare down the street from my Dad’s shop. Penny took care of me when I was young along with both my siblings. Now, Larry is a regular handyman. You give him a job to do and the tools to do it, he’d get it done. Larry hadn’t written anything down, he knew what he had to say. I wouldn’t call Larry an excellent speaker, but the message he had was a powerful one. You could tell he was doing it because he owed something to my Dad, not money my Dad would never take money, and by the time he had finished you knew his debt was settled.
Larry Mason stood in front of a church packed with people and in extreme detail told stories of every single favor my Dad had ever done for him. The tools he let Larry use, the nail guns, the hammers, the powerwashers, the wood saws, the stone saws, the dirlls, and even the drill bits. Larry talked of how my Dad not only showed him how to make a stone wall for his wife’s garden, but gave him the limestone he needed to build it in front of his home; and then later the limestone to do it in the back of his house too. He talked of the microwave my Dad helped him install, the air conditioner unit, the pool filter. It became apparent that whenever Larry had some handy work to do he came to my Dad. And after he made apparent the vast range of favors my Dad had done for him, he told you more. I’d be surprised if my Dad had lent him a couple of dry wall screws and he didn’t share it with everyone that morning. I loved every second of it.
My little brother spoke that morning, probably the best thing he’s ever written. I remember telling him “You’ll be alright. When we go up there, right before you speak, hug me. Hug me as hard as you can and I’ll do the same.” We did, and he deliver a masterful speech. I’m sure you have heard by now, my brother is gay. I remember my 4yr old brother walking around in heels, holding a purse, and pushing a toy shopping cart. I’ve always been envious of his ability to have a room full of women hanging on his every word. But surely a normal father wouldn’t tolerate such feminine behavior from his son. My Dad embraced Adam. Not once did my Dad tell him to act differently. If Adam wanted a Smart Car my Dad could make it happen. I mean what is taking a week off of work, driving to Michigan then Maryland to get one? My Dad let Adam be Adam. My Dad never told you to think what he thought, he let you think whatever you thought naturally. Is my brother who he is meant to be? Yes. Is my brother one of the most incredible people I know? Yes. Did my Dad do everything possible to let Adam be Adam? Yes.
Once my brother’s speech was over I knew I had made a mistake. I didn’t talk that day. I never honored my father for the endless lessons he had taught me. This mistake ate at me, still does. I had so much to say that day on that stage, yet I said nothing. It wasn’t that I was afraid. I just didn’t know how I could explain the vastness of what my father had done for me, the entirety of who he is. Anything short of that would be a failure in my eyes. It all needs to be said.
He taught you through his selflessness, if that even is a real thing. If a person could truly be selfless, he was as close as you could get. He lived for those he loved. He never complained about his problems, he only fixed other’s. Maybe that was what caused his ultimate demise. There’s no way your arteries can be 80% clogged and you never show a sign of it. He never did, or at least he never showed you it affected him. He fought through anything.
Last winter I decided to finally get scuba certified. I enrolled in the course at Ohio University and I was anxious as ever to get in the water. Two weeks into the class I realized how terrified I was of going underwater without air. To pass the class you had to throw your mask in the pool, swim down 13ft, find it underwater, put it on, clear it so you could see, and swim back up with your snorkel in your mouth. Horrifying. I wanted to quit. But then my Dad called me to tell me he was also getting scuba certified. I had to do it, I had to pass that class. No excuses. I aced the written test and miraculously I got an A in the lab portion too.
To finish becoming scuba certified you also have to complete two days of diving with an instructor. Here at OU, for some odd reason they feel it is a good idea to do this portion of the certification the weekend before finals. I couldn’t do that. I always wait hopelessly till the last minute to study. I couldn’t pass my exams if I was in Florida diving instead of studying. So, I scheduled my open water dive in September 2012, when my Dad was doing his.
I’ll never forget that weekend. We went out to a quarry near Bowling Green with a scuba shop called Buckeye Diving. Of course a Steve owns the shop. “ Scuba Steve”. Now Steve is as big of a prankster as they come. An ideal characteristic of someone responsible for your life… Needless to say my Dad and I really hit it off with him. On the second day of dives Steve had his girlfriend with him. Surely Steve’s girlfriend is as goofy as he is and wore some odd red horns when she dove. Naturally my Dad joked “ You’ve got a horny one there Steve!” Steve loved that joke. I’ve never seen someone laugh so long at such a corny joke.
On our first dive the visibility in the water was lackluster. You couldn’t see but 10 feet in front of yourself. Once we got down to a mere 30ft down I began to feel that fear set in, panic… It lasted only a few seconds though, because when I looked to my right there was my Dad down there with me. I can do anything with him, this is no big deal. The next two days were a breeze.
We weren’t the only people getting certified that weekend. There was a couple of families and a few people who came alone. One of the other Dads asked my Dad how often he got to see me. My Dad said “Not too often during school. I’m hoping it’ll be more now that we are both certified” That stuck with me. I never realized how much he missed me. I didn’t know thats why he was getting certified, I didn’t realize it was because he wanted to spend more time with me.
It wasn’t that were weren’t having a blast, it’s that the Browns first game of the season was at 1PM. We rushed as much as we could and luckily we got in the car in time for the third quarter. My Dad asked me if I would make the two hour drive home because he wanted to enjoy some beers while we listened to the game. Pathetic Browns fans, addicted to the weekly misery the Cleveland Clowns brought us. This year was different, it had to be. A Browns fan always looks to the second half, a new season, a different quarterback, a new couch, surely a new owner was reason enough to be optimistic. We listened to the radio and astonishingly the Browns were beating the highly praised Philadelphia Eagles. This didn’t last and the Clowns ultimately lost 16-17. We are used to games like that. If it’s close, the Browns will find a way to lose.
Little did I know that would be the last game I heard with my Dad. Little did I know he would have a heart attack in three days. Little did I know he’d be out of my life six days after that. Little did he know that the scuba trip would be the last experience we had together, but as always he made it a memorable one. It only made sense to wear a Browns Jersey to his wake.
I’ve only heard stories of the 17th of September 2012. He died in his sleep. The doctors say a stint failed. My mom heard him make a gulping noise and he was gone. She lost all control and began screaming. My 13yr old sister was the first to get to my parents room, my brother arrived shortly after. My brother tried to help my mom, called an ambulance, and attempted to handle the strangers in uniforms that took my Dad from our home. For the fifteen minutes between the ambulance being called and it arriving, my little sister performed CPR on my lifeless father. She fought for him, with everything she had. God she is a strong little girl. I’d like to say that I would have done the same for my father. She did it, at 13 years old. There’s nothing that tells more about a person’s strength than what she did. She has nightmares to this day from that night.
My Dad was her best friend. They were two peas in a pod. There’s this picture of my Dad sitting on our red lawn mower with two year Jess on his lap. Jess has this nasty little grin square at the camera. She had to be thinking “Yea we are hardasses! Got a problem?” Two people never looked so right together. He coached nearly every soccer team she played on. If it was after 3PM on a weekday, then they were in the computer room playing videos games together. To say she was daddy’s little girl would be an understatement. I remember talking to Jim, a good friend of my Dad’s and a contactor that I have worked for several times, and he said “ I’m not sure how your Dad will handle Jess going off to college. She means everything to him. Those two are inseparable.” I have no idea how my Dad would have handled his little girl going off to school. I’m not sure if he could handle it, at least not well.
In one week is Spring Break. Before my Dad passed away, he had scheduled a vacation in Mexico. One last adventure he has to give us. We both were eager at the chance to use our scuba certification IDs and chase after those cuttlefish he found so interesting. I always imagined my first dive without an instructor would be with my Dad. I always thought I’d be able to look over at him when I felt uneasy. The scariest part about diving is the vastness of the ocean. How alone you can feel and how quickly fear can creep up on you. I’m horrified of that first dive without him. Yet, somehow I know when I get down there he will be with me, everything he’s taught me, the potential he’s showed me I’m capable of. I think I’ll be alright.