A Tribute to My Dad

After a courageous battle with cancer, my father, Mel Beckwith, passed away early in the morning on Thursday, March 3, 2016. 

Now I am left without a parent. I have great memories with my step-parents, and I have the most wonderful in-laws in the world, but still, both my parents, and all of my grand parents, are gone. My mother died more than 15 years ago, in an instant. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. Some days I still deal with the shock of losing her. Thankfully, I had more time with Dad, and more opportunity to say goodbye.

Dad was the second son of what would become a large family of seven boys. Uncle Larry came before him, followed by their late brother Jim, Mike, Bob, Pat and Brent. The Beckwith family was a big one and I have such wonderful memories of the times we spent at Grandpa and Grandma Beckwith's home in Fresno.

Dad was born in Sacramento in September 1941 and then spent many years of his youth in Utah, Nebraska, and Idaho before moving around throughout the country and then making a permanent home in Merced in 1982.

He married Brenda McCarley, Faith Bigelow and Carla Taylor and loved his many children: Lance, his late daughter, Angela, Ken, Tony, Michael, me, JR and Melissa, his 22 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Our father lived a life more full than his 74 years would seem. As a Beckwith, he was born with the gift of telling amazing stories. As kids, we all heard about his very early days picking potatoes in Idaho, about him being stricken with polio and wearing leg braces. About how he played high school football in Logan, Utah against football legend Merlin Olsen - Dad knocked him down on one play and got pummeled by him the rest of the game. Dad truly had the best “back in my day” and “when I was your age” stories. We remember when he was a business partner in a professional football team, the Sacramento Buffaloes. How he had success selling anything he could: cameras, home insulation, home solar systems (many years before it was popular), bibles, magazines and much more.

Dad had many different careers throughout his life until settling on the one most important to him, his calling, helping people get and stay sober, or as he would describe his profession: selling sobriety.

Dad began his life again as a sober man on August 26, 1985 and shortly thereafter began training to become a certified addiction counselor. He worked as an intern and counselor before opening Central Valley Addiction Center in 1994. Through the years, Dad helped hundreds of people struggling with their addiction to drugs and alcohol.

When the Modesto Bee and Merced Sun Star ran an article about Dad and his business in 1994 he said “Now I don’t have a penny in my pocket, but I’m happy."

In February 2012, Dad was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma. After meeting with his doctors he assembled his children and we discussed the treatment options. The prognosis was that the treatment would extend his life, but likely only add a few to several years, there was no cure. The rate of recurrence for this disease was very high. So, since 2012 we all knew the cancer would return someday and we just wanted Dad to have a few more years.

Dad began aggressive treatment at UCSF a couple of months later getting chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant, and weeks long stays in the hospital.

In late February 2013, one year after the diagnosis, Dad got the news we had all hoped for, he was cancer free. But he knew it wouldn't be for long. He took a lot more road trips, even recently hitting the road with his brother, Pat. Dad loved to get out on the road with his friends and family or by himself with his audio books and an ice chest full of Diet Pepsi.

Many years earlier, for his 60th birthday, I took him on a weekend getaway. I wouldn't tell him where we were going, he just wanted to know what to pack and to let him drive. I took him to Lake Tahoe for the weekend and we lived like kings. Many years later he would take many more road trips with his other kids and we all look back on those experiences with fondness.

In early February of this year, Dad drove himself to the hospital in Merced. He had not been feeling well, and given his past illness, he didn’t want to take any chances. A couple of days later he was transported to UCSF. One week later, doctors confirmed his mantle cell lymphoma had returned, as well as another form of lymphoma and luekemia. Any further treatment would be very hard on his body and with only the slimmest of odds of gaining even a few more months, Dad decided to discontinue treatment, just as he had discussed with us three years before. He was transported home 5 days later to live out his remaining days in comfort.

Twelve days after coming home to Merced, Dad took his final breath, early in the morning on Thursday, March 3.

Dad knew he was going to heaven, in that there was no doubt. Dad’s faith in Jesus comforted him a great deal in his final days. He approached his own mortality with strength, courage and the conviction that although he lived a life often in crisis, his personal relationship with God was strong and that he truly was going to paradise. Dad was defined by many things, his faith being one of the strongest of them.

Just before he began his first cancer treatment, I asked him if his life were the title of a book what would it be. He thought about it for a minute or so and responded, “Crisis After Crisis After Crisis”.

Sure, there was crisis in his life, but in the second half of his life, it was about him putting himself in front of the crises of other people.

In the days before he passed, he and I talked a great deal about his life and his impact on others. Never one to easily accept credit for his help, I believe he finally started to understand just how important he was to so many people. He was proud to have raised a loving family, proud to help so many people stay sober, but he was most proud that he brought people to Jesus.

Dad taught me about hard work and saving. When I was a teenager, I really wanted a guitar that I saw at Dorothy’s Music. He said I could go to work cleaning pools. We calculated that if I just worked for a few weeks that summer that I would have enough to buy that guitar. In the end, I worked my butt off and then dad still bought the guitar for me, letting me keep the money I earned. Dad also taught me the Bar-B-Q Pit has the best club sandwich and french fries in Merced and there was no use in trying to find any better.

Dad was a wonderful father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Dad taught me what it meant to be a Beckwith, to love and cherish your children, work hard, and have fun.

Dad also taught me to learn from crisis. And to not be afraid to help someone who’s having their own crisis. "We don’t know their situation, son”, Dad would often tell me of other people. We all have crises, and we should be warm and loving to everyone.

Of all of the lessons Dad taught me, I most appreciate him teaching me how to be a father and grandfather.

Having the time to say goodbye was one of the greatest gifts I could have asked for. I told him I appreciated all that he did for me, for always being there to help us kids. He simply said, “That's what parents do." Dad was always there for his kids, for anyone that needed a hand.

Dad lived his life for his family and friends. Everyone that ever met him was his friend. He gave his time, he gave his heart, so that others could live the lives they deserved. He is missed by us all, and by many people all over the world. I am lucky to be his son.

We held a memorial service in Merced for Dad last month. It was a beautiful service and we were honored to see so many people come out to pay their respects. Pastor Jason Wilson of Bear Creek Community Church graciously offered his beautiful church for the service. Before Dad passed away, Pastor Jason came by to visit with him. It was a beautiful gesture that brought Dad great comfort and peace.

I don't think Dad would have had those last few years without Dr. Kaplan, Director of the Adult Lymphoma Program at UCSF, and dad's friend, Dr. Chris G., who was always there for him, and for us, over the past 4 years. Having Dr. G. in Dad’s corner really helped us navigate the world of cancer treatment and I'm not sure how we would have done it without him. Dr. Kaplan and all of the doctors and nurses at UCSF were so caring and warm to Dad and to us all.

Though his death still brings pain, I feel so lucky that he was around to see me become a grandfather myself, and he sure did love his newest great-grandbaby, Avery. He also became a grandfather again last October when Melissa and Rob welcomed precious little Maggie to the world. I think he had a great last few years. I miss him incredibly, but I'm so happy he had those years.

Rest in peace, Dad. I love you.

Melvin Max Beckwith
9/26/1941 - 3/3/2016