A Son’s Tribute

Feb 24 2012

Thank you all for joining us in celebrating my Father’s life. I’d like to thank Reverend Kevin Ross, the rest of Unity, and its volunteers for helping us through this process and making this day possible. I’d also like to thank Mercy Hospice, my Dad’s nurse Jan, and Taya our social worker. They stepped into the most difficult time of our lives and helped us achieve our goals, and reflect on all that we have to be grateful for.


So many people have said to us, “I wish there was something I could do.” Your warm messages filled my Father’s heart with happiness as he read them from his iPad, comfortable in our living room. All of the gifts of food, flowers and company reminded us what great friends we have. You have all done something. You are all here now, together as one to reflect upon, and Thank God for Tom’s life.


My Father was an amazing man who dedicated his life to restoring energy into families homes. Not just in his 37 years at SMUD, but everyday as he came home from a long shift, put away his work boots, and continued to be a force of energy and love to his own family. He was incredibly passionate about his work. Not only was it his means of providing for his family, but also his method of giving back to the community. When the power went out and he got the call, whether it be a casual Saturday afternoon or Christmas Eve he rushed out the door in service, eager to restore power to homes and return to his. The last night before my Father slipped into a coma, I had to hold him down to keep him in bed. He was trying to get up and asking for his work boots. He was still trying to go to work.


We have so many of his friend and co-workers with us here today. If the power starts going out around around town we’ll know he’s messing you with all…Get back to work!


People would often ask him, “How do you do it Tom? How do you give so much?” What’s in it for him, they wondered. I recall doing the same, but throughout this process I have felt components of my Father awaken in me. I can tell you his secret was simple. He gave unconditionally, expecting no particular attention or affection in return. He gave simply to give. That made him happy, made him complete and it made him a Leader among us all. What I’ve learned is when you can give like that, to give truly becomes to receive, and he received so much.


One of my favorite childhood memories is when my father taught me how to ride a bike without training wheels. Not feeling confident I could do it alone, he jogged beside me, hand on seat post. That feeling of looking back and realizing I was on my own, sailing along was a pivotal point in time when my Father taught me I am capable beyond my own confidence.


My Father taught me how to swim in the bathtub, so it was only a matter of time before he got me on a swim team and up on the starting blocks. He was at every one of my swim meets, often volunteering to be a starter or timer. He’d use a cap gun to start the races but I remember one meet in particular when a young girl who had immigrated from a war-torn country was afraid of the gun. She approached him and asked if there was any other way he could start the race. He had someone find an air horn. For the duration of the meet, he kept track of that young girl’s schedule and made sure there was never a gun used to start her races. He was a mountain of a man, but he gave off an aura so kind this young girl wasn’t afraid to approach him.


My Father may have never been blessed with a daughter of his own, but that did not keep him from seeking and perfecting a more tender kind of love. It means SO MUCH to me that he was able to be a father figure not only to me, or my friends growing up, but also to you three. Savoy, Alyssa, and Olivia, remember that, as do I, this love is not something you say good bye to today, for the method and the package he delivered it to you in, is something you can carry with you always.


My Father was an accomplished wrestler and helped coach me in Jr. High. Wrestling is part brawn and part brains. I had more brains than brawn, but he taught me that with brains you can figure out how to use your opponents strength against them. Each week we had to wrestle off for the varsity spot. I always had to wrestle my teammate Jason, who was much stronger than me, but less experienced. I wanted to keep my Father’s techniques to myself, but he would not allow it. After practice he would take us aside and coach us, particularly Jason actually. “Come on man, You’re giving away all my tricks away!” I’d say. “You’ll just have to try harder then” he would say. And so I did.


As the season came to an end Jason and I were tied in Varsity matches. Little did we know that the ultimate tie breaker would come in our last tournament. Both having worked up the brackets, we had to face off against each other, only one of us able to move on. Jason pinned me, rather quickly actually, with a technique he learned from my Father. I still remember being tied up and pinned, trying to escape but simply unable and seeing my Father smiling. After the match I was disappointed, but as he and I watched Jason go onto great things in that tournament he said “Son, do you see how much Jason has improved?”. “Sure do!” I scoffed. He said “He wouldn’t be the wrestler he is today if you hand’t chosen to treat him as a teammate first, and an opponent second. I’m so proud of both of you, you made each other better”.


That day I learned that it is better to lose when the stakes are high then win as they are low. And it is this lesson of teaching your competitor that led me to return to the college I graduated from, less than a year later, and teach students who would soon be competing for my job.


My Father was an incredible swimmer. He swam butterfly like a dolphin, and held records at La Sierra High School until the school closed. I always tried to make him proud but hadn’t really perfected my butterfly stroke when I was young. One particular 25yd butterfly race, I nearly drown. My dive was off, and my goggles slid down my face and positioned themselves securely in my mouth. I tried my best to keep going, to not break stride or get disqualified, but halfway across the pool I had taken so much water I had to grab the nearest lane rope and try and catch my breath. Still unable, the officials fished me out of the pool. As I laid on the cement, coughing up a lung full of highly chlorinated water, the officials began preparing the next race. The other swimmers had long finished, but realizing the clock was still ticking for me, I asked the officials if they would please hold and allow me to finish the race. I swam back out to mid pool, this time my goggles securely fastened over my eyeballs, and I finished my race. I exited the pool to thunderous applause, but I was so embarrassed. Making my way to my Dad, I said, “Dad, I’m sorry; I’m sorry I lost.” WIth a grin he chuckled and said, “Son, don’t you ever be sorry. That was your best race!” “But how could it be Dad? I came in last place” I replied. “You tried your best. You never gave up” he said. He gestured to the applauding crowd and said, “You inspired people. And you finished what you started”. He knelt down to my eye level, placed his hands on my shoulders and said, “Son, I love you and I am so proud of you”.


That was the day I became unafraid to fail. I formed a cyclical relationship with my father where he encouraged me to set my goals beyond the horizon, sending me out to chase those goals and being there to catch me when I failed. He allowed me to realize I am capable beyond my confidence.


This bond, this team we formed allowed us to achieve several of our dreams. At 15, I sat with my father and laid out my career goals. “I’m going to be a designer and work with the big players in the snowboard industry” I said. I enrolled in a college program while still in High School and he spent a year car pooling to work so that I could drive his car to my classes. I moved to Portland with a dream of working at Nemo Design. People would ask me, “What’s your plan B? You gotta have a plan B”. I didn’t have a Plan B. My Father never asked me what my Plan B was, not once.


I learned of my Father’s cancer diagnosis just after landing my dream internship at Nemo Design. I was 6 months from graduation. “I’m going to take a break from school and come home” I told him. “You are not.” He said. “Son, if I die in six months I am going to see you graduate”. Even facing death, he kept me on the course of chasing my dreams, and reminded me that we are together with a unified dream even when geographically apart.


This bond, we formed brought me here today, to tell you that the team that is My Father and I is not something I have lost, or something I ever say good bye to. I still share my dreams and passions with my Father, and still feel his encouragement and support.


This morning I said “Dad, we are going to remember you today. We will enter this building with our pain and through your love we will release it, allow it to be transformed and take it back as something anew. We will continue to love you, and allow you to continue to love us”.


Before my Father passed he wrote me a letter. In it he writes “I won’t meet your wife or children, that’ll be up to you, but I’m sure you’ll do fine. Talk to your kids about everything. Tell them you love them all the time. Tell them I love them.”


How unconditional to be able to love somebody who doesn’t even exist. It was then that I realized his love had become capable of transcending time and space. I was reminded of our core belief here at Unity, that there is only One Love, and that Love is God’s Love. Knowing that my Father’s love is God’s Love, I realized his final gift to me was making God’s love more familiar. As familiar as his.


On my Father’s last night, I stayed with him all night. as I observed him exert the last of his energy to make it to the other side with his dignity and pride, I couldn’t help but feel as though it were he in the pool and I were watching from the sides. He had long lost the ability to speak, but I could feel him come to me and say “Son, I’m sorry; I’m sorry I lost. I am physically defeated, and have nothing left to give.” I chuckled and said “Dad, don’t you ever be sorry! This was your best fight. You tried your best. You never gave up. You inspired people. And you finished what you started. I love you Dad, and I am so proud of you.”

3 responses so far

  1. JP
    Please accept my condolences. Your Dad sounds likes he was an amazing human being. I see where you get your integrity and drive. May the sorrow you feel in your heart be lighten by the loved ones that surround you. God Bless JP.

  2. Tom was on this earth for a purpose and that was to show us all how to live how to love how to give of himself. I started working with Tom when we both were hired as truck drivers at SMUD and from then on he was a good freind, the thing i regret the most is when i retired in 2007 we were going to get toghter play harps and jam on may gutiar, well that will have to wait till i get there, maybe.
    God bless Tom and keep him God Bless all his family

  3. *sniff sniff* 🙂 Tom sounds like he was an amazing person. Your story of him has inspired us.
    We Love You JP!

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