Mike Flora (June 16, 1947 — May 31, 2017)

I want to tell you about my dad. Mike Flora died on Wednesday, May 31st, around 3:15PM of what we think was a massive, immediate heart attack. The ER nurse swears he likely felt no pain. Mike Flora was only 69-years-old, 17 days shy of his 70th birthday. I am grateful for 46 full years with my dad. In fact, the day before, May 30, was the 2-year anniversary of my working with him and my cousin at Nycote Laboratories. But naturally, I would have loved 10 more… 5 more, even a couple more. There was no time in my life, be it personal, professional, or as I began the most important relationship in my life with Erin, that I didn’t feel supported by my dad.  Even when we disagreed or were even disagreeable, I never doubted his love of or hopes for me.

The first thing to know is that while Mike Flora was my biological father, he would never be anything but a “dad.” At a young 23, he was always a very agile and athletic dad, active in teaching me sports and playing with me. Our house during my elementary school years had a basketball hoop out front, and there were numerous games of HORSE. And it was only years later that I came to appreciate and feel somewhat embarrassed by the constant pounding that my parents endured inside the house as I practiced kicking the soccer ball against the garage door.

And whether it was little league, youth basketball, or soccer, my dad (and mom, too) never missed a game…even serving as my coach a few of those years. Even by the time of high school basketball, when I was largely a bench player, my dad would make it home from his commute even for afternoon games. He loved sports and we loved talking about them, especially baseball and college basketball. The model he and I adopted to make our way through the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament should be a national model. I don’t have time to discuss in depth here, but let’s just say it went far beyond just filling out a “bracket” and seeing where the chips fell. We made it fun. And of course there were close to 4 decades of Wiffle Ball for us to enjoy. We could create a makeshift baseball field anywhere and play, and we did in parts of the country as diverse as Tulsa, Oklahoma, Richmond Virginia, and at Creighton University in Omaha Nebraska, where we happened to be in June 2010 for our one and only trip to the NCAA College World Series. It touched my heart greatly when Brian, my best friend of many years, texted me just hours after my informing him of my dad’s death, the following: “There’s a wiffle ball sailing over the fence in Heaven tonight.” In addition, no one we ever met was genuinely able to best him in table tennis or billiards. But my dad, never one to enjoy a blowout, always let us make a game of it though he would adamantly deny letting up. He even had few rivals in cards or board games.

One of the earliest pictures of he and I, taken from behind us, was of a mustachioed, big haired Mike Flora reading a newspaper to me. The photograph captioned in the story was a big picture of Sam Ervin, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Watergate. Certainly, a sign of things to come.

You know, politics and religion were welcome topics in our household. We are a Christian family that went in and out of “church phases,” trying different denominations as I was younger. One of the formative phases of my childhood, my parents joined a spiritual, world peace-focused organization. Through their close friends and families within that organization, I was first introduced to the world’s religions, particularly Judaism, which later came in handy as I didn’t seem like too much of a “rookie” with the family that would later become my in-laws. After I left home for college, my folks returned to our native, baptized home of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (don’t let the “Evangelical” fool you. These are the mainstream Lutherans).

I want to tell you about my Dad. He and I could have whole conversations, or at least “coded ones,” completely in movie quotes. We loved movie quotes. Whether it was The Cannonball Run, Fletch, Ghostbusters, The Hunt for Red October, or a litany of Billy Chrystal films, we either impressed, annoyed, or just plain bewildered many around us as we laced many a conversation or email to one another with a movie quote or two.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve called him “Bud.” In fact, I am pretty sure I used this nickname more frequently than actually calling him “dad.” In return, we could call me Bud, “Buster,” or perhaps my favorite – “Buddy-Buster” (the combo!) I’ll never get to call him Bud again, but in my grief, I found myself near tears of joy when two of my closest friends, Matt and Tom, each individually shared with me – not 24 hours since his passing – that due to the endearing affection my dad and I showed each other through these nicknames, Tom has adopted the practice of calling his son Koji “Budski,” and Matt calls his son Yosi “Buddy.” My dad knew Matt and Tom a little, and I know he would have been humbled by learning this.

My father didn’t talk much about Vietnam, not even after we went and saw Platoon on the big screen. The opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, though revolving around a different war, was all too real to him. Of course, he openly volunteered for service in the Army, believing rumors or propaganda at the time that if you bypassed the draft and volunteered, you would more likely be sent to Germany or some other seemingly harmless place. He of course found his gullibility laughable now. Because no, he was of course sent to Vietnam, where he was wounded, and earned two bronze stars. Vietnam certainly changed him in one very open way. He left for that war the Republican which he had been raised, and returned the Democrat he remained until his death.

During the 2004 Presidential election, then Senator John Kerry described the gratitude he had about life following his own heroic and well-publicized experience in Vietnam that had been followed for some years with shame and guilt. After settling his demons, Kerry explained that he saw every day he was home from Vietnam as a gift, saying, “every day is extra.” I thought I would just ask my father if he felt the same way, as my own intense curiosity wondered if he would finally open up. He didn’t extrapolate much, but he said that he definitely identified with Kerry’s statement. It was at that time that, after so many years, Mike Flora’s ambitious, never contented son could finally understand his dad’s own contentment. My father wasn’t an unsuccessful professional by any stretch. But he didn’t spend a life in mid-6-figures either. He loved solving problems and loved the detail-heavy work that came in his career as a real estate appraiser, construction manager, and finally, as Vice President of Nycote Laboratories. But he didn’t need big riches or prestige. He simply saw every day that he had survived that war as a tremendous gift.

I want to tell you about my dad. His ambitions and his satisfactions, I have come to realize, and have envied to understand, were simple… but wonderful. Mike Flora may have enjoyed the challenges of his professional life, but he didn’t live to work; he worked to live. He loved nothing more than spending time with my mother, enjoying life’s leisures, being an available father and father-in-law, and of course, doing whatever it took to keep his nieces and nephews laughing. He loved his neighbors and his extended family. He was the life of the party and his big laugh was infectious. He took in two aging grandfathers and helped care for them until their deaths. His scorecard didn’t include his bank account or political power. It was in love shared, hugs given, laughs created, problems solved, neighbors served. It was quality over quantity every time. And I am glad that several years ago, I came to finally understand that in so many ways and by most measures of human kindness and joy, Mike Flora may have been the most successful man I have ever known.

38 Comments

  1. Wow Todd, what a great tribute to an amazing man. I Learned so much from your dad in a very short period of time, that I will forever remember and be grateful for. Love to you and your family and I am so happy you have such amazing memories of your dad. You’re right, his laugh was infectious and I can still hear it!
    Love you!

  2. I am so sorry for your loss. I only met him once or twice but based on your amazing tribute, you have inherited many of the qualities you write about in your dad. That is a wonderful legacy. I wish you and your family comfort, peace and many,many happy memories.

  3. Wow…what an extremely moving testimonial to the greatness of your dad. I loved reading about him…thank you for sharing. I’m so very saddened for you and your family.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss. My prayers for you and your family. Thank you for sharing about your wonderful dad.

  5. What a wonderful tribute to your dad, my cousin! I remember him so fondly. He was the eldest of the Flora cousins and we all loved surrounding him and being led by him. I remember being at the airport with your grandma, Janet, and my mom, Skip, when he left for Viet Nam. I am so shocked and saddened by his sudden passing, but honored and blessed by his life and loving memory.

  6. If you knew Mike Flora, your life was that much brighter. Todd, your gift of words has never shone brighter than through this tribute. You have captured the joy of your dad so beautifully. I have more to share, and look forward to doing so, but for now, “I’m stuck on the highway with nothing to do.” Rest In Peace, Mr. Flora. You and your family have touched and influenced my life in the deepest, most heartfelt, impressionable and positive ways imaginable.

  7. Todd , what a lucky guy you were to have your “bud” for 46 years
    My dad , my best “bud” passed away at 65 when I was just
    25 years old. Way too young to lose your dad. It was 35 years
    ago. We played catch and wiffle ball too. We also worked
    together , but it was a life cut way too short for my dAd and
    for my brother and I. We miss him daily. Thanks for
    sharing your story with us. Jimmy C

  8. After Reading this warm and inspirational toast, Todd, I can only ask “Who is the real King in the North?” Long live the ideal of Mike Flora!

  9. Amazing tribute .. my dad passed over 5 years ago and there not a day that he is not missed and thought of . He would of loved to see his only grandson excel as a young Athlete and Politcal fighter . He would’ve been tickled by his little Matilda and her persnickety Wa would’ve been tickled by his little Matilda and her persnickety Ways. Be happy knowing your father was so great and will always live with you

  10. You probably don’t remember, but I recall meeting your dad once (I was at your house for some reason?!? And I’m sure at some basketball practices). Anyway, knowing you in high school, I was always intrigued by what your family was like. Your balance of humor, determination, drive and balance etc is clearly thanks to your dad’s influence (and I reckon your mom’s too). Sorry for your loss…and know you’ve made me more motivated to go play wiffleball with my kids

  11. Todd, deepest condolences are your dad’s passing. Far too soon I agree. What a beautiful tribute here–so much so I feel that I missed out not getting to meet him. Here’s hoping the love of friends, family and memories fill your minds and soothe your hearts. Advadz hokeen lousavoreh (Armenian condolence) . —Manoogs

  12. That was a truly a beautiful testament to your father. Thank you for sharing; I appreciate your openness and your shared memories with your father. With loss, there is growth and love to shine on the moments you need when healing. Peace and love ❤️

  13. Beautiful amazing tribute! May his memory always be a blessing! I’m sure he is beyond proud of all that you have accomplished. You are an amazing person…and clearly an amazing son with an honorable man!

  14. TDF – I often say you are a “Great American,” which I have meant with great sincerity. Now I know where it all comes from. Thank you for sharing your story and your father’s. I love you buddy.

  15. Oh Todd, I’m so sorry for the loss of your dear father. As I look back into your youthful years, I have nothing but respect and smiles of both your mother and father. Your father was a role model for the other parents, coaches, students, etc. You are correct, he never missed a game and was always so supportive of the team. He definitely molded you into a fine man! Wiffle ball champion in heaven for sure. Blessings my dear friend.

  16. Todd, What a beautiful tribute to your amazing dad! He was truly a special human being and no doubt left a wonderful legacy in you. I am so sorry to hear of his passing and send love and hugs to you and your mom…give her a hug for me. <3

  17. Todd, you included his essence! What you didn’t include was his unending love, pride and joy you brought him.
    There will always be a hole in our hearts because there will never be another Mike. We loved him and are better for knowing him. He was all that and a bag of chips!! What a humble, joyful man! He will be missed more than you know. He was our friend and truly loved by every member of our family. You have so much for which to be proud and grateful for.

  18. What a great job he has done as a father to have left a mark on his family. This very post is one of the best marks a father could leave for his son. A dad who has a son writing such a beautiful testament to himself has succeeded again! It is clear that he is still here with you Todd, and always will be. I can relate to this a bit at the moment. My dad is certainly my best friend, and I watch him age daily with fear about what lies ahead. It is therapeutic in advance for me to read this great story man! This path of honoring him and expressing your feelings is a healthy love. I’ll be thinking about you man.

  19. Todd, what a beautiful tribute to your dad, my “favorite” cousin. You have honored him beautifully here. His sudden passing is so sad for those of us who loved him and looked up to him. I will always look forward to seeing him one day in Heaven!

  20. Todd, this tribute is among the most heart warming I have ever read. It is filled with your love for each other and his pride in you.

  21. This is a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing. You have done him proud, and are a reflection of his love. Ypu carr for your wife, friends, and doggie with the same joy and care. Sending you love.

  22. What a wonderful tribute to your amazing father. May he rest in peace. ♡Please give our Love to your beautiful mom♡ RIP Mr. Flora♡

  23. I am so sorry for your loss. I met your dad two years ago and always looked forward to seeing him. He definitely had a way of making people smile. He was and always will be a special person. Thank you for sharing your story! It is beautiful.

  24. I can’t imagine the emotion involved in getting that down in print. Thank you Todd for sharing. May we all strive to be better fathers and humanitarians. Love ya bro.

  25. Todd, I am so, so sorry for your loss. I got to spend some time with your dad through our church book club and really enjoyed talking with him and getting to know him a bit. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

  26. Thank you, Todd, for sharing about your dad. I think I would have liked him if I had ever met him. I am wishing you and your family peace, love, and togetherness during this sad time and leave you with this Irish blessing:

    May you see God’s light on the path ahead
    When the road you walk is dark.
    May you always hear,
    Even in your hour of sorrow,
    The gentle singing of the lark.
    When times are hard may hardness
    Never turn your heart to stone,
    May you always remember
    when the shadows fall—
    You do not walk alone.

  27. So sorry for your loss, Todd. I echo the thoughts already shared by many. Wonderful, wonderful tribute to your dad. You and your family are in my family’s thoughts and prayers.

  28. Thank you for this lovely tribute. My husband and I knew your father through Messiah Lutheran Church. We loved his bright smile, his warmth and generosity, his hospitality, his terrific sense of fun. Blessings to you, your mother, and your family. We are so sorry for your loss.

  29. I’m very sad to hear of your Dad’s passing. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family. I have fond memories of him and his love of life during the soccer years and through high school and beyond. He was always an enthusiastic supporter of you and your teams (the Mustangs’ year was one of the best, a large part due to him) And, he could ball with the best of us young bucks back in the day. It’s been probably a good 20 years since I last saw him, and it’s sad knowing that I won’t be able to cross paths with him again. Your tribute is very touching and heartfelt and allowed us to know a little more about him and what he meant to you. He was a great person and will definitely be missed. My sincerest condolences.

  30. Todd, I don’t know you or your dad. I know your mother through teaching. Your tribute to your dad is amazing. He sounds like a wonderful caring and loving person. He must have been an incredible role model for you. My prayers go out to you and your family.

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