How My Father Still Inspires Me 19 Years After His Death

Everyone has dates that cannot be scrubbed from their mind. September 17, 1996 is at the top of my list. It is the day that my father suddenly died.

Long before his death, my father lived his dream. He was born in Freeport, Long Island, and his father – my grandfather – was a pilot for TWA. My grandfather was a navigator and often flew flights from New York to Europe on Lockheed Constellations. Because of this, mMy father was destined to be a pilot from the time he was born. He got his pilots license before his drivers license. He soloed in an airplane at age 16 in 1966.

My father worked from crop dusting all the way to being a corporate pilot. He had licenses for multi-engine planes and even for hot air balloons. He loved to fly.

He shared that love of flying with me. He refused to let a commercial airline pilot give me my first flight; he took me up for a quick flight just days before I flew commercially:

firstplaneride5monthsold

As I grew, his love for aviation and flying remained strong. I spent a lot of time in a cockpit as a child:

dadairplane1yearold

I always thought it was cool to be in a plane and see all of the dials and controls in front of me. Perhaps it was the view out the window of one of my father’s planes that got me interested into weather. My mother can’t remember a time where I haven’t loved weather, and I don’t think my father could either.

We would travel as a family in airplanes. Road trips were only for trips to Indiana to see family or nearby to Rocky Fork Lake.

My father was a proud Purdue University graduate. After living in Long Island very early in his life, his parents moved to northwestern Indiana. His love for aviation grew there; after getting his license, he went to Purdue and focused on aerospace and aviation. He wanted to make flying his career. Years later, when he had a son, it was clear he would fly him places and Purdue would be a place his son respected. Even at Acadia National Park, a picture of Neil Armstrong (the first man on the moon and a Purdue graduate) holding a Purdue flag covered my father’s shirt and mine:

acadianatlparkmaine1980s

Unsurprisingly, my father was a USAF ROTC Cadet. The Army or Navy did not have the draw that the Air Force did…for obvious reasons.

My father came to Cincinnati in 1979. He flew Challengers, Lear Jets, and Hawkers for Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores and Chemed. He was based out of Lunken Airport for his job but also as a private pilot. He owned numerous airplanes, and he loved to take his wife and son to places. He was a flying instructor, and even gave me two lessons was I was 11 years old.

Of course, some of those trips were related to aviation, such as Kitty Hawk, North Carolina:

kittyhawk1andhalfyearsold

Other trips were to Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, or other scenic spots. With his help, I was fortunate enough to visit over 40 states by age 11.

Because he loved to fly, he was away from home a lot. My mother was a teacher, and she was often there to pick me up from school or get me to practice as I grew older. Despite being under the care of my mother most of my childhood, my father seemed to make it a priority to help me and bond with me when he was around. For the first ten years of my life, I seemed to bond with him more than my mother.

My father was a determined man. As a pilot, he had no choice but to get the plane on the ground every time; that way of thinking translated into other aspects of his life, such as putting a basketball pole 10 feet under ground at my childhood home when I was 9. It took all day, but that pole was getting in the ground:

basketball1994

Some of my memories with him as a child have faded with time, but many have lasted to this day thanks to photos.

Unfortunately, my relationship with my father ended suddenly on September 17,  1996. He was flying in east-central Indiana when the plane he was flying had a mechanical malfunction and crashed.

I remember the phone call as an 11-year-old. I answered the phone, and a man said “Is your mother there?” I passed the phone to my mother, and went back to playing with Legos. Several minutes later, I remember looking up at my mother crying and still on the phone. She got off of the phone to deliver the news, and in a matter of hours, there were dozens of people at the house.

There were a lot of people at my father’s funeral. He was well liked, and I remember how many people had good things to say about him.

19 years later, I still think of him and how life would be different with him here. My mother and I both agree that our lives now would be similar in many ways to what would have happened if he was still here, but we still wonder what specifically would be different.

I learned a lot about the grieving process in the years following my father’s death; most importantly, I learned that the process is different for everyone. Friends grieving from murder or a prolonged, drawn-out death have reached out to me in the last 19 years, and I’ve learned that being there long term and just being a shoulder to cry on or a person to listen is the right way to handle those situations. Being exposed to the grieving process at an early age made me realize how unique our experiences in life are.

On a daily basis, I think of my father when I check weather conditions. One of the prerequisites to getting clearance to takeoff is knowing the weather conditions at the airport for which you are departing. I am reminded of my father writing down weather conditions on a piece of paper in the cockpit and talking to the control tower every time I check the latest weather observation at Lunken Airport. With aviation being so closely linked to weather, it makes sense that I am a meteorologist today because of what my father taught me and/or exposed me to.

On Wednesday, I was at Lunken Airport for a meeting, I took a photo of the terminal not just because of it’s scenic qualities, but because it reminds me of my father:

lunken

Nearly 20 years after his death, I still remember my father being a “by the book” man. His friends – many of whom I still talk to and know very well to this day – remember him as Dale “know when to have fun, but default to sticking to the rules” Dimmich. He did not cut corners, and he kept the eye on the goal. Safety was his top priority, but taking care of others – including his passengers – was a close second. While my dad was known for these things, those around me can make a strong case that those qualities have been passed on to me.

There were moments where my father was a fighter and stuck up for what was right. There were times where he contemplated issues and got frustrated. He disagreed with people. There were some that got in his way or clawed at him. I saw he was human; even in the limited about of time I spent with him, I learned that getting it all right was not always easy and was sometimes unattainable.

Most importantly, my father taught me about a dream. He wanted to fly, and he became a pilot; similarly, I loved weather, and I became a meteorologist. His death, however, taught me a lot about how distancing yourself from the dream (even if occasionally) can be a good thing. Had my father not being flying in that plane September 17, 1996, my father would likely be still be here. I have no way of knowing what would have happened had he not been flying that day, but I’ve thought a lot about that flight. Do I celebrate him dying doing what he loved, or do I wish he had taken fewer flights to decrease his odds of something going wrong? Either way, I know there are hazards in any job, but I’ve often pushed myself back from the desk to enjoy life elsewhere. Time away from the hazards is not only good for the soul, but it may tip the scale just enough to make life longer.

The metaphor of flying – from takeoff to taxi and from arrival to departure – is a good metaphor of life. My father and I had 11 years together; that’s not a lot of time, especially when you don’t remember half of those years. What my father did do, however, is plant a seed of success in me. He never saw the plant grow to its peak, but he gave it the support to live.

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9 Responses to How My Father Still Inspires Me 19 Years After His Death

  1. Elise says:

    Sending you extra prayers today as you remember your father. Anniversaries always bring back so much. I would imagine much of him lives on in you, as he sounds like a man who passed on many of his fine qualities to his son. We never know what lies beyond, but I believe he has watched the plant grow, he knows what a good man you are, and he is so very proud.

  2. What a loving, beautiful tribute. You are the dream that your father had for YOU – be proud of yourself and your “heart” – your Dad is living there. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Elaine Martina St. Pierre says:

    As someone who used to work at Local 12 for 16 years,I know the feeling of those who work together as being like a family, and having read your piece about your father, I know what Family means to you. You are a wonderful son to your Mother I am sure and those around you will continue to be like your family and will help to keep your Father’s life alive for many years to come. He is indeed very proud of you Scott,and he would be so pleased to know the fine people you work with on and off the weather /news programs.

  4. Rusty says:

    Scott,

    Knowing your dad as I did there is no doubt my friend he would be nothing but proud of you my friend. He was a great man and was so proud to have you as his son.

    Young Rusty

  5. Louis Galluppi says:

    Dear Scott,

    Not too long ago, I heard you make reference to your dad. The way you spoke I realized he must have passed on. I am so thankful I read your tribute to him. He sounded like a great man and no doubt he lives on in you. I was a Catholic priest for seventeen years; leaving the ministry in 1999. I celebrated many funerals in those seventeen years and always reassured families that their loved ones were now in the hands of God. When we are born our Lord knows when He will call us home. He called your dad home at a young age. However, as you already know your dad is always with you! He would be so proud to see you on television doing what you love. Yes, I know what it’s like to grieve. No one can tell us when we should “get over it”. I will mourn the loss of my mom and dad until they come to escort me to eternal life with them. God bless you Scott. If I can ever assist you in any way do not hesitate to call on me!

  6. Andrea McAllister says:

    Very nice article. He did a fine job raising you. I’m sure he’s very proud of the man you have become.

  7. Lou Galluppi says:

    Dear Scott. Hard to believe it’s been a year already since I emailed you. The more you write and the pictures I see; it seems your dad had a premonition of what was to come. To visit 40 states in such a short time was the testament of his love for flying and love for you and mom. As I shared with you last year, I’ve had many years tending to the sick, the dying and their families. Please don’t hesitate to call on me. I have so many stories to share with you about standing at the bedside with the dying and their families. I have no doubt that dad is their in spirit; what ever you are doing, where ever you go. You are so sharp on Channel 12. Your reporting surpasses any of the other Meteorologists. You’re so well dressed and very articulate. God bless you Scott. Hope to hear from you some day! Lou Galluppi

  8. Kristin Dimmich says:

    Hi Scott, I so enjoyed reading the tribute to your Dad. He was a childhood friend. We went to church and school together. Back then I had no idea I would marry into the Dimmich family! Dale was a great guy and I will always miss him.
    Kristin Dimmich

  9. Your Dad was a great man and a friend of mine while growing up in Boswell. We rode the bus together until he graduated. I think of him often as well. He and your great Uncle Keith were people my father and I loved to talk to and fly with. I am touched by your reflections and am reminded of the power of having a mentor in a young man’s life. Carry on Scott. You are doing him proud!
    Steve Johnson
    Boswell, IN

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