I don’t even know how to begin to say how much I love my dad and how much he will always mean to me. I always thought my parents would live well into their 90’s and I kinda hoped they would outlive me because I honestly didn’t know what I would do without my parents. It breaks my heart that this isn’t the case. This last Tuesday, March 31st, my dad passed away. He had dropped my mom off at the airport that morning to fly out to see me in Oregon for the week. He told her then that he was going to go out for a bike ride later since it was a nice day without a lot of wind. I can just imagine how excited my dad was to get out for a bike ride on a nice spring day after the winter. While he was out on his ride he had a completely random accident that resulted in severe injuries that caused his, most likely, immediate death. Help was there quickly, but there was nothing that anyone could have done.
I never thought I would be left without my dad this way. He was and will always be such a huge part of my life and so very important to me. There are so many things that I still wanted to be able to do with my dad, but there are also so many incredible things that I already had gotten to do with him. My dad is the reason for just about every activity that I do. He taught me how to bike, rock climb, hike, and even attempted to teach me how to sail even though I was no good at it. He gave me a terrible sense of humor with an appreciation for the dumbest jokes. He instilled a strong sense of sarcasm in me that I would never be able to get rid of even if I tried. He helped me to be confident and encouraged me, even if at times that meant pushing me into things that I didn’t want to do at first. I’m so happy that he was always there with me, getting me to do more and to be better in everything I did. My dad was constantly pushing himself and he really seemed to have no limits that he couldn’t go beyond. He was competitive and loved to break his own records.
My dad had the type of no-nonsense, blunt attitude that probably at times made him seem cold or harsh, but he was so incredibly caring and compassionate. I remember when I was a little kid my dad had take me to the zoo. We lived in Michigan and we went to the Detroit zoo all the time. I don’t remember why, but that day it was just me and my dad that went to the zoo. I know it was a fun day because I loved the zoo, but what I remember the most clearly is that before we left the zoo my dad got me a balloon. It was a big red balloon, because I loved red, that had the zoo animals on it. I was so excited about my balloon. When we got home I went right inside to show my mom my balloon that dad had gotten me. I went through the front door which had a metal screen door in front of it that shuts automatically. When I walked through with my balloon trailing behind me the door closed on it and popped my balloon. I was so upset and was crying over this balloon. My dad being the wonderful dad that he always was, went all the way back to the zoo and got me a new balloon. If that’s not love for your child than I don’t even know what is.
I can’t say that I remember as many things as vividly from my childhood as I do that story, but there are plenty of things that my dad taught me as a kid that I still do today. My dad taught me how to ride my bike, but when I was young most of the biking I remember with my dad was actually me alone out in the desert. When we moved to Colorado when I was 9 we started mountain biking. Now I would say that I wasn’t any good at it and struggled a lot. My dad would take off with my brother and I would be left behind. Sometimes with my mom and sometimes when I was a bit older I was literally alone. There are a lot of trails at 18 road in Fruita, CO but I knew them well enough to at least get back. Now this is something I liked to bring up and tease my dad about. Who leaves a child out alone in the desert to just try to catch up? My dad that’s who. Because of this though one of my proudest accomplishments was when I moved home for grad school and started biking with my dad. Why was I so proud? Because I was finally fast enough that he actually stayed with me! I mean he still could have totally left me in the dust, but he didn’t (well he did a couple of times, but that was when I dragged a few friends along as well). I loved going on bike rides with my dad. Some days I didn’t really want to go, but he would convince me. There were other days that I rushed home from school or work because it was a beautiful day and I wanted to be able to go out for a ride. My dad was with me when I finally transitioned to clipless pedals and I don’t even think he laughed at me the two times that I got my foot stuck and tipped over. I’ve ridden up many hills with my dad’s hand on my back helping to lessen my struggle (Britney told me this was cheating as I passed her). I often felt bad for slowing him down, but he never made me feel bad and always told me I was doing a good job. We would get home and he would tell my mom that I was getting stronger and faster. I know my dad was proud of me and that meant so much to me.
Running was something I actually started kind of on my own in high school, but failed miserably at. At that same time both of my parents started to run. I was kind of back and forth with it, but my parents actually both got quite into running. I did my first 5k with my parents and my sister when I was 19 (I think) when I had gone to stay with my parents in Cedar Falls, IA for the summer (I was going to school in Colorado). I finished that 5k in about 45 minutes and had to walk most of it, I was clearly not a runner. Again a did a bit of running here and there, but mostly my running was trying to get past a walk and still be able to breathe. Finally I really started to run when I was in grad school and back living at home. I finally broke through the mental barrier that had kept me from running for years. I ran mostly by myself for a few months and the started to run with my mom and sometimes my dad. My mom was always my running partner, but often the 3 of us would go out on weekends to run together. If my dad was training for a race he would take off and meet us in the last half mile to finish with us. Other times he would manage to slow down to stay with us. When my dad was training for the Des Moines marathon in 2013I went on one of his training runs with him. It was his race pace day and he was doing about 16 miles. I went out for the first two miles with him and since his race pace was around a 9:30 I could actually keep up pretty well with him. It was his slow pace and my normal pace, but I was still happy to be able to start his run with him. I always kinda worried about him on those longs runs, I basically forced him to carry water or gatorade with him because I know otherwise he would just push himself and not worry about that. He listened to my advice though and it was even the book that I had given him that he used for his training. He did great in his marathon and I was happy to be there to see him finish. My dad might not be the whole reason that I run, but he is the reason that I race. I’ve done tons of 5k’s with him and my mom and they both finally got to see me in my 5th triathlon last year. One of my dad’s favorite races in the last few years was the Living History Farms race here in Des Moines. This is a race that he trains hard for. In 2013 though I planned to do the race with him. We had done a 5k just a few weeks before and I got a new 5k PR. I knew I could do the 7 miles for the race. It got to the race day and it was about 16 degrees outside with snow and ice all over the path for the run. And this was an off road race with hills to climb and creeks to cross. I was feeling rough. I think I made it about a mile and a half before I had to stop to walk. I think the only time recent to that when I had to stop prior to 3 miles was when I went out to run a 5k at school the day after giving blood. I was so mad that I was struggling so much with this run and again felt bad to slow my dad down. He did mind at all, he stayed right with me and just encouraged me the whole time. I am so happy that I got to do that race with my dad. I want to keep doing races and wish that I could do them with my dad. I know he won’t really be with me, but for some reason I know that running, biking, and racing will be some of the times that I’ll feel the closest to my dad. That makes me happy and gives me the courage to continue to do the things that I loved doing so much with my dad.
Another thing that my dad taught me everything about is rock climbing. I don’t do it nearly as much as I would like to, but it is truely one of my favorite things to do. I started climbing with my dad when I was 3. I remember going to Planet Rock in Pontiac, MI to climb with my dad. I also remember that me and my brother would beg for Clif bars and Reeses when we went and my dad often gave in. We would also climb out at Grand Ledge and my mom would be there and belay my dad. My mom isn’t much into climbing, but she would usually still come along to hang out and watch. While I was in Iowa for grad school we went to Climb Iowa a couple of times a week to climb. My mom would use the little gym and I would climb with my dad and sister. We usually bouldered but when our egos were damaged from failing a V1 would would go down to top rope to remind ourselves that we could still finish 5.11’s. My dad even showed my sister how to belay me once, it was a hard climb but I refused to fall because I was not super confident in those belaying skills yet. I yelled directions to my sister the whole way up out of fear that she would drop me. In the past few years of climbing together me and my dad had established a team effort at finishing climbs. Basically my dad would choose a route he wanted to do and then ask me to tell him how to do it. I would try it, fall, and then figure out the best way to make it happen. I’d tell him what to do and then he would follow my advice and often finish it before me, much to my disappoint of not beating him up the route. Sometimes he would try it a different way, convinced it was better than what I suggested. He would fall repeatedly until he finally listened to me and finish it. I still remember finishing a route that my dad could never finish before they took it down and he was no happy that I got it and he couldn’t. My dad all the strength to climb, but I like to think I had the finesse. We would do ladders after bouldering and we would both do the best we could, me always trying to beat my dad. I think I came close once and that’s how I measured my strength gains. We did pull ups too, which I never had any hope of beating him at. I would get 6 to his 30. Mostly pull ups were a time for my dad to show off and my sister to try to make me fall off the hang board. I haven’t climbed much in the past few months because there isn’t anywhere to go in Salem, which is honestly probably the thing I hate most about that place. Now that I’m thinking about it the last time I climbed was with my dad when he came to visit me in November. We went to a gym in Tigard and I was so happy to get to climb with my dad again.
Another things I did with my dad throughout my life is hike. We moved to Colorado when I was 9 (or about to be 9) and we hiked a lot. And I hated it. A lot. I don’t know if I had some kind of asthma as a kid or what but we would hike and I would be out of breath and I hated it. Apparently I had hated in for a long time. My mom always tells me that my parents figured out when I was little that if my dad gave me his watch and told me that we would turn around at a certain time then I would be fine. I always hated the unknown and wanted to know when I could be done. At least they had me figured out. At some point in college I went out for a hike and I enjoyed it. I remember thinking “wow, my parents would be so happy that I finally like this” and I really do love it. I love being outside. Donny and Tabitha had come to visit me in Oregon and took them on a hike to see a bunch of waterfalls. It was apparently a 5 miles hike, but it didn’t seem that long to me. They were dying and I think they might have wanted to kill me when I suggested we could have taken the longer 8 mile route. I took my dad on the same hike a few months later and when we were nearing the end he said “If I would have known that was it I would have said we could do the longer route.” It made me laugh. It’s just like my dad to tell you “oh, this is gonna be easy, it’s really quick”. Then 15 miles and many hours later when everyone wants to just sit down and pass out he would be yelling at you to pick up the pace because it’s easy. I took my sister out on a 7.5 mile hike to a waterfall in Bend, OR a couple of weeks ago. I figured it would take and hour or so and told her it wouldn’t be bad at all. We got back and she pointed out it was taken 3 hours and that she still in fact didn’t like hiking. That was when I realized I had become my father, taking people on hikes that I said would be easy and then dragging them around for several hours. Unfortunately I didn’t get to tell my dad that story, I know he would have appreciated how I tortured my sister with a beautiful hike.
My dad was even the one that taught me how to snowboard. I always think of snowboarding as something I do with my brother, but it was my dad that I went with the first time. I was not even 10 yet and my brother was away for Winter fest with the youth group. I was too young to go and my mom was at home with Anna who had just been born. We went to Denver and then took a train to Winter Park. I don’t remember much else about that trip besides the first ride up the lift and going down with my dad. I also remember on the train ride back they had said you could sit in any seat. We found seats and my dad had left to get food or something. While he was gone a couple came and said I was in their seats. I said how the conductor said we could sit anywhere, but they said they had left things there from the first ride and they wanted to keep their seats. I was 9 and wasn’t about to argue so I got up and waited for my dad in one of the in between cars. We found new seats and my dad left again. This could be totally not true, but I’ve always wondered if he went back to tell those people off. It wouldn’t surprise me.
Out of all the things my dad has taught me some I loved right away (rock climbing) and some I grew to love (hiking). At east one of the things he taught me was a total failure. Cross country skiing. We went when I was probably 7 or 8 and I haven’t done it again since and I still hate it. We were out a a park in Michigan, my mom would know the name, but I don’t remember and the four of us went out skiing. The ski boots I had were used or hand me downs. I don’t know if they were too small or just bad shoes, but my feet were freezing. I’m sure I complained the whole time and was not moving fast. Because of this we were still a ways out from the car when it started to get dark. My mom and brother went ahead to get back to the car while my dad lifted my up on his shoulders and carried my. He carried me while I carried my skis. I was small enough for him to carry me but I’m not I wasn’t still so small that it was easy. We got closer and my mom had turned on the Jeep lights to help us find out way back, We finally got back and I haven’t wanted to cross country ski since. I may have not learned to like skiing, but it always reminds me that my dad loved me enough to carry me on his back through the snow in the dark.
My dad was absolutely awesome. I’m so happy that I got to spend so much time with my family and that we have done so many cool things together. I almost wish I liked my dad less so that maybe I would miss him less. He was just too wonderful and I love him so much for who he was and the times that I got to spend with him. I know that I will always miss my dad and I’m so happy that I have so many fun ways to remember him.
I hope this post gives people an idea of the kind of man my dad was and how cool he was. Cool really is the right word for my dad I think because that’s what he was. Anyone that knows my dad though doesn’t need me to tell them anything for them to know how great he was. I know people loved my dad and that he loved them. He loved his family, he loved his friends, he even loved my friends like they were more of his kids. I can’t say enough about him and how much he means to me.
I love you dad and I really am going to miss you so much.
Donald Avon Warbritton III
November 25th 1958 to March 31st 2015