It was never very difficult to find something for Dad and I to do together on Father’s Day. Since we were both big fans of motor racing, there was almost always a race going on on that day: either a NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway or an Indycar race somewhere. In 1985, Father’s Day meant the Formula One grand prix on the streets of downtown Detroit. And, as usual, Dad had managed to get top row seats in the main grandstand by the start/finish line.
So he and I got up early on race morning and drove the half hour into downtown. Because the earlier you go, the easier it is to find a place to park. So we got down there. And we found a good place to park. And we’re walking to our seats. And we’re passing by these vendor stands and Dad says, “Are you hungry?“ And I said yes because I hadn’t had breakfast yet. So we bought two of those Italian sausage sandwiches with all the peppers and the relish and all the stuff on them. Then Dad said, “Are you thirsty?” and I said I was. So we bought these two large beers.
And we walked the rest of the way to our seats. And, of course, we were the first people in our grandstand. So we walked to the top of the stands, and we sat down with our Italian sausage sandwiches and our beers. And I happened to look at my watch and when I told Dad the time, we both just started laughing. Because it was 8 o’clock in the morning. And the race started at 1pm.
One of the many things my father taught me was get there early.
Well, we are here today to celebrate the life of Paul Dean Rothrock – a proud native of Goshen who managed to get out there and see the world. From Indiana to Michigan to West Virginia to Las Vegas – with stops along the way in all 50 states, Paris, London, Rome, and Mexico before coming back home again to Indiana. And along the way he managed to pass through each of our lives as father, husband, uncle, cousin, grandfather, in-law, or friend. Many times, he was a combination of all of these.
I could literally stand up here and talk for hours about my father – and I am sure most of you could too – which is why I’ve decided to limit my remarks today to this topic:
THE TOP 10 THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT BEING A FATHER FROM MY DAD
10. SEE WHATEVER MOVIE YOUR CHILD WANTS TO SEE
The first movie I can remember seeing in a theater with my dad was “True Grit” in 1969 starring John Wayne (at the Grand Theater in Steubenville, OH). The last movie we saw together was “Into the Storm” this August with my son Ben (which, btw, wasn’t our idea to see. It was Ben’s). But in between those two movies, because I love epics, I dragged my father to see some of the longest movies you can possibly imagine. Although he went willingly. Just to give you an idea, here is a short list of the long movies Dad and I sat through together: A Bridge Too Far (3 hours), The Fall of the Roman Empire (3.5 hours), Doctor Zhivago (3.5 hours), Lawrence of Arabia (4 hours), Ben-Hur (4 hours), Once Upon a Time in America (4 hours), Heaven’s Gate (4 hours). Arguably the granddaddies of them all were: Napoleon (a 4.5 hour silent French film), 1900 (a 5.5 hour Italian film), and the 1968 version of War & Peace (6.5 hours in Russian with subtitles). My idea to see them. And my father happily sat through them all. Many of them we watched together more than once.
Don’t worry, Dad gave as good as he got and thanks to Dad I received a full education in Mel Brooks, Benny Hill, Frank Sinatra & the Rat Pack, John Wayne, World War II, the novels of Harold Robbins, and Steve McQueen.
One of the running jokes between Dad and I concerned the 1958 movie “The Big Country” starring Gregory Peck. We first watched it together on TV in the 1970s and we probably watched it together a half dozen times after. One of the recurring jokes between Dad and I over the years was, whenever we got in some large vista was to turn to the other and say one of the running lines from the movie, “Sure is a big country.” A decade ago, we all went down to see the Grand Canyon together and we were standing on the rim of the canyon taking it all in, and in that moment Dad leaned over to me and said, “Sure is a big country.”
9. SHARE WHAT YOU LOVE
My dad loved auto racing, model building, sports, history, and collecting beer cans. And he has passed his love of those down to me. I love 4 of the 5.
I don’t know when Dad started loving auto racing. He was in love with it long before I came along and particularly the Indianapolis 500. He first attended the race in 1964. He was in the stands for most of the 1960s races. And I loved to watch the home movies he brought home of them. When he couldn’t attend, we listened together to the race broadcast with Sid Collins on the radio and he would subscribe to the Indianapolis Star each May so we could get the lowdown on what was happening at the track.
The first time I saw the Indianapolis 500 was up on the big screen at a movie theater. Because Dad took us all down to a theater one Memorial Day in Wheeling, West Virginia to see the closed circuit broadcast of the 1970 race. And I was so entranced by the images of that big track up on the screen and those cars racing by that I actually walked off to sit with the wrong family. I guess you can say I have been entranced by racing ever since.
He took me to my first NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway in 1971. My first Indy 500 in 1977. We attended almost every race together at MIS from 1979 to 1995. I don’t think he ever understood what I found interesting about Formula One grand prix racing but he attended races with me at Detroit and Indianapolis. And he was very proud when Ben became old enough to attend the 2004 Indy 500 with us so we could sit there in the stands together as father, son, and grandson.
He was a huge lover of history. It took me years to figure out that most of our family vacations growing up were built around visiting historical homes, national parks, or Civil War battlefields. I thought that’s what everybody did on their vacations. Dad loved all that stuff and I love it as well.
One of the earliest things he taught me was how to build models. He obviously loved it as a kid because I still have models of the race cars and ships he built as a child here in Goshen. And some of my best childhood memories are Saturday afternoons down in the family room in Weirton building model cars & ships & planes while watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports with Jim McKay. I particularly remember one Christmas in Charleston when I was going through a rough time and he learned I was into World War II fighter planes that year so he ran out and bought me EVERY kind of WWII model plane out there.
He remained a lover of sports teams till the very end. Thanks to Dad, I got to see the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 1970s with Willie Stargell & Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh Steelers with Terry Bradshaw & Mean Joe Greene. But probably my most favorite games shared with my dad were all the countless AAA baseball games we watched of the Charleston Charlies playing at Watt Powell Field.
He remained sentimental and hopeful about the Detroit Lions to the very end. If there are any betting people out there today, Dad put money on them at the beginning of this season to win the Super Bowl, and the Lions are in the playoffs. I’m just saying.
Now……beer cans………beer cans………..
8. IF YOU CAN’T FIND THE ROAD, MAKE YOUR OWN
One year coming out of the Daytona 500, traffic was backed up for miles. We weren’t advancing. We weren’t going anywhere. And Dad decided he’d had enough of that, so he took his big old white Cadillac Coupe DeVille and drove it up on the sidewalk. And here we are motoring along on the sidewalk passing all these cars until we got to the next cross street, then we bounced back onto the road and motored away. At the time, I was pretty embarrassed but that method has actually proven useful in other walks of life.
7. IF YOU ARE AT A WEDDING OR A CONCERT, ALWAYS REQUEST THEY PLAY “BAD BAD LEROY BROWN”
I don’t really have anything to add to that one………
6. STAY IN TOUCH WITH FRIENDS
My father had more friends than anybody I know. And he seemed to have this tremendous knack of hanging onto them even after he had moved away. For the longest time, I could never figure out how he did it. I still am not sure I know. But being a teacher I think I’ve gotten a clue to his secret – just remain interested in whatever that other person is interested in. It keeps the connection active. And then just stay in touch on a regular basis.
5. HELP YOUR CHILD FIND A CAREER
When I was around 10, Dad got it in his head that he was going to turn me into a NFL kicker. He thought I could make good money and I would not get bruised & tackled as often as a regular player. So he bought a football and we spent the next several weekends practicing kicking in our front yard in Weirton. Which is really funny for anyone who remembers how small our front yard was in Weirton. That lasted for a few weeks.
Next I was going to be a professional golfer. He bought me clubs and we were soon regularly playing on a Par 3 course in nearby Follansbee. The two things I remember about that course is that I always doffed my ball into the water hazard on the 2nd hole & that it was the only place I could get Bubble Up cola from the vending machine back at the clubhouse.
Lastly, he was going to turn me into a major league baseball player. So he bought two gloves and a baseball and we started going out tossing the ball back and forth for hours at a time. And unlike the football, tossing the baseball back and forth became the thing he and I would regularly do for the rest of my childhood and even into college. I still have the glove.
4. SUPPORT THEM IN THEIR DREAMS BUT BE THERE WHEN THEY FAIL
Dad arranged and co-signed on my first loan to finance my movie company. He was the first investor in my feature film. He even rounded up several friends to invest as well. When times were tight, he would come visit me, buy me dinner, and I often found that that handshake goodbye contained a $50 or $100 dollar bill to help me get by.
And when things didn’t turn out as I had hoped and things went south financially for me, Dad was there to help me move back to Michigan and he and Betsi helped me find a job to get myself back on my feet again. Thank you for that.
3. HELP YOUR CHILDREN TO GROW UP
Dad bought me my first three cars. He furnished my first apartment. He co-signed on my first credit card. He taught me how to balance a checkbook and to budget for my monthly bills.
My father took me to my first PG movie (Big Jake starring John Wayne), my first R movie (The Gauntlet starring Clint Eastwood), and my first NC-17 movie (Showgirls in 1995). He did not, however, take me to my first X-rated movie – and I’m OK with that.
2. EVERYTHING IS BETTER WITH MUSIC
It took me years to realize that there was always music playing around our house when I was growing up, that we always seemed to have a really good stereo system. So by osmosis I learned to love Andy Williams and Al Martino and Eddy Arnold and Dean Martin and Roger Whittaker and Perry Como and Ray Price and the New Christy Minstrels and on and on and on. If you took a look at my iPod, you would find several of those songs on it.
He loved music right down to the very end. His various hospital stays in later years were calmed by him listening to his ubiquitous iPod. He even passed away listening to music. And for the record, the song that was playing on his iPod when we took it off him was Wes Winters’ “The Love You Left Behind”.
1. KEEP GIVING GIFTS
The first gift I can remember my father giving me was on my 1st birthday and it was one his best gifts, Puppy, my constant companion through many years of a friendless childhood. The last gift he gave me was the day before his last operation: a history of World War I & II. Don’t worry, Dad, I will put it to very good use.
The best gift he gave me was the gift of himself.
More than anything, Dad liked spending time with you. He didn’t really care what you were doing. He didn’t care if you were talking or not. He just wanted to be with you.
Dad was a complex man. I admit there were times that I wasn’t quite sure what he was thinking. He could be impatient. He often seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere though I often could not figure out where that destination could be.
Dad wasn’t prone to deep theological discussions. Whenever I asked him things like what happens after we die, he would say, “I’m not going to worry about that stuff because I’m not going to die. I’m just going to live forever.” And when I would try and press him further he would just wave me off and give me the same reply. I do believe though that Dad demonstrated that a person could be Christian without going to church. One thing is for sure: he was a compassionate man who loved life, and wanted to live every second of it to its fullest.
We did manage to have a brief theological discussion this past June with Pam and I where he did admit that he believed there was a God but that he didn’t believe any of the major religions had gotten it all completely right.
But Dad was actually correct in his statement about mortality. He has not died. He IS going to live forever. Here on earth, he is going to live forever in the stories we share and the memories we keep and pass along down through the generations. But up there in heaven he also lives on as a spirit and a soul. And I am sure he has been having a great time these past two weeks reuniting with friends and family who have already moved on.
Now I admit that I am not in a big hurry to get up there soon but all I ask Dad is that when I do get there, is that you meet me with an Italian sausage sandwich and a beer. So we can sit there at the top of the grandstand together [and sorry you NASCAR fans out there but the track in Heaven is a carbon copy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway!] and watch a race together and look out over the expanse and beauty of Heaven spread out before us.
“Sure is a big country, isn’t it?”