Though I don’t know what day or time we will hold his memorial, I can promise you this: It won’t be during a Mariners or Seahawks contest. After all, Dad wouldn’t want his family to miss a game.
BY JON JOHANSEN
I won’t be able to show this piece to Dad. For, being stereotypical Scandinavians, we’ve never openly admitted to one another that his time on Earth is drawing to a close.
I finally realized this in late February. While Mariners pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, my father lay still in a South Sound hospital.
As a soundless sports update scrolled across the screen in Pa’s room, my 8-year-old son and I peered closely at Dad.
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In fitful slumber, my father’s birdlike legs shook with Parkinson’s … incrementally tugging down his white hospital sheets.
Young Jonathan gazed silently upon Grandpa through sky-blue eyes that are the exact same shade as my father’s.
“Well Boy,” I croaked, “I think we need to kiss ‘Far Far’ goodbye now.”
What I didn’t have the courage to add was, “probably for the last time.”
But then Dad’s eyes startled open. He frantically scanned back and forth till he met my gaze.
“Jon?” he queried, through a thick Norwegian accent.
“We got to get to the baseball game.” He leaned forward to sit up, but sank back in pain, his breath hissing through clenched teeth. Dang spinal fracture.
Recovering, his words turned urgent: “No, Son, we hawv (have) to get to the ‘Muh-REEN-ers’ game.”
Naturally, his only semi-lucid moment related to one of his beloved Seattle sports teams. For Dad may be the Seahawks and Mariners’ most unlikely, rabid fan.
Knut S. Johansen hid in the mountains when a Nazi blitzkrieg swept through his childhood valley. And he sat next to my four young children when the Super Bowl Seahawks bludgeoned the Broncos into the New York night.
In the time between those decades, Far Far became one of Seattle’s least-likely superfans, a passion he has passed on to my kids and me. I can track this journey through five photographs.
In a snapshot from the early 1940s, Dad squints near long grass. By then Papa had already seen far too much — dead soldiers in the local creek, the deaths of two siblings and gaunt prisoners marched past each day by German guards.
Fourteen winters passed, and dreams of America took hold.
The next image shows my father at age 20. He grins beneath his Air Force cap. Citizenship. Soon he’d meet Mom — the great granddaughter of passionate Irish immigrants.
Love. Marriage. Three children.
After bouncing around the western United States, Papa moved our family to Washington. He instantly became a rabid Seahawks and Mariners supporter, occasionally bellowing “Hey, hey, hey!” at trick plays involving portly kicker Efren Herrera, or springtime Bruce Bochte home runs.
Thirty-two more years slipped by.
The next shot is of him and me — a selfie at Safeco. The day? Felix Hernandez’s perfecto.
As we, upon arrival, descended the stairs to seats behind the visitor’s dugout, Pa didn’t notice how my hands gently gripped his forest-green backpack to keep him from falling. Dad’s straw hat covered a litany of faint skin-cancer scars.
After each Rays out, we exchanged awkward high-fives. Following Hernandez’s final pitch, while the hurler’s body contorted in skyward exultation, the crowd erupted so mightily that I had to lean in to hear Dad.
“I never thought I’d see (a no-hitter),” he whispered, before trailing off.
And I knew he meant, “… before I die.”
Twenty-nine months later. More strokes. More cancer. More Parkinson’s symptoms. But Super Bowl Sunday awaited.
Two more pictures.
Four year-old daughter Sarah requested face “deck-o-way-shuns (decorations)” and her older sister, Abby baked, Seahawks cupcakes. My boys sat next to their grandpa on the couch.
After the victory everyone left the room but Dad and me. We watched each highlight together. We didn’t want the evening to end.
The man my kids call “Far Far” smiled wistfully. Warped TV images played across the lenses of his large glasses, like so many powerful scenes from his life — a journey from Rognan, Norway, to Gig Harbor, Washington.
Recently and unexpectedly, Dad rallied back from the health crises that left him institutionalized. In April he returned home. Since then, on most Friday afternoons my kids and I make a special trip to see him and Mom. Even then, the Hawks and M’s are present.
During those visits, Dad sometimes struggles to keep his train of thought. Spaces between words hang awkwardly. Without fail, he and I fill those gaps with updates on Seattle’s teams. It keeps us from crying.
Though neither of us admits it, each wonders which Friday visit, or shared TV sports contest, will be his last.
When the date of his memorial service arrives, I’ll most likely give the eulogy. I’ll have many things to talk about, because to me, Dad represents the American Dream.
It’s likely my elementary sons will wear their cherished Russell Wilson jerseys, an unintended homage to Far Far.
Though I don’t know what day or time we will hold his memorial, I can promise you this: It won’t be during a Mariners or Seahawks contest.
After all, Dad wouldn’t want his family to miss a game.
Jon Johansen works as an assistant principal and school counselor in Gig Harbor. He used to work a lot of overtime, but after almost losing his son to cancer, he gets his rear end home and spends time with his beloved brood.
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