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My Hero, My Friend, My Dad

My Dad - Carl Boyer  (8 July 1946 - 1 June 2014)
My Dad was the best man I’ve ever known. He was intelligent, kind, brutally honest, fair, and incredibly loving.  Nothing made him happier than his family – especially his grandchildren. This past December, we were delivered the terrible news that he had an illness called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF).  IPF is a terminal condition that causes a build up of scar tissue to the point that the lungs cannot expand and contract properly. The lungs become rigid and a variety of undesirable things occur – namely the inability to breathe. Because there is no cure and relatively no treatment for IPF, we were given the timeline of about two years. If we’d only had that long…
My Dad as a Senior in High School - 1964
Two weeks ago, Dad contracted pneumonia. Despite a full course of antibiotics, his health steadily declined. Last Wednesday, he was admitted to the hospital, and by Thursday he was in the ICU.  I watched helplessly as Dad struggled and concentrated to do what once came so naturally to him – to breathe. My mind wandered to the words of the Romantics and their descriptions of death as beautiful and glorious. 
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!

From Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats

The more Dad suffered, the more I knew these poets did not watch a loved one die of IPF. Watching my once strong, healthy Dad sputter and gasp and choke for breath was anything but glorious or beautiful.  Instead of a gracefully poetic image, I was presented with an ugly, cruel one. No Shelley or Keats made any sense to me – only the bitter words of a World War I poet named Wilfred Owen:
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning… 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues…

From Dulce et Decorum Est

Back in March, Dad told us, “I’m not afraid of death – it’s the dying that frightens me.” He was incredibly intelligent and I am sure now, he knew what lay ahead. I saw fear and sadness in his eyes throughout the few days before his death. But, Sunday morning, moments before he passed, he quietly laid back and closed his eyes. Mom whispered softly to him and he nodded once, twice, then no more. There was, it seems, some peace that came to him in his final moments, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Major Carl F. Boyer, USAF - My Dad flew jets and even broke the sound barrier
I know many people feel their Dad is a superhero, and I am no exception. One of my earliest memories was getting in an argument with a childhood friend over whose Dad was better…I was convinced my Dad was the better man, and I would not back down. He was, and will always remain, my hero and my champion…and here’s why: he made me the woman I am today. The things I most value about myself are the gifts my Dad gave to me. Through his example (and yes, sometimes his seemingly never-ending lectures!) he taught me the value of honesty, compassion, humor, and education.
Dad always said, "You're never too old to sit on your Dad's lap!" 
Dad never tolerated lying. I found that out the hard way when I was in first grade and he caught me cheating in the midst of a game of Candy Land. Over the years, I tried to lie to him on occasion, but he always knew…by the time I graduated from high school, I just gave up on even trying to fool him…I clearly couldn’t. But through him, I learned to appreciate people who are straightforward, and I do everything in my power to be honest in turn.
Even though my Dad could be brutally honest, he was never without compassion and empathy. He taught me to see through others’ eyes and not to judge people who are different. I find this to be one of my own best qualities, and am so grateful for his fine example.  He welcomed so many people into our home and family and made them feel respected and loved. I am the prime example of his unconditional positive regard and love. I am actually not his biological daughter. When I was four, he adopted me right after he and my mom were married. A few years ago, Dad went to the doctor’s with me. The doctor asked about my family health history, specifically the paternal side. I replied I didn’t know and he began to answer. I awkwardly reminded him that we did not share a biological history, and his eyes filled up with tears and he said to the doctor, “I knew one of my children was adopted…I just couldn’t remember which one.” 
Dad with the 70's 'stache, our new puppy Mitzi, and four-year-old me
I really struggled with this fact over the past week. I doubted myself and whether or not I had the “right” to feel the way I did, or whether or not I should be part of family decisions. On Sunday morning, after he died, I was lying down in his and Mom's home. I thought I heard him laughing downstairs and as I woke up and the reality of what had just happened sank in, those insecurities hit me hard. But right before I fully woke up, I heard his voice say, “I chose you.” And I thank God that he did.
As serious and intense as my Dad could be, he had a ridiculous sense of humor. He loved jokes, slapstick, and puns – the cheesier the better. And he had a knack for turning a 2-minute joke into a 20-minute comedic sketch. In fact, if my kids heard a corny or exceptionally lengthy joke, they would immediately categorize it as a “Papaw joke.” 
Dad on the water slide at River Country in Disney World
Even though his jokes often made me groan, they taught me the importance of a sense of humor and the healing power of laughter. When I was in tenth grade, I had braces. I was told by my orthodontist not to bite into hard foods like carrots and apples, but instead to cut them into bite-sized pieces. One evening we had carrot sticks at dinner and so I began to cut my carrot. With a sharp steak knife.  On our good wood dining room table. My dad yelled, “Jenni! What are you doing?! Use your head!” Without thinking, I picked up the carrot and knife and placed them on top of my head and made cutting motions. When I saw the look of terror on my mom and siblings’ faces, I realized I was dead. We all just held our breath and stared at my Dad. He looked stern for a moment, then burst into laughter.  We all laughed, too – mostly from relief. But I think my Dad appreciated the cleverness (or maybe just the sheer stupidity?) of my actions.
Goofy was always Dad's favorite! This was the last time I got to go to Disney with Dad - June 2000
My Dad was a well-educated man. He graduated in 1968 from Penn State (and remained a die-hard Nittany Lion fan until the end). He served in the Air Force during the Vietnam years, then went on to earn his Juris Doctorate from Duquesne University School of Law in 1980. With the exception of a few years in private practice, he spent most of his career as a defense attorney for the Veteran’s Administration – first in Pittsburgh, then in Washington, DC. He is the reason I have good grammar and a strong vocabulary, the reason I learned to think critically, and the reason I learned to value education. He didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, but I know he was proud of the fact that I became the first female in our family to earn a Bachelor’s degree, and I know he was exceedingly excited that I was finishing my MA this summer. Some of my best memories with Dad are the intellectual/philosophical conversations we had. He was genuinely one of the most intelligent, wise men I have ever known. I only regret that he won’t be here to see me graduate.
Dad and Mom with the joys of their life - their grandchildren
There are many other important life-lessons with which I can credit my Dad, such as a love for family. But since my blog is about all things French, I must say that he is one of the reasons I love France. He took French throughout high school and college (and so would correct my French mispronunciations!) and LOVED French cuisine. He made the best Crème Brûlée – and I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to learn from him how to make it. We had many conversations about French history, especially World War II. It was my dream to take him to Normandy and Paris, and I am so sad that we never got to share that adventure.
Yesterday (Friday, 6 June 2014) we said our goodbyes to Dad. The line of people coming to pay their respects extended into the street and took nearly 2 1/2 hours (we were actually late in starting the funeral!) to process. It was a true testament to the remarkable man Dad was. My brother paid a moving tribute to Dad, as did my nephew, and I read some words of comfort from William Penn:
"And this is the Comfort of the Good,
that the grave cannot hold them,
and that they live as soon as they die.
For Death is no more
than a turning of us over from time to eternity.
Death, then, being the way and condition of Life,
we cannot love to live,
if we cannot bear to die.
They that love beyond the World, cannot be separated by it.
Death cannot kill what never dies.
Nor can Spirits ever be divided
that love and live in the same Divine Principle,
the Root and Record of their Friendship.
If Absence be not death, neither is theirs.
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas;
they live in one another still.
This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die,
their friendship and society are, in the best sense,
ever present, because immortal.”
From Some Fruits of Solitude 

I don’t think anything will ever fill the void my heart feels. I have never felt such deep sorrow. But I also know that I am extremely fortunate and blessed to have had him in my life. I love you Daddy…and you’re right - I’ll always be your little girl.
My Daddy and Me
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Julie Tulba said…
I'm so sorry for your loss Jen. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this unimaginable time of suffering.

That was a beautiful post you wrote in his honor and how absolutely cool that he was the one to inspire your love for all things French. I'm sure he loves that someone has followed in his footsteps!
Anonymous said…
Jennifer, I loved this very touching, loving tribute to your Father! You honored him in life and with his passing! Every moment you think, cry, speak his name, share a story, or something/someone reminds you of him, you honor his memory! Your part of the story when your Doctor was asking about your family history and he said, "I knew one of my children were adopted but I can't remember which one, made me cry, what a true testament of his love for you, thank you for sharing this with all who read, I am so sorry for your loss! Sincerely, with Love, Kerri Reed Sechman
Anna said…
I am so sorry for you loss Jennifer. <3
Anonymous said…
So sorry for your loss, Jennifer, but be not fearful for him, for the Psalmist wrote, "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." - Psalms 116:15
"...And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them." - Revelation 14:13
Jake Jaccard,
Winchester, TN

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