As I briefly mentioned in yesterday's blog, today is the twelve year anniversary of my father passing away from colon cancer. As you can probably imagine I have a ton of thoughts. Instead of writing a new blog entry, I decided I would just cut and paste something I wrote about my dad about three weeks ago. I've started writing more and more since my brother became sick and this is one of the entries. I apologize for the length.
Frankly, writing this entry is the last thing I want to do. In a lot of ways, this journal is actually an excuse for me to write this chapter because it’s something I have always needed to do. Ok, I’m beating around the bush. This chapter is about Kevin William Krass. Kevin was my father and as I have alluded to in prior chapter, he passed away when I was twelve years old.
I’ve thought for a while, about how I would tell my dad’s story. I’ve contemplated researching his upbringing in East Point, MI, how he met my mom, how he became a pastor, his diagnosis with cancer and so on. What I’m realizing though, even as I write this, is that those things are just facts and information. Facts are just the outlines of an object in a painting-the color is what brings the image to life. I don’t want to paint the outline because my dad’s story has already been told. Millions of people have died from colon cancer. I want to add color to the image; to make the image dance. By the way, my dad was a Baptist pastor so when I say “dance” you have to understand that there was a greater chance of him flying solo to the moon on a Radio Flier than him dancing. No, when I say I dance I immediately think of the Bonnie Brook Baptist Soccer Camp. Allow me to explain.
Every summer my dad would run a soccer camp for the youth of the neighborhoods surrounding the church. Even though he played and coached basketball his entire life he chose soccer because 1) it was cheap 2) we could do it right in the fields at church 3) the communities around the church were by and large Hispanic and as I understand it Hispanics really, really like soccer. At the beginning of each day my dad would lead the campers through a stretching and warm-up routine. The calisthenics always concluded with my dad’s favorite stretch, the ballerina stretch. This particular move consisted of each camper placing his hands over his head (envision 100 kids making the “A” like in the hand motions for the Village People’s “YMCA”), standing on their tiptoes and spinning in circles.
What was so great about this little movement was that it was always my dad leading it, and it was always my dad’s favorite part of the day. My dad was a big guy. He was a 6’5”, 220lbs, mustached former college basketball player performing a rather impressive version of swan lake. And that was my dad. And that is what I miss and continue to miss.
Even as I’m writing now I’m fighting back tears because more than anything I just wish I could call him up and tell him that I’m writing this journal, that I’m really excited about this church I’m going to now (shameless plug: the-harbor.net). It’s funny because its not even though I long for him to say anything back, I just want to talk to him. In a way, it feels like nothing I have done in my life is of value because he hasn’t approved of it or validated it.
I think that’s the hard part about growing up without a dad, often times you are just guessing at what the right thing to do is. You remember ballerina stretches but you don’t remember him telling you how to tie a tie or throw a curveball or how to ask a girl out on a date. Even though you seek counsel and advice from other people it always feels like you’re doing business with the boss’ secretary without ever meeting person in charge face to face.
I understand that not everyone has a good father, but the ones that do spend a lot of their life striving to either make their father proud or even, more blatantly, trying to become who their father is or was. What makes situations like mine difficult is that because my dad passed away when I was so young, my entire life I have heard how wonderful my dad was. How beautifully he dealt with his disease, how strong a leader he was, how compassionate a pastor he was, etc. Even though my family tells me all the time how proud my dad would be of me, I simply can’t accept that. I get visions of my dad becoming one of those dead-beat alcoholic TV dads stumbling into my room and saying things like, “Why don’t you get a real job?” and “You’re not married yet, you must be gay.”
What’s crazy is that my dad loved me. I know this for a fact. But because he isn’t around, the reality of who he is gets twisted and perverted to the point that I can’t even remember who my dad actually was. I remember in high school thinking to myself that the only way I could be successful was to be diagnosed with a terminal disease like my dad and die with dignity and strength just like he did. I fully acknowledge that this doesn’t make any sense, but when you’re trying to color by numbers and about 400 numbers are missing your picture becomes a little distorted.
A few years ago Donald Miller wrote a book entitled To Own a Dragon. The book was mainly about Miller trying to find his identity without a father in his life. I highly recommend it to individuals that have lost their dad but also if you still haven’t. I think it is a great read. Miller says that to him, “A Father is nothing more than a character in a fairy tale” because he had never seen a real one. I can relate to this. In a lot of ways this book has and continues to be an experiment in finding myself. Finding myself spiritually, finding myself relationally, finding myself professionally, etc. What I’m realizing is that God set up certain road signs that were designed to make sure we grow up right. I believe this design includes having two loving parents, a nurturing church to attend, a family that supports you, etc.
But unfortunately because we live in a sinful and broken world this design has become nothing more than a fairytale for a lot of us. My dad died when I was twelve, the church he was pasturing closed its doors after he passed away, my brother was diagnosed with brain cancer, etc. And as I stated in the introduction, I’m not the only one. My story isn’t unique; in fact, I think it’s the norm.
Really I guess this is what this book is all about. By all accounts, humanities collective story is too similar to ignore. I realized this when Karl was diagnosed with cancer. I received 10 emails a day saying that so and so had a brother that had brain cancer and so and so’s son had brain cancer. When you actually stop to think about it, it’s quite remarkable.
Even though I will never be able to say that there is anything positive about cancer I am sure glad I have people that cry for me and people that pray for me and people that know what I’m going through. Without them, life would quite literally be impossible. Maybe this is God’s new system. Even though I think all parties involved would much prefer life without pain and suffering, for a reason I’ll never understand this is impossible. But maybe human race’s redemption is through each other-through crying for each other, through praying for each, through sending poems to each other.
In Randy Paush’s book The Last Lecture he talks about how he knew immediately how well his students would do on their final group project when the students would present their final project to the rest of the class simply by how the group was standing on stage. The students that were huddled together, smiling and laughing together almost always received an “A”. The students that were spread out across the stage and didn’t have much interactions usually did average or below average.
I don’t understand why God does a lot of the things he does, but I’m pretty sure that the best way to navigate this life is with people around you.
By the way, after my dad died and the church split, the leaders of the church voted and decided that the last act of the church would be to give the church building and all that was inside it to a multi-racial but largely Hispanic church that was renting the building. One of my dad’s biggest dreams was that Bonnie Brook Baptist Church would serve the Hispanic community in the area. That is why he started the soccer camps and the ballerina stretching in the first place.
Maybe God does know what he is doing after all…