Good Night Dad
The four of your children have been talking about our memories this week, and I notice that home is wrapped around Bob Kief. Delray Street in Pekin, Illinois was the childhood everyone kid deserves. The house was small, but there was plenty of noise and just enough room. Neighborhood kids played American Bat Ball in the street running from passing cars. All knowing the man with the banjo and a monkey on his head watched over us and he would often play right along with the gang. We have celebrated the good fortune to have lived in a time and place when there was a community of parents watching each child, keeping us safe and making us fly right.
As the children of a firefighter, we belong to an even more elite group. Life was more than the challenge of racing our father to the telephone on the first ring or trying to get dressed before he ran out of the door. There was something deep in Dad’s career choices that helped mold each of us into who we are today. I will never forget a nightmare’s scream and my dad running out the front door and down the street in his underwear to save the imagined baby in the bushes. Once clarity returned, we shared a laugh and our home returned to sleep safe in the security of his presence.
We learned to respect the fear and fragility of life as each of us have stood on the porch and witnessing the sky glow orange from fire. There was an unspoken worry about when or if he, our Dad, would come home. Many nights mom received the call that he is hospitalized, again, with smoke inhalation. The smell of smoke and grit still will always give relief and the guarantee of another day.
Dad visited every school in Pekin, climbing ladders and teaching fire safety with amazing demonstrations and a showman’s flare. He joined Mother’s Club at Edison School to take young daughters to a Tea that was crucially important to my eleven-year-old self. Mom and Dad worked hard and protected us from much of the negativity of everyday life. We never heard an argument, and will always remember him putting our tiny mother on top of the refrigerator defusing anxiety with unexpected and outrageous good humor.
Each of us has been cradled in his strong arms when we were sick or heartbroken and he sang silly songs relaying a confidence in his children’s individual strength. He volunteered with Pekin high school athletics and decades later at my class reunion, I was asked repeatedly about my Dad as grey haired men shared cherished memories and lessons that lasted through lifetimes. He was always destined to be a teacher and we were not only witnesses but also beneficiaries of his legacy and love of education.
Acknowledging the gifts from our extraordinary father, the conversations have gone on for hours fueled by the recurring theme of laughter. We are irreverent, silly, bold and all agree that we were not only expected to dream but were also gifted with his confidence that we, the children of Bob Kief have the power to accomplish each goal. Every one of the four is different, Kirk is quiet and the artist, Penny is exuberant and the caregiver. Kathy appears more serious but has a wicked sense of humor and a passion for animals. I am the activist and social progressive. Bob Kief is written on each of our faces and his DNA constructs our souls. We were raised with honesty, loyalty, love and faith in our individual possibilities.
Our children reflect many of the incredible qualities of our father. His amazing humor continues to a third generation of great grandchildren. As the oldest, I sit back and see the kaleidoscope of this amazing man’s complex influence. Each child demonstrates their own brand of humor with a basic honesty that could only have come from one source. My father, our dad, a true original and the man who put the great in great grandfather.
Dad, I want you to rest confidently knowing that there are three generations with more to come that notice the alternative exits at every gathering and will step up with pride of being part of you. Robert W. Kief, the definition of honor and a genuine good man. I love you Dad, you will never be forgotten.