My Dad, Norman Fredrick Jacobson, died on Monday, October 15, 2018
I was on my way back from a meeting with a client up in Port Angeles, and had planned on stopping by his apartment on my way back. As I was pulling into the parking lot at Brookdale Senior Living Center in Poulsbo, Facility Director, Lee Sandstede, called to inform me that paramedics were on-site (which would explain why the ambulance was pulled up to the front door), and that my Dad was crashing.
Unfortunately, by the time I reached his 3rd floor room, he was already gone. One of the staff members met me just outside his door, told me to take a deep breath, and led me inside. Now most people in my situation would be overwhelmed with a sense of sadness and grief, but because of the recent series of events, I walked into the room with a smile on my face.
My parents divorced when I was 8, so I don't have a lot of memories of my Dad growing up. I do remember that my sisters and I spent an inordinate amount of time every weekend, cleaning the yard, mowing & trimming the lawn, or washing the family sedan. My Dad was obsessed with having the perfect lifestyle portrayed on the front cover of Sunset Magazine!
My Dad had a rough childhood, to say the least. While many of his younger years were filled with fond memories camping with his parents and extended family on the Oregon and Washington coasts, after his younger brother, Ronnie, was born, he was forced to grow up quickly.
His father, Albert, and mother, Helen, met while performing in a local community theater group in Portland. Both loved music, performing in front of crowds, and the allure of the lights! During the run of each show, the cast and crew would go out after-wards to celebrate at a local nightclub or tavern. After Norman was born, this tradition continued. Many times as a young child, my dad was left alone in a parked car until the bars closed.
After his brother Ron was born (8 years difference), the drinking escalated, accompanied with frequent outbursts of violence. Many times, after a night of drinking, his Father, Albert, would beat up his Mom, Helen. One such night, living in an apartment situated above a tavern, Albert came home drunk, threatening, once again, to abuse Helen. Norman stood at the top of the flight of stairs that led to their apartment, his younger brother standing behind him, hanging onto his pant leg. As Albert approached the top of the stairs, Norman said, "Not tonight!" and he proceeded to knock Albert down the flight of stairs.
Despite such challenges, my Dad was senior class president at Warrenton High and lettered in two sports. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the US Navy, and served on-board the destroyer, James E. Keyes, as a sonar operator, during the Korean theater.
Shortly after being discharged, he married my Mom, Shirley Thompson, and attended college at Oregon Technical Institute in Klamath Falls, Oregon. During their time at OTI, my two sisters, Lori and Joni were born. On December 22, 1956, I was born as well.
10 months later, my Dad took a job with Sandia Corporation (next door to the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory) in Livermore, California. For several years our family lived a seemingly idyllic middle-class suburbia experience.
I don't recall exactly when things went south between my parents. I can remember them shouting a lot, and my Dad sleeping on the couch. I was only 8 at the time, so I don't remember all the specifics. After their divorce, I have no memories of being upset or emotionally distraught. Quite honestly, I think I was more concerned about whether I was going to be able to continue watching cartoons on TV or play hide & seek with the neighbor kids.
My Dad moved out into an apartment in town with one of his co-workers, and for a couple of years, us kids would have dinner together or the occasional sleep-over.
In 1966, my Dad remarried to Susan King, one of the secretaries who worked at Sandia. Shortly after they married, my Dad took a job with Philco-Ford down in Southern California. Thus would begin our "on-again, off-again" relationship over all the years that followed.
At this point, I would just like to share a couple of observations concerning my Dad. To my knowledge, while us kids grew up, he was always prompt with his child support payments. And I always knew, if I ever needed anything, all I had to do was call.
I don't think Norm was ever wired to be a Dad. He wasn't one to invest in spending quality time with his children. Maybe because he lacked any meaningful positive examples growing up. I believe he was consumed with achieving success, of having the things he never had as a child. We grew up in an age when Fathers wanted to be like Ward Cleaver on the popular TV show, 'Leave it to Beaver,' where the Dad comes home from work to recline in his easy chair with pipe and newspaper, while June finishes preparing dinner, and the boys, Wally and Beaver, are dutifully out of sight, out of mind.
After graduating from high school, I joined the US Navy, just like my Dad, and spent several years as a radioman on a ballistic missile submarine. After my discharge, I moved in with Dad and Susie, who were living in a townhome in Hayward, California. During this time, my Dad strongly encouraged me to attend college, and get a degree. He even offered to pay my way. To this day I regret not taking him up on his extremely kind offer.
While living with them, I took the opportunity to share my faith in Christ with my Dad on a several occassions. While respectful of my beliefs, Norm leaned towards secular humanism, which seemed to fit with his background in engineering. During this time, I started working full-time, which would result in a career path for half of my adult life, and also met my wife, Janice.
Over the expanse of my Dad's professional career, he achieved tremendous success. Perhaps his crowning accomplishment was being a Vice President of Tracor, a North American electronics defense contractor based in Austin, Texas. In the years leading up to his retirement, he served as the Director of Plant Operations at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo, California. Needless to say, my Dad was the consumate self-made man, having journeyed so far from his humble and difficult childhood, to achieve financial and professional success.
For over 50 years, my Dad was faithfully married to his wife, Susan. Their love and devotion to each other, while at times a bit sickening, was nonetheless a tremendous example. I can only hope to dote and fawn on my own wife when we're married for as long!
4 years ago, at my constant encouragement, my Dad and his wife moved here to Poulsbo, Washington. Susan had been battling with dementia for a number of years, so we thought it would be easier for them to manage if they lived here closer to us. I am so very thankful that they did! It afforded us the opportunity to honor them, and to love on them.
They bought a cute house in Poulsbo Place, a very popular community near the heart of downtown. A year later, they relocated to a local retirement community, Brookdale, and lived in a very nice 1-bedrooom apartment.
Over the next two years, my Dad's health was a roller coaster, resulting in a seemingly endless number of trips to the emergency room and various hospital stays. In particular, my Dad was constantly plagued with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), and the difficulty of getting enough oxygen into his blood stream.
Towards the end of this past Summer, things began to deteriorate even further for Norm. Eventually, the staff at Brookdale determined that he needed to be moved into a skilled nursing facility. I had to make a short business trip to North Carolina, but we began searching for nursing facilities here in Kitsap County.
During my trip, Janice would run over each night after work, and spend time with Norm and Sue. As she was sitting there with Norm one night, she prayed, "Lord, I really need to tell Norm about you, but I don't even know where to begin!" Just then, Norm shared that he had been talking a lot to the Lord lately. What an amazing and quick answer to prayer! Janice encouraged Norman that the Bible promises that if we seek Him, we shall find Him. All we have to do is ask!
The day after I returned from my trip, we had planned on taking Norm in to see his primary physician, Dr. Hoffman. When I got to Brookdale, my Dad was much to weak for me to transport him myself by car, so we decided to wait until the following Tuesday, when the facility shuttle bus could take him.
As I sat there with him in his room, I felt compelled to share some verses from Scripture. I read from Matthew Chapter 8, "For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and yet loses his soul?" My Dad looked up at me and said, "That's me!" I shared from 1st John Chapter 5, "And this is the testimony, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son, has the life. He who does not have the Son, does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life." Then I asked my Dad, "Would you like to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and have eternal life?" And he replied, "Yes, I would!" So I led him in a simple prayer, "Jesus, I need you. I know I have sinned and I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you died on the cross for me, and rose the third day. Please be my Lord and Savior. I put my hope, faith, and trust in you alone. Amen.
Janice and I stopped by several times over the weekend. The last time I saw my Dad alive was Sunday night. We stopped by to check up on him and tuck both he and Susie into bed. I sat in a chair next to my Dad's bed while he was sitting up. We had a nice chat and he dictated to me a short list of items he needed from the grocery store.
I had printed out the words to the hymn "The Solid Rock," and read each of the stanzas to him:
My Hope is built on nothing less,
than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
refrain: On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground in sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
in every high and stormy gale,
my Anchor holds within the veil. (refrain)
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay. (refrain)
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
oh may I then in Him be found,
dressed in His righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the Throne. (refrain)
Then I said, "Dad, on the day when you die, and you face God in His heaven, and He asks you, why should I let you into my heaven, what will you say to Him?" My Dad just shrugged his shoulders, and waited on me for an answer. "You just tell Him you've got His Son, Jesus!"
The next day, he died. And though it was a very sad day, I had a smile on my face!
My Dad wasn't perfect. He made a lot of mistakes with us kids, and treated our Mom poorly. He spent a lifetime trying to silence the demons of his childhood. He was utterly devoted to his wife and treated her with tremendous respect. It wasn't my place to judge him for all the things he failed to do as my Dad. I simply chose to love him and honor him all the same.