Tribute to Marvin Skadberg
December 6, 1927 – January 12, 2007
Note: this is an unedited version of what I shared on January 28, 2007 at Marvin’s memorial service at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ames, Iowa.
These situations are always difficult to figure out what to share. I don’t want to just fabricate some trite things, but want to say something meaningful, and from the heart.
The challenge comes in how not to get too much in my head, and to keep my emotions at bay.
The following thoughts came to me as I woke up early a few days ago. They are random, but represent some of the meaningful memories and affects that John Marvin’s life had on me and my life.
Dad was my hero.
I remember when I was very young, I suppose after saying the prayer that begins “If I die before I wake” I would imagine what it would be like if Dad died. I would have to stop myself quickly and force myself to think of something else – because I wanted to keep myself from crying, because even the thought was too painful. I know it didn’t always work - I cried sometimes. Now faced with the reality of Dad being gone, it’s worse than I imagined.
There are so many good things to remember about Dad. I remember when I was a boy so clearly those nights when I would have a bad dream, or there was a storm, I would go sleep next to him. I have never felt so safe since.
Dad was also a super nice guy –
I’ve been trying to remember if he ever asked me for anything – I couldn’t think of one thing. – But one thing I do know that he wanted from me - he wanted/expected me to live my life, and live it boldly and fully.
Retrospect and his passing have given me a different view on things. One significant example is a story my folks told me about when I was very young – about one of Dad’s regrets. I was four or five and in trouble. I stood up to Dad when he was going to discipline me and said defiantly “you can’t make me cry”. I did. Mom told me that Dad cried after that incident. For years I saw this incident as possibly one mistake that Dad made – now I understand that it wasn’t. I wish I could tell Dad that he needn’t have any regrets.
It was a very important lesson for me.
Now, at 47, and with my life experiences I see this as an important lesson about life. It can be captured I think in a quote of Frederick Neitchze “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”.
I suspect that that was the first of many lessons for me that life might knock me down, emotionally and other ways, but no matter what I need to keep going. Dad demonstrated this in his own life – especially when Laurie died so tragically and also when he lost his lifetime sweetheart just two years ago. Dad just kept on going, but actually became an even more loving and compassionate person. He taught me that my life is valuable, to be treasured, nurtured and enjoyed no matter what trials and tribulations might confront me. That’s how he lived his life.
I remember the arguments between Laurie and Dad when she was a young woman, becoming aware of the strife, tragedies and hypocrisies of the world. I remember how passionate she was to make the world better, and Dad’s pragmatic/logical/stoic position, his views of the world. His experienced, wise, understanding that the challenges we face are monumental. It frustrated Laurie to no end. Both views are necessary for change – we can’t be naive to the harsh realities of the challenges to break down or remake entrenched systems, but we must be passionate for the cause.
I know this day isn’t about me, but then again, in a way it is. It’s the only reference point that I have. And John Marvin is my father.
One of the proudest things that I say when I speak in my line of work, is that I followed my Father’s footsteps, even though the rebel in me didn’t really want to acknowledge that. I still remember when Dad dropped the hint about me maybe pursuing a career in Extension, when I was having some difficulty with choosing a vocation. For those who don’t know, Extension is the “Service” side of the Land Grant University system – to extend the knowledge that we discover in Universities and be of service to the public.
What I have learned from Dad is that trying to live ones life for service can be quite rewarding – in a multiplicity of ways. Dad showed me how to do it – I guess, however, I might still need some lessons in humility.
Mom taught me to believe in myself, and that I can do nearly anything if I put my mind to it, and that there is something extraordinary in each one of us. Dad taught me that I can make a difference and that I should die trying.
About 1 ½ year sago I found myself getting tremendously sad at the thought of my children facing the “age of enlightenment” – when the reality of the problems of the world start pressing down on them. I found myself slipping into that dreaded state of desperate resignation – what could I possibly do to make it better?- the problems seem insurmountable.
. . . but then a thought came to me about what I could do about it. What I realized is that I can try to change the world. I don’t care if people think it’s grandiose or pompous to think or believe this. Either way it will be better. . . if I make a difference, great! If I don’t, at least I died trying. I think both Mom and Dad did that in their lives.
I’ve been very fortunate in following Dad’s line of work. To a significant degree the successes have been a result of my exchange of ideas with Dad. He was my mentor. Up until the last, Dad and I discussed the challenges and opportunities facing higher education, changing economic paradigms and rural communities and the role of technology in these rapidly changing times. Even after he was already gone I received a newspaper clipping from the Des Moines Register. He’d sent it just a couple of days before he passed.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do now that he’s gone – but, I know eventually it’s going to be OK.
A funny story happened in this last year. I was speaking at a conference in Des Moines and it was the first (and now only) time that Dad could hear me talk. He sat in my session and I was hopefully anticipating grand accolades from him about how awesome I did. Silly Andy! I didn’t get that. In fact he didn’t say much at all, until we were riding home in the car. He just said – you need to get rid of about half of your powerpoint slides. I think Dad knew I didn’t need any help with inflating my ego.
I pray that my work and my life represent my Father and Mother’s legacies. That I continue to make my contribution to making the world a better place!
That I possibly live as a beacon, to ignite the spark of enthusiasm, and extraordinaryness in myself and in others, and that I fuel it with the love in my heart (which they gave me)!
I don’t want to live my life in quiet desperation.
I truly believe that we are put here to serve because that is what my friend, my Father taught me. Not by lecturing me, but how he lived his life.
Dad, if you’re out there and you can hear this, thank you for helping out this past year with Devon during a difficult time and for supporting me with my most difficult decisions.
Thank you for the Harley Davidson calendar and motorcycle clock that you sent for my birthday (January 13). Also, finally, thank you for teaching Devon about how to be a good man. You would be so proud of him.