Larry Connatser, my dad, was a man of great character. A veteran of the US Navy and the Vietnam war, son of a veteran of the US Army and Korean war, and grand son of a veteran of the US Navy and World War 2. I was destined to be military, and was on my way to Annapolis in 1992, but that is another story. This post has nothing to do with my work, any programming technology or design. Rather this post is in remembrance of my dad, who passed away 15 years ago today of a single massive heart attack. He was 49.
It was September 23, 1996, I was in college and living in the dorms at East Tennessee State University. I was one of those college students that really just got by. I didn’t study hard, and I really didn’t know why I was in college. I was the proverbial first family member to attend college, and an only child. Growing up where I did in Northeast Tennessee meant two things, get a degree and try to escape or get stuck in the line worker mud and hope to retire from Eastman Chemical Company or other local factory. So basically I was taking for granted that my dad was shelling out my college tuition in hopes that I would do better than him. He had a hard life growing up in the 50s, went in to the US Navy at 17 in 1964 just in time to ship off to Vietnam. Now at 37, I can’t imagine a 17 year old sailing half way across the world to fight a war he never really understood. It’s hard to think that my oldest son, now 7, is just 10 years from being the age my dad was when he was determining the coordinates to relay to the fighter pilots on where to drop napalm, or to his own destroyer on where to drop depth charges.
Once out of the Navy, sometime around 1975, he went to work full time for the US Postal Service as a mail clerk. He worked for the USPS for the rest of his life, day in day out doing the same thing. He worked hard and moved up the ranks until he finally earned a Post Master position in the small town of Telford, TN. This was around 1994. We lived in Bristol, TN at the time, which was roughly 40 miles of back roads from Telford. So, he drove every week day and most Saturdays to Telford, leaving at 5AM and returning close to 7PM that night. During all of this time he still found a way to keep me in the Boy Scouts, pushing me to earn Eagle, outfitting me for football, baseball, basketball and track for nearly 16 years, all without complaint. My dad never really showed emotion, quite possibly a military trait, so I never saw the stress taking its toll. Like most people in our area, he was a smoker, and from what I know since the age of 13…which ultimately claimed his life.
I never really grew apart from my dad, even after going off to college. I came home on the weekends, and always had lunch each Sunday before heading back to school for the week. So it was hard for me to accept a phone call from my mom on Monday night, September 23, 1996. Heather (my wife) and I were in my dorm room studying when the call came in. A panic call, mumbling something about dad being found face down in a parking lot. So we hurried to my Jeep, tearing down I-26, running every red light to get to the hospital. Once I got there I was briefed that he had suffered a massive heart attack and was found by a man who gave him CPR and was able to revive him. During the next week he improved, had another heart attack, and made it through a quadruple by-pass but never regained consciousness. During his stay in the hospital nothing else really mattered to me. I didn’t attend class, didn’t go to work, didn’t really care. Then on Monday 9/30/96 he finally gave out, kidneys failing and body giving in. We decided to let him go late that night, I am not sure the exact time. This was 15 years ago to the day, which is so hard to believe. I was 22, my girlfriend (now wife) was 19, and my kids were at least 8 years from even being considered.
I am writing this post to finally tell the story and to help remember who my dad was. This turn of events in my life made a big difference. I returned back to college in 1998, now with more passion, and by 2000 I had earned not only my Bachelor’s of Science but also a Master’s of Science in Engineering. Losing someone at that time in life can mature a person fast, which may be the reason the last 15 years has been a blur. My wife and I have been together since 1991, married since 1997. We have two sons, 5 and 7, that I would do anything for and will make sure they remember me like I remember my dad. Each day it gets harder to remember my dad, but to this day I still carry his TN Drivers license and a crisp $2 bill he gave me in my wallet.