Eugene Konik, 1936-2004
Family surrounded him at his hospital bed, and we held his hands and cradled his head as he passed on. If any death can be said to be beautiful, my dad’s was. His heart gradually stopped beating and his breath slowed gracefully; his face was utterly serene; and though he was unconscious, the sounds of loving voices and reassuring affirmations filled his ears. Until his last day, my father fought death with a resolve and mental strength that confounded the limitations of his physical maladies, but when it was time to go he didn’t struggle or suffer. My father died in peace.
We will miss him.
Eugene Konik was born in Chicago, Illinois, the first child of Polish immigrants. World War II raged during his childhood, and the Korean War occupied his early adult life. He was a United States Marine, serving from 1954-57, and the guiding principles of discipline, goal-setting, and unwavering loyalty (Semper Fidelis!) shaped his life.
The first song I learned was the Marine Corps Hymn, and my brother and I were expected to keep our rooms clean and ready for “inspection,” since a sloppy living environment, we learned from our dad, was a sign of a sloppy mind. Instead of doling out an allowance, Eugene arranged “civic improvement” chores around the house and yard, from which determined go-getters could earn spending money. And anything that might decay a young mind or body — sugarcoated cereals, too much television, late bedtimes — were strictly forbidden. But my father was anything but a drill sergeant. At his core, Eugene Konik was a kind-hearted sentimentalist, a jolly fellow who appeared at my doorway at dawn singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and wondering aloud if there were any boys in the house who might want to take a walk with him and the dog.
His complete cardiovascular decline over the past year was a cruel irony, one of those perverse jokes that life seems to play with alarming frequency. Eugene Konik was a rock of a man, a physically fit powerhouse who delighted in racing the kids in our neighborhood both on foot and on bicycle. He regularly rode more than 100 miles a week, and men half his age — like me — couldn’t keep up with his piston-like legs, which never seemed to falter, no matter how steep the hill. I’ll always remember him as a man of steel. He was indefatigable. And brave. Even after successfully battling bladder and colon cancer, my father found tremendous joy in vigorous hikes and long rides through the countryside.
My dad loved making furniture in his woodworking workshop. He loved dogs (and was an expert trainer). He loved books and classical music and the beauty of mountains, forests, and meadows.
His greatest pleasure, though, was flying his own airplane. Ever since working on an aircraft carrier at age 18, dad wanted to be a pilot. And later in life, when he had both the money and time to pursue this liberating avocation, he earned an “instrument rating” and owned a Cessna Skylane.
Eugene Konik made a living and supported his family as a salesman, a manufacturer’s representative for electronics companies, like Sanyo and Symphonic. But he always wanted to be a writer. And so, rather than merely talk about it, late in life he penned several steamy action-thrillers, one of which, Flight to the Sun, is available on Amazon.com. Dad loved my books, and he loved even more that we were colleagues of sorts, two ink-stained wretches trying to tell our stories.
He was my daddy. And though I’m glad to know that he’s at peace, I’m devastated that I’ll no longer be able to pick up the phone and share my latest news with him, that I’ll never hear the obvious pride in his voice, his fatherly satisfaction that he raised his sons well. I will always miss his love.
Eugene Konik is survived by his wife of 41 years, Renice, me and my brother Eric, three grandchildren, Lily, Luke, and Karly, a brother, Sherwin, and a sister, Susan — as well as countless nephews, nieces, cousins, and adopted family who had the honor of knowing him.