Creating a family wired for a life cycle

It was Monday morning, Feb. 10, 2014, and I had just placed the final period on the obituary for my dad, TeRoy Repnow. The phone rang at 8:45 a.m. and it was my sister-in-law Delila expressing that my dad had just passed away. The irony of these two final moments within seconds of each other hit me like a hefty wave crashing onto the rocky shores of Lake Sakakawea on a terrible windy, callous North Dakota day. Our family knew his death was imminent; yet at this moment, I was in a pool of tears. My emotions were reeling knowing that touching his large strong hands and feeling his deep enduring love would now be only memory.

We are never truly prepared for the moment when we are informed that our fathers have died.

I remember the moment when my dad’s father, Walter, passed away at the age of 101. My dad called our home. As Jan and I stood in our dining room with the phone shared between our ears, my dad wept – unable to tell us that his dad had died. My mother’s voice brought forth the news.

This same undiluted sadness had impacted my mother when her dad, Fred Christensen, died at the age of 97. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed at our dining room table in Underwood. Even though they had lived long good lives, it was difficult to know they were now gone.

In the month since my dad has died, I frequently find myself thinking about him and reflecting about his impact on my life. It can be in the morning when I am getting ready for work, as I am driving, spending time with Lydia, or just the other day when I was tying my necktie he taught me that.

I knew from a very early age that my dad had a good heart. He had made a lot of connections as an electrician long before I came upon the scene. As a father to five red-headed, high-voltage sons, he understood and knew that each of us was uniquely wired. When Repnow panorama embraced me as son number four, conversations between Dad and I involved details and endless – and I mean endless – questions! They centered on everything from his parents, why he married Mom, why he liked yellow neckties, and why we could not have a female cat! Contrasting my three older siblings, when I went wiring with my dad we talked about family connections. I clearly remember asking him what the first thing he loved about Mom was. I figured he had dealt with alternating current before and the reverse flow of interest should not be a problem. Between roughing in outlets and electric panels in ranch-style homes, I had the privilege of getting him to articulate his relationship with his dad, his mom, and why he loved jelly beans so much. He understood that I would probably never see the light as a mini-electrician, but I was the conduit that would treasure and remember the many and vital details of his life.

As a little boy, I preferred to get dressed in my parent’s bedroom, and I wasted no time in moving in on Sunday morning and placing my little necktie by my dad’s on the bed. I loved being like him and even went so far as to wear blue-striped bib overalls just like him. My place at the table was at his right hand and he guided and made me understand that table manners are important, and we never say we don’t like something until we have completely eaten two tablespoons – including Brussels sprouts.

As a father myself, I can say that raising your children is not always easy. Children can be difficult and at times extremely trying. For example, at age 19, I had decided I wanted to try smoking. I had sneaked off to have a smoke on the south end of Underwood, and as I puffed away in the car, Dad pulled on his headlights from his waiting and watching vehicle across the way. As he shed light on my secret, he walked up to the car and said, “I am disappointed – I quit smoking several years ago so that you would not start.” He then turned, and walked away into his beaming headlights, his father figure outlined – powerful and impacting enough to insulate me from the addiction of cigarettes forever.

How is it that fathers show their sons that they love them? As a youngster, my dad often gave me a kiss and many times that was connected with a hug. He took an interest in my childhood pursuits and many times had a “special wink” when he was proud. His interests in gardening, antiques, glassware and family history remain with me today. My dad was not a “high five” guy – he preferred to give a gentle swat letting me know to get going and “good job.” He was not afraid to discipline me, and explained to me that under his roof, there are rules. I shouldn’t worry because if I didn’t like these rules I could live some other place! These words grounded my actions. He would listen, then cycle, and then respond. I still recall when I expressed my desire to attend photography school in Massachusetts. He knew that I was making the right decision. I am reminded of the tiny little pair of scissors with periwinkle handles he gave to me with these words, “I thought these might come in handy when you are cutting negatives.” Whenever I used these scissors, I thought of him. He also placed in my car, before I headed east to Massachusetts, a pair of pliers, a roll of black electrical tape, a screwdriver and a jug of water, just in case repairs might be needed on my black Monte Carlo. His example of loving me was made greater in the love that he had for my mother – not dramatic, but rather the steady love that bound them together. Their support and respect for one another was forever.

Dad let us boys be part of his businesses. Not only was this great for our social development, but it also greatly added to our intellectual progress as well. For example, in our appliance store we learned after one delivery and a very twisted door that all freezers when being delivered must be secured with strapping tape before the truck hits the road. This was one time he did not have a long fuse and the word “amplifier” took on a booming meaning. I am sure it was at moments like these he was pressured to strengthen his resolve to do whatever it takes to be a good father. When he finally chilled, he did realize that he had the most impressive and incredibly like-new shelf on which to store his oil cans.

When my dad entered the nursing home, his once sharp mind was commencing to forget. Over time his ability to express himself narrowed. But I believe with all my heart that even though he could not voice his thoughts, he knew the legacy that he constructed with his sons was playing out. By being a good father, he had prepared his sons for this reversal of roles. He had always been our rock – the one to go to, and the one who wouldn’t let you down. Now he was witnessing a new charge – the ones who came to visit, the ones who kissed his cheek and wrapped him with a hug, the familiar touch of the comb through his hair, a banana, a piece of licorice, a square of chocolate and other favorites of his brought by family members while visiting.

He rested in his wheelchair frequently. His mood often silent; yet from time to time there was a spark from behind his hazel-blue eyes. He realized that he had shaped the future as a master electrician and understood the “self-induction” of being a good father had cycled to his five understanding sons.

My dad loved to raise apples and had planted many apple trees. At his funeral, the punch made with the accompanying recipe was served in my parents’ wedding punch bowl from 61 years ago and made from the apples from Dad’s trees.