A Father’s Day without Dad



by: Will Corporon

Dad and I didn’t have a warm and fuzzy relationship when I was a little boy.  That’s not to say he was without love or that he was rough –far from that.  He was just… busy.  After all, he was only 20 years old and an undergraduate working on a double major when I was born and, after his graduation, it was off to medical school.  I certainly have many fond memories of those times, but I know Dad wasn’t around a whole lot in the first part of my life.  However, once I started third grade, everything changed. He finally started his medical practice and from that time on, he didn’t miss much of anything. Concerts, recitals, games… I’m not sure he missed more than a few the entire time I was in school.  As busy as he was, he and my mom were always there, smiling and supporting.  Family was more important than anything to my father.

He was doing what he loved, taking one of his grandkids to an event, when he and his grandson were ambushed and murdered.

On April 13, 2014, my world came crashing down.  My family’s world came crashing down. My father, Dr. William Lewis Corporon, and my nephew, his grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, were gunned down and brutally murdered at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, a Kansas City suburb.  My dad was 69 and Reat was 14.  Dad was taking Reat to a musical audition when they were shot.  You probably saw it on the news or read about it.  Maybe you didn’t.  That’s not important.  What is important is that in a matter of a few seconds, a deranged psychopath, apparently intent on killing Jews on that Passover/Palm Sunday, instead took the lives of my dad and nephew, who happen to be Methodist, and another woman, Terri LaManno, who is Catholic.  Now, this Father’s Day, and all Father’s Days for the rest of my life, I will be missing the most important thing… MY father.

I was grilling hamburgers tonight and it dawned on me that I don’t think I have ever cooked anything outside without thinking about my dad.  All my life Dad was “the griller.”  He cooked a mean steak, and retty good hamburgers, too.  He generally burned chicken, however, so he stuck to beef, and taught me to always put a little Polish sausage on, just for the cook. After I left home, it was always such a wonderful welcome to come back and enjoy a home-grilled meal.  Dad always said when I’d come home that he’d “slaughter the fattened calf.”  And it was always good!  Memories like these are what will sustain me for the rest of my years. I have a whole bunch of memories, thank goodness, but the same can’t be said for my baby girl.

My daughter, Olivia, just turned two.  She loves going to Kansas City to her grandparent’s house.  All the grandkids call my dad and mom Popeye and Yea Yea, cute names that my nephew, Reat, gave them when he was a toddler, and the names stuck. Olivia loves her Yea Yea, but she really loved her Popeye!  He had a generous belly which, because he wasn’t very tall, covered up most of his lap.  So, when she climbed on his lap she really just climbed on his belly.  She loved sitting up there.  He’d read her stories and many times they would take cat naps.  It absolutely breaks my heart that Olivia will never have more than a few fading photographs to remember her Popeye.  I feel so cheated for her… for the other grandchildren, too, of course, but especially for her.  She will never have a memory of him in her beautiful head.  That’s so sad.

As this Father’s Day 2014 approaches and then slips into our memories, it’s important for people to know this about my family: We are Christians.  My sister, brother, and I were born into a family of Christians and have, on our own as adults, continued along that path. We each married Christian spouses and are raising our children in Christian churches. I say that because I want people to know this about our family:  1. We know that Dad and Reat are in Heaven together. We have no doubts.  2. We know that God did NOT “do this” to us or “kill” my dad or nephew.  We don’t believe God does evil things.  But we absolutely believe that God has helped prepare us for this and will make good come from this.

Do you ever wonder how you will be remembered?  Father’s Day is as good a day as any to think about such a deep question. Lately I have, for obvious reasons. My dad was a practicing physician from the time I was a little boy until the day he died.  I have heard from hundreds of former patients, many of whom owe their lives to my dad.  They tell of his compassion and his humor and, more importantly, his humanness.  That is a powerful legacy, but his didn’t end there.

He and my mom were also very involved in the arts in their hometown back in Oklahoma, and the fact that he was taking Reat to a musical audition when they were killed was certainly no fluke.  Dad and Mom produced, directed and acted in dozens and dozens of plays and musicals.  Dad even earned the Governor’s Award in Oklahoma for an original play he wrote and directed. At his death, we received many letters from people who were first introduced to the theater in one of my dad’s productions.  Some have carried that passion and love of theater into their families and communities. That alone is a powerful legacy, but his didn’t end there.

Dad leaves behind a wife of 49 years, 3 children and 9 grandchildren.  All three of us are active in  our communities, in our churches, with our kids.  Our kids are active at school, at church, in music, dance, sports, theater, scouts.  Dad leaves us to follow in his footsteps and his guiding principles: faith, family, and community, and, by the grace of God we will do everything we can to make sure my father’s memory and legacy never fade.

So Dad, on this Father’s Day, 2014, my heart aches so much that you aren’t here, but you left me with your example of how to be a father.  How to live in community.  How to support and care for your fellow man.  Your legacy is in my hands now, and I want you to know I will treasure it and care for it as you did your father’s before you.  I love you, Dad.

by: Will Corporon

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