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Organically Inspired. . .

Goodbye Dad

This week we faced the painful challenge of saying goodbye to the kind, generous man I was lucky enough to call Dad.  He passed from this life peacefully with his three daughters standing strong together by his side.

Born in Vreden, Germany in 1939, Anton Abbing was the youngest of eight children and the only son. His family were tailors by trade, and at 18 Dad emigrated to the United States to find work in the garment industry.

In his new life in America, Anton became Tony as he learned to speak English flawlessly and worked hard to move up the corporate ladder.  By his early 30’s, he was the manager of the Somerset, KY Palm Beach Clothing Company plant, and had fathered two daughters, my sister Helena and me. His first marriage to my mom, Joy Lee, didn’t work out, but the two remained friendly and respectful of one another as they worked together to raise their girls. 

With Diane Daulton, Dad found love again.  They added my sister, Michelle, to our blended family, and once again, Dad was surrounded by females.  The young couple followed a series of career opportunities which moved them from Kentucky to California, Pennsylvania, back to Kentucky and then to Tennessee.

In Knoxville, Dad got into sailing and bought a boat.  This hobby was well-suited because he loved the outdoors, and needed to challenge himself.  While he did take the family out on the boat from time to time, it was mostly a solitary pursuit, which seemed to work out well for a man of few words.

During this same period, Dad got seriously into photography.  He built a darkroom in the basement and had the full backdrop and lighting setup for taking formal portraits.  He took my senior pictures, and I was so proud that my shots were different from everyone else’s.

When the clothing manufacturing industry unravelled in the U.S., Dad proved his resilience by moving south of the border to continue his career.  Dad and Diane spent three years in San Jose, Costa Rica followed by two years in Merida, Mexico.  With this new challenge, Dad learned to speak Spanish.  I loved how his subtle German accent would come through when he spoke this new language.

Some of my fondest memories of Dad are from a trip Helena and I made to Costa Rica.  The three of us travelled the country from the Pacific to the Caribbean Coasts.  We explored the rain forests and volcanoes of the interior, and we trekked the streets of downtown San Jose.  That trip marked a shift away from the parent/child dynamic to a more adult relationship with Dad, and I began to better understand his subtle humor and his gentle way of dealing with the world at large.

When they tired of the ex-pat lifestyle, Tony and Diane relocated to Naples, Florida.  Much to everyone’s surprise, they purchased a local coffee shop and became entrepreneurs.  Tony rekindled his passion for cycling, and could be seen decked out in full spandex making 40 to 50 mile bike runs with men less than half his age.

Tony’s next series of adventures began when The Men’s Wearhouse hired him to troubleshoot production issues around the globe.  His assignments took him to every corner of the world.  At a family gathering just a few months before his passing, we tried to count how many countries Dad had visited.  We all called out every country we could think of, and when we ran out of ideas, we got out a globe to help us think of more.  We finally counted to 65 countries that Tony had visited.  I learned my approach to travel from him.  Stay calm.  Go with the flow.  Enjoy the ride.

When Diane was diagnosed with breast cancer, Dad was so gentle and patient as her caregiver.  After 38 years together my dad struggled to find firm footing without his beloved wife, but he put on a brave face and stayed active.  That June, on his 70th birthday, Dad rode his bike 70 miles!  He was so proud of this accomplishment, and he seemed to be learning how to live his new life as a single man.

Later that same year, Dad’s health began to falter. He first suffered a stroke, then Parkinson’s disease, and finally melanoma that spread quickly throughout his weakened body.  The decline in less than four years from a vibrant, physically fit man to his death was shocking to see.  Through it all, he maintained his signature laid-back approach to life.  In short, he was a class act to the end.

He spent the last year at Dogwood Forest assisted living facility, with a constant stream of visitors.  My sister, Michelle, and her family live just 5 miles away, and she was there every day to check on him and take him out for dinner or lunch regularly.  He relished these outings, and enjoyed spending time with his three grandchildren, Andrew, Caroline and Elisabeth.   Helena and I made the trek from Texas and Florida as often as we could, and we enjoyed many good times together in this last year. The staff at Dogwood Forest loved my Dad, and often spoke of how sweet he was, always smiling and never wanting to be any trouble.

My Dad was a practical man.  He always thought he would die young, and he was perfectly fine with that outcome.  He never complained, and when he learned of his terminal cancer diagnosis just four months ago, he seemed content to know how his story would end.  The rest of us would have to process this development in our own way.  We would get no parting speeches from Anton. Even in death, it seemed like he was just trying not to be any trouble.

Dad didn’t really know how to relate to us as kids. He was so quiet that it was not easy to get close to him.  As we took on adult lives and careers of our own, our bonds to him grew.  Dad hesitated to offer advice, and often stated that he wanted us to make our own decisions.  He really felt that we knew best how to manage our own lives.  But, from time to time, he would share some words of wisdom.  One particular bit of advice helped me to overcome my fears and make a major life change.  Click here to read more about my dad asking “What are you waiting for?” and giving me the courage to make a big move in the game of life.  Go check it out and get another glimpse into the man he was.

So, this is goodbye, Dad.  May you have a safe passage to the other side.  You were a good and loyal man.  You loved deeply and were loved in return.  You will be missed.


22 Responses to Goodbye Dad

  1. Oh Wendy, so sorry for your loss. I can sense the love and caring for each other as you wrote this story down. In thoughts with you and family, big hug. Helga

  2. Wendy, this is such a beautiful tribute. I’m sorry for your loss, but you sure were lucky to have him!

  3. Wendy a beautiful tribute to your father. My thoughts and prayers are with you and Helena. I will end this by just saying — That’s why they called him dad.

  4. You have introduced us to a fine gentleman through your beautiful biography, Wendy. His wisdom has passed on to you; I know you will honor him and wear it well. My condolences to you and your sisters.

  5. Thank you, Wendy, for writing such a meaningful story about your Dad. I respected his bravery and independent thinking greatly. I loved that he beat to his own drum and was passionate about so many things. In this noisy world I really appreciated that he was a man of few words. I recently read that we should ask ourselves if what we are about to say is true, kind, and necessary. Uncle Tony seemed to have that filter naturally. He will be missed. Lots of love from us.

  6. Wendy, I am crying like I have not in years. Your story was so sweet and truly an amazing reflection of your relationship with Tony and his relationship with life. I loved and respected Tony. Please know you are in my heart deeply and I feel your pain right now. Call if you need. I cannot imagine losing my parents. I love you!

  7. Wendy,
    I’m so sorry to hear of your father’s passing. I’m sure there will be many tears. If you ever need to talk, I’m here with a shoulder to cry on. Lots to share….
    Many Hugs,

  8. Wendy, What a legacy your dad has left for you, your sisters, his grandchildren and many others, I am sure. It is a story of hard work, triumph, meeting challenges and opportunities head on and living life to his fullest. God Bless him in his final journey. Cece

  9. You were blessed to have him, and I am so glad you were able to be with him in the end. This is a BEAUTIFUL tribute to him, and it says alot about you as well. He was a handsome man, and you have a beautiful family, all the kids have dimples. Sounds like our Dad’s were alike in some ways. I wish you had been able to have him longer. My thoughts are with you, Helena, Michelle, and your families.

  10. My dear Wendy,

    Although I’ve only known you for a few years now, so many of your personal details and “quirks” I’ve noticed ring true through your dad’s story. Your vibrant zest for life, your positive attitude and devoted work ethic. Truly your dad was a hero and deservedly so.
    You and your family have our prayers and heartfelt condolences. God Bless you all.

  11. What a great story Wendy. Our thoughts & prayers are with you & your family. I’m sure your Dad would be proud of this tribute.

  12. What a BEAUTIFUL story. He would be so proud to read what you so eloquently put to written words!! May he rest in peace and his love bless those left behind. Big hugs to you!!!!

  13. Wendy,
    So sorry to hear about the passing of your Dad. He was quite the character and it seems that he had a great influence on your life as only a Dad can have. You were blessed to have him in your life. Your tribute to him was touching.
    Hugs and Love from South Carolina.

  14. Thanks for this tribute. I did not know a lot of the life experiences your dad enjoyed. This was good to read to catch me up on him. He had what we should all aspire to, a life well lived.

  15. Wendy, you brought me to tears. What a beautifully written tribute to your Father. You understood him with such depth and wisdom. I’m inspired to dig deeper in my own relationship with my Dad.
    loving sympathy,

  16. Dear Wendy: Your Dad worked for me in Costa Rica…In fact, I think I gave him his first job there managing our suit plant, Trajes Internacionales de Costa Rica. I last saw him in Costa Rica in 1996 when I left the clothing industry for good. He was a very good man, an excellent manager and friend. May he rest in peace.

    Best regards to you and your family, Ron Monford

    • Ron, I’m so pleased that you reached out to us. He really enjoyed his time in Costa Rica and I think he made a big impact on the people he worked with down there. Best wishes to you and your family.

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