25 years ago today my husband lost his dad in an automobile accident. My husband was just days shy of his 10th birthday. Here is my letter to the father-in-law, I never got to meet.
25 years ago today you were taken from this world and swept up into the hands of Jesus. From then on, life as many knew it, changed. Forever. Your wife lost her husband. Your children lost their dad. Your school lost a great teacher. Your community lost a leader. And I lost the opportunity to meet my future father-in-law. Although I have heard countless stories of your faith, integrity, strength, compassion and understanding, it feels as if I know who you are.
I am not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. This one is really for me. For me to share with you my thoughts, my feelings and my perspectives, whether you want them or not!
Let’s start with your youngest son, Jon. He is your mini-me. Looks just like you. Especially when he grows his mustache out for mustache day at school. He even is just as hairy as you, maybe even more. Not only is he your look a-like, he took up the same occupation, phy-ed teacher. Should have known he would have followed in your footsteps. He is about as athletic as they come. He missed the mark somewhere though, he is not coaching or playing baseball. Rather somewhere along the lines he picked up running. He is coaching cross country and track and is dang good at it too. Again, should have known, like father like son.
It’s not just your looks and your occupation that he is like you, it’s his personality that is like you too. He would open the weight room if he had to. He would be at every practice, rain, snow, sleet, you know name it. He would be the last one to leave and the first one to get there. He would give it his all just for his players to see that it can be done, showing them they can push harder, run faster, and dig deeper. He is you on and off the “field.”
He was just a kid when I met him. Now, he is a very talented, tough, reliable, witty, protective man that I am proud to call my brother. He takes care of us all, just as you did. Watches out for every single one of us in our own ways, especially his mom. I would go out on a limb and call him a momma’s boy and there is nothing wrong with that, I have one of those too! You would be proud, actually, I know you are proud!
Then there is my JJ. The guy who stole my heart almost 20 years ago. He is a little slower on the draw and only decided to follow in your occupational footsteps 7 years ago. Better late than never, they say! He usually has to figure things out on his own timing and that timing does not have a “fast forward” button. He too looks like you but he definitely got the Niles gene too! Now that he finally found his calling, I can see he has your compassion for the underprivileged. He would do anything for all of his students I know that, but he has a heart for those who are under educated, underprivileged and under served. He is taking education to the next level. Watch out he is a force to be reckoned with. He has your dedication, that is for sure.
Just like Jon, it is not just the looks that are just like you, it is the personality. He is a born leader, in every aspect of the term. He is compassionate, dedicated, loving, honest, reliable and a hard worker. Just like you. He is determined to change the world, one thing at a time. He too has to look out for his little brother and mom!
But it is not just those things that remind me of you, it is the way he is a dad. When he became a dad he didn’t just become a dad, he became something more, more like you. The way he loved changed. It grew. He is always teaching Jackson, explaining to Jackson, talking at Jackson’s level, motivating Jackson, loving on Jackson. Of course, we always have something broken in our house because playing baseball, running, and tackling are all acceptable behaviors in our house!
We were just kids when we first started out, not having a clue. High school sweethearts, sound familiar?! We grew up together. Fought some tough battles together. But through it all, he was and still is my solid rock, my foundation, my comforter, my partner through this thing called life. I have never once had to question his love for me. He makes it obvious, every day. He learned that from you. Again, I know you would be proud!
Then there is your bride. If you loved her the way your son loves me, then I know she was loved beyond all measures. I cannot and will not ever (God willing) be able to understand the depths of her loss. She is an incredible mom, one of the best I have ever met. She is an even better grandma! She fits the “JoJo” role quite nicely. You did well, Jeff, you did well!
And your mom. She has taken me under her wing more than she will ever know. She has taught me beyond any teacher, textbook or class ever could. She loved me when my own flesh and blood didn’t. She accepted me when I was “dirty.” She loved the “unpretty” me. Her years of wisdom, experiences and knowledge are what I yearn for. As a mom I now understand her grief for losing you even more. Her strength is what brightens my darkest days.
And your brothers. Oh how thankful I am to have them in my life. I didn’t know there could be men like that in families. Both of them. Raised amazing kids. Doing amazing things in this world. More importantly, both look after JJ and Jon as their own. And me for that matter too. It takes a village to raise children, so I am learning, and they have been an instrumental part of your boys’ village and now ours! Papa Jay and Grandpa Joel as Jackson calls them!
And our sweet Jackson. You would love him. He is funny, so funny. He is tough when he wants to be and sweet when he needs to be. He is 100% boy. He is also a little pistol! He has changed our world and the way we see the world. You would make an awesome grandpa, I just know it!
Coming back home has been one of the best decisions we have made. Not only are we closer to family but we are also in a small town, where the town becomes your family. We won’t ever be you, Jeff, but we made a promise a long time ago that we would live a life that closely resembles yours. We fell short many times, will probably fall down a time or two again, but we are constantly reminded of your faithfulness and fight to win the race.
I told you I wasn’t going to tell you anything you didn’t already know, but know this, I love you. I love you for creating two of the most amazing men I know. I love you for showing your boys how to love and respect a woman. I love you for loving Jesus. I love you for being courageous and bold. I love you for fighting the good fight. I love you for being you.
I love you.
I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have won the race.
2 Timothy 4:7.