Gone too soon: Saying goodbye to an All-Star father

BY JOHN ROHDE

(Published April 15, 1992, The Oklahoman)

TUCSON, Ariz. – You would have loved my father. Everybody did.

Particularly me.

My father died Monday afternoon at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tucson.

Never have I cried so hard, so often, for so long.

Dad was 63, which is far too young to die. Then again, Dad could have died from old age and he still would have been too young.

His name was Richard Stanley Rohde, but he answered to just about anything – Richard, Dick, Skip, Dad, Pops, even “Disco Dick” during that incredibly nauseating music fad in the late 1970s.

How do you possibly say good-bye to the world’s best father?

I don’t know a single person — and I’m being absolutely honest here — who did not adore my father.

Everyone who met him fell in love with him.

He took bits and pieces of his own life and gave them to others to make their’s better.

Now’s the time for Dad to think of himself and not everyone else.

I’m the youngest of five children. Four boys. One girl. My sister, Gerry, is the oldest, followed by Mike, Jeff, Marty and myself.

We all were in Tucson to be with Dad.

Each of us adored him. Each of us was smart enough to tell him.

I never minded being the youngest . . . until Monday. In the end, it simply meant my sister and brothers had an opportunity to spend more time with Dad than I did.

I’ve been to one funeral in my life. My mother’s.

Mom (Sally) died Nov. 20, 1974, at our house in the mountains of Boulder, Colo. It was a Wednesday — a lousy, dreary, chilly, cloudy Wednesday. I’ve hated Wednesdays ever since.

She was 46. Again, far too young to die.

Dad remarried on St. Patrick’s Day in 1979, welcoming Maureen Burkhardt, a close friend of Mom’s, and her five children (Kristeen, Dan, Tom, Mike and Dennis). They became our step-family. But to us, there was no need for the word “step.”

Mom died of a tired heart. As it turned out, so did Dad.

Pops died of complications from lung cancer.

Incredibly, he beat the cancer by having his left lung removed April 2. He couldn’t beat all the crap that went with the process, however.

Chemotherapy. Radiology. Surgery.

Endless treatments weakened his immune system. Essentially, Pops died of pneumonia. An uncontrollable fungus suffocated his remaining lung.

Dad’s heart – that huge, ever-pounding heart of his – couldn’t do it alone.

Pops, a man who hadn’t smoked a cigarette in my entire 31 years, died of lung cancer.

You figure it out. (Anybody want to talk about life not being fair?)

Dad showered us with kindness, understanding and wisdom.

Got a question? Dad can answer it.

Need advice? Go see Dad.

Need guidance? Dad.

Want to learn how to ride a bike, drive a car, complete your homework, handle your career, behave yourself? Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad.

Help with your golf swing? Well, you might want to ask someone else.

Pops needed some help there.

After 36 years as an engineer with IBM, Dad retired 3 1/2 years ago. Golf consumed his retirement. He had a Hogan hat, but didn’t quite have Hogan’s swing. (Who among us does?)

He rarely broke 100, but couldn’t wait to try again.

In his final months, golf was Dad’s best medicine.

During the early stages of treatments, Pops would play golf in the morning and go to the hospital in the afternoon.

I cherish every moment I got to be with Pops – 31 years, 203 days.

He was my best friend. He was several people’s best friend.

Dad will be buried Monday alongside Mom in a beautiful setting, facing northeast, under a tree, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder.

That’s where their gravesites are. That’s not where their spirits will be.

Religion is very private to me, but I will admit I believe in God and heaven.

I firmly believe Dad and Mom are together again. Front-row seats. Right next to God.

I read somewhere cancer afflicts one out of every three people.

But Dad wasn’t one of three.

Dad was one in a million.