Friday, June 14, 2013

My Dad, John Speer

This is my dad.

They say that we all see ourselves as the center of our own universe. And why not? Everything in this world begins and ends according to my perspective. I recognize other perspectives, but I'm an authority on my perspective. And so I speak of my father from my perspective.

My dad was born in Ohio--the middle child of three, and only son of a beautiful couple: Jack and Janet.

My brother Jack and I visited his childhood home when we were small children. It was our first plane ride alone. His backyard rolled into the neighbors yards so that there was an ongoing field for playing games with the other kids. The home was warm and happy. There was an organ in the front room.

There must have been a piano there, but I don't recall seeing it.

He told me that he got sick eating whipped cream, so I have a picture of him in my mind, eating whipped cream and getting sick.

There must have been a piano there because ever since I remember, my dad has played the piano. I remember being at a neighbor's home when I was about 4 or 5. I was picking away at the piano and my dad decided then that it was time for me to start taking piano lessons.

I remember playing "Heart and Soul" with him. He was a stickler for rhythm.

I remember he would play the piano and my mom would sing with him.

They were a very young couple. He was 25 and she was 21 when they got married.  And less than a year later, I was born. 18 months after that, Jack was born, and less than 3 years after that--Matthew was born.

Before we came along, he was a college kid at Miami University. He met the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and decided to be baptized. He finished his freshman year, and then moved out to BYU. He served a mission for the LDS Church in California. I don't know whether he went to school first or on the mission first.

Those experiences brought him to my mother. After 11 years together, they divorced.

While he lived with us, I remember learning to tie my shoes, personal interviews, singing, and playing the piano. I remember many gospel discussions. Faith is important when your parents are converts. It's new, it's exciting, and it's important.

After the divorce, he married a sweet woman named Ruthann. She had four daughters from a previous marriage. We visited their home once or twice a month, as time permitted. I remember spending Thanksgiving and Christmases with them. My dad's birthday is on Christmas, so it's a big day when you're with him. 

Ruthann gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, a still born. I remember riding to the funeral and the burial site. It was a sad day. But soon after, Bethany was born. I love that girl.

During my junior high and high school years, my dad would come to Tremonton and pick us up for weekend visits. We would go to West Jordan to stay with him and Ruthann--or we'd go to Deer Valley to stay with my dad's extended family during summer trips.

I remember that my dad had an air of melancholy and thoughtfulness about him--but he prioritized laughter. I think all of his children inherited that. We are serious and introverted--but we understand the importance of life's experiences with one another and the value of joy.

After about five years, Ruthann and my dad divorced and he took a job in Iowa. He moved there with my brothers. I can't remember which one went with him at first--it's all a blur to me really.

While he was there, he met Elaine. Elaine had two children, around our same ages. She was involved in the theatre and in the transcendental meditation community in Iowa. My dad fell in love with her, meditation, and the entire community of Fairfield, Iowa.

They were married for about 15 years. I still think they might get back together again. But maybe that's just wishful thinking.

When I had just finished college, I found myself in a holding place. I knew I needed to do something. So I packed up my car, and I moved to Iowa. My dad and Elaine lived in a beautiful old house. Elaine created this wonderfully inviting room for me to stay in on the top floor. I felt like a princess. Hardwood floors, beautiful bed. Everything was so colorful. It felt like a home out of a magazine.

Eventually, I found work and another place to stay. I loved to visit with my dad about the same things over and over-music, theatre, faith. We would watch American Idol together and go on long walks with the dogs. It was a nice time for me to get to know my father again after years in college, on a mission, and the busy days of high school.

While I was living in Iowa, my brother Jack passed away. At the time of his passing, my dad's sisters and parents were visiting. I remember driving from Iowa City to Fairfield to be with them. I walked into a room filled with grief. There is nothing so heart breaking as seeing a father and a grandfather weep over the loss of the first grandson.

I left Iowa a year later, but I visited every so often, and he came to see me in Virginia once. It was so much fun showing him around the Blackfriars Theatre. I remember he sat front and center to see our production of Hamlet and he physically wept with Ophelia.

A couple of years ago, he came to see me perform as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd and meet his grandson Kannon. Matt came with him. and my mom joined us for breakfast at my apartment. We  enjoyed a beautiful reunion. It was interesting to be together as adults with our parents.

I've visited him twice since then. Both times, I've seen different incarnations of his gifts. During one visit, he was using his skills as a public relations and theatre guru to helm a new performance space in Burlington. The next time I visited, he was honoring his spiritual gifts as a devotee of meditation, living in monk like simplicity, but still teaching at the college. He's always teaching.

In my father lives a wise old man and an eager child. He longs to escape in his mind, but he illuminates the moment when he's present.

I am forever connected to him by blood and by love. 

As his daughter, I wish him happiness.

Today, I am grateful for my dad, John Speer.

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