A Father’s Tribute to His Son

 

“That’s great, Dad.” These words Tyler said to me every time I told him of an article being published, a student’s life impacted, a new approach to teaching used, a new video series launched, or an accomplishment of any kind achieved. “That’s great, Dad.”

Tyler and I had a wonderful relationship from his childhood through adulthood. I was a coach on his baseball team for three years. Later, for fun, we would spend Sunday afternoons in the summer going to a local park where I would pitch, and he would hit. We listened to his music, and by so doing he augmented my cultural awareness. We watched movies and visited historic sites, sledded in the winter, and hunted in the fall. I took him on speaking trips. We discussed theology and philosophy, literature and poetry from his earliest years. I marveled at his brilliance, watching him teach a college class about Frankenstein when he was 17. We talked about him becoming a college professor like me.

He and I cherished our friendship, a son and father who loved and cared for each other. Tyler lived with Robin and me for ten years, then we purchased a small house for him here in Defiance where he was close to his sister and brother, Chelsea and Sam. Over two decades our conversations were consistent and long. We would talk for hours. We shared our writing with each other. We shared poetry, stories, experiences, and recipes. Our shared love of food – specifically ribs – made us both smile. He would say, “Who needs Applebee’s when I have Eckelbee’s.” He also taught me how to smoke a pipe. And I was always amazed that he could keep one bowl going for half an hour, mine petering out after 10 minutes.

But it was our shared reverence for words that united our spirits. We both believed that words were sacrosanct, that words had power and could bring life. We were encouragers, not only of each other but on behalf of others. We shared the value of loving people while we may have disagreed with their ideas. We made a point of separating the two. “Dad, you should read (fill in the blank) and we’ll discuss it” was a normal undertaking. He suggested, I read, we discussed. Agreement was not essential, respect was. Our respect for words was born of our respect of others. The premise for our others-centered approach was our oft-repeated, “Show your love for God by loving your neighbor.” We believed our neighbor was anyone we met or anyone we read.

Tyler deeply appreciated that he had a father who would read Charles Bukowski. It is not necessary that you know who Bukowski is, it is important for you to know that Bukowski had something of his own annex in Tyler’s library. I would often receive the author’s books as gifts, always with a note about where I should start reading. Both Tyler and Chelsea introduced me to poetry, dragging me kicking and screaming into the pantheon of poets. I would buy the poetry, Tyler and Chelsea would tell me what to read. To this day, their shared love of poetry has become my own. Tyler even had two journal articles published with me, his name next to mine. But his verbal fingerprints were all over everything I wrote. And they will continue to be.

Even this tribute to my son is marked by his influence. Czeslaw Milosz became one of my favorite poets following in the footsteps of my children. There is a line from his 1980 acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for literature that I have often quoted, “Those who are alive receive a mandate from those who are gone.” And so, I will rededicate my days to fulfilling that promise on behalf of Tyler. The impact of his life – the hard and the easy, the ill and the good – will continue to mark my speaking, teaching, writing, and creating. With Tyler in the background of my thoughts I will continue to write, believing every word written is a strike against the devil. I will continue to teach, bringing light, battling the darkness of the principalities and powers in any venue. I will continue to speak, building justice upon the righteousness of Heaven, the only way to bring peace on earth. And I will continue to create, believing that all people are made in God’s image and therefore creativity is an expression of God’s work in the world.

And Tyler would smile and say, “That’s great, Dad.” And I smile now and say, “Look, son, how many people’s lives you have impacted for the good, people who have driven and flown from around the country to honor your life.”  To which I say, “That’s great, Son.”

A Father’s Tribute to His Son: In Memory of Tyler Micah Eckel, read yesterday at Tyler’s memorial service.

P.S. Schizophrenia robs a person of who they are. Tyler battled his illness but never lost his care for others. In honor of Tyler and our family, some of my former students organized a fundraiser for IJM.org. Please consider giving for those who cannot defend themselves to honor Tyler’s care for others. https://www.mightycause.com/story/Tylermicaheckelfund

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There are 16 comments.

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  1. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Thanks Mark. This next year is going to be hard for your family, I know. The Lord be with you all and the comfort of the Holy Spirit enfold you. 

    • #1
  2. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    I am so very glad that you knew your son as an adult and loved him as an adult and enjoyed so much of his potential. What a clever boy. What a determined, stalwart man to try to overcome his disease for so long.  It was a tremendous burden and heartbreaking for a family not to be able to take it off him for keeps. I’m sorry and wish you had just a little more of him. 

    • #2
  3. She Member
    She
    @She

    Mark Eckel: But it was our shared reverence for words that united our spirits. We both believed that words were sacrosanct, that words had power and could bring life.

    And so they do, as your own words have brought your son to life before our eyes.  Thank you.

    • #3
  4. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Amor omnia vincit.  May you and your family find peace in the beautiful memories you share here.

    • #4
  5. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Was you son a man of faith as well? As I understand it, most schizophrenics are attracted towards religion.

    • #5
  6. Foghorn Coolidge
    Foghorn
    @Dave Rogers

    Beautiful tribute but even better is the way he impacts your work going forward. He sounds like he was an amazing guy.

    I have a daily by name prayer list and you are on it. May you find comfort in your memories and your family.

    • #6
  7. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    I adored this post and the previous one.  I can not of course relate to the loss of a child, even an adult child.  I particularly respect your matter-of-fact SVO assignation of agency in his death (previous post), which I suppose was the key difficulty as far as phrasing goes.  Given your description throughout, a focus on wordsmithing seems appropriate — I suspect that your mental model of him provided the input required for you to hit PUBLISH on the previous post, and the content this post sustains my suspicion.

    Mental models and schizophrenia have figured in my family view — only one no-kidding case, but Heaven knows how many are close to the edge.

    I am glad that your writing has been, and will continue to be, touched by your son.  They say that we are not truly gone until the last person who remembers us is gone.  By this metric, your life has also been shortened, but through your shared expression, your lives are both broadened.  Which brings to mind a pithy, life-affirming old saw: It’s not the days in your life, but the life in your days.

    I am glad that you have had such days together, and that you may continue to know him through collaborative writing as your mental model of him provides counsel you may not otherwise have known.

    • #7
  8. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    That’s a beautiful tribute Mark. He seemed like a great person, one I would have enjoyed meeting. I’m very sorry for your loss.

    • #8
  9. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Thanks Mark. This next year is going to be hard for your family, I know. The Lord be with you all and the comfort of the Holy Spirit enfold you.

    Gratitude for your kindness.

    • #9
  10. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    That’s a beautiful tribute Mark. He seemed like a great person, one I would have enjoyed meeting. I’m very sorry for your loss.

    I’m sure the enjoyment of meeting would have gone both ways. Than you.

    • #10
  11. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    BDB (View Comment):

    I adored this post and the previous one. I can not of course relate to the loss of a child, even an adult child. I particularly respect your matter-of-fact SVO assignation of agency in his death (previous post), which I suppose was the key difficulty as far as phrasing goes. Given your description throughout, a focus on wordsmithing seems appropriate — I suspect that your mental model of him provided the input required for you to hit PUBLISH on the previous post, and the content this post sustains my suspicion.

    Mental models and schizophrenia have figured in my family view — only one no-kidding case, but Heaven knows how many are close to the edge.

    I am glad that your writing has been, and will continue to be, touched by your son. They say that we are not truly gone until the last person who remembers us is gone. By this metric, your life has also been shortened, but through your shared expression, your lives are both broadened. Which brings to mind a pithy, life-affirming old saw: It’s not the days in your life, but the life in your days.

    I am glad that you have had such days together, and that you may continue to know him through collaborative writing as your mental model of him provides counsel you may not otherwise have known.

    Many thanks for your many good words. They strike a cord of truth in every sentence.

    • #11
  12. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Foghorn (View Comment):

    Beautiful tribute but even better is the way he impacts your work going forward. He sounds like he was an amazing guy.

    I have a daily by name prayer list and you are on it. May you find comfort in your memories and your family.

    Your generous spirit is a joy to receive. Knowing we have walked similar roads I stand beside you, silently, as the tears cascade down our cheeks. You and I @Foghorn are another kind of band of brothers. Peace to you.

    • #12
  13. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Was you son a man of faith as well? As I understand it, most schizophrenics are attracted towards religion.

    Yes. A man of faith. A long story, perhaps for another time. I appreciate your question.

    • #13
  14. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    Sandy (View Comment):

    Amor omnia vincit. May you and your family find peace in the beautiful memories you share here.

    Memories. Yes. Thank you.

    • #14
  15. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    She (View Comment):

    Mark Eckel: But it was our shared reverence for words that united our spirits. We both believed that words were sacrosanct, that words had power and could bring life.

    And so they do, as your own words have brought your son to life before our eyes. Thank you.

    Your lovely sentiment is received with thanksgiving.

    • #15
  16. Mark Eckel Coolidge
    Mark Eckel
    @MarkEckel

    EODmom (View Comment):

    I am so very glad that you knew your son as an adult and loved him as an adult and enjoyed so much of his potential. What a clever boy. What a determined, stalwart man to try to overcome his disease for so long. It was a tremendous burden and heartbreaking for a family not to be able to take it off him for keeps. I’m sorry and wish you had just a little more of him.

    How many times did I imploree Heaven to take my life so he could have his again. I am grateful for your benevolence on my behalf.

    • #16
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