I’m a Plesac, which is to say that I’m my father’s son. I’m sure it is the goal of many boys to grow up and be like their father. It certainly was mine. I would smile from ear to ear when my mother would say, “Oh, you’re just like your father”. She would say that lovingly, of course.
My mother adored my father. Maybe that’s why I wanted to be like him. It was obvious to me that they had a great marriage. Who wouldn’t want to grow up and emulate someone who succeeded in being part of something so special?
Growing up I saw my dad as strong and athletic—he played a year of baseball down at Ball State before transferring to I.U. He was smart as well, getting his degree in education before earning his Masters and becoming a principal at a local elementary school. As if that wasn’t enough, he was, as mom would often remind us, “just a couple hours’ shy of his doctorate”.
My dad was not a passive father either. He was very much involved in our lives. He coached us kids in sports but also made it his business to see that we understood the value of education. He valued family time and he was (and still is) a respected member of the community. In short, he modeled what a good parent, husband and citizen should strive to be. I have tried very hard throughout my life to follow in his footsteps and become a man he would be proud of.
But there is another part of me—one that I neglected in my early years. As an example, if someone had asked me then, “what’s your nationality?”, I would have responded “Croatian”. That was my dad, he is 100%. But half of me was also of Irish/Scot decent. That was my mother. My mother once told me before she passed away, “Please don’t forget about my side of the family when I’m gone”. She had done a great job of raising a Plesac—maybe too good a job.
Shirley Barnes Plesac passed away in the fall of 2001. I was 33. I don’t think I fully appreciated the influence she had on me until she was gone. Her passing forced me to reflect on my life—on who I was, on where I’d been, and more importantly, where I was going.
I started realizing that many of my best attributes came from my mother. The sensitive part of me that cries at movies (and, truth be told, while I’m writing this story) came from my mother. The part of me that likes to tinker in the kitchen and try to bake pies that aren’t even half as good as she used to make—came from my mother. The part of me that believes that loving a child is the greatest gift you can give them—came from my mother.
“Please don’t forget about my side of the family when I’m gone”. Those words still echo in my mind today. But they have a deeper meaning. Yes, she wanted me to keep in touch with her sister’s family. But more than that, she wanted me to get in touch with that part of me that was uniquely Shirley Barnes. She wanted me to become a complete man—one who lives in harmony with both my father’s and my mother’s influences.
I wish I could go back in time and tell her how important she is to me—to the man I am now. I wish I could tell her how deep of an influence she was to be on the man I am today. But I can’t. So I honor her by crying at movies, by baking pies in her kitchen, by loving—unconditionally and with all my heart—my wife, my children and my family and yes, by spending time with her side of the family.
I spent the first half of my life striving to be a man in the same mold as my father. Then, I started working on becoming the man my mother would have wanted me to be. It took the best part of me to recognize the value of striving for both.