By Frosty Wooldridge:
The trajectory of my life and the lives of my siblings changed drastically. Nothing would ever be the same again…
On May 13, 1964, while umpiring a high school baseball game from behind the plate, my 46-year-old father, not overweight, non-drinker and non-smoker—called, “Strike Three!” on the batter at the top of the third inning, and yelled, “Take Your Base.” The batter turned around confused.
Frosty Wooldridge in front of mountain man Thunder Jack, Wallsill, Montana, Continental Divide Ride, Canada to Mexico, 2019. Photo by Frosty Wooldridge, 10 second delay and tripod.
At that moment, my father clutched his chest, fell over the catcher and died of a heart attack on home plate. People rushed out of the stands to try and safe him with CPR, but a massive myocardial infarction took his life, instantly.
An hour later, as a 17-year-old with my 15-year-old brother, I drove home from baseball practice. Rex and I talked the usual baseball lingo. As we neared home, Mr. George, my dad’s best friend pulled up behind me, honking his horn to stop. I braked the car. Mr. George jumped out and walked up to my window. I saw a troubled face in my outside rear view mirror.
“What’s up, Mr. George,” I said.
“I’ve got some really bad news, son,” he said, as Rex looked on from his side of the street.
“Yeah, shoot,” I said.
“Your dad was umpiring the Albany game today,” Mr. George said.
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “He said he would be home late today so mother should fix dinner without him.”
“Well, I don’t know how to say this,” Mr. George said, sweating and very nervous. “But your father suffered a heart attack and died on home plate.”
“You gotta’ to be kidding me,” I said, abruptly. “I just watched him walk out the door to go to work this morning after my paper route. He was fine.”
“Frosty, your father is dead,” Mr. George said.
Rex started crying. My eyes well-up. My heart pounded. I didn’t really know what to say or do. I looked over at Rex. He looked back at me while sobbing with tears streaming down his cheeks.
“You’re not kidding,” I said.
“No son,” he said. “I’m not kidding.”
“I’m heading home,” I said.
“Let me drive,” Mr. George said, getting into the seat and shoving me over next to Rex.
At that moment, the trajectory of my life and the lives of my siblings changed drastically. Nothing would ever be the same again. We arrived home to walk into the house with my mother sobbing and my brother Howard crying and my sister sitting silent in a chair. Neighbors and the preacher stood over my mom. I wanted them all to go away. Plates of food piled up on the dining room table. The last thing I wanted: to eat food. My mind, heart, soul and body vomited from that wretched moment that I lost my dad. Later that week, we attended the funeral to see dad resting in a casket. As I passed by his still body, he looked peaceful. At that moment, I knew I would never, ever see him again. (I’ve never attended another open casket funeral in my life. I never want to see loved ones dead. I rather remember them being alive.)
At the burial, he received a 21-gun salute for being a combat WWII U.S. Marine. The preacher said a bunch of fine words along with others. I stood there stone cold, horribly stunned, and completely confused about life. In the 60’s, no grief counselors, no understanding of the trauma to children and no appreciation concerning the private hell we lived through when a parent died at our tender ages.
My siblings Rex, Howard and Linda faced their own private miseries in their own ways. We really never talked about it. We never shared with each other. We simply staggered into each new day with no idea of what we faced next. After dad’s death, Linda suffered obesity. Howard became emotion-less. Rex lost interest in being in the national honor society as he navigated his own depression.
What does it feel like to lose your father a such a young age? I’ll tell you. You suffer a gut ache for days, months, and years. You feel like you’ve got food poisoning in every cell of your body. Your mind hurts 24/7. You go to bed stunned and depressed. You wake up shocked and depressed. You move through the day without meaning. You lose a sense of yourself in the world. You ask why it happened to you. You wonder why God did this to you. We attended church every Sunday. Why would God steal our dad from us? You lose any understanding of yourself and your place in the world. Yet, you’re forced to move forward. You’re expected to be brave. You discover that others may pay lip service, but they don’t care because it didn’t happen to them. Nobody ever warns you that you could lose your father or mother. Nobody prepared you for a monumental disaster in your life. The only thing that keeps you eating, sleeping and going to school: something instilled in you as the will to live.
In the paper the next day,
“In memory of Howard Wooldridge. We’ve come to expect people who are in bad health to approach death slowly and painfully. We anticipate the end to come this way so that we can prepare ourselves for it, whether it will be us or someone close. That’s why it comes as such a shock when a person in apparent good health and endowed with boundless energy swiftly and quietly slips away.
“Such was the case of Howard Wooldridge. One day you see him at work or in the express lane at the grocery store with a gallon of milk under his arm, and the next day you read about his untimely death. If it’s unbelievable to those of us who were merely his friends or acquaintances, it must be devastating for his family. Maybe more so with Wooldridge’s household than with other families.
“Howard Wooldridge was an athlete raising a family of athletes. In his early years, he was a participant as well as a coach and leader in sports wherever he traveled. Later, he stuck to coaching and officiating, leaving the playing field to his sons Frosty, Rex, and Howard. To an athletically active man, nothing in the world can be more satisfying than having an athletic child. Howard Wooldridge must have enjoyed great happiness with three athletic children. Along with his wife, Vivien, who was always at his side, and one growing daughter, who also pursued athletics, he was a man well blessed.
“It’s going to be difficult to get past Woodridge’s death, regroup and go forward, but in his sons, daughter, wife and friends, he left us with a legacy of fair play, enthusiasm and a will to win.
“The human body lasts less than a century; a man’s achievements endure forever. This is the sum of Howard Wooldridge’s fatherhood and friendship: memories that will survive throughout the years. To those who knew him well, Wooldridge will remain a man of limitless zest for life, and iron determination to succeed and the compassion to understand human frailties. We will miss him.”
Upon reading his obituary, my eyes teared up and I sat on the steps sobbing. I ached inside like I had yesterday, and this feeling settled into me like a dreary, rainy day when the umpire calls the ball game in the fourth inning and we are not allowed to finish.
Now, folks made me the “man” of the family. Heck, I was a kid for heaven sakes! I wobbled through that summer with no recollection of my life. In my senior year, the pain continued to sap my strength both physically, mentally and emotionally. I delivered my morning papers. I ate breakfast. I attended school. I played football, basketball and ran track—but without dad in the stands, sports didn’t seem to matter that much. I kept up my grades because my dad told me that my education provided the best ticket into life.
In that senior summer, I lifeguarded at the local pool. Michigan State University accepted me. In the autumn, I traveled to my dorm room in North Wonders Hall, enjoyed orientation and began classes. I ran for president of my floor. Lost! I tried for VP and won. I became secretary of the student government. I studied seven days a week. I never dated. I lived by the skin of my teeth as to finances.
By my second year, Mr. Gary North, my head resident advisor saw a lot of potential in me. He invited me to become a resident assistant staff member. I accepted. I led a floor of 50 men. It gave me the greatest boost toward life for which I am eternally grateful to Mr. North.
As the pain of my father’s death seemed to fade, I thrived in racquetball, weight lifting and dancing at the Sunday night mixers in the dorm. Study, study, study. Finally, graduation. I accepted a teaching job in Colorado. I climbed mountains, skied, rafted and bicycled. I married, suffered a divorce, and did the best I could to get on with my life. During my journey, I maintained integrity, honesty and contributed to society. I made my dad proud that he raised a good son.
Along the way, I’ve missed my dad at certain times. Sometimes I have dreamed that I spotted him in a crowd. At other moments, I’ve talked to him on bicycle rides. I’ve asked God to give me one day with my dad, so I could tell him how I turned out as a man. Just one day to talk with dad face to face.
Even though my dad would be considered an average man, he’s remains a towering figure in my life. He stood for hard work, values and self-confidence. He taught me, “Do it right the first time, son, and you won’t have to do it over.” He taught me to obey the rules of our society in order to maintain excellence. He said, “If you believe in something, go after it until you make it yours.”
But I miss my dad. Yes, I see his 8”X 10” picture in my office daily. I carry his picture in my wallet at all times. Thus, he’s with me all 24/7. His pictures comfort me. But I still miss him. He never got to finish his life with his kids. He didn’t get to see us grow up.
What did I learn from my father’s early death? Lot of things, but the most important thing I learned: life remains ephemeral. You’re living one minute, and soon, before you know it, you’re 72 years old. You’ve already lost friends in wars, to cancer, and a brother to the same exact heart attack at age 50. You realize this great life journey can be amazing or it can be a struggle. You learn to be grateful for every gift along the way. You learn to be gracious and thankful. You realize that you must maintain your body, mind and spirit in order to live a positive life. You must eat healthy, exercise daily and maintain your spiritual balance.
Even with all that, I miss my dad.
When Your Father Left Too Soon by Frosty Wooldridge
This request offers you an opportunity to express yourself concerning your father’s death when you were a young man or young lady. Or share this request with someone you know who experienced this event.
If you lost your father to an early death when you were between the ages of 8 and 18, you and I possess much in common. Or you may have lost him through divorce or he abandoned your family. My 46-year-old father died instantly of a heart attack when I was 17. His death changed my life and my brothers’ and my sister’s, radically, from happy kids, kids who played sports with their dad, kids who loved their dad, kids who enjoyed the love of their dad—to instantly “no dad” ever again in our lives. I remember that day when my father’s best friend came up to me in the parking lot to tell me the news. He leaned into the car window, “Frosty I don’t know how to tell you this, but your father died while umpiring the Albany High School game today.”
From that point on, our lives changed from normal to not normal. From happy to vacant. From our dad being proud of us when we hit a homer or scored a basket to no dad to be proud of us anymore. No more movies and popcorn with dad. Life and circumstances ripped our father out of our lives. It changed the way we thought, acted and lived our lives. It changed my sister’s life dramatically from a happy girl to withdrawn, overweight from eating food for comfort and socially out of sorts. One of my brothers became angry at everything and lost his sense of balance in the world.
Over the years, I have wished I could talk to my dad as a man, bicycle with him one day for a chat or sit by a campfire. Always something in the back of my mind. Millions of other men and women have lost their fathers, too, at a young age. They may feel the same way. Each of us who lost a father shares a heartbreaking fate that only we can feel and only we can share.
You’re invited to write an essay of 1,000, or 2,000, or 3,000, or 5,000 words describing your feelings, your pains, your triumphs or your sadness of losing your dad between the ages of 8 and 18. That’s when the most impact hit you because you were close to him and he was around the house and your connection was deepest and most profound. Write about the moment when you learned of his death. Write about your shock. Write about how you felt and what it meant to you then, and what it means to you today. Write about how it has affected you over the years. Write about your feelings. Write about how you coped. Write about how you didn’t or haven’t coped. Write about how you reacted to drugs, depression, booze, aberrant behavior, etc. Write about what it did to your life path. Write whether you liked him or not. Got along with him or not. Write his good and bad points. How did it affect you spiritually and how did it affect your concept of God? Fairness?
I am writing this book by weaving your story along with other men and women, and connect the dots. We intertwine our lives with the death of our fathers. We share a common bond of pain, of anguish and loss of the most important man in our lives. Millions of men and women lost their fathers to an early death. Your story will give them comfort, hope and ideas on how to deal with their pain. Show how you healed, dealt with your pain or how you haven’t.
Once it publishes, you will receive a copy of the book. You may leave your name out of it for your own privacy or I will only use your first name only or your full name if you like. You can write this essay, or I can interview you with a tape recorder to get every detail of your story. If you know of other men or women who would like to share their story, please forward this request to them. They can be any age. I can email this request, too.
Thank you for making this book possible: When Your Father Left Too Soon.
Life and light,
Frosty Wooldridge, Golden, CO, firstname.lastname@example.org
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© Copyright by Frosty Wooldridge, 2019. All rights reserved.
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