11 August 2012

Great American Cowboy

I want to tell you about my dad. There's way too much I want to say for this to have any hope of being a short post, so I'll give you a second to grab a snack or go to the restroom first.


Randall Kent Welch
Welcome back. So yeah. My dad. Randy. That's him over there, looking quite dapper in the hat Linnea and I brought back from Ireland for him.

He loved to laugh, especially at bad puns and life's many ironies. A disbelieving groan was the ultimate repayment for his favorite jokes. From his wit, I learned the tale of the frayed knot, the relative hunting prowess of children in Native American culture1, and that, though I knew it not myself, my nose and feet gave away my poetic leanings (they're long fellas, you see).

He loved to be surrounded by family and friends. He took great pride in his family, and loved to spend time talking with and listening to and loving everyone. He would have dozens of people over to play gospel music in his living room because he loved to see everyone and share laughter and music with them.

Reading at our wedding

He loved Jesus, and loved to share his own miraculous story with others, so that they - like my entire family - might know absolutely that miracles still happen. He received a heart transplant that saved his life many years ago. When he was placed on the waiting list for a donor heart, his doctors were not confident that they would be able to find one for him before the virus attacking his heart ran its ultimate course. By the same time the next day, he was sitting up in bed telling us that his new heart was so loud that it was keeping him from sleeping. Even then, I remember being told that there was no guarantee that he would make it long enough to see me graduate high school, much less see me married or get to meet my children. He apparently took that as a challenge, and did all three. Just three years ago, he surprised everyone again by surviving an aortic aneurysm and dissection - the latter of which was prevented from killing him outright by the scar tissue his heart transplant had left in its wake. That's just two of the absolutely unbelievable miracles he experienced, and he thanked God for the gift of time he was given.

He loved to write. For years, he wrote a daily worship thought - he called them the "Daily Torch" - that he shared with anyone who wanted to read it. I still have years' worth of them in my email archives, all of which I plan to read someday. He wrote songs, some of which he sang only once or twice in my recollection, and some others that we sang all the time, both as a family and later in his band. He even started working as a freelance writer, and was published in a smattering of places - I even seem to recall that he was working toward an article with Texas Monthly at one point.

Playing his bass fiddle
He loved music. I grew up listening to him sing and play - guitar, bass, and occasionally even banjo. He had a rich baritone voice and a love for the songs and stories of days gone by. The soundtrack of my childhood was provided by his love of country and American folk, but what I'll remember most about my father's music is the band he helped start (and that I later joined), Cowboys At Heart. Many of my favorite memories with my father come from the music we shared, and my passion for my chosen genre of Irish music is one he himself inspired when we discussed putting together a show that traced the Irish and Scottish roots of the Cowboy music we both loved. C@H only released one cassette tape, but today I converted that to digital so that I could make it available for anyone who wants to listen.

He taught me so much - how to sing; what it means to be a father; how important family is; how to play guitar; how to solve problems; how to pray; the full extent of love; when to be strong and when to ask for help. 

His was a life regularly punctuated by medical trials. Each of his knees had been twice replaced by the time I graduated high school, both of which gave him grief. He had two steel rods placed in his back, both of which had broken at some unknown point in time, adding 'chronic back pain' to his list. The surgery to repair the aneurysm in 2009 paralyzed his left vocal cord and the left side of his diaphragm, leaving him unable to sing (but that didn't stop him from recording a song with me). He's been in constant pain of one type or another for the better part of three decades, and through it all, he kept going. For family. For music. For his writing. For laughter. For the glory of God.

Cowboys at Heart
On 10 August 2012, he left all his pains and burdens behind. I will mourn the loss of a great man - though I've had 12 years to mentally prepare for his passing, no amount of preparation is equal to the loss of a father and dear friend - but far greater is my happiness in knowing that he will hurt no longer. I will always remember my father as the modern-day cowboy: a legend, a leader, and the Lord's witness here on earth.

I can think of no finer way to end this post than with his own words (with one minor tweak), from a song he wrote in 1993.

Lord, bless this cowboy; wrap him up in your arms
He's riding your range now, far away from life's harms
When we go out at night, he'll look down from above
As he rides this new range, let him feel his family's love
Mother's Prayer by Randy Welch

Welcoming Eleanor to the world

You can see where I get my rugged good looks

* If you're interested about the title of the post, it's from this song, by one of dad's favorite bands, the Sons of the San Joaquin.

1 - There's a bad joke ahead. No, seriously. Read on at your own risk. You've been warned.
Many moons ago, a son was born to the wife of Hippopotamus, the most revered chief on the plains. As luck would have it, sons were also born to the wives of two other chiefs on the very same day. The three braves grew up as comrades, but also as friendly rivals, for each felt the burden of leadership looming, and knew that he must prove himself in order to live up to the legacy of his father. 
Many winters passed, and all three braves - on the very same day - went through the customary rites of passage into manhood. They were sent out from camp, alone, with only tools and weapons they themselves had made, to bring back food for the camp. 
The Hippopotamus waited anxiously for his son's return. Many hours passed, and a messenger brought back news from the first of the other tribes - the chief's son had returned, bearing with him two fine deer. Soon thereafter, a messenger arrived from the second tribe, to report that that chief's son had - as well - returned with two deer, and his father was most pleased. In time, the remaining son returned to his tribe, bearing with him on a makeshift litter four deer, which he presented to his father, who shone with pride. 
The Hippopotamus embraced his wife and turned to the messengers. "Take this message back to your chiefs: Let it be known that the son of the squaw of the Hippopotamus is the equal of the sons of the squaws of the other two tribes."