By Todd Brommelkamp/KGYM Radio
Eight years old. Maybe it was seven. Eight seems right for some reason.
That’s the first time the thought of my parents dying ever crossed my mind, at least that I can recall. Curled up under my blanket the idea hit me and I cried myself to sleep that night.
It’s been a year since my father died.
I have thought about him every single day for the last 364 days.
I was thinking of him last Friday while walking back to my car following Kirk Ferentz’s news conference in Iowa City – literally the last place on earth I wanted to be on the anniversary of the massive stroke that ultimately took his life a few days later.
At the exact moment I unlocked my door a helicopter thwapped its way skyward from the helipad and I felt the weight of a pallet of cinder blocks press down on my chest. I cried the entire way back to Cedar Rapids, composed myself just long enough to edit some audio clips, then broke down on the air to start the show.
A year earlier I had beaten my mother to the UIHC emergency room, trying in earnest to answer as many questions the woman from admissions had while trying not focus too much on my father’s exposed toes hanging out from beneath a thin white sheet. You always hear people joke about wearing clean underwear just in case you wind up in an accident but you never read about men or women clipping their toenails in the event they need to be medivacked to the hospital.
In an effort to time my arrival as close to mom’s as possible, I had detoured to the mall and wandered aimlessly around Target for close to 15 minutes. It was the week of Father’s Day and there was little refuge from reality as I gazed at one of the items for sale. It was a journal of sorts, containing all sorts of questions that were to be answered by your father. Answers, I thought to myself, I’d likely now never receive.
I was right. The stroke was bad. Dad wasn’t going to recover.
He died at 11:57 PM on June 16, 2019. Father’s Day.
The death certificate says otherwise but I was there along with my mother when he took his final breath.
Five days later I carried my father’s cremated remains to his final resting place.
Countless times since that day in June I’ve found myself lifting a random item and immediately calculating in my head whether or not the item is lighter than, equal to or just slightly heavier than the urn-and-vault-in-one.
I still find myself holding other things as well.
Of nights at home alone with my father eating dinner and watching television after a long day of hard, manual labor as a welder and painter in one of two steel fabricating shops in which he worked – except when he wasn’t working, which was more often than he cared for in the 80’s and early 90’s.
Of a night in Clinton watching low-level professional wrestlers or in Davenport taking in monster trucks and tractor pulls.
Of the occasional trip to get a drink with him at Gordy’s Zip Mart as a kid (10-cent fountain soda refills) or an early morning coffee at McDonald’s as an adult as my father and his pals talked about everything and nothing.
Of a handful of ill-fated attempts at teaching his son how to drive a stick-shift, hiding his disappointment as best he could.
Of him laughing like a child while frolicking in the ocean during a trip to South Carolina.
Of the absolute joy on his face each time he saw his grandson.
Maybe I didn’t have the closest relationship with my father a guy can have. I’d forget to call on Father’s Day. I’d forget to send a birthday card. We didn’t share a ton of common interests.
But he was still my father.
And I miss him. Boy, do I miss him.
Perhaps my son will feel the same way about his old man some day when I’m gone. If and when that happens he’ll hopefully come to the same realization as I have. His father did well by him.
Dad’s last words to me still ring as clear today as when he mustered up the strength to get them out a little over a year ago.
“I love you.”
I love you, too, Dad.