That's my Dad - by Don Jessop

That's my Dad - by Don Jessop

June 23, 2019 22 Comments

I sat with my daughter on my lap and a tear on my cheek as my dying father took his last breaths in the room next door. In the waiting room with me, many of my siblings laughed and cried at the dry or sometimes morbid coping humor that passed between us in those last few days of my father's life. All the moms, siblings, nephews, nieces, and dearest friends surrounded us that week. It was a wonderful, sad, and enriching week. The picture above shows one of the last kisses dad ever gave just after the grand girls sang at his bedside. 

A few days earlier I remember sitting at his bedside, with my hand in his, hoping he could tell me one last thing that would set my life at ease or give me a sense of direction. I probably wouldn't have heeded his advice had he given any. I seldom did... Not because I didn't care, or didn't love him, I loved him as much or more than anyone I know. Simply because he always encouraged and embraced our independent thinking and I'm curiously stubborn, quite possibly, just like him. None the less, I relished every word that escaped his mouth, even from the beginning of my life. I knew he couldn't talk and I wasn't even sure if he knew it was me standing there, but I embraced the moments I had without feeling strange or guilty about the river that cascaded from my eyes and nose, or my broken words that feebly illustrated my deep love and appreciation for him.

My moment alone with him, however, did not last. The door opened and distant relatives walked through. I'd been raised to be polite and I've adhered to that notion most of my life, but as the minutes drew on and those relatives lingered, I felt a certain sense of resentment or jealousy. I knew they meant well, and needed to say goodbye in there own way, but that was my dad. Why did they have to be there?

I took a deep breath, said my goodbyes and walked to my car. Later that day I called my brother and talked reverently of the special time I spent alone with dad. I have had thousands of those special moments with dad driving to and from Utah or job sites throughout Montana or playing a game of carrom on our "Mom-day Mondays" each week. But I spoke a little less reverently of the time I felt had been stolen from me when people I didn't know well came into the hospital to see dad. The same words came out again, "after all... That's my dad!" 

My brother laughed and expressed the same feelings from a similar experience a few days earlier with dad. He even said the same words. "That's my dad!" 

I realized then and even more so over the next few days that we all felt the same way to some extent. All the siblings deserved their alone time with dad in those last days, and all of us had that time torn away from us by the sheer statistical fact that many, many people saw our dad as a father figure and time was running out. Gratefully, each person I saw step into that room had the most wonderful memories to tell and a tear or two to shed.

I can only speak of my own memories today. A special kind of memory. Memories not sparked by jealousy, but by the realization that I am extremely proud to be called the son of Marvin Jessop. I wonder how many of his kids feel the same pride I do today. 

In the fall of '89, I watched my dad chase a mother moose from our campground with a shovel. We, meaning me and an unknown number of siblings, hid under the truck per his instructions and watched through a broken view of tailpipes and toe hitches how dad protected our camp. When I saw him turn back toward camp with a smile wider than the Mississippi, I said to myself. "Wow! That's my dad!"

In the winter of '98, I looked up into the stands, in a gymnasium over two hundred miles from home. I gazed from the post block under the rim, sweat beading off my forehead. In a moment I'd be called into action in the attempt to rebound the basketball for my team. I caught my dad's eyes and I realized just how far he'd come, not just for me, but for all us kids. Dad didn't have to travel all that way to watch me play, but he did, and I said to myself, "That's my dad!"

In the spring of 2010, with my beautiful wife at my side, I lifted my gaze to the man who would renew our wedding vows on our fifth anniversary. He couldn't be there when we first married in New Zealand and today he stood proudly in front of me. And I thought... Here is a man whose footsteps, religiously speaking, I did not follow and yet he reached to my shoulder with what seemed like an iron hand in velvet gloves, and said, "I love you son." And I thought, "That's my dad!"

In the summer of 2016, with a tear in his own eye, he and I spoke in private near the edge of the river with our fishing poles extended over the water. He spoke of the events that unfolded and were yet to unravel within his life and his religion and his community. He never figured out how to make it all go back to normal. I saw how it wore on him. I watched as the years dragged on how time after time he defended his family and held true to his work and his word in spite of the pressure and fears from both worlds that called for him. I stood in awe of him. And I thought, here is a man that could have yielded to pressures of men, yet he stood strong in his own beliefs and open to all sides, under the weight of a crumbling community. He walked the fine line between those who thought him wrong and those who thought him right. He demanded no compliance, took no credit, and through it, broken heart, broken body and all, told the unspoken story that a man must stand strong and stand up for what he believes is the best path forward. What he left me were these two messages. "Don't fold under pressure son." and "Don't burn bridges." Somehow, he walked that middle line for the last years of his life as turmoil ensured. And once again I thought to myself, "That man there... that is my dad!"

In my last moment alone with him, I stood with my hand on his chest in hopes of calming his breathing. As I said my final goodbye as his heart pulsed under my palm, I said what anyone would say. I said, "I love you, and thank you for everything." But there was something else in my heart that day, a sort of promise. A promise that I will remember the example he gave me of fatherhood, comradery, leadership, friendship, patience, perseverance, diplomacy, forgiveness, curiosity, compassion, and undying faith in the best parts of humanity. I will remember who I am. I will remember where I came from.

My loving siblings and I often joked about who's dad is stronger, knowing full well we were talking about the same man. I know now that my dad is the strongest.  And... I know that I am his son. That's something I couldn't feel more proud of. An era is ending this season but I'll never forget who dad is and was, forever.

I love you daddy! 



22 Responses

Darlene Judd
Darlene Judd

July 17, 2019

I am so sorry to hear about your dad. I am not an eloquent writer or speaker but I just wanted to say thank you for sharing about your dad. Dads are special people in our lives that touch us forever. Hugs to you.

Eileen Coe
Eileen Coe

June 27, 2019

Don – I am so sorry for the loss of your Dad. He lives on through you and your beautiful memories. Lots of love to you and your family! Sending you a big hug!

Pat Hughes
Pat Hughes

June 27, 2019

Beautiful and very well said. I remember the stories that you recently told me about your dad.

Martha generous and insightful
Martha generous and insightful

June 27, 2019

A beautiful and tender weaving of words Don. It sounds like you relished your final moments and the manner in which you’ve shared them is both generous and insightful. I’m sorry for your loss, but know his legacy lives on within you.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell

June 27, 2019

Don,Thank you for sharing this intimate and privledged moment. These are the events that connect all of us to the greater mysteries; humbling and awesome at the same time. You and your family were very fortunate that your father was open to including all of you in his end of life experience.
Nancy and I send you and your family our love and respect.

Jan Sharp
Jan Sharp

June 26, 2019

Heart felt sorrow for your loss. As you described him I saw you. He will always be with you and your memories huide you. Hugs hugs. Jan

Jane Given
Jane Given

June 26, 2019

What a wonderful tribute to your Dad. he sounds like an amazing person and It sure seems like he passed on many wonderful qualities to you. The part where you spoke of your siblings also referring to him as their dad made me smile…my siblings and I do that as well referring to our parents. Deepest condolences to you and your family at this very difficult time.

Faye Turner
Faye Turner

June 26, 2019

What a beautiful tribute to your father, Don. It made me cry. I will always love and respect your dad as a kind brother and friend, and I love you too. It’s been a special blessing to have known you both. My heart is full.

Cindy
Cindy

June 26, 2019

Dear Don,

I am so sorry for your loss and know that your dad will live on forever in your heart.

You will carry forward the love, wisdom and courage he model for you.

From the first time I met you and Rachel I felt a connection with you, I felt as though we had known each other before.

As I have worked with you over the years and watched you grow deeper into the man you truly are, I am inspired by your courage to be vulnerable and real.

To stand up for what you believe even though it may go against the grain of what you were taught. I speak of this in regards to the horse.

You have always had the horses come first and you teach us all how to understand them from a place of respect, trust and compassion.

Yet you haven’t stopped there, you have learned about people too and with that you are modeling for all of us how to be the best we can be for ourselves and our horses and in doing so, we become the change we want to see in the world.

I am sure your Dad is extremely proud of the man you have become.

Hugs and love to you and your family in this time of grieving.
Warmly, Cindy

Kendra
Kendra

June 26, 2019

Don, thanks for sharing your dad with us! What a special relationship you had, and how proud he must be of you. I am sorry you had to say goodbye and wish you and your family peace in this sad time.

Nancy
Nancy

June 26, 2019

Beautifully expressed Don, what a tribute. Quite apparent " like father like son. " May the lessons your dad taught live on in and through you~ passed along to your children. It sounds like your dad clearly understood his identity in the world and with God. May your Heavenly Father ground you, solid and strong. And may your children also say , “That’s MY dad.” In loving memory ~ until you see him again. ❤

Jill Mundy
Jill Mundy

June 26, 2019

What a wonderful tribute to your Father.

Joe
Joe

June 26, 2019

well said brother :)

Nina Black Reid
Nina Black Reid

June 26, 2019

What a beautiful tribute to your Father. This is an aspect of you I was unaware of. I have known you for many years and your wonderful words about the Man that raised you makes my heart happy. I have always admired you and your relationships with your wonderful family and your horses . I am happy that
you are my teacher. I admire you . I promise you that you made your Father very proud . Please hug your " girls ’ for me .

Susan Hallmark
Susan Hallmark

June 26, 2019

Hello, and good-bye to a father that loved his children, a legacy of kindness, strength and much more. I cried when I read this as I never had a relationship with either one of my parents. It warms my heart when I hear the great love for a man that left more than himself behind. I’m so sorry for your loss, Don. It must have been a sad and no doubt a desperation feeling, at times to see this strong man take his last breath. Your eyes must have been filled with tears of love, loss and some regrets of time that passed between visits. You now have, and most likely have taken your responsibility as his Son to carry his legacy with you in this life. I’m so sad for your loss. He sounds like a great man that left so much behind but as you walk this life you have him in your heart. So Don he still lives," in you". God Bless

Donna Falquero
Donna Falquero

June 26, 2019

This is a beautiful tribute written to a father much loved. Cherish the memories and thank you for sharing this glimpse into your private life.

Linda Gaeta
Linda Gaeta

June 26, 2019

Don – My heart breaks for you and your family. I’m so sorry for your loss – prayers and healing thoughts to you all…may you cherish those memories for a lifetime…

Louise Michaels
Louise Michaels

June 26, 2019

Beautiful document of your dad and your feelings. My deepest condolences. I wish you peace in the time ahead.

Sue Fanning
Sue Fanning

June 26, 2019

What a lovely tribute to your Dad. May you and your family find comfort in knowing that his love and his principles live on in you! xo

Meg
Meg

June 26, 2019

🙏🏻Don…Donnie and I send our deepest condolences and honor you for sharing this powerful tribute…hearts are full💝

Tricia Coffey
Tricia Coffey

June 26, 2019

So sorry for your loss, Don and family. May his memory always be a blessing.

Ed and Sara
Ed and Sara

June 25, 2019

There are no words, just wishes that your well loved dad is Home with our Father. Bless you and your natal family, bless Rachel and Shona Angelina.

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