9AM one Saturday in August 18 years ago:
“So…. how did last night’s Match.com date go???” my dad boomed as I opened my door.
“Uh, Dad, she is – here!”, I answered.
Kaiwen peeked over my shoulder to see her date’s father.
“Oh! Wow! That IS a good date then!”, he declared with a broad smile and chuckle.
Kaiwen knows my dad just 12 hours less than she knows me. Our first date went magical and after some time at her place, we went back to my place on Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. My dad brought my cousin Brandon along for a beach day of lazily good times.
My dad immediately accepted Kaiwen as a dear friend and was generous with his affection and made her feel that she was a member of the greater Canby-Bethkania family on our first weekend together.
That moment alone summarizes my dad.
My dad, Neil Bethke 70, passed away Friday, December 14th in his sleep. Just three months ago in September he checked himself into an emergency room because of suspicious swelling in his neck. Despite a myriad of tests, chemo and the best of care, the doctors never figured out his cancer. They do not know where it started, they never settled on a particular flavor of the evil rot. Without pause or mercy, the cancers tore through my father’s body and killed him in three months.
In his final week, he brought the Bethkania family together. Sitting up in a deep leather chair with a real fire burning in Ann’s fireplace. David Bethke – his brother and my uncle, Joyce Bethke his sister and her son (and my cousin) Brandon would share my father’s many stories – and many of our own. He was graceful & funny - and loathe to show any fear or pain. For five days we would spend our time with him – and in his stories. We would talk and laugh, until he needed a break from holding court over Bethkania.
My earliest memory of my dad:
We were taking a short hike around his cabin in Topanga Canyon, and I stumbled through some brush and came up with a chip of wood sticking out of my left knee. My dad bent down, pulled out the wood and then ripped a strip of denim from his shorts. He solemnly told me that he just created an “Indian Bandage”. His confidence in that calm lie washed away my crying, and I walked with a toddler’s pride.
I was into Gatorade when I was 7 or so:
“You know what Gatorade is made from right!?”, my Dad asked with his impish smile.
“No?” I admitted.
“Gator – pee! Gator pee!” he declared.
“From Florida.” he added.
It was at least a year before I stopped telling my friends at school about Gator pee.
Often we talk about so-and-so having a great love for life, and while my dad was never a competitive man, he wins any contest for loving life and living well:
Years ago, my dad and I were wingmen at a surf bar in Kyushu and indulged a flock of Japanese girls that were curious about kissing a pair of gaijin rogues.
With fireworks and swords, my dad and my grandmother June travelled to Taipei for our formal wedding and joined us to circumnavigate Taiwan on our honeymoon.
My dad was the first to sip rose with us on the flybridge of Ad Astra at La Rochelle, France.
We sailed the Caribbean: sitting in volcanic bubbling sea-water kicking off an epic beer party among pirates and rogues by blowing up our life raft making friends with John Marley – the charming boat “boy” who passed away earlier this year dining out in St Barts and Saba Rock like a boss
Just this past summer, we explored the Mayan ruins and together we discovered the Hermana Republica over a craft IPA at sunset in Tulum.
I remember his deeply coffee stained VW bug with holes in the floor – big enough that I could see the roads of Los Angeles pass by - as he did one of his rambles both in stories and California.
There were the great beach days: Topanga, Santa Monica, and most of all Venice.
Awesome camping with Grandma June at Big Sycamore Canyon. This simple sentence cannot capture the magical land that Sycamore is to me.
The day he had me clean out the ice from his freezer in exchange for the Atari 2600 game – Kaboom!
My dad wasn’t always there for me. My parents divorced when I was young.
But I learned great and marvelous things from my dad:
He would often take me to where he worked at the time: The Federated Group. At Federated the management was more than thrilled to have me programming in BASIC for hours on the Atari 400, Atari 800 and Commodore 64s – I was responsible for selling a good number of computers.
He taught me to look at an abandoned television as a treasure trove of vacuum tubes. And you know what are vacuum tubes? They are super cool satellites that are begging to be liberated from their glass prisons and hung up in a diorama.
He bought me electronic kits such as an audio amplifier and taught me how to solder electronics. We had only a 50/50 success rate, but he taught me to enjoy the build and not sweat the outcomes.
I am sure that my life long passion and career in games was formed by my Dad’s encouragement to playfully learn.
And even in his questionable priorities or outright failings, he has taught me how to be a better father.
Being more mellow, and taking things slower is still a great lesson from my dad that I will be learning for years to come.
He was probably the coolest grandfather a pair of boys could have – he sent the boys a steady stream of notes, cards and gifts. He was there for their major milestones and all of our movements. Kyle and Max love him deeply and with pure happiness.
After I said good bye to him for the last time, I turned back to his room and felt a goofy-good, conspiratorial smile – maybe even a Neil-style smile.
And told him with ease, “I love you dad.”
“I love you - forever man.”, my dad told me.
See you around the pool Dad, Your son, Erik.