Last week I wrote about the death of a friend at a young age and how we take things for granted. This week I suffered another loss, my father.
Gary L. Gilbert, as some of you may know, owned the Gilbert’s Hamburger Stand at the Darke County Fair for 26 years. It was there that I learned so much from him as a business man. I would always joke with him that I was in the hot kitchen busting my butt doing the cooking while he sat around and just talked to people.
“I’m not sitting around, I’m doing public relations,” he said.
He was right; he was doing something that is a lost art these days, customer service. He would add things to the menu on the fly just to make somebody happy, a total stranger that might never be a customer again, but it was his way of doing things; it was why people loved to come and talk to him, why people loved to work for him. Some who worked for him might laugh at that as they read it. He was a firm boss, a very firm boss to me. And he even fired his own son-in-law one year, still a running joke in our family.
Dad helped me develop my passion for sports. During the summers, we usually sat and listened to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call Reds games. I remember the 1990 World Series the most because of who I watched it with – Mom, Dad and my Grandma Gilbert joined me and we watched every game. It was an event to see our beloved Reds facing the Oakland A’s. Mom made special dinners, usually Dad’s choice.
I can’t remember any other World Series or Super Bowls in as much detail as I did that one, just that one, and not because of the Reds, because of my Dad. Radio would give me a chance to meet Marty years later and get a signed picture of me and Marty for my dad.
He was never a big football fan, at least not as big a fan as me, but he would put up with me listening to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoons while we drove around running errands.
As a father, there will never be another like him. All his kids were afraid of him. He was never abusive, but he made sure we knew that if we did something wrong we paid for it. Usually the disappointment in his voice that we “would be dumb enough to do that” would be enough. But I know even though he never said it directly to us, he was very proud of all his kids. Mom told me of a time I was working on the weekend at 98.3 WZZY in Winchester, Ind. Dad sat by the radio listening and crying with pride when he heard me. Dad was too manly to ever tell me myself, but that told me all I needed to know. I hope I am half the father he was, even at half I would still be a great dad.
As I sat holding Dad’s hand Wednesday as he took his last breath, I realized he did it in the exact same spot as my Mom, his wife, took her last breath just 13 months earlier. Some may think that is creepy, but I think it is wonderful. How many couples can have that connection in life and death? They were … no …. are amazing parents. Their lessons will still be learned and taught even though they are gone.
Tomorrow is my birthday, the day we lay him to rest along side my mother. This will be my best birthday ever because I will celebrate, not my life, but the life of my father and the life and lessons he gave me.
The most read page of any newspaper is usually the obituaries, and it seems to have the least amount of information. Obits are often a résumé of a person’s life with a beginning and end date, their education, career and the names of those left behind. They never show true insight into the impact the deceased may or may not have made. This is just an inkling of my father’s life and the impact he had on me.
Shawn Gilbert is a sports writer for The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can see his weekly column in The Daily Advocate and on advocate360.org every other Saturday.