Tag Archives: family

Remembering My Dad on What Would Have Been his 84th Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight, just a short article to remember my dad. He would have been 84 years old today had not he been stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease and died in 2010.

I miss him. Although I was the oldest child he was closer to my brother. He was deployed or assigned to posts with much travel and family separations during much of my time in grade school and junior high school I developed a very independent streak. When he retired in 1974 my brother was just turning 8 years old, while I was turning 14. It was a time of a lot of change for the family, and I had grown quite an independent streak that I maintain to this day. But my dad loved me, and even as I grew away from he he continued to love me. From him I learned integrity, honor, courage, and the respect for others.

I am sure that my brother Jeff, absorbed and learned much more from him from the fact that despite being almost six years younger than me, he has always been more mature. My parents used to say that he was 8 going on 40. He is serious, dedicated to work and family, and practical. He has not moved from the city that my dad retired in, and still lives under a mile from my mom. His oldest son just graduated from Marine Corps Basic Training. His middle son is starting college while working for the school district that we both attended and in which he now serves as a principle. His youngest daughter is a junior and from all I know about her is academically brilliant and athletic.

On the other hand, I am a dreamer, afflicted with wanderlust and military glory. It wasn’t the intentional product of how my parents raised me, it was just how I absorbed the life and culture that I grew up.

Within months of my dad’s retirement I was about ready to go to high school, then college. When I got my commission as an Army Second Lieutenant in June of 1983, my dad and brother, as well as my soon to be wife Judy were there. My dad got to see me make the transition from the Army to the Navy in 1999, something he was very proud of, and in 2006, before I went to Iraq and while visiting injured Marines at a burn unit in Fresno, dad and mom met me. I was a Navy Chaplain in a Marine Corps uniform, but my dad was proud. I didn’t know it at the time but he was already to be suffering from the initial effects of Alzheimer’s. By the time I returned from Iraq in 2008, he was struggling. By 2009, he hardly know me. I got word of his death the morning after I had been selected for promotion to Commander, June 23rd 2010.

He received a full military funeral with honors. His funeral was officiated by a Navy Chaplain and friend. He had an honor guard of officers and Chief Petty Officers, and an Air Force honor guard fired a 21 gun salute as a Navy Bugler played taps. My mother was given the flag by a Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer.

My dad didn’t take shit from anyone and didn’t stand aside when others were ill treated by the Navy. He demonstrated the current Navy ethos of Courage, honor, and commitment well before it became our motto, but he taught me about it in real life. We had a rocky relationship at many points in our lives, but I miss him and I am proud of him. In his latter days he also showed a tremendous love and appreciation for Judy.

I miss him terribly and wish that he would have been alive to see me retire from the Navy next Spring. At the same time I know that he will be with me in spirit.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under faith, life, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, US Navy

Road Trips, Ancestors, and Friends

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a travel day. We left Munich this morning and drove to the town of Hochstadt, which is near the city of Speyer near the Rhein River. Hochstadt is composed of two older towns, Oberhochstadt and Niederhochstadt which were merged in 1978. It is a town surrounded by vineyards where most of the businesses are associated with growing grapes, or making wine. It is also where Judy’s some of Judy’s mother’s relatives come from, as did that of Elvis Presley, whose family name in Germany was Pressler, plenty of them in Hochstadt and there even is an Elvis Presley Strasse there.

Her part of the family left Niederhochstadt for the Ukraine in 1801 during the Napoleonic wars at the invitation of Catherine the Great who had invited Germans to settle parts of Russian earlier. They stayed in Russian until 1870 when they emigrated to the United States and settled in Nebraska in a largely German community. They were pretty insulated as both Judy’s grandmother and mother didn’t learn English until they went to school, her mother over 50 years after the family settled in Nebraska. By the way, the next time someone bitches about immigrants who haven’t yet learned the language, let them know that this was common among almost every group of immigrants that came to the United States, including the white ones from Germany, Italy, Poland. France, hell I could list almost every non-English nationality or ethnic group that came to the United States from Europe in the 1800 and 1900s. But as always I digress, not that it wasn’t important…

That visit was interesting, the town has a population of only 2,500 or so and so we went to it, got out of the car and started asking questions. The cool thing about knowing the language and the culture of Germany is that I feel comfortable being polite and asking people questions and it takes them a while to figure out that I am American, but anyway I digress again. The cool thing about this visit was just how helpful people were, in fact one older woman, who was really helpful was surprised as hell to find out her birth family name, Peter, was the same as Judy’s ancestors there. We both drive and walked around the town, finally stopping in the cemetery where we saw a good number of gravestones marked with the last name Peter. For Judy it was very special and though she told me, I can only imagine what a feeling it was to walk the same streets and by the same buildings that her ancestors walked over two centuries ago.

After that we drove up to our friends Gottfried and Hannelore who we have now known over thirty years. We first met when I was stationed in Wiesbaden as a young Army lieutenant. We will be with them until we drive back to Munich on Wednesday. They are wonderful people and we had a great night sharing stories and photos from the past decade.

Anyway, have a great day and hopefully, internet connection permitting I will will have something tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Not to Be Alone: Why Gay Marriage Matters

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been thinking about the profound legal and moral implications of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equity, the Obergfell v. Hodges case. One of those impacts in in a very simple and human concern, the ability of people to be with their loved ones during medical crisis or when they are dying. I saw the profound implications of not having this right when I was a young chaplain doing my hospital residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas 1993 and 1994. This is the story of those two encounters and how they changed me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

marriage equality

For me it is still hard to comprehend, a young chaplain; two relatively young men dying of AIDS, two partners, two families and two radically different experiences of humanity, faith, religion and authentic loving relationships.

I was still a relatively inexperienced minister and chaplain back when I was doing my Pastoral Care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas Texas back in 1993 and 1994. Yes I had graduated from seminary. Yes I had a bit of chaplain experience as an Army National Guard chaplain and as a counselor at a major evangelical Christian ministry, and yes I had experience in dealing with AIDS as a Medical Service Corps officer in the Army.

Despite that, I was so ill prepared to deal with the massively different treatment of people dying from AIDS from their families. Families that in some cases shared the same Christian faith as me. I think that is one of the things that young ministers struggle with when they enter the nether world between life and death, mortality and immortality, faith and unbelief in the real world. When I was in seminary the senior pastor of the mega-church that I attended told a story about being approached by a family member of someone who was very sick and in hospital. The person wanted him to visit them while they were a patient. He had been their pastor for years. When they ask him if he would come, he refused. He recounted that the “parishioner asked just how sick he would have to be to get a hospital visit?” The pastor told us his response. He laughed and said “you don’t want to be that sick.” The congregation laughed and I was devastated.

The pastor was a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation, a friend of John Wimber, Rick Joyner and others who helped to pave the way to the heartless, unfeeling, political “Christianity” and “Dominion theology” that is in vogue with the Tea Party and Religious Right today. When I questioned him about his comments later he told me that thought that pastoral care of those in his congregation, especially in regard to hospital visits was “below his office as an apostle, that others had that responsibility.” The thing that disturbed me the most was that he had ordained me as an Evangelical minister in that church to be a chaplain barely two years before this. I had respected him and now I felt a tremendous sense of emptiness when I left his office.

So when I began my pastoral care residency at Parkland I found that I had a lot to learn about the real world of religious faith, religious hypocrisy and religious hatred and intolerance.

Early in my residency I dealt with a number of AIDS cases. I wrote about one of those cases last night, although that was not really early in my residency, it was closer to the end of it. There were two cases besides that one that made such deep impressions on me that I can never forget them. Both involved young, white, homosexual men dying of the complications from full blown AIDS. Both came from very “Evangelical Christian” families (both were Southern Baptist) and both were being grieved by what we called then, their “significant others” as well as their biological families. But that was where the similarities ended.

The first case was in the second month of my residency, when I was the chaplain for the Medical ICU, before the Pastoral Care Director wisely moved me to the Trauma and Surgery department. A patient came to us, a man, about my age, a successful architect with many friends who was experiencing pneumonia brought about by his immunodeficiency brought about by HIV.

When he arrived he was still able to communicate and he had many of his friends as well as his significant other visiting him. They loved him and he loved them. There was a sense of community and if I dare say real family as they visited. In those first few days I got to know him and these people, most of who were homosexual but not all. There were a number of women there, who I am sure had the patient, who was a remarkably handsome man, been a heterosexual, would have loved to have been his wife.

My encounter with him, before his condition worsened to the point that he had to go on a ventilator and was sedated was transforming. He grew up in the church, knew that he was homosexual, attempted to live with it and finally came out as gay, and was disowned by his family. Despite this he became a highly successful architect, had many friends, was active in charitable works, and still maintained his faith in Jesus. I came to appreciate him, the man who for was for all purposes his spouse and his friends.

However, when his condition deteriorated his estranged family, the people who had disowned him, rushed to his “rescue.” In good Christian form they brought their pastor who though their son was unconscious proceeded to preach at him regarding his need to “repent” and “to come back to Jesus.” The family also took advantage of the law. They were his biological family and next of kin. They banned the man’s partner and friends from his room as he lay dying.

The family’s pastor preached at the dying man and glared at the people closest to him while he was present.  I was appalled by his, and their behavior. While they isolated their son from those closest to him and allowed their pastor to condemn him as he died, I remained with his partner and friends. I prayed with them, I cried with them, I embraced them. When the family left I went with them to be with this young man’s mortal body. We prayed and after the nurses prepared his body and the doctors completed their final notes, I walked with them as we took his body on that long trip from the ninth floor to basement, where the morgue awaited. I still cry when I think of this encounter, of how supposedly Christian people would not only keep their son, who they had rejected and condemned from those who loved him the most as he lay dying.

A couple of months later I was in my element as the Trauma and Surgery Department Chaplain, but I still had on call duty where I was responsible for crisis situations anywhere in the house. One of those wild nights I got a call from the nursing staff of Nine South, the Medical Step Down unit where the lady that I wrote about last night had passed away, but that was still in the future.

This time there was another young white man, another partner, another family. This young man was not in the ICU fighting for his life, he was passing away in the quiet solitude of his room with his mother and father, his partner and his friends at his side. Like the other young man he was a man of faith. He loved Jesus, he loved his family and he loved his partner.

He was from the area west of Dallas, the area between Fort Worth and Abilene. His mom and dad were ranchers, dad was wearing his cowboy hat, a plaid shirt, classic western Levi’s jeans and cowboy boots. His mom was wearing a simple dress. Both were thing, tanned and their faces lined by the sun and weather and from being out on the range with their cattle. The young man who was with them, the dying man’s partner was casually dressed but though he was from the same area was not a rancher.

I spent time with all of them. The contrast between the “Christian” parents and pastor of the first young man could have not been more profound. Like the architect’s parents, they were Christians. In fact they were Southern Baptists who attended a small country church in the town that they lived. By any sense of the word they could be described as “Fundamentalist” Christians, but unlike so many fundamentalists they focused on loving God and loving people, even people that so many Christians reject out of hand.

I arrived as the patient was breathing his last. I remained with him, his parents, partner and friends as he passed away, and when his parents asked I offered a prayer commending his soul to God. As I did this his partner was in a state of near collapse, exclaiming “I have no one now, I am alone!” His grief was overwhelming, he had no legal status, in the eyes of the law he meant nothing, though the man that he loved had just died. My heart was rent, and I held on to him.

As I did, the patient’s father came alongside of us. The father said to the young man “You are not alone, you are our son now, we love you.” When this dear man said this we all were in tears, as I am right now. I stayed with all of these dear people as the nursing staff prepared the young man’s body to go to the morgue. At some point the parents escorted their son’s now widowed partner out of the hospital. Mom and dad walked on either side of him as they left the ward. If there was anyone couple on this either who were true Christians, it was this dear couple. As we parted I could not hold back the tears, and the father of the deceased gave me a hug and thanked me for being with them and honoring his son.

I remained with the nursing staff and the internal medicine resident as they complete their duties and took the young man’s body to the morgue. After that I went back to the emergency room where some of the nursing staff, including a RN who at one time had been an Assemblies of God pastor, but was now an avowed atheist who loved to torment chaplains, except me, comforted me in my grief. It is funny that an atheist would be comforting the chaplain after such an event, but then if I do believe in God, why can’t I believe that anyone cannot share in the grief of others and of comfort and care.

It was a story that I could only share with my pastoral care residency supervisor, in our residency group and with my wife Judy, as I knew if I shared my experience at church that at best I would only be humored, and most probably be ostracized. In fact I had to keep that story pretty much under wraps until 2010 when was told to leave the church which had ordained me a priest, for among other things speaking out for the rights of Gays, Lesbians and the LGBTQ community. By then I had met and served with far too many Gays who were far better Christians than most of the Christians who condemned them not to do so.

But, in a way it was a step to freedom because I realized that what I had been taught for so long was so horribly at odds with the message of Jesus.

Two deaths, two men, two partners, two families, two experiences of God’s grace, two experiences of a common humanity and the experience of one very flawed, but no longer confused chaplain…

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In Memory of My Dad: Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas, Husband, Father, Grandfather and Navy Chief 27 July 1935- 23 June 2010

Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carlton (Carl) Dundas

My dad passed away last week and today we held his memorial service with full military honors in De Young Shoreline Chapel in Stockton California.  The past couple of days leading up to this have been hectic as we thought of things that we needed to do for the service and it was a team effort to get everything done. My brother had handled the initial tasks immediately following dad’s death early Wednesday morning and when I arrived I helped coordinate the honors with the funeral director, the Navy Chaplain performing the service and the Military honors team leader as well as digging through dad’s briefcase to try to find life insurance policies as well as try to deal with the Social Security Administration on the phone, which if you read my last post you’ll know exactly what I went through dealing with the cheerful automated attendant from the pits of Hell.

Dad on the Flight Deck of USS Hancock, CVA-19 deployed to Vietnam with A4-J Skyhawk

With that being said we went to work yesterday, my brother and his wife took care of everything for the reception while one of my sister in laws’ aunts burned a CD with some of dad’s favorite music by Willie Nelson, Anne Murray and John Denver along with renditions, I think my the Naval Academy Chorus of Anchors Aweigh and the Navy Hymn, Eternal Father Strong to Save.  The fact that she did this on short notice took a great weight off of my shoulders as I dug through well over a thousand and probably close to 2000 photos to put together two collages representing the fullness of dad’s life as best as I could do.  After laying them out last night I knew that there were some that needed to be reproduced and since I am not at home where the Abbess has all of her high speed gear to do such work off to the local Target I went to have the kind people there use their Kodak machines to digitalize and print them of course after I picked up my large cup of 7-11 French Vanilla Coffee with French Vanilla creamer and Splenda, I do think that they should be paying me for advertising right now but until that time I have no problem mentioning them because I do like their coffee.  The young Mexican girl helping me was a gem, she knew exactly what to do and in no time had all of the pictures digitalized, printed and burned on CDs even as I realized that I needed a decent pair of white socks to wear with my summer white uniform to which I walked over to the Kohl’s down the way, picked up my socks and went back to pick up the CDs which were ready when I returned. The girl wished me well as I thanked her again and as I left as is my custom I told her to be safe and added “after all this is Stockton and I lived here when they invented the drive-by” to which she thanked me, laughed and said that she would try to be safe.

Dad on Liberty most likely in the Philippines in the 1971-1973 time frame

After that is was the usual chaos that families experience trying to get ready and out the door, what to wear for my mom and to finish up the collages, get a shower and get into my Summer Whites, or as I refer to them around my Marine friends as the FWUs or Faggoty White Uniform as Colonel Nathan R Jessup (Jack Nicholson) referred to them in the movie A Few Good Men but I digress.

Mom Dad and Me probably in San Diego 1964

My mom and I got the funeral home chapel about 1215 and Captain Gerry Seely, a Navy Chaplain, the members of the Naval Military Honors team, a Captain with Fleet Marine Force experience, two Commanders, a Naval Flight Officer and a Surface Warfare Officer, a BUC or Chief Builder, a Seabee Chief as well as a Electronics Mate First Class who served as the bugler. Chaplain Seely was in his Summer Whites matching me and the Honors team in their Full Dress Whites. Additionally a ceremonial honors team from Travis Air Force Base composed of a young Sergeant and three young Airmen in their Air Force Dress Blues looking very sharp were there for the rendering of honors, the ceremonial rifle volleys that would precede the playing of Taps.

Flag Folding Ceremony

As friends and family gathered I worked with the Honors team, Chaplain Seely and the funeral director to ensure that everyone was read in on the sequence of events before the service. My mom was taken by the number of military personnel present to honor my dad this last time. The service began promptly as scheduled with Chaplain Seely offering the condolences of the Chief of Navy Chaplains Admiral Bob Burt as well as the Deputy Chief of Chaplains and Chaplain of the Marine Corps Rear Admiral Mark Tidd. Chaplain Seely did a marvelous job in weaving the intersections of my dad’s life together with the understanding of the Navy being a family, discussing my dad’s career while talking about Navy life, particularly the effect on families of the frequent moves and separations cause by deployments as well as the specialness and importance of dad being a Chief. You see in the Navy the Chief Petty Officer occupies a unique position, it has been said and is largely true that Chief’s run the Navy, good Chiefs teach, mentor and discipline young sailors in the ways of the Navy, their rating and life.  Gerry also shared about our hope in Christ the hope of the resurrection and the faith that we have that Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us as well as send the Holy Spirit to comfort us. He did the service so well you would have thought that he knew dad and obviously as he shared with us felt the connections with dad through service on similar aircraft carriers, duty stations and hobbies.

Chaplain Gerry Seely (right) along with the OIC of the Honors Detail

He invited Jeff and I to say some words about dad and I led off talking about what dad meant to me, how good of a father he was, how he inspired me in my military career and brought me to love the game of baseball. Jeff talked about how dad influenced him in values and teaching him right from wrong, I do think that despite being the clergyman that I probably was more of a pain in the ass to my dad as despite for all of my innocent charm and introversion I am a bit of a rebel, believing that while there are definitely 10 Commandments most everything else is more of a suggestion and that there are a lot of gray areas.  Jeff is a teacher and definitely a no-nonsense kind of guy much like my dad, though I think Jeff is a bit more serious than dad who could be a jokester and was much of the time which is where I think that I get some of my humor from. I think that Jeff is like dad in a lot of ways and me in some, but both of us benefited from his love, care, discipline and values.  It is funny how much Jeff and I am alike despite our age differences and much of that has to be from the influence of dad. Jeff talked about dad’s love of golf as well as his ability to sit down and enjoy a beer and go to the casinos in the area.  That reminded me of something that both of us had not mentioned which was my dad’s love of horse racing and going to the track to bet on “the ponies.”  Jeff has taken that up having a part interest or ownership in a thoroughbred horse which races at Santa Anita.

So many memories came back during the service as well as while putting the collages together, memories of good times and the realization that dad was always there for us. After Jeff concluded his remarks Chaplain Seely talked about what we in the military call “PCS orders” and what in dad’s passing from this life was his final PCS move to heaven where he will wait for us. It was touching the way that he made that connection in terms of the military service.  When his remarks were concluded Eternal Father Strong to Save was played followed by the military honors which were led off by the Captain leading the detail explaining what would happen. Following this the two Commanders took the flag from the stand on which they were displayed and unfolded them laying them out flat. The room was called to stand and active and former military asked to render the appropriate salutes as the rifle volleys were fired and Taps was played. Following taps we were asked to be seated while the two Commanders then very sharply refolded the flag with great preciseness and passed it off to the Chief who came up and after rendering honors to the flag moved deliberately to my mom, took a knee and presented the flag on behalf of a grateful Navy, Nation and his and dad’s fellow Chief Petty Officers.

Dad’s last Navy assignment USS Hancock CVA 19 1971-1974 where he did two 11 month deployments

There were a good number of people there, some that I knew and others that I had heard about from my mom, dad or Jeff. My friend from high school and Navy Junior ROTC Jeff Vanover was there with his family as were numerous others. The sad thing is that when you get to be my parent’s age many of their closest friends have either passed away or are no longer capable of traveling however my mom’s phone has been ringing off the hook while her e-mail in box and snail mail box are filled with expressions of sympathy and friendship.

To all of those that attended the services today as well as those that have helped in various ways during my dad’s long and difficult battle with the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, especially all of my mom and dad’s friends and Jeff’s wife Melissa’s family those present and those separated by distance or physical affliction I offer you my thanks. To the members of the Navy Military Honors team for Northern California and honors team from Travis Air Force Base you were all great. I have seen many teams and yours was outstanding. To Chaplain Gerry Seely your kind words of comfort and the celebration of my dad’s life went beyond measure.  To the Chief that presented my mother Old Glory thank you, it meant so much to her and I know to my dad that a Chief presented this token of the Nation’s gratitude.  To my boss Chaplain Jesse Tate who got the ball rolling to make this happen, Admiral Burt and Admiral Tidd for your support, to my fellow Chaplains, fellow shipmates and all of my friends around the world that have offered words of encouragement and prayer I cannot thank you enough.  The same is true for my Bishop and fellow priests as well as the Rector and parishioners of St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Virginia where I worship.

Dad was a good husband, father and grandfather. He was a devoted friend to many, loyal shipmate to others and a man who worked hard to set his family up for success in life.  I miss him, I have for years because of Alzheimer’s disease, but now while I am thankful that he is no longer suffering nor trapped in the shell that once was him, I miss him. Maybe someday like Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella, I too will be able to once again have a catch with my dad on the lush green diamond in heaven.

Since this is starting to sound like one of those actors that can’t stop talking after getting an Oscar, so I will just say thank you and God bless. My mom appreciates everything as does my brother. Keep us in your prayers as we attempt to help mom navigate the sea of paperwork generated by various bureaucracies both governmental and the private sector that she will need to work with over the coming days and weeks. I return to Virginia on Wednesday.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under alternative history, remembering friends, US Navy