My dad spent 30 years in the Air Force. As you can imagine that meant a lot of time away from home while me and my brothers were growing up. Other than my dad there have been two influential father figures in my life. The first was a man named Terry Kreft who taught me about hard work and the meaning of an honest days work for an honest days pay. He also taught me how to change a tire, grease joints on a diesel truck, not to smoke near the part cleaner filled with flammable solvent and how to reclaim freon from refrigerators. Terry was as blue collar as it got. Worked seven days a week, always had grease under his nails. Worked so much that he ignored the signs. Terry passed away a few years ago from brain cancer.
The other man was my Uncle Charlie. Uncle Charlie had two girls of his own but no boys. So when it came to baseball games, fishing and hunting, I always got to tag along. I never knew what Uncle Charlie did for the government. He’d often show up at the house in some unmarked black truck and always let me play with the lights and sirens or let me practice handcuffing him. One time the key fell in the grass and we couldn’t find it. Ten minutes and hacksaw later he was a free man again. Uncle Charlie taught me to take pride in my work but not to take things too serious or life will pass you by. Whatever I ended up being when I grew up to make sure I always strived to be the best at it and expect nothing but the best from others. The biggest lesson he taught me though, was to never forget how to laugh.
I received some sad news this evening. My Uncle Charlie passed away. Uncle Charlie had a stroke a decade ago and has never been the same since. Uncle Charlie wasn’t related just a close family friend who also happened to be from the same island as my mom (Chi Chi Jima). After his stroke, I didn’t see him more than a few times after that. My dad always said it was because my Uncle Charlie wanted us to remember him as the man he was. When I was younger these men were men who were bigger than life in my eyes. They were invincible! Now as I’m older, you see life and age take them. But to me, with the lessons they have taught me, they will always be forever invincible.