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A tall order ... following in my father’s footsteps

Coffee with Keith

Last week, I lost my father – an icon in my life and one of a small handful of individuals I call my true heroes.

Paul Henry Domke was 92 years old and lived a good life. He and my mother had been married for 73 years and were a month shy of making it 74. That, my friends, is an accomplishment any way you look at it. And, my mother – like my wife with me – is a saint.

Dad’s journey from this life to heaven thankfully was quick as reports of him going “downhill” came only a few days before he passed. And the end came peacefully, with my mom doing what she has done millions of times – holding his hand. My eyes welled with tears when I

My eyes welled with tears when I heard that.

My parents and my three older sisters live in the same Indiana town – the same place I was born and raised. Visits back there were too few and far between, but the last couple of times I’ve been with my folks, I said goodbye when I left like it was the last time I would see them – just in case.

So, although still difficult, I was at peace when my dad took his last breath and I received that dreaded phone call I knew was coming. And, whether he could hear and understand me or not, I did remind him of some things the night before he died.

There were some tears shed during that final talk I had with him.

It was a strange sensation that following morning after he passed when I woke up for the first time without having a father. Obviously, I never had experienced that feeling before.

I shed a few tears as I got ready to come to The Star for another day of work.

And, the newspaper work continues as COVID-19 worries, restrictions and quarantines on both ends are preventing me from traveling to Indiana for my father’s funeral, which, by the way, is today.

There’s a monumental lump in my stomach as of all things, I have to miss the ceremony that puts my dad to rest.

It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. The times we live in these days. …

I shed more tears, and actually quite a lot of them, when agonizing and making that decision.

More tears will be shed today.

The only time I remember seeing and hearing my dad cry was when his father – my grandfather – passed away when I was a senior in high school.

That call came in the middle of the night, and when my dad came into my dark bedroom I could hear the sobs. I felt the tears on his cheeks when he hugged me and told me the news I already knew after I heard the phone ring at such a strange time.

My dad was a tough but loving guy who had the most incredible work ethic I’ve ever experienced. He taught me always to do my best to complete a job correctly the first time, and to do whatever it takes to do it well.

Was he perfect? No. Am I perfect? Of course not. But I will match my dad’s – and my – work ethic against anybody’s anywhere anytime.

It’s the male Domke trait.

Over time, Dad grew in his faith and became a devout Christian man. God became very important to him, and I know the two of them had daily talks.

Dad also was passionate about golf and played the game as long as his body would let him. He loved a good round of golf even though he didn’t shoot one very often.

He was a lifetime duffer with a personal 18-hole goal to break 100. I’ve seen the ball end up behind him after he hit it.

During his playing days, he was my favorite golf partner. He was my favorite partner in a lot of things.

I’m guessing we played hundreds of rounds together. How ever many it was, it wasn’t enough as playing golf with my dad was one of my all-time favorite things to do. It was a fatherson relationship at its best.

The last time I played golf with my dad when was I lived in Wyoming. We played a round on a course there on what I remember as a perfect fall afternoon.

We hit some good shots and we hit some bad shots. But we had a ball.

And in true Dad fashion, the last words I heard him say on a golf course were the same words I heard him mutter countless other times.

On the 18th green, he missed a relatively short putt. As he then picked up his gimmie a couple of inches from the hole, he said, “You little rascal.”

His ball was a rascal a lot of times. Mine rarely listens to me either. But when dad and I were together on the golf course, life was very, very good.

Dad also loved a good vacation, a good piece of German chocolate cake, a good John Wayne western (were there any bad John Wayne westerns?), horses, a good book, Road Runner cartoons and especially his wife and family.

And, he was as pleased as punch when he found out almost 59 years ago that after having three daughters he finally had a son. To that end, I tell people all the time that my folks kept trying until they got it right. And here I am as proof. …

Inside and outside our residence here, my wife and I have a lot of things that help make our house a home. In our backyard, beautiful oak trees, flowers, birdhouses and antiques dot the landscape.

But there’s one very special thing.

I have a big, heavy, fourth-generation cast-iron Domke family dinner bell hanging from a post in my yard. It was passed from my great-grandfather to my grandfather to my father to me. It’s more than 100 years old.

On the day my dad died, when I got home from the office, I rang that bell five times in his honor.

I would have clanged it more, but I didn’t want to be kicked out of the neighborhood.

Before I rang it, I told my dad the bell tolls for him.

More tears. …

Those of you who know me know I love Christmas and everything associated with it. I mean I’m the guy who thinks the older you get, the more presents you should get.

Well, the main enjoyment of that holiday, of course, is celebrating the birth of our Savior. That goes without saying. But I also enjoy the other traditions, including the movies and TV shows.

There’s a Christmas movie called Holiday Inn. It stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and actually was the first movie that featured the song “White Christmas.”

Crosby, or Jim Hardy in the movie, gets this idea to make his farmhouse into a club called Holiday Inn that is open on holidays only. The movie follows the course of a little over a year and features music from different holidays.

On the first Christmas in the movie, however, Crosby is just getting started. He gets a visit from Marjorie Reynolds, or Linda Mason in the movie. She sings and dances and visits to get a job.

The two end up sitting alone in Crosby’s living room on Christmas Eve enjoying a fire. Before they sing the first-ever rendition of White Christmas, they have a brief conversation.

That’s what I want to share with you as I continue talking about my dad.

Crosby is explaining his plan to Reynolds to open the inn on holidays only. She calls him lazy, and he disagrees.

Then, their talk goes like this.

Reynolds said, “My father was a lot like you. Just a man with a family. He never amounted to much and didn’t care. But, while he was alive we had plenty to eat and plenty to keep us warm.”

“Were you happy?” Crosby asks.

“Oh yes.” she says.

Crosby concludes: “Then your father was a very successful man. I hope I can do as well.”

It’s a sad day today because I don’t have my dad around anymore and I must go on without him.

But, Paul H. Domke was a great dad to me and he helped give me a wonderful childhood and tons of happiness later in life to this day.

I personally was blessed with what I think are great parents.

So, I’d answer Bing Crosby’s question the same way Marjorie Reynolds did.

Yes, I was happy being Paul H. Domke’s son.

And in my book, my dad was a very successful man. …

And I hope I can do as well. …

Finally, my dad always joked that his goal in life was to become a bum. As age slowed him down to where he couldn’t do much of anything anymore, I think he finally made it.

And since I have and continue to want to follow in his footsteps, I’ve set my sights on the same goal.

Ah, to be a bum.

Here’s to my quest to follow in my father’s footsteps.

And, here’s to my dad, one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever known.

I miss him already.

More tears.

As always, thanks for reading.