Good evening everyone. Thank you for coming to show your support for our family and to honor and celebrate my Dad’s life. I just want to also say what an honor is to be speaking to you, please extend your grace toward me. I’ll do my best to make it through this and not fall to pieces.
Let us bow our heads in prayer: Our Father of love and grace, you know our hearts and you know better than any of us the sorrow and anguish of death. Lord, you know since you gave your son for us. Give us comfort in this time of grief, as only you can. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
In Matthew 5:4 Jesus tells us “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…“
We are here to mourn, remember, and celebrate the life of my dad, Martin Frederick, some knew him as Buddy, or Bam Bam.
I’ve been home here in Pennsylvania for about two weeks now, and you may not know this but I live in Colorado currently and have been living out West for over four years. I took my job with me and work from home, but I do come back to the office about every three months. I say all this because it isn’t as though I’ve been completely gone for four years, but these past two weeks have been different.
Just last week, my dad and I were going through some things at the house and he had asked me to go to the auto parts store to get some oil we needed. I went upstairs and found the keys to an old stick shift Ford truck that was parked in the driveway. I made sure there was a dealer plate on it and left to go get the oil. I was sitting at the light by Sheetz when I was struck by a thought: I’m sitting here in old clothes, in a stick shift, beat up Ford truck, loose steering and shoddy brakes, with a license plate stuck in the rear window. This was me twenty years ago. Only then I was a naïve, self-centered teenager that knew everything, and of course my dad was an idiot. The situation was the same, though; my dad would have sent me to pick up parts in some old truck, I’d be covered in dirt and smelling like engine degreaser, and I’d be sitting there at the red light by Sheetz.
However, this time a melancholic nostalgia overcame me and I began sobbing, because even though things in North Hunting aren’t much different than they were all those years ago, this time was different. It was different because my dad, my hero, and the toughest guy I’ve ever met was dying. The red light changed, and as all the cars went past, I wanted to scream so loud that everyone would notice. I wanted everyone know that things ARE going to be different from now on.
They’re going to be different, because we’re all going to have to learn how to live without my dad – and that’s going to be so hard.
A few days ago, I as talking to my dad’s friend Dave. He was telling me a story about him and my dad that would probably be better saved for a few beers and a campfire (Dave, I’ll let you tell that one “offline”). But, I really enjoyed hearing it because it embodied who my dad was on so many levels. However, it made me realize the depth and complexity of who my dad was. He was my father and that’s how I knew him. He was a different father to my sister, Courtney – and I was always so touched to watch someone so tough have such tenderness in his heart. He was a father to Chris Jones – and I’m so thankful for their relationship and the positive influence my dad was in his life – and admittedly I was always a bit jealous of how they were able to be friends and buddies along with their father-son relationship. He was a farther-in-law to Mark. He was a husband to my mom, Barbara – and when I looked back this week at pictures from their wedding, attendees clinking classes with silverware to make the newlyweds kiss, my mom and dad smashing cake in other’s faces, I was so touched by the love in their eyes. (They probably would have been a fun couple to go on vacations with to a couple’s resort in the Caribbean, and great conversationalists to have over for dinner – if they hadn’t had us kids). To my grandma and pap my dad was a son, and he was “buddy,” – brother to my aunts Pam and Bonnie. As I look back at the pictures of him with all the motorcycles he’d built and rode, I can only imagine Gram and Pap had their hands full with a living embodiment of Peter Fonda from Easy Rider. (For anyone sitting here that’s too young, Google that later if you’re unsure about the movie reference, or better yet WATCH IT)
To the local police force, North Huntingdon Township zoning officers, and our neighbor across the street, my dad was an outlaw. (You’re allowed to laugh) – but I was always so proud of him for never wavering from his beliefs and for standing for what he knew was right.
We should all have a little more of that in us, don’t you think?
In the back of my mind there’s this part of me that always wanted to be writer. Some reclusive Hemingway type, living in a shanty in the woods, huddled over an old type writer, smoking big cigars and downing whiskey. And, I’ve often heard it said that for a novelist to write a book, he has to write about his life and what he knows. I always thought that was terribly bad news for a kid from western Pennsylvania – how could I write a book if my life was so average? Then just year or so ago, I was at a conference for work and some friends and I were having a drink around a table after the day’s work was done. Somehow, I got to telling stories about growing up, which ultimately led to stories about my dad. I think two hours went by and my friends were crying with laugher, falling out of their chairs, and at the same time sitting on the edges of their seats wondering what I’d say next. It was then I realized when the time came to put words down on paper, I’d definitely have something to say, and growing up with someone as special as my dad would make him a big part of it.
Although I have enough stories to be sitting at that cabin in the woods, bottle of whiskey, a scraggly cat dragging in dead half eaten mice, and writing my novel, I thought I’d limit myself to sharing a few of my favorite “chapters.” The relationship of a father and son is so important and complex my only fear is that I won’t properly honor the man he was, but I hope these capture the essence of my dad. If we aren’t already, I’m sure we’ll laugh, and I’m sure we’ll cry – but that’s why we’re here.
My dad was diagnosed with cancer November of 2016. Not long after that I realized when my dad passed, whenever that might be, that my mom would ask me to speak like I am here tonight. Somehow over the years, I’ve become labeled as the “spiritual one” in the family – and I don’t mind that. When hospice was in just a week or so ago, they asked if my dad would like them to send a spiritual advisor or counselor in. He said “I have my son Zach.” I find this honor that I’ve been bestowed with both challenging and humbling. Of course, I don’t believe we are human beings having a spiritual experience, I believe we’re spiritual beings having a human experience. It’s my prayer that we can all be the “spiritual ones.”
I also know my mom didn’t want someone who didn’t know my dad to speak about him. I agree with her. None of us wanted to hear the cliché eulogy Bible verses and someone saying “I didn’t know Martin very well, but people that knew him have told me…” (Fill in the blanks). As hard as this is to be speaking to you, I’m glad I am because I DID know my dad very well, and I CAN tell you; he was hard-working, he loved his family and friends, he was passionate about boating and hunting. He was creative, artistic and talented at so many things, and he was a perfectionist that never minded having five hundred or more projects going on at once. He loved Harley Davidson motorcycles, and he didn’t just buy them and ride them – he built them. I know I wouldn’t have the skills I do, or be the man I am today without his influence.
Of course, when I was younger, before I would go out on a Friday night my dad would always say “don’t do anything stupid.” Now that I’m grown, I realize he said that because he knew how he had been growing up and didn’t want me to repeat anything. Use your imagination.
All boys believe their dad is the toughest guy in the world. If you’re a guy, I know you sat in a tree fort and had those debates with the other boys growing up, “my dad could kick your dad’s butt.” “No, my dad’s stronger than your dad, he could kick your dad’s butt.” Right? You know what I’m talking about. But, my dad’s different – Martin Frederick seriously could kick your dad’s butt. Let me explain; I once watched him step off his boat with bare feet into shallow water and accidentally set his foot down on something sharp under the surface. The clear green river turned deep red as if Jaws had just bit off the lower half of his body. Instead of going to the emergency room, he put a sock and his shoes on and continued to work on the shore clearing out a picnic area all day long. When we got home that night, Donna Grubbs (Hi Donna) took his blood-soaked sock off and found his foot with a wound so deep that globs of white fat were hanging out. Sitting at the kitchen table with no pain killers or Novocain, she put inside AND outside stitches across a large portion of the bottom of his foot. On another occasion I witnessed a two-hundred-pound bar of steel fall on his big toe and obliterate it. The only thing that kept it from completely exploding was the shoe he was wearing. As he was being driven to the Emergency Room, he was giving the rest of us orders on what to keep working on while he was gone. It’s probably not very wise, but now that I’m grown and on my own, any time I hurt myself, I compare it to my dad’s injuries, and that’s how I assess if I should go to the hospital or not. That’s how I know my dad’s tougher than your dad.
When I would go hunting with my dad he wasn’t like the other hunters. We would go to the state game lands between Ohiopyle and Confluence. It’s one of the largest acreage sections of state hunting land in the entire state of Pennsylvania. We’d begin hiking in while it was still dark, and we’d quietly make our way through the forest. I’d notice a couple other hunters posted at their spots for the first quarter, or maybe the first half mile. We’d nod to them and we would keep hiking. Before long there were no more hunters that had gone in as far as we had. By the time it turned daylight we were miles into the woods. We’d hunt all day, slowly making our way deeper into the woods, moving farther and farther AWAY from the truck. I’m pretty sure that our logic was that the biggest, most world-record setting buck would take notice of the physical abuse and mental turmoil we were putting ourselves through. He would have compassion on us. (Yes, the monster buck would have compassion on us and have empathy toward making our moment perfect) This buck would get on his satellite phone and make a series of grunts to the Hollywood film crews that were patiently waiting on standby, having chicken noodle soup and chocolate milkshakes at Glisan’s Restaurant on Rt. 40. The camera crew would come and film us to create the most picture-perfect hunting scene in the history of Hollywood father-son hunting scenes. As the sun would set, the trophy buck would offer himself as sacrifice to our father-son team, and we would both raise our rifles to our shoulders. (Of course, Morgan Freeman would be narrating it.) Then the enormous record-setting buck would step into the clearing. We’d both squeeze our triggers simultaneously and the mythical buck would softly go down. As the sun finished setting over the mountains my dad and I would fade away dragging the deer back to the truck with the credits rolling. Perfect right? But this isn’t Hollywood, and that’s not how our days hunting were spent. Instead, we’d be seven or eight miles from the truck, the sun had already set an hour ago, and it’s eighteen degrees out with over a foot of snow on the ground. All we’d had to eat all day were a few Hershey’s miniature chocolate bars, and some water we drank from the stream. (Hoping not to get a case of giardia). The thin work boots I wore and cotton socks had been soaking wet well before noon, and the little heat pack I had stuck down in them had blistered my foot. Did I mention it was dark and we were seven miles from the truck? No flashlights, cell phone dead from searching for service all day… but don’t worry the moon reflecting off the snow is all we needed to find our way back. This was how my dad and I hunted together, and maybe it was more of a gun-assisted hike than a hunt, but we slept fantastic those nights and I wouldn’t trade those days for anything. I always wanted to get a deer because that look of pride on my dad’s face was absolutely priceless. I’ve he’s ever looked at you that way, you know what I’m talking about. My dad liked hunting more than I ever did, but I always went whenever I could just so I could be with him. Looking back on it, I’m sure there were things he did with me that he wasn’t very into, but I know he did them just so we could be together. That’s the kind of man he was.
When I was young, not long after talking to me about the birds and bees, my dad was doling out fatherly advice about not smoking. All my dad said was “Smoking is a sign of mental weakness.” That was all it took for me to never smoke cigarettes. I never wanted my dad to think I was weak. So for any smokers that have been struggling to quit, think to yourselves, would I want Martin Frederick to think I’m weak? I don’t think so.
My dad could fit in with anyone, anywhere. He was equally at home at an auto auction, getting hustled and losing money to shuffleboard sharks at a dive-bar, or in the courtroom. He once slicked his hair back, neatly trimmed his mustache and shaved, put on his best cologne, his long wool coat and silk scarf and his best dress shoes and slacks – then he proceeded to successfully represent his favorite employee in a court of law. The other lawyer had no idea my dad was a machinist turned auto dealer that had never even seen the bar exams. You can’t make this stuff up.
This next story is probably my favorite. About six years ago my dad bought a two-man white-water kayak that we could use to take over the twenty-foot-tall class IV-V falls in Ohiopyle. My mom and dad were already camping at our traditional family vacation spot at Summersville lake, West Virginia. I headed down with the two-man kayak to meet them, and to spend some time on the lake. We had planned on one of the days to take the kayak down the Lower Gauley river with my friend Jeff as a practice run in preparation for the falls in Ohiopyle. Of course, by practice run, what I mean is that the Gauley was fourteen miles of over forty class three through class five rapids. If anything, we’d be over-qualified by the time we went back to Ohiopyle. So, on a beautiful summer day, we setup shuttle and put on the river in the mid-morning. Everything was going well. The scenery was spectacular, the sun was shining, and the water was a beautiful clean and clear green. Throughout the day, and with thirty or more big, significant rapids behind us, we’d only swam and had to empty the kayak about five times – which is very commendable in my opinion. The day had been long though, and the sun was hot. We were tired. In the calm pool above the last, and biggest rapid of the day, Jeff said “you don’t have to run this one, there is an easy portage around it on the old road bed there on the left. This is the biggest rapid and has some places you definitely don’t want to end up.” In kayaker terms this means, “Don’t mess this up, because there are some features here that could kill you.” Now my dad isn’t the kayaker in the family, so at this point I’m willing to do whatever he wants. I’ve been known to put my friends and family in some situations that are well outside their comfort zones, but I definitely don’t want anyone getting hurt on my watch. I look over at my dad and I can see he’s weary and tired. I said, “well what do you want to do, Jeff said we can easily walk around this one.” Then, I’ll never forget the look on his face. He looks me in the eye and simply says (more colorfully than I’m inclined to say here) “Screw it, I didn’t come here to walk around rapids!” Then we proceeded to paddle into a rapid called Pure Screaming Hell, the biggest rapid we’d ever done in the kayak. It was big and long with waves and hydraulics that crashed over us. We came through unscathed and smiling. That was my dad though, and that’s how he lived his life every day. He didn’t walk around rapids and he didn’t take the easy way through anything.
I was working from home at my folks the whole last week before my dad passed. Wednesday July 18th when I clocked out from work, my sister was also in the kitchen working from home. My dad was in the living room and some car show was on the Velocity channel. I’d been noticing each day the medications and cancer were making it harder and harder for him to concentrate. Since my dad had first been diagnosed, the Lord had laid it on my heart to tell my family about Jesus. I realized that just like that Hollywood moment that never came when we were hunting, there was never going to be a moment when the Heavens opened and the angels sang and trumpets blew, but life isn’t a Charlton Heston movie and Morgan Freeman doesn’t narrate it. Instead it was a humid Wednesday afternoon in Pennsylvania with Graveyard Cars playing on the Velocity channel. I sat down next to my dad in the living room. I said, “Dad you know I pray for you every night, right?” He said “I know you do.” I replied “Dad, I pray for two things. I pray that God would heal you, but more than that I pray for your salvation.” And then I said “Do you want that?” Dad just replied “yes.” Then we prayed together and he accepted Jesus as his savior. The weight on my heart that the Lord had laid for so long was lifted, and I knew that my dad would be with Jesus when he passed. Later that night there were no Hollywood moments or transcendental manifestations. My dad was in pain and restless. But when I tucked him into bed, I said “Goodnight dad, I love you,” and he said “I love you too Zach.” I’ll never forget the tone in his voice and the love I felt from him.
John 14:2 tells us this: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” and in the Easter Story, Matthew 28:6 reads “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” This evening, in the midst of our sadness, let us celebrate that my dad, Martin Frederick is not here, he is in the loving arms of the risen Savior.
In conclusion, I think cancer makes a rapid like Pure Screaming Hell seem like a walk in the park, but I know my dad faced it head on. In the early morning hours on Monday July 23rd, we were by my dad’s side when, like that day on the Gauley River, he passed on unscathed, to be with the Lord. As we held on to him while he took his last breath, I was reminded of one of my dad’s favorite songs called “To Beat the Devil” by Kris Kristofferson. One of the lines is “You see, the devil haunts a hungry man, if you don’t want to join him, you gotta beat him.” Tears ran down my face and I smiled because I know my dad beat the devil, and then I thought, “He didn’t come here to walk around no rapids!”
Let us close in prayer:
God of hope, love, and grace, help us to find peace in the knowledge of your loving mercy and kindness. Give us light to guide us out of our darkness into the assurance of your love, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.