This morning I got an email from Mom telling me that Chris Yoder’s father Dick had died on Saturday.
This was the second death of a friend’s parent within the past week or so.
Last week I learned through Facebook that the mother of Sinan Akdag, a high school friend and soccer teammate, had passed.
Even though I learned the news virtually, the impact was visceral both times.
I knew and cared about the Turkish mother and American father in different ways, and they both mattered to me.
Sonny´s mother was a dark haired, self-respecting and fierce woman who didn´t hesítate to speak her mind when she thought her son or his guests, on occasion me, were in the wrong.
Mr. Yoder-I always called him that, even though he had earned his PhD. In Literature at the University of Pennsylvania-was an early example of a house husband.
He worked at a number of universities before his time there ended.
And, in the years that we were growing up, he spent a lot of time serving on Brookline’s School Committee, blowing on the french horn with any number of his classical music groups and playing soccer with us at the Northeastern University Astroturf that lay across the street from their home on Harrison Street.
Mr. Yoder was right there with the rest of us, hair flying as he headed the ball that occasionally hit his round glasses, more than making up for in doggedness and determination what he lacked in dribbling skill.
It was unusual for me to meet a father who was so comfortable with his own unconventional career path and his wife being such an accomplished woman. (I called her “Mrs. Yoder,” even though she was a decorated radiologist.)
They both were extraordinary parents to their three sons, Chris, Lu and Nick.
One of the greatest gifts you can give a child as a paernt is the encouragement to be who they truly are and the example through their own lives of how to do that
Mr. Yoder and Mrs. Yoder gave that to their boys.
From jumping BMX bikes over close ot a dozen fellow elementary school students to riding a tandem bike cross-country to playing soccer every morning from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. to majoring in physics and philosophy to welding to running an organic cooperative in Dover to earning a Chemistry PhD.s to inventing a bike-powered carrot washer, the Yoder boys have always chosen from passion and values, rather than for money.
Chris has worked as an organic farmer for close to a quarter century, toiling the land both out of a love for the land and as a profound expression of his political beliefs.
One time I called for Chris in Brookline.
Mr. Yoder answered the phone, sighed at my request, and then said, “Jeff, Chris is trying to lead us back to the seventeenth century.” before assuring me that he would convey my message to Chris.
It was a vintage comment: laced with caring and wit, containing both the hope that his boys would see things his way and, ultimately, satisfaction that they had come to their own conclusion and direction.
Mr. Yoder always conveyed a gentle sense of acceptance and inquiry that encouraged vigorous and thoughtful discussion. (I have a vivid memory of Mr. Yoder starting to talk about the grammar in a piece a number of family members had read when Lu started barking, “The argument! The argument!” in an eventually successful effort to change the discussion’s focus.)
The power of his formidable intellect had waned for more than a decade as Alzheimer’s took its inexorable ruinous toll. He hadn’t lived at home for a number of years.
I´ve not yet spoken to, or communicate with the guys or Mrs. Yoder, and I imagine that, as with my father-in-law Marty, there was an element of mercy and relief for him as well as for them.
But there is also, at least for me, the recognition that life´s inevitable end, which came for our grandparents before us, is now happening more and more often to our parents.
One will day will come for us, too.
As these moments occur, I’m struck more and more by the importance of details.
As more time is behind me, what came before matters more than it did before, even as the present seems more precious, too.
Beyond the reminder of being in touch with gratitude that Mom and Dad are both around and healthy and joyful in their own ways, I find that parents’ death spark within me a desire to savor the memories I shared with Mr. Yoder, to miss the man, and to learn from his example.
I´m not about to pick up the French horn andy time soon, but I will strive apply the lessons Mr. Yoder taught in my own way.
I think he would have liked that.