Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Hero, My Friend, My Father

Jai Hyun Ryu

27 October 1940 - 11 October 2006
Not to be forgotten, I want to take a minute to honor a man that I loved and admired in so
many ways. Here are a few words about my dad from the memorial service.

27 October 2006.
Truly a hero to all those who came into contact with him, my dad will always be remembered for his love of family, courage, hard work and dedication to teaching, and so much more. There is not enough time to go through all of the qualities that made him such an amazing man, but I would like to highlight just a few.

Love for his family - To watch my mom and dad together was to witness true love in its purest form. They worked through everything together and their love for one another was evident in their every action - whether it was a kiss goodbye in the morning or the amount of thought put into a Christmas present, you always knew that Jai was the most important person in the world to Jacquie and Jacquie was the most important person in the world to Jai. Then along came his three girls, ultimately the cause of his white hair. No man has ever loved his children as much as my dad loved us. No matter how many times we got into trouble (which was a lot!), he was always there for us. As a stern father, he expected us to work hard in every endeavor and to always bring home straight A's. However, that sternness was always rewarded with praise from Dad when we accomplished our goals. He encouraged us to always challenge ourselves and was always there to support whatever decisions we made, providing his wisdom and guidance along the way. Dad's mentorship and unconditional love was the foundation that lies beneath the women that we are today. And how could I not mention the last great addition to the Ryu household - Jackson, the Super Jindo Dog. Dad loved that dog as much as he loved his children. I remember when Jackson was little and I would come home from college to visit my family. I always slept in the room downstairs directly below the kitchen when I went home. In dad's typical fashion, he rose at 4:30am and one morning I thought I'd heard him talking to someone. I knew that mom was still asleep, so I quietly went upstairs only to find that dad was having a very serious conversations with Jackson about the day's news report. With all three of his daughters out of the house, Dad finally had another boy around to keep him company.

Courage - from his childhood to the last moments of his life, Dad displayed courage rarely found in people these days. At the beginning of September, after he had been diagnosed with cancer, I was about to return home from Iraq in order to spend two weeks of leave with him. When I got to Dewey, I was shocked to see how much weight he had lost and how frail he looked. Now, most people would have been disheartened or scared by the diagnosis he received from the oncologist - not my dad. He was determined to fight as hard as he could to beat this. After all, he had beaten the odds 36 years ago when both of his kidneys failed and he had his transplant, despite the fact that the doctors thought he would only live a little while longer. During my leave period, I went to a doctor's appointment with him and watched as he listened patiently to what the treatment would consist of, asked questions, and said to my mom, "I will do whatever it takes to beat this". That's our dad, the most stubborn man I know. He displayed a physical and moral courage throughout his life that made me admire him more than he ever knew.
Hard work and dedication to teaching - Dad was one of the hardest working individuals I have ever known, whether he was doing yard work, writing a research grant or tutoring Julie in math (a task that required not only hard work, but a lot of patience too!). The example he set for Juilette, Jennifer, and me is a direct result of who we are today. During his time at Spring Ridge Academy (a school for troubled girls), where he taught high school math, he impacted the lives of so many girls. Even after starting his chemotherapy, Dad spent countless hours at the computer ensuring that his lesson plans for the entire week were typed out for whoever would be substituting for his classes. He wanted to ensure that the girls would not fall behind in their classes while he was going through his treatment, never taking a day off (to include the weekends, where he again spent hours at the computer typing up his notes, just in case he wouldn't be able to make it to school).
Those girls meant the world to Dad and knowing that he was impacting their lives gave him a great purpose in life. When I would call home from Iraq to talk to him, he always had a funny story to share about his students...usually describing them as "Good or Bad Apples". I was able to go to school with him while I was visiting home and was about to witness first hand how important he was in the lives of his students. In his own unique way he reached out to everyone of his students in an individual way, reminding them that they could turn their lives around just by learning geometry or algebra. He was convinced that a good grade in math would get them on the right path.
The best way to describe his dedication to teaching is by sharing a story with you about the last day he spent at SRA. On the morning that he had his heart attack, Dad took Jackson out for his normal 6am walk. Although his shoulders were really tight and he was having some chest pain, he wouldn't neglect Jackson. As he walked him down the street, as usual, he picked up five of his neighbors newspapers and carried them up to their doorsteps (something he did every day for them). At the corner, he became very tired and sat down on the curb to rest for a minute. When he reached the house, he sat down on the front steps and mom said, "Honey, why don't you stay home from school today; you look tired." To which Dad replied, "No, the girls need me and I'll be ok." He went to school and taught all day long (though his students did mention that he nodded off a few times in class). Once school was over, he drove home and my mom finally convinced him to go to the hospital. So dedicated to his students, Dad had spent the entire day teaching, all while suffering a heart attack. To me, this story epitomizes the man that he was - selfless, dedicated to his students, tough as nails, and the most courageous man in the world.

Dad, I could only have asked for one more thing from you and that would be to have more time with you here on earth. You have taught me more than you'll ever know and you will always be the yardstick that I will measure myself against. Thank you for always being there for us. Thank you for the difference you made in so many lives. Thank you for continuing to watch over Mom, Juliette, Jennifer and me. You made the world a better place to live in and we will carry you in our hearts always. I love you and Happy Birthday.
Dad, you have no idea how much you are missed. You'll be happy to know that Jackson is still happy and healthy and doing well in Michigan. We do our best on a daily basis to live up to the expectations you set for us so early on in our lives. We love you.

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