Daily Update: Dad(s) – Part 1
I didn’t know my father growing up as a kid. Oh, I’d met him, but I didn’t know him. I talked to him once or twice a year on the phone and met him every few years, but my mom and dad had divorced when I was young. I think I was three. My mom remarried when I was five and we moved a few hours away from where my dad lived. I was born in Minneapolis and we moved to McGregor. The backwoods of Minnesota.
My dad wanted to be a successful businessman. He worked long hours, took many trips to Europe to raise business, and struggled to be a father. My mom felt it was best if he went and followed his dream and they went their separate ways. They always stayed friends and still talked on the phone from time to time. We attended his wedding in 1980 to my step-mom and later when my Uncle Ray (whom I’d never met) passed away. For the most part we never saw him and I always wondered what he’d been up to.
My mom’s third marriage (my dad was her second marriage) fell apart many years later when I was 12 or 13. At that time my dad knew my mom was struggling financially and offered to take ‘the boys’. That’s when my brother and I got re-introduced to my dad. I learned everything I ever wanted to know about him at the time.
He was born at the Mole Lake Indian reservation in Wisconsin. He had brothers and sisters (Uncle Bob is one of those) but I’d never met any of them. To this day I’ve only met Uncle Bob. A story I covered some time back. My dad had moved from Minnesota to Colorado. I knew the name Universal Dynamics and I had been to his business once. I didn’t recall what it was he did. I knew it had something to do with teeth, but that was about it.
Before he was 20 he had gone to a business school for minorities. He graduated and was the only person in his class to actually start a business. For years he’d been working at Udell Dental Lab in Minneapolis and had taken courses to learn the trade. He started up his own business that, for a time, competed directly with Udell. Eventually with his overseas trips, attending conferences, and learning from people who invented many of the dental appliances used today, he became one of the best known names in the business. Udell Dental lab was a huge success, but my dad got remarried and didn’t want to be running a huge business with so many employees. He wanted a simpler life so he sold the business and moved to Colorado with his wife.
Kathy had been one of my dad’s top technicians. I never heard the story of how they’d met, but they were a great match being married for nearly 30 years. They moved to Colorado and started up Murdock Laboratory. When my brother and I moved there they ran the business as a mail order business out of the basement. A few times a year my dad would still attend conferences to keep bringing in business and to keep the Murdock name out there. Even though he worked hard, he still tried to make time for holidays and small vacations.
Getting to know my dad was great. I got to learn many stories of his youth and how he got to where he was. A lot of hard work and becoming the best at what he did. Spending time in the basement lab watching him work bending wire and creating works of art that helped to straighten people’s teeth amazed me. He tried to get my brother and I interested in the work, but it was something that I just couldn’t pick up.
I do, however, have my dad to thank for my current job. He handed me a book when I was 13 on how to program the TRS-80. I never looked back and have done a lot of computer work and website work for my dad over the years. I still maintain his website that I’ll soon be giving a facelift.
In 1986 my dad decided that he was tired working for himself and shut down Murdock Laboratory and we moved back to Minneapolis (minus my brother who’d joined the Navy). He went back to work for Udell Dental Lab; the place where he got his start. I went to visit it with him several times and it was a cave. Apparently the same cave it was when my dad had started working there and most of the same people were still there making appliances, crowns, and bridges. He was hired on to manage the company for the owner and his son.
In a matter of two years my dad turned the company from a one million dollar a year company to a multi-million dollar a year company. He was on the road a LOT going to many local dentists and paying visits to drum up more and more business. They redid the entire interior of the building, upgraded all the equipment, hired a lot of staff and completed changed the face and reputation of the company.
Then my dad asked for a raise. For all his efforts he didn’t feel he was adequately compensated. He gave Udell and ultimatum. “I get a raise or I walk.” Udell said “You could get hit by a bus tomorrow.”. My dad quit and told Udell “If I got hit by a bus, I wouldn’t be taking away a lot of the business I’ve brought in here.”
My dad once again started up Murdock Laboratory. It was a scary time for him. He had a new house he and Kathy were spending a lot of time changing from a run down house to a beautiful masterpiece of old world/new world, I have moved out (I also joined the Navy) and he had to start all over. He had to begin attending conferences, bring in new clients, and of course contact a lot of old clients, many that had been with him since Universal Dynamics. Once again business was booming.
I kept in touch with my dad, went back to visit for the holidays, called once a month just to stay in touch. That’s mostly how I knew my father was from our phone calls. We talked for a couple of hours and would talk about any range of topics. Even when I got married and had my baby girl, we still had a long distance relationship. He always felt he’d be able to spend more time with the grandkids when he retired. It didn’t matter when I called, how often I called, or how often I visited. I could always hear my dad’s smile in his voice. Not just a smile, but a smile that said “Everything is great and I’m so happy you called.” When I visited there were never enough hugs. Not just a hug, but an embrace that said “I love you, kid. I’m so happy you’re here.”
He moved the business back to Colorado. He always loved Colorado. Yet again it was another fresh start for Murdock Laboratory. He and Kathy built an incredible house in Grand Junction. They had planned to work long enough to pay off the house and retire and enjoy the fruits of their labors. All those years working so hard to get to the finish line.
Sadly he never made it there. Squamous cell carcinoma. It’s a skin cancer. It’s easily treatable. Lots of people survive this type of skin cancer. The only people that don’t are once that get it in their lungs. The x-rays showed what looked like a chest hit by a shotgun. Dozens of large and small dark spots in his lungs.
My dad stayed upbeat and positive. “We’re going to beat this. Nothing can keep a Murdock down.” The first round looked positive. It had nearly cleared away and the doctors gave it a little time. It came back, but not quite as bad as the first time. A second round was started right away. My dad still remained upbeat, positive, and I could hear the smile in his voice over Christmas when I called and he finally told me about the cancer he was being treated for.
I hadn’t known. It hit my hard, but he sounded so positive how could I even begin to worry? I called him two, three, four times a month to get updates. Yes, I was worried about my dad. What kid wouldn’t be in that situation?
His prognosis after the second round wasn’t good. It had no effect and the cancer was growing once again. I went out to visit my dad. He still looked like my dad. Sounded like my dad. Worked like my dad. He had down days after the chemo, but that was just a side effect. He felt great. He was going to beat this.
The third round of chemo my dad had to stop going to work. He had been heading carrying a box and fell down the stairs. That was his last day in the office. Instead Kathy would being his some work to do at home and if he would fight to stay sitting at his kitchen table and get his share of the work done.
My brother and his family, and I with mine all went to visit with my dad. We spent a week there and had a great time just seeing him, seeing him with the grand kids. Enjoying every moment. He pulled my brother and I aside one day to let us know that he’d been given three to six months and it was looking like it’d be more on the three month side due to the effects the chemo had on his body. I had expected the news, but it was still so hard to hear. He’d been so confident that all would work out in the end.
I went to visit my dad again. It was hard. His hair had started to fall out. He’d lost a lot of weight. He struggled to stay awake. I worked from his house for a week keeping an eye on him. Each morning he’d come out and we’d hug, he’d smile. He’d sit in his chair listening to morning talk radio while I worked. He’d drift off to sleep, but each time he woke up he’d have one of those smiles for me. A smile that said “I love you kid. I’m so glad you’re here.”
I had to go home at the end of the week. I told Kathy I would be back if she needed me.To call with any news. I hugged my dad four times before leaving and heading home. I called each day to see if there was any news. I had everything set up to fly back at the end of the week. I just needed to make sure everything was in order at home before I left.
I didn’t make it back in time. He’d had a bad fall and had to go to the hospital. I’m not sure if it was the fall that hurt him or if something went wrong inside. It didn’t matter. In a matter of hours he went from weak and frail to critical. The doctors gave him medication for the pain and he slipped away, struggling to tell Kathy something. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for her to be at his side as he went. She called. I cried. I cried hard.
I changed my flight and flew home to help with the arrangements and for the funeral in Colorado. There were still happy times remembering life, and hard times knowing those happy times were now behind us. Many of his colleagues came to his funeral. I wish I had been in better spirits to meet so many people that he’d known over the years. One thing I learned was just how much my dad talked about my brother and I to all the people he knew and how much he talked about his grandkids. Yes, we talked a lot, but I never realized just how proud he was of his kids and how much he made sure everyone he knew, knew how much he loved his kids.
I knew my dad was a Shriner, but he was an active member since the late 60s. He was in the Corvette club (they drove mini-corvettes in parades), he was in the pipe and drum band (playing drums, not bagpipes), and donated much of his time to helping the Children’s hospital. He was also the president of the Lutefisk where husbands and wives would meet once a month for lutefisk and aquavit (strange white fish and turpentine). The wives would always give their aquavit to their husbands.
But I digress.
There were parts of my dad’s life that I didn’t know and will never know. The parts I did I loved and I’m sure the parts I didn’t I would also love. He always had a huge smile for me, my brother, any one he knew and even for many that he didn’t know. He didn’t just hug, but pulled you in for an embrace. Even though I didn’t spend much time with my father, I learned a lot about life from him. Even now that he’s gone I still learn from him and remember things he did.
I’m only just scratching the surface here. There are so many memories about my dad I’m glossing over or missing (like his finicky eating habits that would have you laughing) or his affinity for telling shaggy dog stories by a campfire. My dad was a complex man. He left us too soon.
Like I said yesterday, telling about my dad would be a long story. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about my step-dad. Ducks will have to wait for another day.