In my dad’s obituary, I wrote that he was “probably the nicest man you’ve ever met.” Someone told me I should have never written “probably” because Marc Butler was undoubtedly the nicest man he’d ever met.
I never knew him to have an enemy.
At 6’4″ and a half, Dad was not small, but his presence was unassuming.
I thought of him and heard others refer to him as a gentle giant.
He was more often than not the quietest person in the room. He did a lot more listening than talking. And he was unfailingly agreeable.
In retirement, he ate many lunches with a talkative bunch of guys he told me often sang the praises of Donald Trump. In all the time he spent with them, I don’t think he ever told them he voted for Hillary. For many of us, differences in opinion like that take great effort to overcome…or are simply insurmountable. For my dad, those differences seemed somehow irrelevant.
Simple things in life were more important to him than disagreements over
complicated things like politics. He loved farming and took after his own dad in picking up woodworking as a hobby in retirement. He made Christmas ornaments and flower boxes and decorative pumpkins and chairs.
He loved the occasional fishing trip with men from work, visiting family in Missouri and Texas, and going to the movies on Sundays. He liked pizza and hot fudge sundaes and wanted to be the first to compliment the cook for a “pretty good supper.”
He liked lemon ice cream from Hannam’s in Canton. Just the other week, I gave him my lemon cone after he accidentally ordered vanilla for himself, and that made him happy. Because at the end of the day, it was the little stuff that mattered to him.
One of my cousins called him a big teddy bear.
In his final days with us, I called him “Daddy.” I hadn’t called him that in years, but after a short, difficult battle with cancer, he laid in a hospital bed and seemed so small and frail to me that I couldn’t think of any more suitable name for him. “Daddy” fit him and his tender spirit.
I got the honor of spending nights with him in his final hospital stay. I can’t say they weren’t difficult and exhausting – they definitely were – but I will forever cherish that time and sacred space we shared. One night early on in the stay, Dad was agitated, and I thought maybe he’d like to listen to some music. When I started playing lullabies and gently rubbing his chest and head like he told me his mom had done when he was little, he calmed down almost immediately, so those lullabies became the soundtrack to our time together. I’ll listen to them for years to come, recalling his tenderness in their soothing sounds.
I want to hold onto the goodness of my dad for all my days. When I look back
at the words I’ve used to describe him – kind, unassuming, gentle, agreeable, simple, and tender – I know these are qualities I want to exemplify in my own life. I told someone just last week that I wish I had a fraction of my dad’s patience. He replied, “You do. It’s just a very small fraction.” I laughed…but his words also inspired me. Moving forward from this very difficult time, I want to grow the fraction of my dad’s best qualities in myself. I want to be kinder, gentler, more patient and tender. This won’t be an easy task. But I want to be open to allowing more and more of my dad’s spirit to fill me. And, oh what a wonderful world this would be if all of us were to do just that!
As they prepared Dad’s body, the folks at the funeral home took his fingerprint and sent it off to a company that makes commemorative products for loved ones who, in their grief, are willing to pay fairly large sums of money for such remembrances. I’m going to buy something – a necklace or a bracelet – not just so I can remember Dad by it but so I can remember that his fingerprint will always be upon me; his spirit will live on in me if I allow it to. That fingerprint etched in gold will be my constant reminder that part of my life’s work will be growing the fraction of that big-hearted man in me.