Tom Brink

My earliest memory of my father is feeling him lifting me up over his head and putting me on his shoulders at some sort of Fourth of July party. I could have not have been more than a year and a half old — he took the tiny American flag from my little hand and gave it to my mom so I wouldn’t poke him with it, and then tried to get me to wrap my arms around his head….I would have none of this and instead insisted on holding onto his hair, which he gracefully tolerated.

My early life was in a single-wide trailer in California. My father received free rent on the trailer in exchange for also being night security at a small-town airport. He also worked as a mechanic at the FBO there at the airport; he would spend his days fixing airplanes and his nights periodically walking the perimeter. He worked so hard to keep the wolves at bay an provide for our tiny family. Working as an aviation mechanic, he was exposed to butanone and tetraethyllead from the waste avgas used as solvents to clean parts. Back in those days there was a very cavalier attitude surrounding these substances and they were commonly used for everything from scrubbing parts to cleaning grease stains. In the end, it was these compounds that would set in motion the cascade that took his life.

Yet, before that unfortunate end, he started his own aviation hardware business. Some of my earliest memories are of playing in a play pen surrounded by shelves of parts. As his business grew, I grew along with it and was taken to trade shows. I first learned to work with CAD software (good old-fashioned TurboCAD) while watching my father make the technical drawings for his reference books. I would spend summers in middle school working in the warehouse doing inventory or packaging parts. His business grew quite successful as he made a name for himself in the industry — every aircraft repair business in the United States has one of his reference books as a resource in their shop. His knowledge of aircraft hardware was second to none, and he was never too busy to talk to the old duster pilot stepping in to buy a handful of parts or to the government of some nation buying an entire shop’s worth of hardware. To him, the most important part of his business was always the people.

On the side of his delivery van, he had a bible verse in cut vinyl…

“Let all things be done decently and in order.”

from 1st Corinthians, chapter 14, verse 40

This was his overriding ethos in everything that he did. If something was going to be done, he was going to do it the right way, no matter how much extra work or pain that might require. It was a sign of his unswerving dedication to integrity, honesty, and transparency in everything that he did. While there are many areas we did not see eye-to-eye on, this was not one of them. While I am not particularly religious, this ethos forms the backbone of my own work I do. His focus on the people he worked with has bled over and set an example for everything that I do with the communities within which I work.

Even as my father lay on his deathbed, his strength and determination to cling to life was evident. With five years of dementia gnawing at his brain, leeching his memories away, reducing the strong competent hands — the hands that cradled me as a baby and taught me how to tie fishing knots — to quivering and uncoordinated shadows, he began to fade. His quirky sense of humor was replaced by a fear and growing awareness of his own diminution. While his body and mind failed, his spirit clung to life. The last week, while he was unconscious, was filled with seizures, coughing, hiccups, and all sorts of frailties as the last vestiges of his brain died. When he finally passed, it was with a deep breath and a sigh of relief…one final breath and he was still. In the cool night under the northern sky, he slipped away and headed into the air to soar free and unencumbered for the first time in years.

My last memory of him was me brushing his brown hair — with not a streak of gray in it — away from the same forehead I had held as a child in the moments just after he passed. Though he is no longer with my family in body, his commitment to honesty and integrity remains. On this Father’s Day, I miss my father deeply, but I know that he lives on in me as I live on, decently and in order.