Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Owsley Kids - A Dad's Final Request

As most of you know, my dad died of open heart surgery complications on Thanksgiving Day, 2015. He had been sick for a very long time. For almost a decade, we were told that the damage to his heart was extensive and inoperable…and there was nothing we could do but wait. Dad’s heart was like the crazy, great uncle that would sit silently in the corner at family functions. Nobody wanted to talk about him, but we were all achingly aware that he was there and…at any given moment…he was going to flip out. 

But then Dad had an appointment with a new heart surgeon. The doctor thought there was a chance he could fix his heart and give my dad at least another 10 years of good, quality life. We knew the surgery had potential risk, but were given just enough hope, just enough confidence from a capable heart surgeon, that when we held dad’s hand for the last time…we had convinced ourselves it was a “see you later” and not a “goodbye until heaven.” I have relived that last moment in my mind almost daily since he died.

But I have also relived countless conversations with dad in the months leading up to his surgery. And I’m convinced that he knew…he knew it was going to be “goodbye until heaven.” One of the last things he said to us as he was being prepared for surgery was, “Hey, don’t forget there are two free movie passes in my wallet. Someone needs to use those!” 

In the months leading up to the surgery, Dad also wanted to talk about his funeral. A lot. Which, as you can imagine, made for real fun times. During one such conversation he said to me, “Liss, I don’t want you to talk about me during my funeral.”  I laughed, “Ok, Dad…if we don’t talk about you, then who should we talk about?” His answer?  “My kids. I want you to talk about my kids. You are the best parts of me…and I want everybody at my funeral to know my kids. I want you to talk about each other.”  I looked at him like he was the crazy, great uncle in the corner…and then cracked a joke, as is my habit when I’m uncomfortable. But that conversation has clung to my subconscious day and night. It was essentially his dying wish…that the world know his children. That alone is evidence of how much he loved us. We were literally his pride and joy. 

So, today I’m going to honor one of my dad’s last requests, I’m going to talk about his children. The Owsley kids. I’m going to share with the world the best parts of my dad…that are still alive and well…in us.  

But before I do, I think it’s wise to recall another conversation I had with dad early last year. Once again, we were talking about the fun topic of funerals (I’m telling you…it was one of his favorite subjects). I said, “When I die, I sure hope I don’t get memorialized as a perfect human. I feel like everyone who dies is eulogized as a saint.” Jokingly, Dad said, “Yeah, Liss…that’s one of the perks of dying. Everyone temporarily forgets your flaws.” We had a good chuckle about that. But I think this memory perfectly illustrates a fundamental truth about my dad…he was far from a perfect parent. Oh no. Dad passed down a fair share of his faults too. But today I choose to honor the qualities in his children that made him a GREAT dad. I’ll save the ugly stuff for when I reach the “anger” stage of grief.

JASON (Nickname: Big Brother)

First up, my brother Jason.  I will say right off the bat that one quality that my big brother inherited from Dad was his lack of desire/need to be in the spotlight (see: dad’s request not to talk about him at his own funeral). I’m fairly certain that Jason is going to squirm through his entire section. He’s wondering this very second why his little sister insists on talking about him in such a public forum. Call it modesty. Call it a deep mistrust of social media. Call it whatever you want, but it’s definitely a quality that my dad and big brother both possess. They’re both intense spotlight dodgers. Sorry, Big Brother, you’ve got to do your time…just like the rest of us.

I’ll admit. Jason and I weren’t the closest of siblings growing up. I was just a typical annoying little sister and he was that super smart man-child that looked freakishly like our dad. But the older I’ve gotten…and the closer we’ve gotten, I’ve come to have a deep, abiding respect for Big Brother. He possesses one of Dad’s BEST qualities…a quality that has quite literally sustained our family: stability. Here’s what I always knew to be true about my dad. He was reliable. He would always call me back. He would always follow through on promises. He was steady. He was committed. He was the reason we got to enjoy a crazy, zany mother without fear of her jumping out of a moving vehicle. Because Dad was there…grounding us. Jason has these qualities deep in the marrow of his bones. It was on full, glorious display in that hospital waiting room when our family had to make the hardest decision we’ve ever made…to say “goodbye until heaven.” Big Brother was there. He was our rock. Even in the midst of his own devastation, he did the hard stuff without a moment’s hesitation. And in those moments, we all benefited from an earthly father who taught his son how to be a man.

I know, to a large degree, we have transferred many of the patriarchal responsibilities on to Jason…especially in regards to taking care of the logistics of life without dad. I imagine these responsibilities come with a fair share of emotional weight. But I’m equally sure I’ll never hear a word of complaint from Big Brother.  

Before moving on to my next sibling, I also think it’s important to note that Jason got his deep love of all things geekery from Dad. Sure, it manifested differently in each of them, but at the very heart of it, they’re both big, loveable nerds. And to that I say, live long and prosper, Big Brother…may the Force be with you.

MEEGAN (Nickname: Sister Smeegs)

The next Owsley kid I’d like you to meet is my older, wiser sister, Meegan. She was my dad’s first baby girl…and, oh man, Sister Smeegs was the apple that fell closest to Dad’s personality tree. You see, even though Dad was quiet and unassuming, he had this uncanny ability to make anyone feel comfortable. I think people could sense that he accepted them exactly for who they were. No condemnation. No judgment. (Dang, I sure wish we were talking about me right now, but alas…this quality belongs solely to my sister.) Meegan inherited my dad’s propensity for kindness. She’s just stinking lovely. She has a way of making everyone feel at ease…even at the expense of her own comfort. I have yet to meet anyone on this green earth that dislikes my sister. Well, I disliked her when I was younger, but that’s only because she was SUPER bossy. 

My dad was not an overly emotional man. He did get really shmoopy later in life, but we think that was a combination of drugs and facing his own mortality. As someone who expresses my emotions frequently, I always thought this was a character deficit. But I’ve come to see this quality as an essential ying to the world’s emotional yang. If I’m feeling anxious, angry, or sad…I depend on my sister’s (obnoxious) ability to state the obvious and cut through emotional BS. This calm, steadying influence provides an emotional and mental safe harbor…it’s one of many reasons that I’m madly in love with my sister. And it’s the reason why she’ll always be my first call when there’s an emotional emergency. Sorry, Sister Smeegs.

But I think the quality that my sister has that is most like dad…is her desire for peace. She’d be happy as a lark if the world would just leave her alone indefinitely, so she could read a good book or binge watch TV until her eyes bled.  But, also just like dad…her deep desire for personal space is outweighed only by a profound love for her people. My sister loves her family deeply. The evidence is that she frequently chooses our big, boisterous, LOUD presences over her innate need for peace and quiet.

ALISSA (Nickname: Lee Lee)

Oh man. I can’t describe for you how much I’ve been dreading this part. I’m tempted to just joke my way through it, but my friends have cautioned me against relying on self-deprecation and humor to coast through my feelings. Funny that…as my habit of poking fun at myself comes directly from my dad.

I’ll just start with the most shocking revelation. The quality that I got from my dad that most surprises people is that I’m a certified introvert. Yep, it’s true. My mom will corroborate this fact. A lot of you know that the Owsley’s are kind of known for our social gatherings. And Dad…a hardcore introvert…would often find a chair in the furthest corner of the room and try to be invisible. I’m pretty comfortable in any social situation. I make my living from talking to people. But what most people don’t know…is that just like Dad, people take an extreme toll on my battery life. There is a huge part of me that always longs to sit in a quiet corner with Dad.

But the thing I got from my dad that I most cherish…is my humor.  Dad had a razor sharp wit. He had the Shakespearean ability to milk a phrase for its potential humor. It took me awhile to realize how funny he was because he didn’t assert his humor just for the sake of a good laugh. His humor wasn’t campy. No, he had the kind of wit that made you laugh a minute later…when you finally realized the multiple layers of his joke. I like to think I inherited a little of that ability from Dad. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll go for the campy jokes with great abandon. But I think Dad gave me his deep appreciation for words. He taught me that finding just the right word can take something ordinary…and make it a little more meaningful.

BRYCE (Nickname: 'Lil Bubby)

Lastly, meet the youngest and tallest Owsley, Bryce. He was the “surprise” child that arrived a little over 10 years after the favorite child (me). Dad got to spend a lot more time with Bryce as he grew from boy to man (he was working and traveling a lot more with his first three kids), so I think he got to pour a little bit more of his interests into Bubby. Dad was a star athlete. It took him four kids, but he finally got another athlete…Bubby. Dad was also a dog whisperer...he LOVED dogs and had the ability to charm even the most crotchety of bitches (correct use of the word, people!). My man-hating dog, Chickadee, practically throws herself at Bubby anytime he’s in a five foot radius. Bubby and Dad also shared a deep love of “dinkering” around with mechanics, electronics, and gadgetry. Don’t get me wrong, Bubby is MUCH more successful at his dinkering. He once took apart an engine using Google and deductive reasoning. Dad mostly had several unfortunate incidents involving duct tape and bungee cords.

But there are two qualities in Bubby, in particular, that remind me mostly of Dad.  Dad was a storyteller. He was never content to just state the facts of an event. Oh no, he would always set the scene and build up to the main event with lots of details and context. Bubby too is a storyteller. And he’s taken it to a whole new level, as a modern day troubadour. My little brother has figured out how to combine his love of narratives with his love of music. He tells stories with his songwriting.

When I was growing up, I remember thinking my dad was one of the last true gentlemen on earth. He opened doors. He refused to sit at the dinner table until my mom was seated. He never entered a building before a woman. And even in his last days, when standing was physically painful…he would give up his chair to anyone without a seat. This is one of the things I miss most about Dad’s passing. It feels like I lost one of the last men who treated women like ladies. But then…I think about Bubby. And I remember the time he sprinted across a parking lot to help push an elderly lady in a wheelchair. I remember the countless times he’s opened my door or given up his seat…and I’m reminded that chivalry didn’t die with Dad. It’s alive and well in my little brother. And no doubt a deep influence on why Bubby decided to become a firefighter.  Serving and protecting people is in his blood.

So, there you have it. The four Owsley kids...our dad's living legacy. Just so you know, this was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever written. Not only are my siblings incredibly complex, multi-faceted humans (thus hard to squeeze into a paragraph or two), but it was also nearly impossible to make it through a sentence without grief clouding my perspective. And, for the record, I don’t think it’s possible to truly isolate individual characteristics that we can credit solely to Dad.  

You see, we were also parented by an incredible Mom…and she gets equal credit for imprinting us with the best parts of herself too (don’t worry…she is already dropping hints on what she wants me to write about when she passes). But, most importantly, both parents gave us something even more precious…something that has impacted our character more than anything that their mere humanity could have given us. With their words, actions, and very lives…they pointed us to the heavenly Father and said, “Kids, keep your eyes on Him…not us.”

And, by grace of God, and to my Dad’s great delight…that lesson stuck in all four of his children. Which is why we can look with hope to the future, with tears in our eyes, and say...

 “Goodbye until heaven, Daddy. Thank you for loving us.” 

If you want to see more pictures of Dad...and hear him sing love songs to our mom, click HERE for a video that was made for his memorial service. 


  1. Thanks for sharing.Your dad is smiling down on you. Miss you all dearly, sending love from the yoop.

  2. This is beautiful, Alissa! I always enjoyed the times I spent around your parents...beautifully-hearted people! Thank you for sharing your tribute with all of us! Praying for each of you to know God's comfort and strength every day!
    Deanna (Pierce) Doctor

  3. Your father was such a inspiration and blessing in my life. He is one of the best examples of a Christian Man I have ever had the honor to know. Steve Smith

  4. That is so beautiful, and the video is awesome. Thank you for sharing. Ginger Copeland

  5. Alissa, I enjoyed your comments about your family and your dear Dad. You are right on! I feel like your family has been a part of my family since I spent many hours at your home in Houghton watching you kids grow up. Your comments brought back good memories of the fun we had at your house and your parents generosity to me by including me in your activities, like parties, meals and family times. Your Dad never made me feel I was intruding when I needed to talk with your Mom or needed to be with you all. I pray for you that the Lord will fill your lives with comfort and peace. Love to all, Marcia V.

  6. Truly beautiful. Thank you for sharing this very private piece of yourself. Love you.

  7. I'm sure that was difficult for you to write, but well worth the effort. There's a lot of love in your family and I'm sure you won't look hard for a sincere hug whenever you need one.


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