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Editor's Notebook: Lifelong lessons from Dad

Editor's Notebook: Lifelong lessons from Dad

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The lifelong lessons my dad taught dealt with learning how to work and think.

As kids on the farm, my siblings and I learned to work at his side. He never really told us what to do. Instead, he expected us to see what jobs needed to be done and to do them.

Finishing this column is a job that needs to be done, and I’m writing it to honor my dad, Tom Steinbach of rural Osceola, who died Wednesday of a heart attack at age 69.

A born farmer, Dad started a business — he hauled manure at hog and dairy farms — after he and Mom were forced to quit farming 20 years ago. He may not have always understood why his oldest son wrote newspaper stories for a living, but I’ve never doubted that he was proud of me. In his way, he would often joke that we both made our living by spreading manure.

But he would understand why I’m writing this even though he was never someone who made a fuss and all he knew about newspapers is what he read in them.

A few hours before mom called Wednesday with the saddest news of my life, I had put this page together and left an open space for my column. I left a job to do, you see. And, in my family, when a job needs to be done, you do it even if it means typing through tears.

I had planned to spend Thanksgiving morning writing a different column for today. But then everything changed — except that it really hasn’t. The last time I talked to Dad on the phone, he said he and Mom weren’t going to a family Thanksgiving dinner in Ankeny because he didn’t want to take that much time off.

A heart attack four years ago followed by quadruple bypass surgery slowed Dad down. But he still often worked seven days a week, a schedule he had kept for most of the 50 years since he dropped out of college and started farming full time with my grandparents. And he was planning to work on Thanksgiving Day for one of his longtime and best customers on a farm near Bloomfield.

That’s where they found his body Wednesday. He hadn’t moved his pickup all day and the farmer for whom he was working found Dad in the farmhouse where he had been staying.

It’s fitting that Dad died while he was working on a farm in southern Iowa. He died on a sunny and unusually warm November day. In his book, it would have been a good winter day, because, as I’ve heard him say many times: “The sun is shining and the wind isn’t blowing.”

For more than 43 years, my parents, Tom and Jo Ann, had more good days than bad with me, my brothers, Scott and Doug, and my sister, Susan. And that’s what I will always remember.

Many of you have experienced the cold emptiness I’m feeling today even if you didn’t have such a public forum to tell everyone how much you’re going to miss your old man. There is nothing unique about my grief.

But Dad was one of a kind — beginning with the nickname we called him, which can’t be printed here. It says much about the kind of man he was. I’ve never known anyone else like him. He died far too soon.

In the more than 20 years since I left the nest, I can only remember telling my parents once that I love them. My family is not big on that sort of thing, but I know my parents have always known — the same way I’ve always known. Dad didn’t have to say it. His actions always said more than he ever said with words.

Life will go on, but it will be different without him. It’s unimaginable. But my parents, my siblings and I lived together through some very tough times that were mixed in with the good. We’ll move ahead. There will always be a chore or a job to complete, and Dad would expect the members of his family to know that and not waste a lot of time grieving for him.

Reach Editor Chris Steinbach at 563-262-0535 or


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