A number of people have expressed sadness at my father’s passing.
And yes, it is definitely sad to lose your father at any age.
But this is a case worthy also of happiness and celebration. My father lead a rich, long life. He died as peacefully as we could have hoped for, and in the company of loved ones.
I choose to celebrate his life. I choose to feel a deep gratitude for the gifts I’ve received from him. I choose to remember not only most the recent years but the years he truly was my father and the stories of what came before.
I choose to be happy and thankful.
My father was born in 1916 on a small farm in a rural part of Holland. He had both a brother and a sister. His father passed away at an early age.
His first job? I’m told he was an assistant in a women’s shoe store in the city of Utrecht. Not at all what I would have expected.
While he completed only the equivalent of grade school, he learned a trade and became a machinist. It was as a machinist at a machine shop in the town of Breukelen that he would go to a nearby cafe, and where he met my mother, one of the cafe owner’s daughters.
He became foreman at that machine shop, at least, as I understand it, until World War II broke out. He and my mother delayed any plans they might have had until after the war.
During the war my father was in the Dutch army, teaching, among other things, and for lack of a better term, motorcycle based combat: things like firing weapons while riding using your motorcycle as a shield.
At one point, he and his brother Jan were captured by the Germans occupying Holland. Seeing an opportunity, they took it; they could die trying to escape, or they could face certain death by remaining prisoners. They ran like hell and found freedom once again.
More than a machinist, my father was an engineer. Even before leaving Holland he and his brother worked on very early designs for something we take for granted today here and in Holland: windmills to generate power. Not the classic and picturesque Dutch windmills, but aerodynamic mills that even today wouldn’t seem that out of place anywhere.
After the war in 1947 my father and mother married. Four years later they found themselves immigrating to Canada. The details are hazy; whether it be a dispute with the Dutch government, or a business deal gone bad, heading to Canada was their answer. The S.S.Washington took them to Halifax landing March 1, 1951. Their first residence was Calgary, where my father discovered his bitter dislike for the bitter cold. Not long after they found Victoria, British Columbia.
My parents wanted six children, and I was the only result in 1957. On reflection, I’m fairly certain that six was really my mother’s idea, because my father never did seem all that comfortable around children. I think six would have been a challenge for him, to put it mildly.
In 1960, on my third birthday, we immigrated to the United States. A vague fragment of a story is that immigration was allowed or at least made easier for certain occupations: preacher and organist. When he couldn’t find work as a machinist my dad had many and varied jobs including vacuum cleaner salesman, insurance salesman and in fact he had been an organ salesman. Organist wasn’t much of a stretch, since he was certainly no preacher.
Nine months in Missoula reminded my father of that whole distaste for cold thing, and as a result, after a brief return to Victoria, we ended up in Kirkland. A job as a machinist and he was once again practicing his true trade.
If you’ve ever looked closely at my father’s nose, you’ll note a small divot, for lack of a better word. That, and the loss of hearing in one ear, was the result of an accident at work. While running a metal lathe at high speed the chunk of steel he was working on came loose and flew into his face. I still have memories of the late night ride to the hospital even though I was perhaps 4 or 5 at the time.
Not long after he left hands-on machine shop work to form a small company with a business partner where he designed among other things advanced hydraulics, resulting in a patent or two. The result was used in equipment that they sold to Boeing. For many years of 747 construction it was my father’s hydraulic lifts that got assembly men up to the underside of jumbo-jet wings.
Fortunes turned and he found himself back as a machinist at Rocket Research in Redmond. Even there there’s a legacy since it’s very possible that some of my dad’s work is far, far out in space: components for some of NASA’s space probes were manufactured there during his tenure.
While working at Rocket Research my father’s entrepreneurial side was also blossoming. In his spare time he was working up a manufacturing and design consulting practice that would last him the rest of his career. Drafting boards and a small machine shop filled the lower floor of our home on Kirkland’s Rose Hill. For the better part of perhaps 15 years he worked at home keeping his mind active, and staying out of my mother’s hair.
The earliest sign I can really point to of his impending Alzheimer’s was his work on his own project which was quite literally a perpetual motion machine. Convinced in many ways that formal education limited the perspectives of others (not too far a leap, I must say), he rejected any objections to the idea. It was his last project as he slowly realized that he was no longer able to safely operate the machinery required for his task.
His last years at home were peaceful, though naturally frustrating for my mother. She took care of him until a few months before her death in 2003. After falling and breaking his hip, he received excellent care at Providence Marianwood, a long term care facility until his death.
I get much from my father … like him, I’m an engineer. Like I suspect he really felt, I didn’t want six children. And like him I love my coffee.
He valued work and purpose, and that’s something I hope I learned from him. He told me on more than one occasion that he didn’t really care what I became; even if I was to become a ditch digger, as long as I was the best damn ditch digger I could be, he would be happy.
He loved my mother more than I think she understood or could accept. Though it was a quiet devotion, it was a strong one that he spoke of to me on several occasions. In many ways it was a true blessing that his Alzheimer’s had progressed as far as it has by the time she passed. He would have been miserable had he known. In fact on three separate occasions he did realize, and he was miserable. Thankfully he would wake up the next day blissfully, and thankfully, unaware once again.
It was my mother that wanted me to go to college. My dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps and learn a trade. In a way I did both. I know that in the end, while my father never really understood what it was I did for a living, he appreciated its magnitude and understood its relationship at least to the engineering mind. I know he was proud, and I’m grateful he was able to see and understand at least that much.
My father is survived … well, by me. He outlived his siblings and all of his contemporaries. He was the last of his generation in my family.
– Leo A. Notenboom
November 24, 2007
First, thank you for being here. I know many of you didn’t really know my father, and your being here today means a lot to both Kathy and myself.
I’ve written at length about my father on a memorial web page that I hope you all have a chance to read sometime. I put up both pictures and a brief chronicle of his life.
One of the things I said there, and something I’ll reiterate here, is that while losing my father has of course been a very sad and significant event in my life, I’m choosing not to grieve his departure as much as celebrate his life.
My father lead a rich, long life. It was a full life. 91 years and then some. He died as peacefully as we could have hoped for, and in the company of loved ones.
I choose to feel a deep gratitude for the gifts I’ve received from him. I choose to remember not only most the recent years but the years he truly was my father and the stories of what came before.
Some brief themes to those 91 years:
- A farm boy.
- A machinist.
- Meeting my mother at a nearby café.
- The Dutch Army in World War II.
- Training motorcycle marksmanship.
- Being captured by the Nazis … and escaping.
- 1947: A husband.
- 1952: Packing up and moving to another continent.
- An engineer.
- A salesman.
- 1957: A father.
- An entrepreneur.
- A coffee drinker.
- Even a philosopher at times.
- An example and an inspiration.
My father was or experienced all those things and much more over the course of his life.
In many ways, due to his Alzheimer’s, I’ve been slowly losing, an as a result slowly grieving, my father for many years. I’m particularly grateful for the care he received during his final years and that they were as comfortable and as peaceful as they were.
One of the down sides to living a long life, as my father did, is outliving your contemporaries. My dad outlived every one of them – his brother and sister, my mother, his friends and business partners. He outlasted every one of my aunts and uncles from both sides of my family – he was, for me, the last of his generation.
Of course he will be missed.
But he is a part of me, and he will be honored and remembered.
– Leo A. Notenboom
January 12, 2008