My alarm blared at 6am – way too early for a Saturday morning. I grumbled, probably smashed the snooze button a time or two, and slowly made my way to the shower. I had less than two hours before I was taking the SATs. Within minutes, that test would be the last thing on my mind.
Mid-shower, my mom knocked on the bathroom door. I could tell there was a sense of urgency but my groggy self was just confused. I told her that I was almost done and I’d be out in a second. The knocks continued. Quickly, I got out of the shower and opened the bathroom door…
Car accident. My dad. Gone.
That’s all I heard. My immediate reaction was disbelief. “You’re lying. That can’t be true. I just saw him on Monday morning. I just talked to him last night”. But deep down, I knew. My parent’s split when I was three and the emotion in my mom’s eyes was absolutely incomparable.
The hour that followed is still a complete blur to me. I tried to console my little sister, who was only fifteen at the time. I tried to get more information, answers, anything. Not that it would help. I was told time and time again that I didn’t have to go to the SATs. My mom wanted me to take time to deal with the news. But I knew what I had to do.
The night before the accident, I was at work texting my dad. As a guy who ended up becoming an extremely successful lawyer, education was always so important to him. He pressed for information, asking if I studied, if I felt prepared. As the oldest, I was always striving to impress my parents. I assured him, “Ugh yesss, Dad, of course I studied! I’m nervous, but good to go”. The last text I ever received from him was “Okay, kiddo. Kick some butt. You’re a Yoder“. Those last three words were the most common words out of my dad’s mouth. It was his reasoning for our successes. They have never left my mind. So when it came to deciding whether or not I would take the SATs an hour after finding out my father died, it wasn’t a tough choice. I would go. I would take the tests. And I would do well. Because my dad was counting on me.
Today, May 7th 2016, marks five years since that Saturday morning. You know how in job interviews, they always ask you “Where do you see yourself in five years?”. Well, I could have never predicted these past five. Not a chance. Each year without my dad has brought different adventures that help me become the person I am today.
I’ve learned how to deal with my emotions. For the first year I tried so hard to be ‘fine’. People would ask and I would be so quick to say “Yeah, I’m okay”. News flash: when you lose a parent at age seventeen (or any age for that matter), you are never fine the first year. It’s okay to talk about it, it’s okay to break down, it’s okay to be laughing at a memory one second and then get teary-eyed the next. Life in itself is a roller coaster, so if you just go with the flow and take each moment as it comes, you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is.
I’ve learned how to talk about death in a way that doesn’t make people uncomfortable. When I left for my freshman year of college, my mom and stepdad came down to help me move in. Naturally, I had many encounters where people though he was my dad or asked if my dad was coming also. It’s a conversation I still have many times in my life currently when I mention my family. People seem to think that I don’t want to talk about it; in reality, I LOVE to tell stories about the kind of guy my dad was. My friends can meet my siblings, they can meet my mom, but it’s up to me to provide them with the image of the guy that helped raise me.
I’ve learned to live. My dad was the reason I got into country music. I used to hate that stuff. But thanks to Kenny Chesney, I was eased in through ‘island-country’ and it just kind of snowballed after that. Neither my dad nor I were blessed with great voices, but when he, my sister, and I were in the car, Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” was usually the sing-along song of choice. That song tells the story of a man who is told he doesn’t have much time left because of cancer. He decides to embrace the time he does have and goes skydiving, mountain climbing, and bull riding; he is a better husband and a better friend. Ultimately, the song preaches to take each day as if it were your last and never hold back. Do you know how much FUN life can be when you adopt that mindset? I’ve bungee jumped in the jungles of Costa Rica. I’ve backpacked through the mountains of Italy. I’ve relocated my life to a town over 400 miles from where I grew up.
I’ve learned to believe in myself. I’ve never been a shy person; however, I’ve doubted my ability for success a time or two. If I have a nerve-wracking job interview, a difficult homework assignment, or even just a so-so outfit, I’ll take a step back and breathe. I think of how my dad was always so confident that we could be successful with whatever we set our mind to, simply because of who we are. I tell myself that as long as I’m myself, doing my best, and owning it, it’s enough. When you tell yourself that you’re enough, it will change your life.
So five years after my life was flipped upside down, I can tell you “I’m okay” with confidence. I can tell you that the SAT scores I made that morning were enough, because here I am, about to graduate college. I can tell you about my baseball loving, junk food eating, sarcastic, hilarious guardian angel. And I can tell myself that even when things get tough…
I’m a Yoder.