My dad passed away recently. As we know, grief can feel like a sledgehammer to the chest. We know that none of us are getting out of here alive, however this is something that can still feel like a complete shock to our system when we lose someone close to us.
Below are some of the words that I shared at my dads funeral.
This is Jeremy, John’s youngest child. Dad had so many interesting and funny aspects of his life and i want to share a few that come to mind.
I have an older brother and sister. Jody and Heather, for those of y’all that know them, we know they are 2 of the coolest, kindest, most genuine and down to earth people that you could ever know. My dad shared these same qualities and I am blessed to be a part of the same bloodline.
Heather, Jody and I could have brought up to my dad that we wanted to build an 8 person go cart out of junk and drive it to the middle of the desert and then have a waterballon fight and then follow that up with some s’mores and bottle rockets. “Ok, that sounds like a blast, What do you say we start bright and early Saturday morning?” Dad was down for helping his friends and family, and often strangers, and was always down for a good time.Jody, Heather, and I always joke about how dad would ask us to “play a little game”, this often meant chore time but he would put a positive spin on it. “Hey guys, let’s see who can pick the most weeds out of the the front yard in the next 10 minutes, it’ll be fun”. “lets play a little game” has always been a joke in my family.
We all know that big John kept Diet Coke and peanut butter companies in business. I would give anything right now to hear my brother in law, Tyler, god rest his soul, and dad debate about diet sodas and how it would be a healthier choice if he drank more water. “Tyler, diet drinks are 75% water.” The look on Tyler’s face was priceless when dad would say that. Not that drinking more water wasn’t an important topic, but to hear them debate over this was classic, and we all know big John was going to do what he wanted at the end of the day.
For decades, big john was a true outdoorsman. Dad and I took a trip to Alaska in 2007 with and my brother in law Tyler and his best friend John Goolsby. We camped out in the middle of nowhere, 600 miles from Anchorage, for several days. One day, the river was really rising and moving rather quickly, we had to cross it to get away from camp to go on our daily journey. One day we get to the edge of the water and dad said: “Jeremy, you and I don’t have any business crossing this river” he and I both knew damn well we weren’t gonna not give it our best shot. Even if that ended up being our last mistake on the planet, we were going to attempt it. I gently disagreed with him as we showed ourselves that we were more than capable and crossed the river, it was a challenge, but we leaned on each other and made it through. Dad was a good wingman a lot of the times and I hope he felt the same way about me. I feel that dad and I leaned on each other a lot in some tough times and I will try to keep his spirit with me always as I move forward. My Ocd journey has been difficult to say the least, and some of my dad’s characteristics have helped me push through to meet another day. He helped me embrace uncertainty in his own way.
Dad and I went to the car auction on occasion. One time we ended up getting a car. At the auction, you could start the car but you couldn’t test drive it. It was always an adventure filled with uncertainty with Big John, especially the drive home if he ended up buying something. I followed him home that day and he drove the car we had just purchased. Every few minutes, and at every stop light on the way home, he would give me the thumbs up to let me know we were good to go. The thumbs up meant to Keep going. There were other times when he would tow me home from somewhere. I would be in one of our broke down cars steering ,and he would be in the other car towing. The kind and gentle thumbs up weren’t really happening often in these kind of trips. There were countless times when he would tow me home and we would use something that we had no business using as a tow rope, it often broke. Maybe he hit the gas, and maybe I hit the brake at the wrong time, and our tow rope would snap like a twig. He would often say something like “Jeremy, why don’t you call a buddy and ask them to help us get this thing home, then we can all go get something to eat, we’ll go wherever y’all want to.” There was always some kind of positive spin on it and dad usually showed appreciation for the help. When he said thank you, or I love you, he truly meant it.
One time we were up late working under a car in the driveway. He had asked me to jack up the car so we could get underneath it. I start woking the jack and a few second laters you can hear liquid falling on the driveway and this curious smell of radiator fluid. I had jacked up the car on the radiator. We didn’t have the best of light out there, but it was still a huge mistake on my part. “Oh Jeremy, tell me you didn’t. Tell me you didn’t” We spent the next 3 hours doing everything we could to bend and patch that radiator so I could drive the car to school the next day. At one point in the long night, he screams a cuss word at the top of this lungs from underneath the car. He quickly explained that he wasn’t mad at me but he was just frustrated because his arms were tired. He and I both finished up the night with a great triceps workout . So, of course, the phrase ”oh Jeremy, tell me you didn’t”, this became a punch line between our family members. I was able to drive the car to school for two days before the radiator completely busted.
He would often send me inside to ask the questions when we were going to pick something up, propane, a car part, etc. “Jeremy, tell them that John Rudd called yesterday and that I talked to a nice lady and she said that this wouldn’t be a problem at all.” The employee that I was dealing with often looked at me with a blank stare not knowing what the hell I was talking about when I would say this. I was more than willing to help him with whatever I could. I am nowhere near as handy as Jody and dad. I always felt that those two could literally do anything they wanted in this area. Dad was great at making a way when it came to building or fixing stuff before his health started to turn. It often had a touch of Sid Rudd, his father, maybe some Jb weld, duct tape , maybe hope and a prayer, these were often the things that held the situation together. Later on in life, it was often: “Jeremy, call Jody and ask him to slip some pants on and come over and help us. Jeremy this project could take you and I all weekend. Jody will come over and have it done in 15 minutes…. in the dark”, or “Jeremy, call Heather, and ask her if she would be willing to help us with something for just a few minutes.” Dad’s face would often light up when he talked about Heather.
About 35 years ago, I was just making small talk with dad about how cool it would be to have a halfpipe ramp to skate on. A few weeks later, he and I took a trip to Bachman lake in Dallas where they had a killer state park. We hung out for a bit and got some 2 dollar pamphlet on skateboard ramps. So he and Jody just flat out built one a few months later. It was a work of art. Me and some other 9 year old friends carried stuff and may have driven a few nails, but the credit really goes to Jody and dad. Another example of dad spreading good vibes and wanting his child and other kids in the neighborhood to have some fun.
One night at home a few years ago, I was telling my wife and step children one of the many adventures that I had with big john. After they listened to my story that was probably filled with some laughter, a broken down car, and possibly Whataburger. My step son looked at me and said: “Jer, I like your stories.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. That meant more to me than I could ever explain. I shared that with my dad when he was in the hospital a few months later. He took the words right out of my mouth “Jeremy, that’s like something you would say to me.” He was exactly right. His stories and opinions and beliefs have filled my mind for the last 40 years. Dad was a member of toast masters and man could he speak and tell a story. A lot of us have heard some of the same old stories over the years, but it’s amazing that he could tell one with the same interest and excitement like the situation had just happened the day before.
My dad often assumed the best about people. We have all heard him say”hey neighbor” to complete strangers. He went in with a positive direction, hoping that someone would respond with kindness and decency. I see this in myself daily and I will always be appreciative of this. There is part of my brain that I call the “big John filter” ….me wondering about his opinion, or how he would handle a certain situation. “ Jeremy, I will tell you this, that is not how they would handle it at bell helicopter”.This is the name of the company where my dad worked for 40 years. We all know what it’s like to be talking to our parents and we feel that they couldn’t be more incorrect about a particular situation. Even if I completely disagreed with him on something, I usually cared what he thought about it. He may have completely disagreed with me, but he took the time to listen and usually gave a damn about what I was saying, even if he disagreed. I often worried too much about particular situations and and he often wasn’t worried at all. We made a pretty good team by meeting in the middle. Whether that was checking our blood sugar or maybe adjusting our tone of voice just a little when we were dealing with complete strangers asking for help. I would often be overanalyzing a situation wondering how we were gonna get something done, or fixed. I would be running down there, and possibly overthinking our next move, where he would often casually walk down and get it figured out.
One time my brother and I were helping him build something at his place in Glenrose, TX. Jody and I had an interesting conversation the day before about how old the earth might be. So that day, a few hours into our project, I decided to ask dad what he thought as far as how old the earth might be. He stopped hammering the nail, made eye contact with me for the first time that day and said: “ I don’t know, maybe a million years old. We’ll Jeremy, better yet, who gives a damn.” Jody and I laughed until our stomach hurt. That was dad’s way of telling me to not overanalyze stuff that I will never have an exact answer on.
A friend and I tried to drive dad’s 69 Oldsmobile convertible to our high school graduation. My friend knows his cars and he noticed the car was getting hot so we did a u turn and went back home to get a more dependable car. Several years later, my buddy brought this up and bragged on big John explaining that he was always wanting us guys to “make memories.” My friend was right on. From my earliest memories, Big John was trying to have a good time and he often wanted his family and friends to be a part of this.
Dad and I have had countless great conversations over the years, some in the middle of the woods and some while he was in the hospital. A little over a year ago, he was in the hospital and we were talking about movies. We started talking about Tom Hanks. He and I, just like a ton of other people, are big fans of Tom Hanks. Tom is a fellow diabetic and he and I have the same birthday. Dad’s voice started to crack and he got tears in his eyes and said: “Jeremy, how could one man be so good at his craft? Tom hanks didn’t make a bad movie” When dad was talking about Hanks, It would immediately turn into a Kleenex commercial. Especially when he would talk about Tom hanks jumping on that huge floor piano in the movie “Big.” He looked at me like we are having the most important conversation in the world. And maybe for that moment, we were.
One night my dad and I were riding together in an old sports car. It was quite the sight with us two in that tiny car. We could have started a fire because we were shoulder to shoulder for miles. Later that night we had pulled over for gas. He was in a great mood. We were talking about life and whatever at the gas pump and he says” Jeremy, when I die, you tell everyone that your Dad had a good time.” That was the understatement of the decade. Big John had a good time, that’s for sure.
My dad had 3 rules- nobody gets hurt, don’t tear anything up, and to have fun. I think all of us here have witnessed different aspects of this in big John. It may not have always been obvious from the outside looking in, but this was a real creed that he lived by. I can see that in myself when I am trying to be a quality step dad. Seeing Broken glass on the street or the beach, this really got his blood boiling. “Jeremy, now what if some kid is walking barefoot and cuts their foot.” I couldn’t agree more and have said the same thing countless times. My dad often assumed the best about people. We have all heard him say”hey neighbor” to complete strangers. He believed in the golden rule.
I have spent a lot of time off Elliot Reeder road in Fort Worth. As many of you know, there is a row of junk yards there. I used to go there with him or a friend, and often alone, often looking for a used car part to keep a car running. One time a friend and I went through half a junkyard looking for a brake part. I also can remember being on top of a mountain of used tires in the rain that was at least 20 foot tall trying to find that used tire size for a trailer we had. It looked like some kind of cross fit exercise before cross fit was a popular term, it was an absolute disaster. This was also before cell phones. So I would have to borrow the junkyard phone or go to a pay phone to call him at work to check in about the possible lack of progress I was making at the junkyard. At Bell Helicopter, he would always answer “inventory management, this is John Rudd”. I would give him a summary of what was going on. He would often encourage me to not give up, “Jeremy, go back out there and look around, I know they have a brake caliper for our Volkswagen. It’s out there somewhere Jeremy, just keep looking, this is a fairly common car, and I just can’t believe they don’t have one.” My angel of a mom often was the mediator and would attempt to make things better or maybe encourage dad to make a possibly more reasonable decision on our car repair goals.
Dad would often lend a helping hand. He truly cared about helping others, especially if they were down on their luck. He influenced me in the area of not judging a book by it’s cover. We never completely know what someone is going through. As a counselor, I keep this in mind daily, regardless of what someone sounds like, what kind of car they drive , or where they live, we never really know what the complete picture is. I go in with unconditional positive regard and so did my Dad. Dad would give people the benefit of the doubt. He would go into situations with good intentions and fairness. Our chaotic world can seem so damn overwhelming at times, especially with this pandemic. I often think a situation could use a dose of big John. He would often help bring me back to the present and reiterate the basics, and try to keep it simple, which was often very helpful. “Jeremy, it really ain’t that big of a deal”, this was a common term that he would use to bring us back down to the reality of the situation. These conversations between he and I about coming back to the basics, they weren’t always filled with puppies and sunshine, but he often got his point across.
For those of us that were lucky enough to see dad sing karaoke, wow that was really something. He would only sing one song, “What a wonderful world” by Louis Armstrong. He wouldn’t get on the stage, he would just go lean against it like he owned the place. It didn’t sound as flawless as Amstrong’s version, but man he gave it his all. We see these cliche slogans or signs in our society that often contain a lot of wisdom. The one that says sing or dance like nobody is watching, That was big John, he sang the hell out of that song and did it like no one was watching, he was cool with it either way.
John Delano Rudd, the eagle scout, the story teller. Husband, brother, a son, a dad, an uncle, a grandfather, a true friend, you were one of a kind. Your stories and spirit will always be with us until we join you on the other side. Thanks for everything, Dad, truly. We hope to see you again.
“And if you are offering me diamonds and rust, I’ve Already Paid.” Diamonds and Rust-Joan Baez, and covered by Judas Priest.