Thursday, April 3, 2008

Remembering Daddy

Today is my father's birthday. If he were still alive, he would be 59 years old. I have been thinking about him even more than usual in the past couple of months. Leap Day marked the 16th anniversary of the day my uncle came to tell me that he had been killed. I was a freshman at BYU, far away from home. But that's a post for another day. A post that I have been meaning to write for sometime but haven't allowed myself to write something that will be so filled with raw emotions and memories that I generally stifle.

Today, rather than mourning his passing, I want to celebrate his life. I know that I cannot capture it all in one post, but I don't want that to stop me from remembering him in this way. Although he only lived for 42 years, he had a tremendous impact on many, many people. He was a dedicated husband and father, a loyal friend, a determined missionary, and a man who sought out those who needed help and did all he could for them. There were over 1,000 people at his funeral; some had come from across the country, one had even traveled from Japan. He was beloved by many because of the life that he lived.

My dad, Raymon Kim Johnson, was a fool for babies. He loved babies, and once his seven children were no longer babies, he was always making eyes at someone else's, hoping that he'd get to hold them. As the oldest, I remember him playing with my younger baby siblings. He made up a game called "Bombs Away!" in which he would lie on the floor. The other kids would lie on either side of him, flanking him, sometimes several bodies deep. Then he would lift the drooling baby over his head and pretend that they were a jet airplane--a bomber, aiming at the towns down below. As the bomb would drop, we would squeal with delight and hope that someone else got hit, wriggling away, but always coming back for more. His magnetism and fun-loving ways were too much for us to resist, even if being bombarded with baby spit was the price we had to pay.

I also remember his bedtime stories. When my sister and I were little, he would make up stories for us each night. My mom says that sometimes she got impatient as he whiled away his time in our room, delighting us with his tales. Often, if he had baby Martin or Tyler in his arms, he would make them the evil villain, who would often be dumped in the trashcan or flushed down the toilet by the end of the story. Our favorite character was Muzzy Mazoolah from the Land of Sawin' Logs. Later, the stories changed to meet the more rough and tumble adventurous needs of my younger brothers. Their stories were about Cowboy Raymon (which was also Tyler's first name) and came complete with little songs.

We would listen for my dad's car each night to know that he had arrived home. For most of the years that I can remember, it was a Peugeot 505 Diesel, which meant that we could hear him from a block away. We would all rush out to him and maul the poor man. Then he would come into the kitchen where Mom was usually making dinner, and kiss her or dance around the kitchen with her. The house was always more fun when he was there.

My dad loved literature and was always reading a good book. He was a student of the scriptures and was dedicated to studying them each day. We were still very young when he began teaching us to memorize verses from the scriptures. I can still remember them and they come to my mind at just the time I need them, a gift from him all those years ago. He was always trying to learn more. I remember him taking a speed reading class. He had a little crisis when he realized that he couldn't help me with my math anymore and took a class to brush up on that as well! He was very proud of our academic accomplishments. When I received an academic scholarship to BYU, he made such a big deal about it. But I was used to that by then, as he'd always praised us and bragged about our achievements.

Another thing he enjoyed immensely was music. He had played the trumpet (quite well) in high school and college. He had also taught himself to play the guitar, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, and auto harp. He had picked up a set of bagpipes somewhere and practiced them in the room over the garage (which was his home office), as they were too noisy to be allowed in the house. We spent many nights together sitting around in the living room, singing while he played the guitar. He taught us to sing in harmony and paraded us around like the Von Trapp family singers; I was nearly five years old before I figured out that you didn't have to sing for a treat on Halloween (we'd only go to neighbors and to elderly members of our congregation; we'd sing a few songs for them and they'd always give me a treat, which thrilled me. Then one of the little old men took me to their next door neighbor's, and I found out that all I had to do was say "trick or treat" for my chocolate!) We all learned to play at least one instrument, and all of us dabble in guitar, although my brothers have become quite good. (Daddy must have taught me how to play "Where Have All The Flowers Gone on the guitar every year for four or five years before I finally stuck with it!) He fell in love with the music of Les Miserables and took us to see it many times. It is a bittersweet experience to listen to it now, and for a while it was just too emotional. But now I love that I can listen to it and remember how much we loved it as a family, how much Daddy was passionate about it.

Daddy had this amazing sense of humor. He used to say, "anything for a joke." Sometimes that motto would get him in trouble, but mostly it kept people around him laughing and merry. He taught me songs like Nose Job (which can be downloaded here), Dead Skunk, The Eggplant that Ate Chicago, and Junk Food Junkie, songs that never failed to make people laugh. Here's a couple of music videos I found on YouTube for Dead Skunk and Junk Food Junkie. If my dad had lived to the YouTube age, he would definitely be spending some of his spare time making silly videos like these!






Daddy was a dedicated home teacher. (In the LDS Church, we strive to take care of each other and watch over the needs of one another. Even people who are baptized members but who are no longer attending church have a home teacher assigned to them, unless they ask to not have one.) He often took the assignments for the elderly or for those who were tough to get in to see. He also was a zealous missionary, sharing the gospel that he loved so much with all he met. At his funeral, many people who came through the receiving line told of how they were active members of the church in part because of my dad's influence on them.

I have missed him so much in the years since he left this earth. The first year was the hardest I've ever endured; just as people promised, it did get easier with time, but the void that he left is still there. I am still sad that he never met my husband, that my children will only know him through pictures and stories, and that my mom has spent so many years without him by her side. I take comfort in the promise of the resurrection and that of eternal families. I know that I will see my father again, that my husband and children will get the chance to know him, that he and my mother will continue their marriage throughout eternity. I may not understand why the Lord allowed him to be taken from us when we still needed him so much, but I do know and understand that He has a plan for us and hasn't left us alone in our trials. My family has been blessed so much by the Lord over the past 16 years that we cannot deny His love in our lives.

I love you, Daddy! Thanks for being such a wonderful example to me and an inspiration in my life.

47 comments:

Allison said...

Thanks for such a nice post on Dad's birthday.

Cornfields, children and waterballet said...

WOW! Michal, Thanks for sharing such tender memories and feelings. Although my dad died only a few years ago, I miss him so much. I was very close to my dad and there are many days that I long to just call and ask for his advice or hear his "dry sense" of humor.

I am always sad for our children when it is "Grandparents Day" at school. I usually just borrow a primary worker from the ward.

I loved the pictures. It's been fun to see your family. WOW!

An Ordinary Mom said...

Your Dad sounds like an amazing and remarkable person. Thanks for sharing your tender memories with us!

scrap chair potato said...

Though I never met him, your dad has influenced my life. He holds a very special place in my husband's heart. I am glad I know even more about him now... what an awesome post.

McD said...

Seriously how can one man do all those things and so well. . .that is what what amazes me most.

As a father, it is great to see that you enjoyed the things that we fathers try hard to do. I can tell you that nothing seems to be better than hearing the laugh of my boys when they like my story, and I look forward to their trampling of my feet when ever I come home.

Great post!

Macy said...

Thanks for posting this. I've been crying while reading through it. I think so much of your mom and have often wished I could have met your dad. Thank you for sharing your memories and I know you'll be glad you took the time to get them in written form to share with your kids as they get older.

Anonymous said...

Michal, this post has forced me out of my recluse-closet-blog-reading ways. Thanks for the beautiful post. Add me to the fan list of your father (and your entire family!)....He was amazing. Your good lives certainly demonstrate what a good man he was. Thanks for sharing him with me. Les Mis always does feel like his. Love your friend, Heidi

Anonymous said...

What a amazing man your father was. Your dad still is with you as I read I couldnt help but to think your boys sound alot like him great sence of humor, imagination, love books and music. your dad has an influence even though hes not here.. What great memories you have.
Mandy

Anonymous said...

Michal:
No wonder you have so many goals before you turn 40. Your father left some hefty shoes to fill. I think it's amazing that he was able to become so much and still be FUN! Can you tell us some Muzzie stories in another post? By the way, we have completely stolen bombs away to use on the 5.3million Renouf babies. Thanks for sharing such real and happy memories of your dad. Heidi's right about Les Mis; it belongs to him now. Erin

Michal said...

what a gift to me your comments are. i have tears in my eyes, seeing that daddy touched some of you, too.

last night, as i was thinking more about him and reflecting on things i had read in his journal, i realized that i inherited from him the drive to improve myself. he was always making rules for himself, new schedules, new goals . . . sound familiar? it makes me feel good to think that i am like him in at least that way.

Michal said...

heidi, is that REALLY you? i need you to call or email me. my numbers and email for you are too old to work, since you insist on moving about the country so often. i would love to catch up, plus i'm hoping to make it to utah this summer . . . which is where i think you are living now. call me!

Erika said...

Thanks for posting this. I am going to print it of and save it in a book I'm working on for Scotty. I should say Raymon Scott Johnson here :-)

Martin said...

I miss Dad every day, and that first year was horrible. Next was the day I came home from my mission - I just needed him to be there, and it hurt so much that he was gone.

I have always known that I was given a gift of the Spirit to forgive those that took Dad from us, and that gift empowered me thrive and have hope in our latter-day reuniting.

I have had countless dreams where Dad comes home and wasn't really killed after all. The emotion I feel is so strong, that when I wake up it fells like he just left.

Sometimes the dreams seem to last for years, and we sing, and laugh, and talk and to the point where I get used to him being there, and start to take him for granted again.

Our house in Whittier has such a strong connection to him as did the cabin, and the old chapel on Pickering. Even music stores. I walked into one yesterday that didn't have any Ibanez guitairs, but it still, had that same quality and smell, that took me back to the days when we used to go to work with him.

My temporal connection to him seems weaker every year, and I find it harder to hear his voice in my mind sometimes, but when I am at my most melancoly I can pick up a guitar and play Stewball, or Will the Circle be Unbroken and just have a good long cry.

I love you dad. Happy birthday

Michal said...

martin,

i still dream about him, too. dreams that seem so real that i grieve when i wake up. but those dreams come less and less as time goes by.

i know that even though we miss him so much, that he is near us, watching in on our lives, participating in small ways. i know that he is proud of us--we have become what he hoped for us. if you read his journals about his hopes and dreams for his little kids, they have come to pass. that is such a great blessing.

for me, it helps to let go of the "things" and places that remind me of dad. after all, those will all fade with time (many already have, including the cabin and the old chapel.) instead, i hold on to the legacy he left of music, laughter, jokes, and testimony. he lives through his posterity as long as we keep those things alive.

Evan said...

Michal Thanks for the post.

I dream about our family together again too. It will be so amazing. I love you guys!

Evan

Rebecca said...

I think he looks most like Martin. Very touching memories!

cellista said...

What an amazing post! Isn't it so great to know about the eternal nature of families?! I still have my parents, but my brothers and sisters have all passed away. I need to get some memories like this down on paper for my children to have because they'll never know their aunts and uncles. Thanks for sharing your feelings.

Emily said...

This was a great post (and comments) to read. It was crazy how much the stories you told reminded me of McD (bed time stories, a love of music, and "anything for a joke"). No wonder he loves your family so much! Your Daddy sounds like an amazing man, and I can't believe how much Martin and Tyler look like him.

Andrea said...

What a beautiful tribute to your father. I was pretty young when he died but I still remember hearing my parents talk about the funeral. It was really nice to learn about him a little more and see why he has left such powerful legacy. Your family is wonderful and we will be sad when there are no more left here in whittier.

Sonja said...

I was so touched and moved by your love for your father and your testimony of the gospel. But the tears came as I was reading the comments made by your friends and family. They are all so beautiful.

Perhaps your children did get to meet your father, it sounds like some of his characteristic might have rubbed off.

Anonymous said...

I am sitting here just sobbing (probably a little bit of a side effect of being so sick last week), but you really made your father come to life in your writing. Thank you for helping us to get to know your father. It is an honor to have our daughter part of your great family! You write so beautifully!! Debbie

Tyler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tyler said...

good job michal. Erika warned me last night not to read this unless I wanted to cry. This morning I thought, "what, this heart of stone?" and now I am sitting in the office crying like a little girl.

It will truly be a glorious reunion one day. every time I go to the temple I read the words to a song aunt susan pointed out to me once and get great comfort and excitement. Hymn 286 "Oh what songs of the heart" has since then had a very sacred meaning to me.

Thanks for a fine Happy Birthday and for saying what has been on all our minds. I know its things like this that keep him alive in our hearts and minds when it has been so long. To know that there are parts of him (huge chunks really) in each of us and in the things around us that we now love is a reminder that we don't have to get all melancholy to remember him. We can just play the guitar, or squeeze a baby or listen to some david wilcox, (I remember how thrilled he was when he first heard his songs and driving in the honda one day made us listen to eye of the hurricane over and over to hear the lyrics and understand the metaphor.) Les Mis to me isnt really a play or even a bunch of songs that I love- to me every time I listen to it or ponder its message it is dad teaching me about the plan of redemption. And there are so many things like that that with the ground work laid in his mortal life that continue to teach me, and drive me to be a better husband, father, and man.

mindyluwho said...

Michal, this was a very touching tribute to your dad.

david mcmahon said...

Michal, what an amazing validation of a precious life.

Harry's Mom said...

Michal - thanks for this post. Your dad was amazing. I remember seeing him with that banjo at a scouting event - the way he loved Bob Dylan and David Wilcox (or was that just you?) It still strikes me as such a tragedy - but I know he's up there looking down and thinking about how remarkable his wife and children are. Love you, Stacy

Mushy said...

Wonderful tribute to your dad...second time this week I've read about a daddy playing bagpipes!

David sent me over and I'm glad he did.

Hilary said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your dad. I'm sorry that your children never got to know him. Mine never knew my dad either and that loss is indescribable. I'm sorry for your loss but glad for your many happy memories.

Sandi McBride said...

What a wonderful story of your father. Would we were all lucky enough to have a father that kind and gentle, that loving and fun for how ever a short time...the love of a father is timeless.
David sent me over for a visit, and it was so well worth the time!
Sandi

Suldog said...

Michal:

Wonderful post!

I, too, have wanted to write concerning the day of my Dad's death, but haven't quite been able to bring myself to do so. Maybe we'll both find the strength soon, eh?

God bless.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

My dad also passed away at 42, when I was just 16 years old. It is always hard loosing someone you love, but when you loose someone as vibrant, and amazing as your father (and mine. A lot of the things you say about your dad make me think of mine) it is so hard to be ok with it. The wonderful thing is knowing that he was able to leave all those wonderful lessons and memories with you.

I often wish my kids could know their amazing grandpa in person. Isn't it great being able to trust in eternal families?

Anonymous said...

Michal - what a wonderful post about your dad. As I was reading I could picture him so clearly doing so many of those things. I remember seeing the bombs away game - I think it was as much fun to watch as it was for you kids to play. And, I know your dad continues to be so proud of each of his kids for all their accomplishments and for the wonderful adults they have become.
Kimberly

CrazyCath said...

Michal - what a wonderful tribute to your father. Your faith and how you celebrate life is also your tribute.

This is wonderfully written and I am sorry you lost him at such a young age, but as you say, you can look forward to when you will see him again.

Thank you for sharing this and well done on getting post of the day at David's. Well deserved.

Kimberly said...

Beautifully written...what a wonderful tribute to an incredible man and father.

Mrs. Morty said...

Thanks for your post about you dad. I lost my dad two years ago to cancer and I know the emptiness that remains. I'm so grateful for the gospel the produces such good men and that allows our families to be reunited in the eternities. I'm so glad you family shares the same reassurance.

The Red Hen said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing something so touching and close to your heart. I know that your Dad is watching over you and is so proud of the wonderful woman, mother and wife that you have become. It also speaks so well of your Mom - she must be an incredible woman, to have married such a great man, and then to carry on his legacy and raise you all so well.

Mahina said...

wow! that was beautiful! i love all of the pictures of your family! what a sweet tribute to a wonderful father!

Christine said...

Thank you- that was so nice- it makes me think of my brother in law. He sounds like a wonderful dad!

Stuart said...

wow, i havent had a good cry like that in along time...
thank you Michal for that...and martin and tyler for your responses...
those dreams are so vivid and the joy so immense that by the time i realized it was a dream while still dreaming i wished that i would never wake up. Im so greatful for the love of our heavenly father, that he gives us the capacity to love at such a great level. How could heaven be heavenly without the ones we love...Im so greatful we have been sealed.
I dont have as many memories of dad as most of my siblings but I know just as strong as anyone that his is my dad and that he is aware of all of us and cheers at our accomplishments and cries that he cant be more help when we falter...
Im so greatful for all the people that he brought into our family. I love Mike and see him as brother and hope he will always feel connected.
Martin, I to am overcome with a spirit of forgiveness for the perpetrators and its not something I asked for. It just came...I attribute that to both mom and dad instilling in us such a understanding of the atonement that forgivness was something our hearts were doing on autopilot. we knew we would be together again .
I remember vaguely giving a talk in primary just weeks after about temples. I shared my experience of going to work with dad not long before the 29th,( it must have been shortly before because my memory still seems so fresh) we were in west LA and after grabbing some lunch at western bagels ( i got the one with all the cheese all over it) he took me on the grounds of the Los Angeles temple. as a seven year old I remember distincly feeling great peace and reverence for this HUGE beautiful off-white building. I Knew that dad revered it to. I knew it was a special place for our family. I dont have many memories left of dad but Im so glad for that one.
I love and miss you guys so much...
thanks for helping us remeber how much he still means to all of us.

MOM we love you to. A lot.
Dad was great but he defiantly married up...Its a good thing you love dad because no man deserves such an amazing women...
lets save the Momma tribute for another time...Im tired of tasting my own snot. not that I taste anyone else's snot...
awww, a lame joke. just how i wanted to finish this comment.

Becky said...

*wipe tear*
*sniff*
*wipe tear*
Thank you Michal. I'm too emotional right now to put together any more words, but thank you.

Angela said...

This is the sweetest entry! This is really going to be a great one for the family history books. I hope this post inspires more people to write these types of the things down! It was really moving! I think I will do the same thing on my special extended B-days. You Rock!

Aubrey said...

What a sweet post about your dad. It is wonderful that you have such sweet memories to carry you through.
Isn't it wonderful to know of the eternal plan for us and know that death is not the end! I don't know how poeple without that foundation survive the death of a loved one.
Thanks for sharing!

Morgan said...

I love this post, Michal. I can't believe that it's been 16 years. I remember when it happened (or rather hearing about it) so clearly. I was 16- wow. It was just before I started dating Chris. Anyway- your Dad was our home teacher and I have such great memories of him coming to our house. We sat around a round coffee table we used to have and he taught is "Love at Home" but with changed words, "Love Fat Home" I still remember it after all these years.

Malia said...

Michal that was such a beautiful post and such a great way to honor your dad. I loved being able to read it and hear of all of the fun stories and memories you all have of him! I'm sure he was an amazing man.

Its nice to see where stuart gets some of his characteristics/talents. I think his storytelling definitely comes from his dad... and I never knew that until now.

Stuart will always grab a baby and hold it above me waiting for it to drop the drooly bomb... Now i understand where that comes from as well!

Maggie said...

what is this wet salty substance that is dripping from my eyes.. Johnson boys and girls your dad left quite a legacy and he is obviously evident in each of you. i feel like i could piece specific parts of you all together for a sum total of your dad. i have always appreciated his presence in your lives, despite his physical absence, and I am super impressed with the clan of sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, musicians that he managed to (co-)produce.

i maybe sometimes secretly pretend that my dad read to me from the book of jasher as a kid. i attribute this sort of behavior to why all of you know everything about everything.

happy birthday, evan's dad.

Sugar said...

Michal, I have never met you but I found my way to your blog from the Ferkin's blog, then to Allison's and then to yours. I worked with Allison and your Mom in the Whittier City School District. I am in Paige and Forest's ward. Anyway, I have been crying reading your sweet and loving remembrance of your dad. My mom died in a car crash 2 1/2 years ago and it's horrible. I feel everything you and your siblings do. My sister home schooled so I'm a supporter of that too! I'm also a reading specialist and a former special education teacher so if you ever have questions please feel free to ask me (I see you have links to autism sites...). I also love the title of your blog. It's so refreshing and upbeat. Thanks again for sharing about your great dad:-) Bonnie

Donna Schlegelmilch said...

Michal, Now I've had a good cry! One of the most heart-wrenching compassion experiences of my life! I have felt so much thankfulness over the years, for my association with your parents. Such great people! And the plan of salvation has become even more dear to me because of your family's trial. Whether you knew it or not, we really did "bear your burden" in our hearts! Thanks for the memories! Donna Schleg.