In memory of Ron Bostian (November 28, 1946 - March 14, 2017)
Today we mourn the death, but more importantly, celebrate the life, of my Dad Ron Bostian. He was 70 years old, stubborn as hell, easy to talk to, and fun loving to the end. It was from him I got my announcer's voice, my cocksure sense of self confidence, my ability to make a joke during any circumstance (no matter how inappropriate), my physical frame, and my stunning good looks. Did I mention he was sarcastic too? I inherited that as well.
The only thing I didn't seem to inherit was his hand-eye coordination (he was a college baseball player, while I played on the defensive line), and his awesome calf muscles. He gave those to my brother Ron, and I have literally worked out for years in the gym to get those calves, but to no avail.
My Dad was on vacation in Colorado with my Step-mom Pat, my sister Nicole, and her family. They were on the slopes, trying to go "tubing" down the mountain. Dad never made it to the tubes, however. He suffered a heart attack, and went to be with the Lord around midday on Tuesday March 14 in the ambulance to Denver Colorado. He lost consciousness around 10:00am when he had the heart attack, and never regained consciousness. After 7 decades, his health had really started to decline, and he had been hospitalized many times in the last couple of years. But he died on vacation doing what he loved, with those he loved.
Although death is always traumatic and devastating for those left behind, when you are doing pastoral work you develop a kind of scale of what makes for a "good death”. That “scale” includes:
Did they live a life full of purpose and meaning and fulfilling relationships?
Did they die surrounded by those they loved?
Did they die quickly, or linger in suffering?
Did they die doing something they loved?
Did they die at a ripe old age?
My Dad had almost all of that in spades. A life of purpose and meaning. A life of deep and lasting relationships. A quick death that avoided suffering and convalescence, while doing something he loved. In terms of good deaths, this was a good death. The only thing he didn't get was the ripe old age part. I would have wanted him to see the adults that his grandchildren will someday become. He was taken from us too early. But that is an argument I will have alone with God.
So, good death or not: It doesn't take away the pain. It doesn't mean I won't miss the hell out of him every day for the rest of my life.
As I look at his dates I can't help but notice what lies in the middle. November 28, 1946. Ron enters the world full of promise and potential and wit and willpower. March 14, 2017. Ron returns to the Source he came from, to meet his Maker face to face, and be embraced in Christ's undying Love. But between those dates is a dash. A hyphen. It's like we are saying that the really big thing, the really important thing, about Ron's life is that he was born and he died. The middle part, the hyphen, is just the small stuff. Inconsequential.
But the truth is, the hyphen is everything. The totality of who my Dad was, and who he became, and all the consequences of his life, are held in that hyphen. Whoever the man is who meets our Lord face to face was formed in that hyphen. It is in the hyphen that a life is made, that a family is forged, that a destiny is shaped. I will always remember that hyphen. And it is the power of that hyphen that will echo through the generations as the way he shaped me shapes the way that I shape my children, and the way they shape their children, and the way their children's children are shaped. And on and on, into the eternity of God.
So when I think of my Dad's hyphen, that dash that marks the entire play of his life, from the opening curtain, to its final close at the finale, I think of the following:
In that hyphen was a man who taught me how to meet people. To look in their eyes. To present myself with confidence. To give a firm handshake: Make contact with the V, and grip with assertiveness, but not domination. To tell a joke to make people comfortable. To use self-deprecating humor to ease a tense situation. But to never be afraid to raise your voice, and make your point crystal clear, when the point needs to be made.
In that hyphen was a man who taught me how to not only exude confidence, but who empowered others with confidence as well. His confidence was not in spite of others, but to inspire others. For instance, my Dad was a smart guy, a lifelong learner who was largely self-taught and self-read. But a born academic he was not. Nevertheless he always took me to the library, and always fed my book addiction. He enrolled me in enrichment classes after school and during summer: From art camps, to architecture workshops, to the planetarium, to taking a course in basic Russian. I still remember the word spasibo. That's Russian for thank you. Spasibo Dad.
But in seeing my gifts he never was the kind of parent who rode me so hard I burned out. He encouraged, he didn’t dominate. Whether it was academics or art or athletics, he cheered from the sidelines, but never tried to be my coach. I’ll always remember how he left work early not only to watch all my games, but to come to most of my practices as well. He stood at that fence with the other dads, in the September Texas heat, always cheering, never demeaning, always encouraging, never reprimanding. Only once do I remember him forcing me to do anything with my talents beyond my will. That was my first season of football in 5th grade, when I wanted to quit mid-season. He put his foot down and told me I had to finish the season, and then if I never wanted to play again, that was my choice. I made it through that season. And that led to a college scholarship. Spasibo Dad.
The hyphen that was my Dad’s life was one that never tried to make me someone that I was not, but that did demand that whoever I became and whatever I did, I did it with excellence, working as hard as I could, and never being satisfied with less than my best effort. It was from him that I learned the three values that I tell my kids every day when they go off to school: Work hard. Pay attention. And be helpful. And if I was going to sum up the values I learned and saw in Dad, I would say the same thing: He taught me to work hard, pay attention, and be helpful. And maybe one more value: To laugh as much as possible.
This is not to say he was always rainbows and unicorns. Dad had a fierce sense of justice, of right and wrong. And if you ever got on the south side of that moral sense (like I did a few times), then be afraid. Very afraid. He had an “angry voice”, that I inherited, which will make large children cry, and small children wet themselves. From him I learned what the righteous wrath of God can mean, and some of the things you can do to invite that wrath upon you!
One of my favorite stories from childhood revolves around my BB gun. Our house in North Little Rock had a huge front yard— at least 100 feet deep— but no back yard. I would spend afternoons with my Red Rider style BB gun shooting at little green army men in the yard, all the way back from the street. There was no way my BB gun had the range to hit the street (I know, I tried).
But one day, our neighbor across the street comes out, dirty T-shirt on, mullet blowing in the wind, and screams at me “Boy! Wat you doin’ with that BB gun? If you don’t put that thing up I’m going to shove it up your ass!” I immediately ran to tell my grandmother Mamaw what had happened. She calmed me down, and told me to wait for my Dad to come home. When he came home, I went up to him crying and said “The man across the… sniffle… slurp… BB gun… whimper… shove it up my… sniffle”. Dad’s eyes went wide. He crossed the yard in what seemed like three strides.
Dad went to the middle of the street, and with his angry voice cranked up to 11, called the man out into the street. The redneck came out all blustery, but as my Dad yelled at him, the man got quieter and quieter, as his chest gradually slumped inward. Eventually mullet man cried out at my Dad “Man you are BLEEEPING crazy!” And my Dad shot back “Yeah and that’s what I will tell the cops when I kill you!”. Mullet man turned tail and fled into his house. They moved three days later. And I swear this is all true.
But as righteously indignant as Dad could be at times, he was also quick to forgive, and quick to apologize, when he realized he was wrong. Getting him to realize he was wrong may take a while (a trait that is alive and well in me). But he was never one to hold a grudge. He was well aware of how many times he had messed up, and how much grace and forgiveness had been extended to him in life. And he was more than willing to extend that same forgiveness and grace to others, and give his time and effort and even his money to help them start over again. Like a volcano, Dad could be quick to blow. But that explosion would almost always result in the good soil of forgiveness and encouragement to do better next time.
No remembrance of the hyphen that was my Dad’s life would be complete without talking about the things that brought him joy. He loved a cold beer, a warm dog, a good cigar, a Jimmy Buffet tune, and the laughter of friends and family. Many times we talked about his top secret plan to retire from investment banking and open a joint called “Beer, Burgers, Bubbas, and Babes” (and I will still gladly talk to any investors for that project). I will always remember going to the movies with him as a child, especially when he took me to movies that I wasn’t old enough to see: Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Terminator and Aliens. Even the rightfully forgotten Dan Ackroyd flop “Doctor Detroit”. We would sit there all afternoon, eyes wide with anticipation, hands buttery with popcorn.
As adults we would solve the world’s problems over coffee or beer, Dad dispensing to me his free market solution to almost every social problem. If you look up Reagan Republican in the dictionary, you will actually find a picture of my father there. His faith in the markets was almost as firm as his faith in Jesus. We didn’t always agree. But we respected each other’s views, and challenged each other with dignity. And I would give anything to have one of those conversations again. In the words of another Reagan Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who Dad and I watched on the big screen and on the news for four decades: Hasta La Vista, Daddy.
So that’s my Dad. At least as much as I can write in a eulogy that is already too long, and yet no where near long enough. In Dad’s own words, he is the man who Tom Selleck wished he was as handsome as, and the man for whom Jimmy Buffet wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Now, that may be a slight hyperbole. But not by much.
It is moments like this-- despite my firmest spiritual commitments and my steadfast moral compass-- that I realize how radically untethered I am, adrift on the ocean of freedom and chance that is life. My anchor is gone. My Dad’s hyphen has come to an end. For 43 years our hyphens have overlapped. And for that I am eternally grateful. And now that his hyphen is gone, I am the man. The husband. The father. And if I can be half the man, the husband, and father he was, I will be blessed. But words cannot express how un-tethered I feel right now, missing the anchor that was my Dad.
Now, almost everything I have said about my Dad’s hyphen is true. But there is one thing that isn’t. It isn’t exactly true that my Dad’s hyphen has come to an end. From where we live in the everyday hustle and bustle of life, it looks like Dad’s hyphen has made an abrupt stop. We won’t get anymore calls from him. No more forwarded emails. No more jokes. No more baseball games.
But what we see is just his two-dimensional hyphen on a paper that has come to an end. In reality, his hyphen has attained a third dimension, and is now joined with the infinite depth of Christ’s Love for us. He has been transposed into a greater depth than we can imagine right now, face to face with the Love that will never die. His hyphen has been written into the Book of Life, and can never be erased.
One of bands Dad and Pat listened to every Christmas is the The Trans-Siberian Orchestra. And just like you might transpose a simple Christmas tune into the massive sound of a Trans-Siberian performance, so also Dad’s life has been transposed into the Symphony of God’s Love. The same Love that spread the starry skies above us, and the same Love that knit us all together our mother’s womb: Dad is joined with that Love now.
And we have been given the promise in Scripture: “As ALL die in Adam, so ALL will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” This includes Investment Banking, Community serving, Communion administering, Baseball playing, Jimmy Buffett loving, Dads and Husbands, like Ron Bostian. And it includes you too. Just open yourself to the undying Love of Christ to know that it is true.
Scripture continues: “Then comes the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power… The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” And it will be then that we will finally ALL enjoy that Cheeseburger in Paradise with Jesus and the apostles, and prophets, and saints, and Ron Bostian, cracking jokes at the end of the table.
Until then, we all have been given a hyphen. A dash between the moment we come into this world, and the moment we go to meet Jesus face to face. Dad used his hyphen to make an eternal impact. Not just on me and my family, but on everyone whom his life touched. May God grant that we all use our hyphen that well.
Ron Bostian was a really good man, and a really great father. I will miss him incredibly. May he rest In Christ and rise in Glory. Amen.