A simple “Thank you”

When you’re a young teenager, you absolutely hate everything your parents tell you.

“It’s for your own good!”
“If you don’t listen to me, you’ll regret it!”
“Listen to your father/mother!”

Back then, it was probably easy to catch yourself frustrated and upset because your parents didn’t understand you and they sure as hell didn’t understand where you were coming from. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20.

I found myself doing this quite often when I was younger. I vehemently resisted everything my parents told me — down to the simple stuff like brushing your teeth at night before bed and taking out the trash when it was full. I didn’t want to listen to them not because I was lazy or out of it, but because it was incredibly difficult to imagine that they knew more about me than I did and about what I was thinking or feeling. Why wouldn’t they let me go to the movies with my friends that Friday night to see The Sixth Sense? How could they deny me my freedom and life? Well, turns out, they had good reason to do a lot of what they did. In fact, I’d go insofar as to say that almost the entirety of what my parents advised and consulted me to do was incredibly useful. I wish I had listened to it more often instead of resisting it all.

And now, in 2016, I am incredibly disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to tell them “Thank you”.

In about two months, my mother, Tracey Ann Andersen, will have been dead for an entire year. Later this summer, it’ll have been four years since my father, Dennis Arthur Andersen, died. It’s a peculiar thing, to realize that your mother and father are no longer here and can no longer offer you that incredible sage advice that I only recently began to appreciate. It’s a peculiar thing, to imagine that your mother and father are no longer able to criticize you when you’ve done or said something wrong. And it’s an even more peculiar thing, to comprehend that the dialogue that you would have had with them about your 4.0 in graduate school can’t actually take place.

Of all the “10 things I wish someone had told me when my father/mother died” articles online, you name it, I’ve probably read it. I’ve probably scoffed my way through the clickbait-ridden article because it didn’t relate to me and certainly didn’t take into account the uniqueness of my situation. Why would it? They were pieces written by authors that clearly had good intentions but didn’t resonate with me because they weren’t for me. Selfish, I know. But why then, out of all the things I could be doing would I be sitting here, in front of the warm glow of the LCD screen with my fingers engaging the mechanical switches of my keyboard, writing another piece that couldn’t possibly resonate or make anyone feel emotion? Well, that’s simple. Same as for those other authors — it’s incredibly cathartic. And, selfishly once again, it feels good to pretend that maybe, somewhere out there, someone might read this and possibly not make the mistakes that I made growing up. Someone might actually realize that most of the advice — even if it is poorly delivered, as most parental advice is — that my parents gave me was genuinely in my self-interest… I just didn’t know it yet. And maybe, just maybe, they might reach out to their parents and tell them thanks, even if for just a moment.

My mother Tracey and I, alongside my father Dennis and my brother Ryan, on our porch in Morgan Hill, Calif.

I was never really that great at baseball. In fact, I never actually played baseball. I played tee-ball — a sad fusion of softball and baseball that is played by young children learning to play the sport. But, that’s not to say I didn’t love the game. I grew up following the Giants and the A’s, two of the local Bay Area teams. In my later adolescent years, I leaned more towards basketball and eventually hockey (still waiting on the Sharks to bring home the Cup), but I always loved baseball. It wasn’t until I moved out of my hometown of Morgan Hill to South San Francisco in the mid-2000s that I really started to love baseball. Later that decade, the Giants would win the World Series for the first time in what seemed like a million years. It was great and made me fall back in love with baseball.

But, despite what you might think, young boys don’t just come out of the womb and grow up interested in baseball. My Mom and Dad instilled that in me early on when they let me sign up for tee-ball and grab the Sports section of the San Jose Mercury News to lay out on the floor and read every morning while they read the front page and accompanying sections. They saw that I enjoyed it, but didn’t push it on me, nor did they force me to play anything. I wanted to play tee-ball. And it was fun. My brother played football and I played tee-ball and eventually basketball. There was no pressure on me from them, just support. And eventually, I got sick of sports and quit them entirely.

I was around 13 when I got my first guitar. It was a red Squier Stratocaster and it was given to me by my Dad. Over the next ten years, I would purchase two more and receive a couple as gifts. I would also join a band, tour the country, put out three records, and begin a side project that put out four of its own. It seemed like music was the best thing to ever happen to me. And for that, I have my Dad to thank.

When my Dad died in 2012, I realized very quickly how much of him was in me. He played the drums when he was younger, and I remember jamming with him, just one time, many years ago. I never knew it at the time, but it would be the only time my Dad saw me truly play guitar. He missed out on seeing my band’s over 100 shows that we played, and he even missed out on ever seeing me perform live. My Mom saw my band play once in Morgan Hill, and although she hated the music, she told me she was happy for me. At the time, I was mad at her for not being our #1 fan, but I now realize that was her way of showing her support. And in all fairness, that’s all I really needed. I only wish I would have known that back then. Again — hindsight is 20/20.

Some time before my Dad died, he left the above comment on a video of me performing songs from my side project in Mountain View in 2007. I remember seeing the comment in 2012 and almost deleting it because I was not speaking with him at the time. We weren’t speaking because we had gotten into an argument when he called me one night, drunk, and wanted to rant about politics and how I hadn’t finished college yet. Stupid, I know. But I’m glad I didn’t delete that comment. What I should have said at the time was “Thanks, Dad”. Instead, I chose to be the arrogant 25-year-old that I was and ignore the comment and continue on my silent streak with my Dad. This comment was the only physical realization I had of my Dad seeing me play guitar live… and I couldn’t even man up and call him and tell him “Thank you”. Looking back on it, I regret not reaching out to him. I should have listened to all those people over the years who told me, “You never know what could happen. Tell your parents you love them before its too late!” They were right.

It wasn’t just my love for music and baseball that is thanks to my parents, my love for education came from them, too. It took me many, many years to realize how much I truly loved and valued education, but my Mom and Dad slowly-but-surely instilled that love in me over time.

Yeah, they started out saying, “Go to school. Go to college. It’ll be good for you.” They even would tell me, “You have to go to college”, which is something I would later find out to not be true but instead thought was federal law for many years (oh, to be young again, right?). I used to tell myself, “Screw them. I’m not going to college and not going to do what they tell me to do! No way man!”

But when my parents divorced during my senior year of high school (2003), I instantly became overwhelmed with emotion. Not just from the divorce and the subsequent move to the other side of town and out of the house I grew up in, but from the question that haunted me every night before bed, “Now what?”

I took that question and thought long and hard about it for the months after high school. “Should I go to college? Would it be worth it? Sure, it had to be… my parents told me it would. But they got divorced and moved away from each other when they told me for my whole life that they loved one another. So… they’re liars. Right? Right. They can’t be trusted.”

But, one day, I sat up and said, “Screw it. Let’s try this college thing.” I enrolled at San Jose City College the following week and started taking my first class there in the Fall of 2003. It was a nearly hour-and-a-half ride to campus every day from Morgan Hill, since I had to take public transit because I was 16 and didn’t have my license yet. Or a car. But after taking the 68 to the Light Rail to the 25, I made it to my first college class.

Early on, I knew I wanted to major in English. I had fantastic English teachers my Junior and Senior years of high school (Mr. Repp was fantastic) who made me realize that hey, maybe I could teach this stuff. So, I started taking my general education classes that I needed and eventually embarked on the long journey to transfer to a university. It took an incredible amount of time (eight years), but I eventually transferred to San Francisco State University in 2011/2012. Upon arriving there as a transfer student, I declared English Education as my major and chose an emphasis in Linguistics. I knew a little bit about Linguistics from community college, but didn’t know much about it other than it was a scientific look at language. But, I went with it anyways. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my degree — or if I would ever even complete it.

My first full year of university came with the sudden death of my father. On July 27th, 2012, Dennis Andersen died in his home due to cardiac arrest. I was devastated. I didn’t know what to think, nor did I know how I would finish school in the fall. I contemplated dropping out of college, or at best just for the upcoming semester, but I didn’t. I’m not sure why I didn’t, but I think maybe it was because I could hear my Dad’s voice in my head asking, “Are you ever going to finish college? It’s been eight years, damn it!” Maybe I was scared that he’d be judging me and I would be upsetting the hell out of him if I stopped now. So, I continued.

When I received my diploma in the summer of 2014, I cried. My Mom had never gone to college but my Dad did. He went to Cal Poly and got his BS in Mechanical Engineering. How do I know that? Well, he told just about everyone when he met them for the first time. How inappropriate, right? That’s just the kind of guy he was. He was proud of his education to the point that it consumed him. He boasted about it, shoved it in other people’s faces, and even refused to talk to some of his old friends if they told him that a college education wasn’t important. It was one of his faults, sure, but damn if he wasn’t one of the smartest men I have ever met. Guess the arrogance came with the territory.

But I didn’t cry because I was scared of becoming like my Dad. It was just a Bachelor’s degree after all. I cried because he wasn’t able to be there with me to celebrate my achievement. Instead, I got together with my roommates in Long Beach, California — my new home — and got a drink at our local watering hole. It was bittersweet, but I knew my Dad was proud of me somewhere out there. My Mom, of course, was ecstatic and knew that my future goal of getting my MA in Linguistics from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), would be well worth it. I just wish the one person who valued education more than anything would have seen what I had done. He would have been so proud.

But I wouldn’t have gotten that degree if it wasn’t for my Dad. Even though he scoffed at me every time I told him, “Hey Dad, I want to teach English.” Even though he told me I wouldn’t make a dime teaching. Even though he told me that getting my degree in English would be a “mistake”. Even though he said all those things, I still credit my completion to him. I still owe my Dad for making me realize that not only could I do it, but I could make something of myself with that degree.

Thank you, Dad. Thank you so fucking much.

Leaving San Francisco for Long Beach in May 2014 was incredibly difficult. I was leaving behind a lot of great friends I had made over the years at Walgreens, Best Buy, and at San Francisco State. I was also leaving behind my extended family that lived in the East Bay and South Bay. I was saying goodbye to Morgan Hill for good. It was tough. But when I told my Mom I was moving away to get my Master’s at CSULB, she was very encouraging. “You can do it… just remember you’re a starving student! You’ll do great.”

It made her so happy to see how far — literally — I was willing to take my quest for a higher education. She told me that she didn’t know many people personally who had their Master’s, and that she knew it would help me out in the end. I agreed. So, I rented a U-Haul that was triple the size that I needed and drove all the way down to Long Beach in search of my Master’s degree in Linguistics.

The last time I ever saw my Mom was in September of 2014, when she was visiting with a friend in North Hollywood. I woke up at 4AM and drove from Long Beach to North Hollywood, which if you know the drive, is an absolutely terrible one. But, I made it to her hotel and spent the whole day with her. We sat in her hotel room talking about life, the universe, and everything in between. She seemed particularly interested in my new affinity for Linguistics and wanted to know about everything I was working on. I was so excited to tell her all about my project on Discourse Markers (so, well, like), which eventually has become the focus of my Master’s Thesis Project. It was an awesome day and one that I was ostensibly remember for many years.

A few months later, after the Christmas holiday, I reached out to my Mom for some help with a problem I was having.

As an adult, I had never asked my Mom for money. It just wasn’t something I did. And yet, five days after a Christmas holiday in which I wasn’t able to see her because she went out of town, my heart was racing as I went to text her. I was so embarrassed. I felt defeated. Why would a 28-year-old man ask his mother for money? After all she had done for me in my life by raising me and caring for me, why was I the one asking her for money after all these years?

The next month, my Mom refused my offers to pay her back the $150 she lent me. She was a selfless, loving, and caring person. It took 18 minutes from my first text to her to have $150 deposited into my bank account. She was at work that day, too. She had left work to go deposit money in person at the Wells Fargo near her work, just for me. My Mom knew I was in grad school and having a tough time with money, but still took it upon herself to jump at the chance to help me. I can never repay her — literally or figuratively — for that $150 and I’ll never forget what she did for me.

In March of 2015, my Mom took her own life in the room she was renting from a friend in Scotts Valley, California. I found out while I was tutoring student-athletes at school and naturally had to excuse myself from the rest of my shift. Why had she done this? Why had a selfless woman committed the most selfish act a human being can commit? Was it real? Were both of my parents dead before I even turned 30? What just happened?

Not only do I still owe my Mom $150, I owe her everything.

Thank you, Mom. Thank you so fucking much.

My beautiful mother, Tracey Ann Andersen, and handsome father, Dennis Arthur Andersen.

My parents were not just good parents, they were great parents. They gave my brother and I incredible childhoods and did everything in their power to make us happy, feed us, and care for us.

It’s been almost one year since my Mom died and almost four years since my Dad died, and not a day goes by where I don’t regret not being able to thank them one last time. Thank them for what they did for me. Thank them for giving me the childhood that some children dream of. Thank them for showing me the power of education and the love of music, technology, and sports. Thank them for showing me what compassion is. Thank them for opening doors for me I would have never been able to open on my own. Thank them for raising me.

I may not be a perfect man, nor will I likely ever be one. But I’ll be damned if I don’t strive to be a better version of myself every day. When my Dad died, I promised myself never to lose sight of what’s important and honor his life the best way I could. When my Mom died, I promised myself I would never forget her and I would love her forever.

Mom, Dad… wherever you are, I just want to say thank you.

Thank you endlessly.