Today we buried my father. Ernest John Becker was an amazing, yet humble man. He was a leader in the Spokane community, serving on many civic, Gonzaga University, and church boards. He was the managing partner at the biggest accounting firm in the city. Yet, at least with his kids, he didn’t talk about these things. To us kids, he was just Dad.
Dad grew up in Colton, Washington, a small farming community near Pullman. Actually, he grew up on a farm several miles outside Colton. He was one of 14 children. The farm was at the base of Bald Butte, a rounded chunk of bedrock sticking several hundred feet above the rolling hills of the Palouse. Several years ago, I talked with Dad about his life, and he said that Bald Butte was his favorite place. It held great memories for him of growing up on the farm, and he still liked to visit the Palouse and Bald Butte when he got the chance.
He eventually left the farm, joining the Army and serving in the Korean War. He didn’t talk much about those days, at least to me or my siblings. After three years in the Army, he returned to Washington and attended Gonzaga University, earning a degree in accounting. About that time, he married my mother, and together they started their own large family. I am one of seven children; the oldest boy, third oldest overall.
Over the past week, all of us shared photos of Dad. I have all the old slides that Mom and Dad shot from the late 1950s through the 1980s. I went through several hundred, and scanned quite a few to share with my brothers and sisters. One brother made photo collages for the reception after the service; I made a slide show of Dad’s life. There were several shots of Dad proudly holding his first baby son back in 1959 and 60, and I couldn’t help but think today, that now I was carrying him as one of the pall bearers.
I suppose I got my love of photography from him. While growing up, whenever we took a trip, Dad had his camera out, taking photos of the family and the scenery. I don’t know when he got his first camera, I never had the chance to ask, but I did scan one photo of Dad as a young man, perhaps 20 years old, camera in hand. My mother also took a lot of photos, so perhaps I came to photography from both sides.
Dad also bestowed his love of nature on me (and my siblings). Every year he’d load up the station wagon and hitch up the tent trailer, and off the nine of us would go to explore the American west. I remember trips to Glacier National Park, the Oregon coast, Arches National Park, Yellowstone, the west coast of Vancouver Island, and southern California.
He loved to travel. A few years after my mother died, Dad met and fell in love with my stepmom, Anita. There eight years ago, when Dad was 81 years old. Together they discovered the wonders of Europe and Hawaii during multiple trips. In between the trips, they enjoyed life in Spokane. It was wonderful to see him so happy in his later years.
I’m like him in so many ways – the photography, love of nature and travel, quiet by nature – and I must have been told 20 times today at the funeral that I look just like him. Which is good, I guess, since I think he was a handsome man. Perhaps you agree? The photo above is one I took about two years ago, at Bald Butte in fact. It was probably the last time he was there. The one below is his high-school portrait – then the year he left the farm and Bald Butte behind to make his way in the world.
He died about two weeks ago, and I still have a hard time believing he is gone. He was the very definition of a good man – humble, loyal, steadfast, smart, and generous. And while, perhaps, a little bit of him lives on in me, in my memories and my genes; I will miss him. Rest in peace Dad.