Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Mountains are Calling and I Must Go

I am now a member of a club that we all join at some point but no one wants to: the dead dad's club. After suffering a severe right-sided stroke 2 1/2 years ago, my dad left this life Wednesday night.  
My dad on the left, in the overalls.

Miles Eisenman was a force. God help anyone who chose to reckon with him. Even a bear. Once when backpacking, Dad woke up to find a bear eating his week's worth of food. Dad grabbed the biggest stick he could find and whacked the bear over the head. The bear walked away.

Dad was not a wallflower and not one to filter his opinions. He could be stubborn and difficult. But you always knew exactly where you stood with him. Many words could be used to describe dad: irascible, tough, generous. Not timidity though. Dad was not a coward and never hesitated to stand up for what he thought was right, regardless of the consequences. He did not "play nice" just to keep the peace. He was always true to himself. He didn't simply believe in hard work, he enjoyed it. Dad didn't hold grudges. He loved watching birds, being outside and cooking cowboy beans in the dutch oven on his outdoor grills.

Miles wasn't a typical dad. If it was storming out he'd drive the family to the ocean to see the 2 foot high foam left on the beach by the whipped waves. On road trips he wouldn't let us sleep, insisting that we needed to see the scenery that we had never seen before. He never let us walk barefoot lest we step on a scorpion or snake. My oldest sister recently came across a picture of her wearing flip-flops. How did that get past dad, we wondered.

Dad was an ordained minister but his call to the ministry didn't happen until college. In high school he attended church because that's where the girls were. Once a minister it wasn't something he did for money -- he made his living as a landscaper. He saw himself as neither liberal or conservative but biblical. He loved a good theological debate and was not one to give up an argument.

We always had lots of pets. My mom came to appreciate many of our pets but it was really dad who loved all the animals. We had an assortment of pets from dogs and cats to ducks to rabbits, geese and everything in between. Dad frequently found baby Jack Rabbits that had been abandoned. He would nurse them along, feeding them with an eye dropper until they were big enough to be on their own. 

Dad grew up in the small California desert town of Tehachapi. Like most dads he had stories about his childhood, including the traditional, "I walked to school in a blizzard only to get there to find out it was closed!" Come to find out later, dad's family lived in town at the time, mere blocks from the school.

Dad's Birthday, 2005
There were other stories too. Dad spoke of chasing mules in his Model A. He and his brothers used to collect arrowheads. Years later they donated those arrowheads to the Kawaiisu tribe for study. Carbon dating has shown some of those arrowheads to be 9000 years old.

Dad had an illustrious running career in college -- a two time All-American in track and cross-country. I can remember as a kid thinking it was funny that his name was Miles and he was a runner. I didn't understand how grandma and grandpa could've known that he'd be a runner and to name him such.

His running career began by happenstance. Dad ran a race one day while still in high school. He didn't know what he wanted to do after high school and was planning to sign up for the army the next day. At that race, a runner from Bakersfield Jr College saw him and convinced the track coach to recruit dad. Dad ran for the JC before getting a track scholarship to Oklahoma State University.

While at Bakersfield, dad was made to choose between his running career and a possible bull-riding career. Dad showed up to track practice one day limping, sore and looking beat up. His teammates demanded to know who was responsible so they could take care of things. Dad explained it was no one's fault -- he had just been bull-riding at a Kern County rodeo. He stayed on his bull for 6 seconds. The next day dad was summoned to the coaches office and was told under no uncertain terms that he could run for the team, or ride bulls. But not both. He chose running. Dad loved his time at Bakersfield and OSU and spoke of it often. He loved running on the prairies of Oklahoma.

He also loved working for the California Department of Forestry during his summers home from college, fighting wild fires. His superiors were impressed with his ability to pack a mule. The things he witnessed as a firefighter left an indelible mark. As kids, my sisters and I would roll our eyes when dad would announce it was a fire danger day. To us that just meant that we couldn't go to the movies in Santa Rosa. Dad was always worried about fast-moving fires. It wasn't until post-stroke that he spoke in more detail about the friends he'd witnessed getting caught in fire and not being able to save them. Dad was not an emotional, demonstrative man, yet, these events affected him deeply.

June 2009 -- My Speech-Language Pathology
It wasn't easy being his daughter. He had an insatiable need to be right and went to great lengths to have the last word. He didn't realize that by example he raised his daughters to be as head strong as he. We stood up to him just as he stood up to so many others. He almost refused to officiate my sister's wedding because she was going to keep her maiden name. He was certain this would mean divorce for my sister and her fiance. He came around after some prompting from my mom and 20 years later, my sister and her husband continue to be happily wed.

My love of animals, the mountains and being outside most certainly comes from my dad. He never watched tv just to zone out. He watched the news, football, and PBS shows. Most often falling asleep while watching. He was the antithesis of a couch potato. His leisure activity was taking my sister for a 10 mile run up and down 4000ft Mt. St.Helena.

Dad was a simple man and couldn't be happier if for Christmas he received a six-pack of Coke in glass bottles and a stick of Hickory Farms summer sausage. He was generous with his time -- he'd help anyone who wanted to learn from him.

Even as a minister, dad was not typical. He didn't believe that "church" was defined by a building or a specific day of the week. For years we had church at our kitchen table. He often worked on sermons while working in his customer's yards. He was once mistaken for talking on a cell phone while driving his truck but he was actually praying. It took awhile to convince the police officer of that! He was even kicked out of a few churches for arguing with the resident pastors.

This July my parents would have celebrated their 50th anniversary. My dad has two brothers and a sister -- now their eldest sibling has died. He lived an extraordinary life although I'm sure it didn't seem so to him. He would have argued that he lived his life doing what was right, on his terms. Yet, that is precisely what was extraordinary. How many of us get stuck not doing what we dreamed of doing? Not dad. He loved working outdoors and for himself -- he could never have had an office job.

I wonder, does Jesus know what he's getting? Because it wouldn't be beyond Dad to argue with the man himself. As long as Jesus offers him a Coke though, things should be just fine.

Miles Alan Eisenman
1938 - 2014