Jim Kratz

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about what I would do with the anniversary of my dad’s death on February 28, 2020. I thought about re-publishing my non-fiction piece in Hobart about our week in the hospital and life leading up to it but that didn’t feel right. It’s got a great home at Hobart still. That’s what Google is for. I thought about publishing a couple other non-fiction pieces I wrote last year, but those don’t seem right now either. But then I remembered that I had created a blog where we honor people who have inspired us. I realized that my dad would be a perfect Guest Monster!!!

Rather than an interview, you are all stuck with me. Like so many others who have lost a loved one, I think about him all the time. I do a lot of thinking about what he would be thinking. He would’ve given the Flash Monsters two thumbs up. Meeting weekly was kind of his jam, but he would’ve known the commitment it took not only from the Monsters but their loved ones sharing their time each week too. I think he’d prefer you be stuck with me rather than him. When it came to my writing, he was a charter member of the Al Kratz fan club.

Sometimes I’m graced by his presence in a dream and, in classic Jim Kratz mode, it’s very subtle. He might just sit down next to me. I have a mild problem with sleep apnea that works its way into my sleeping consciousness. Sometimes I feel a gentle tapping on my shoulder telling me its time to wake up. It’s time to start breathing. There’s only one person I’ve ever known with such a gentle touch.

My dad was a minister in the Disciples of Christ denomination for sixty years. By far his favorite religious holiday was Easter. By far his favorite theme was the resurrection story. David Foster Wallace wrote that every love story is a ghost story. I think my dad would have modified that to say every love story is a resurrection story. The thinking about someone all the time. The thinking about what they would be thinking. Feeling that person still in your life. That is the love story. That is the resurrection. Even now, a tear takes my breath for a moment and tickles the corner of my eye. My breath returns. I feel my dad. I do. Of course it helps that I can see him whenever I look in the mirror, maybe without my glasses so the distortion blends us together a little more, but I see him in myself for sure.

As I’ve shared on twitter and with anyone else who would listen, I signed a chapbook contract at the beginning of 2019. I so wanted to see that book in my dad’s hands. Moving from Contract to Production became a slog even before I knew my dad was sick and there was something in my internal impatience of 2019 telling me we were racing against a clock. I started to accept there were scenarios in which it wouldn’t get done in time. I certainly didn’t think it still wouldn’t be done on the first anniversary of his death. Since it was my father who turned me on to Kurt Vonnegut when I was a teen, it seems fitting to leave that emotion with: So it goes.

To me, So It Goes means accepting the shit and moving on. Loving even the shitty parts of life. I don’t know if he meant to teach me that, but I feel like he did. It’s not the same, but I know he’s still with me for my new chapbook news. It’s not the same, but I feel his wry smile. I hear him say, Don’t waste your time not loving the shit. You know your time is limited too, right?

Two quick favorite memories:

My dad typing away on the blue electric Smith Corona at the kitchen table. My first chance at witnessing the power of revision. My dad helping me with my English papers, me wanting to impress him with my writing.

I was 13 and playing Little League baseball. I had been a pretty good little player from 8 to 12, but the other kids’ hormones were in faster gear than mine. By 13, I was a little outsized to say the least. I was having a hard season. Ten games in, I was 0 for 0 because I had been walked every single at bat. I was getting on base but it still sucked. It was like a sideshow thing. I hated it. Finally, I got the sweet spot on one pitch hanging in my little strike zone, delivering one glorious line drive into the centerfield gap, getting to second base for a standup double. I turned and saw my six-foot-four father at the top of the bleachers, jumping into the air, pounding his fist up to the heavens.

I wish I could still hear him talk. The special way he would speak with authority but still with a little crack in his speech. That little drop of audible power was when I heard how deeply he felt the message. Inside those cracks was the voice and conviction of love. I’d like to end with a quote from a sermon of his in the eighties:

To me life is interesting, challenging, and very mysterious. The significant relationships we form with one another are the most important things of my life. My belief in the resurrection, which is scandalously personal, is my affirmation that that which is most important, our deepest interpersonal relationships, are stronger than the powers of death. I know this to be true and I am changed because of this belief.

He was teaching me how to deal with his death forty years before it even happened! I also just realized now that I need to write a book called Scandalously Personal. Thanks for sticking with me on this moment of remembering my dad.

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