First Tattoo Without My Dad

Shared by Dana Demmert on 10th March 2019

Today I got my first tattoo without my dad being by my side. Maybe it's a strange thing to bond over, but it's what we did. Right when I turned 18 I told my dad I wanted to get a tattoo. He didn't fight me on it or tell me I'm too young and I should wait a few years, he simply told me that he would take me to the place he went to get his so he knew I was getting it done by legitimate artists who he could trust and who did great work. And from there, he ended up being with me for not only my first tattoo, but my second and third as well. He really enjoyed coming to keep me company, make silly faces at me when I was wincing in pain, and chatting it up with the tattoo artists. Maybe it's not the typical father-daughter bonding you tend to think of, but it was our thing.

Tomorrow will be one month already since he's been gone. It's still hard to believe. I struggle every day with comprehending what has transpired just since the beginning of the year. But today I decided to get a perpetual reminder printed on my body to fight with every ounce of strength I have, no matter what darknesses or tribulations come my way - just like he did. No matter how tough it gets, don't go down without a fight. Give it everything you've got, and then some. This has always been one of my favorite poems, and now it's meaning really hits home. The final lines of this poem read: 

"Do not go gentle into that good night,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

So this one's for you, Dad. I miss you so incredibly much.

John would go to great lengths for those he cared for

Shared by Joni Anderson on 22nd February 2019

My favorite memory of John involves our shared love of Bob Dylan music.

When I was in high school, I had an emergency appendectomy.  When John came to visit me after my surgery, he was very apologetic.  He had purchased tickets to a Bob Dylan concert, and planned to take me, but now it appeared that I would be unable to attend, because of my recent surgery.  This would have not only been my first Dylan concert, but my first concert ever.  I told John I was going to go, even if I had to go on a stretcher.

Our parents were, of course, against my attending the concert.  I, on the other hand, was adamant.I was going.  Despite the trouble this was bound to cause us both with our parents, John never tried to talk me out of it.

The night of the concert, I snuck out of the house, and John picked me up.  We left without giving our parents the chance to object.  We arrived at the Chicago Stadium, and I looked dauntingly at the cement staircase that led to our 2nd balcony seats.  I was warned by the surgeon to avoid stairs for at least a month.  John and his friend BJ formed a Boy Scout Four Handed Seat.  To make this, each bearer grasps his left wrist in his right hand, and the other bearer's right wrist in his left hand, with the backs of the hands uppermost.  I was able to sit on the seat their clasped wrists had created, and they proceeded to carry me up all the stairs, so that I could enjoy the show.

This was not the only time I would break the rules in order to see a concert with John, but it was my favorite.  It was a wonderful example of how John would go all out to do something unselfish and generous for someone he cared about.

I Love You Dad, a eulogy by Dana Demmert

Shared by Joni Anderson on 22nd February 2019

Hello everyone. I think most people know me but I’m Dana, John’s daughter. First off I’d like to thank everyone for coming to pay their respects to my dad. It’s clear to see how much he was loved by so many people, and that means so much to me, my mom, and the rest of my family. I know a lot of you had to travel from very far away so we can’t express how much we appreciate you all being here to celebrate my dad’s life.

It’s hard to know what to say right now, because it feels nearly impossible to sum up someone’s life in just a handful of words. Especially someone so special like my dad. So even though I won’t be able to do it justice, I will try to give some insight into what kind of person my dad was.

It was no secret that my dad was a free spirit. The life of the party was a role he played often - whether it was wearing Christmas light strands around his neck at every Christmas party he ever went to (nice suit or not), being bartender at our annual Point Beach camping trips and mixing the 5 gallon jugs of Mai Tai’s, or telling the same ridiculous stories that we’ve all heard a million times (cue eye rolling from my mom). His favorite thing to do at any social gathering was just talk to people. Sitting quietly in the corner was never an option for him. Even at the hospital, which is somewhere he often had to spend hours on end going through tedious and sometimes vicious treatments, he did not sit there silently minding his own business. Instead, he joked around constantly with the nurses and tried to keep everything as fun and lighthearted as possible. He told me how cool it was that a couple of his nurses also graduated from the University of Iowa like I did, and was so proud whenever they commented on his Hawkeye hat. His outgoing personality was one of the greatest things about him because it’s what helped him to connect to so many people and make them feel not only noticed, but actually heard.

My dad was never meant to blend into a crowd or play by the rules. Especially when he was younger because blending in with a huge afro is quite challenging. He lived for adventure and living life on the edge. I always called him my adventure buddy, and I’ll cherish all of the wild experiences we had together. The moment I turned 18, my dad was at my side when I got my first tattoo (and giving me a hard time whenever I cringed from the pain) and he was jumping out of the plane right next to me on my first ever skydiving trip.

Barely a year later, he was teaching me to ride a motorcycle so I could get my license. He even let me practice on his bike, which was his baby. Boy, was I honored. There was no pressure either...he just told me if I dropped it, I’d have to pay for any damage. It was a great tactic because I sure did focus and learn quickly after he told me that. Luckily I never dropped it, because even though he said he wouldn’t disown me, I always had my doubts. Once I got my license, I saved up my money to buy my own bike, and that became one of our favorite things to do together. Even though we were both adrenaline junkies (if you couldn’t tell by now), we actually preferred to just cruise around the neighborhoods near my parent’s house rarely going over 30 miles an hour. We’d stop a couple times along the way at various parks just to take a break, chat, poke fun at each other for forgetting to shut off our turn signals, complain about the stupid drivers on the road, and enjoy the nice weather. I loved riding with him because I always felt so much safer than when I would ride alone, and it was so clear how happy he was when he was on his bike. These were some of my favorite memories with my dad, and I’m going to miss them dearly.

I also think some of the best memories were the ones that combined two of my dad’s favorite things in the whole world - being outdoors, and his family. Enter: camping trips. Nothing made my dad happier than getting to spend time with his family in the great outdoors. And I only say the word family, because everyone who ever came camping with us, was immediately deemed “family.” It did not matter whether the same blood ran through your veins or not to my dad. To him, family was a feeling, a special kind of bond that he loved to give freely to those he cared about.

And thank goodness we always had my mom to keep us organized and on task, because I will admit that those were not typically my dad’s strengths. She was the perfect balance to my dad’s wild but often chaotic and forgetful personality. My dad and I would have been a complete mess without her. She has the patience of a saint, and I give her endless credit for always putting up with my dad’s bull-headed stubbornness (which I may or may not have inherited), not to mention the hundreds of times she had to hear the same stories over and over again. I’m so thankful they had each other for almost 40 years because even though they were different in some ways, their love for each other trumped all else. It has been the best example of what love should be - standing by one another, through the highest of highs as well as the lowest of lows, through all the laughs and also the tears, through the afro years and the more clean cut years, until the end of your days. I’m so grateful to have had such amazing parents in my life, and I love them both with my whole heart.

As crazy and goofy as my dad liked to be, I also learned a lot of valuable life lessons from him. He taught me that life is not about how much money you have or owning lots of fancy things - one of the most important things is helping people and having compassion. My dad had the biggest heart and everyone who knew him best were aware of that, because there’s a good chance he had helped them with something at one point or another. His job meant the world to him because he got to help people and make a difference in their lives every single day. He never shied away from a hard day’s work - in fact, he often embraced them. Nights, weekends, nasty weather, it didn’t matter - if he got called about a problem, he did whatever he could to help. In all the years he worked at Clearbrook, my mom and I never once witnessed him turn someone away if they called with a problem. He often went above and beyond the call of duty - always volunteering to work weekend outings, putting in countless hours of hard work with the Union, and bringing in our rescue dog Rollie to visit with the clients as a pseudo “support dog”, which always thrilled the clients to no end. Maybe those are small things, but lots of small things eventually add up to great big things, and that’s exactly what my dad did.

Work aside, his passion for helping people extended far beyond that. When I first entered middle school, my dream was to make the volleyball team. This was the first team I ever officially had to tryout for. I ended up not making the team and I was crushed. My dad encouraged me to play park district volleyball instead (which you don’t have to tryout for and is less competitive), so I signed up. The problem was, they couldn’t find someone to coach our team. Well, my dad knew how much it meant to me, and although his only volleyball knowledge was gathered from playing on the beach in San Diego back in the 70s for 6-packs of beer, he wanted to do what he could to help me get better. And you know what, our team ended up being one of the best in the whole league, and the very next year I tried out for the middle school team again... and I made it. I ended up going on to be the youngest person to make varsity when I went to high school, and even though maybe I can’t contribute ALL of that to my dad’s doing, he was definitely the spark that lit my fire and the reason I didn’t throw in the towel when I didn’t make the team the first time around.

My dad was someone who people could turn to in their times of need. He was so full of compassion and always tried to give the best advice he could. He tended to gravitate towards those who were struggling mentally or emotionally, and was more than willing to be a shoulder to lean on for anyone who didn’t feel strong enough to stand on their own. I think this is because he was familiar with these kinds of struggles himself, so he knew how difficult it can be and knew that no one should go through it alone. He wasn’t always able to solve their problems. But even if it was just cracking jokes to get them to smile, telling a crazy story, or giving them his phone number so they could call him whenever they needed, he would do his best to alleviate their pain and make sure they knew they were cared for and above all else: never, ever alone.

I realize that I could talk about all the wonderful things about my dad for days, but unfortunately my time is limited and I admit that I get my habit of rambling from him too.

Dad, it breaks my heart that our adventures have to be put on hold for a while. I promise to live by your motto and always live life to the fullest. I might not be quite as spontaneous as you, but I’ll try my best to say “yes” to the crazy, beautiful opportunities that come my way. I’m going to need a really good guardian angel from now on though, so don’t think you can just bum around up there, because I’ll need you to keep an eye on me every single day from here on out. I’ll be carrying you in my heart, and in my soul. But I’ll think of you especially every time I hear the Chelsea Dagger Blackhawks goal song blaring, feel the wind in my face on my motorcycle, and sip an ice cold Mai Tai around the campfire (but I’m sure they’ll never taste as good as when you made them).

I know what happened to you is cruel and unfair, but I’m so damn proud of you for how hard you fought every step of the way. To say your determination was inspiring is an understatement. You had so many goals and aspirations, so much life left to live, and even more love to give. You left us in awe of your strength, your willpower, and your never-ending zest for life. It’s hard not to be confused and angry - we have so many questions that will forever go unanswered. We will probably never understand why you were taken from us so soon. But maybe, like your favorite singer would always say: “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

Until we meet again, Dad. I love you so, so much.

One of My Earliest Memories

Shared by Dana Demmert on 20th February 2019

In a few months I will be turning 28. Every year it becomes a little harder to distinctly recall old memories from when I was a young child. However, this one will always stand out clearly.

When I was born, my mom worked downtown Chicago and continued to do so for several years. She took the train down every morning, and back to Arlington Heights every evening. Growing up, my dad would pick me up from daycare and later on preschool, and we would drive to the train station to pick my mom up after work.

My dad said that one of his favorite memories was waiting at the train station for her with me, and watching me as I saw the train coming into the station. He said my eyes would get huge, I'd get a big goofy smile on my face, and start bouncing around because I couldn't contain my excitement. He told me that even though being a dad could be very scary and stressful at times, moments like this made him realize he could do it. That nothing compares to moments like this. Moments of utter joy and unparalleled love. Moments when we were all reunited and going home - together. 

This story and these memories touched me so much, that I got that very train and that very city tattooed on my body. Now, I carry this memory with me everywhere. On my skin, and in my heart. Forever and always.

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