My Dad. A tribute to my father.
My dad passed away on June 20, 2023. The following is what I spoke about him at his funeral. He will be forever loved and missed until we see him again.
Man, this one is tough. What do you say about Perry Kuhn in just a few minutes? That guy in his prime was just full of life with a spark of laughter and adventure that shined into everyone else around him.
He loved to laugh, he loved to make others laugh. When he was young, he loved to challenge himself and was a fierce competitor. Both as a coach and as a softball player…There were some serious rivals, and I think a little bit of violence in church league softball.
And he was good at it, man. He could fly, and he could hit, and I’d watch him, and I was so proud of him. I was proud he was my dad. I didn’t want anyone else’s dad. I never once wished he was more like anyone else’s dad.
He was my dad, and he was my hero and my friends looked up to him too. Because he was engaged with us, and he loved us, and he spent time with us, and he challenged us.
He wasn’t soft. The old man continued to beat me and all my friends at fighting all through our teenaged years getting us into some wrist or arm lock and making us say uncle several times over.
When we were little, he’d come home from work and play with us all night long. We had tricks we would do. Standing on his hands or him throwing us up in the air. He’d hide, and me and Tonya would go find him and he’d grunt like a bear to get us scared and to know where to start looking.
We’d open the closet to see him and scream in excited terror trying to get back to the safety of the couch before he’d pin one of us down and tickle torture us to death. He’d always give me a hard time, because, while he was hiding, he could hear me making Tonya go first. The Bear Game is now Piper’s favorite game.
He could also be stubborn. Once he got his mind convicted of something, there was no going back. Changing his mind wasn’t really a thing. And one of the things he got convicted on, was being a good dad. My greatest fear is not being able to reproduce for my own kids what he did for us.
My dad was an original. He poured his heart and soul into being the best father he could be to my sister and I. I remember mom telling me that when I was born, he would come home from work and hold me up towards the sky and just look at me and smile.
Being the first child, I got to see that same love and adoration he had for Tonya when she was born but in the special way that only a father and daughter can understand.
Tonya, I wish I could say I had the same adoration for you when you were born, but I apparently I told him and mom to take you and give you back to the hospital when they came home with you!
Our family was close. We did everything together. Dad loved the road trips to Texas or Nebraska to see our family. We loved getting together with our cousins. Liz, I can remember hearing the two of you just roaring. I can remember he could have the whole crowd going, and I could hear mom’s laughter. I’d be in a different room with the kids, and it made me feel happy.
The hunting trips he took me on were epic. There’s hours of stories in just those. I remember challenging him and getting him to get our car over 100 mph and sure enough we blew right by a cop.
Every time we got pulled over it was an adventure. We got pulled over one Sunday. Before you know it, we’re all out of the car. I think it ended with him not getting a ticket and the cop getting a good lashing on what kind of person pulls people over in their own neighborhood on their way home from church on Mother’s Day.
Christmases were epic. We went to a store to look at a Go Cart, and it was $500. It was too much. Dad didn’t like to spend money. Ever! But Christmas morning, I ran out and that thing was sitting in middle of the living room. Tonya jumped right over it! Tonya! I yelled at her. There’s a go cart!
Dad taught me how to prioritize. That same day, we went out to drive the go cart in the church parking lot. I flipped it and went flying out of it. I remember seeing the concrete coming at me and my head hitting it, and my hands and knees skidding across the pavement.
The go cart rolled a few times and was upside down and leaking. I got up bleeding from my head and several other places and looked to dad for help. Who then said, and I’ll never forget… “Pick it up!”
We spent a lot of time together. It started at the lakes in Tennessee. One of my first memories of my dad was being little, I mean three or four years old. I was too little be able to hold the rope on the knee board behind a boat. So, Dad would put me on it with him, and I’d hang on around his neck and shoulders.
We decided we wanted to do a 360. Our boat cruised past the campground as we had failed attempt after failed attempt. We started building up a bit of an audience on the bank. Finally, we got through it and spun all the way around and the whole bank started cheering and applauding.
That’s how dad was. It was taking things just a little further than most would to the point of just enough danger and taking something fun and making it an adventure. You see courage can’t exist without danger, and dad put me in situations that helped me develop it.
As I got into baseball and other sports, we had less time for the lake. Unsatisfied with what he saw from coaches, he thought he could do it better, so he did. He started coaching our baseball teams and continued to develop my character through the game and his mentorship.
He had that same mentality of taking things just a bit further than most, outside the traditional norms and making it a huge adventure for everyone who played for him.
To this day, people I don’t really remember will see me at a bar and say hey how’s your dad? I played on one of your teams when we were little, and I’ll never forget him. He was awesome.
He’d make us wear the catcher’s masks to take ground balls if we pulled our heads up on ground balls and made Kenny and Dannin hold hands and run laps together after they got into a fist fight.
When I was 12, I remember him coming home from work. He asked why I was doing my homework while it was daylight because we needed to throw. I could do homework when it was dark. He’d hold his mitt and if he had to move it, he’d let the ball go by and make me chase it. Sometimes it lead to tears, but it made me good and built a sense of pride and confidence because I knew I had trained harder than the other kids.
But other than being outside the box, he could really motivate kids and build a team. He could see the game and was the best coach I ever had.
He never lost. In four years, from the time I was eleven years old to fourteen we never lost a regular season game in our city. One of his former players commented on a facebook post about him yesterday and called him a #Drakescreek legend.
You see a coach’s job isn’t to know the game better. There is no secret playbook. A coach’s job is to know his people, bring out their potential and get them to work together as a team. That’s what my dad could do, and he had a special ability to this with kids.
But again, he’d find a way to make it more special. He raised money and had jackets made for our Orioles team. We were so proud we wore them in the heat of the July summer. And without a ton of money, figured out a way to get the whole team to Atlanta for a Braves game.
He loved the Atlanta Braves. We watched all the games together and knew all the players names through their historic teams in the 1990’s. In 1995 they finally won a World Series. We were so excited screaming and jumping up and down in our living room.
Also in 1995, I turned 15. Select, travel baseball was just starting to become a thing. We didn’t have many options in the area, so dad solved the problem by starting one.
He raised money, developed logos, ordered uniforms, set up tryouts, booked hotel rooms, scheduled games and provided two of the best summers fifteen and sixteen year old boys could imagine traveling the country and playing ball.
And of course with dad at the helm, we won. Both years we qualified for the AAU World Series. The first year, I got the game winning hit in the bottom of the 9th inning and one of my best buds from little league pitched.
We played a powerhouse team, so dad being unorthodox had him throw knuckleballs. He was talking about that game a few weeks ago, and said “It was the only way to beat them” and beat them we did. They were shell shocked as these misfits from nowhere just took their trip to the World Series.
But is more than experiences. It was lessons learned. Little league story - I walked the bases loaded but was throwing pitches over the plate. The umpire had a kid on the other team. Dad came out to visit me on the mound. I started walking off thinking he was taking me out of the game.
He grabbed me by the shirt and dragged me back to the mound and shoved me back onto the rubber. I thought, Dad I know you’re hard on me, but shouldn’t you give me a break on this one. What I didn’t realize was, he was not upset with my performance. He was upset with my response to the situation.
I’ll never forget what he told me. He said, “What do you want me to do? Everybody in the ballpark knows what’s going on right now. This guy is full of it, and everyone knows it. But I have no control over that and neither do you. You’re the best pitcher on the team. If I put in someone else, they’re just going to have to deal with the same problem. So, do you want to go in the dugout and cry, or do you want to pitch?”
I said, “Jeez dad I’m 12!” ( just joking) I said, “I want to pitch.” He said, “Good. Then quit crying and figure out a way to get people out.” I learned that sometimes in life, there is no easy way out, and we have to choose our hard. We can engage or retreat.
I learned to engage, and be forged by adversity at a young age through my father’s mentorship. When we suffer well, we grow in character. A growth in character makes us more capable. More capable people can achieve more. Through our achievement we can help others on a meaningful level. (Jordan Peterson) This provides fulfillment in our lives.
As I got older and into high school as a sophomore at 15 years old, a group of kids - seniors had been picking on me for a couple of weeks. They were all waiting for me in a parking lot after a baseball game.
Dad said, “Hey do you want to fight?” I said, “No dad. I’m afraid…but I think I have to in order to make it stop.” He said “I think you’re right, but I won’t make you. And if you decide to go, I’ll go with you and make sure it’s one on one.”
We walk up there, and dad told all the kids to go home, but they weren’t having it. I had also been sparring with my dad and my uncle Ronnie and I won that fight.
In the car on the way home dad asked- how do you feel? – He had no real worries if I was hurt! If I was hurt - he probably would have just superglued me. He loved super gluing us back together instead of getting stitches at the hospital! However, he was concerned with what I learned through it.
From that fight, I learned that courage is action in the face of fear. I learned courage creates freedom from the imprisonment of fear. The freedom we seek has to outweigh the pain of the process that is necessary to gain it.
To have the courage to fight for anything, we have to take the first step, and it sure helps to have a mentor there to help you make a good decision in a difficult circumstance and face your fear.
One that will help you go against the grain. Most parents wouldn’t have done what he did. But as I said, Perry Kuhn was an original. Following our dreams can be scary. Dreams will chase us, just like those boys could chase me, so we have to turn around fight for them.
I followed my dream of playing baseball into college. During college baseball I just seemed to hit a tremendous amount of adversity everywhere I went and from a lot of different angles, and he was there for me through it all. Including my career ending implosion.
Dad had taught me to have faith in God and up to this point in my life I had never really needed it, or needed it more than I needed it now. My senior season I threw the most wild pitches of any pitcher ever, in the NCAA. That was in 2001 – and it’s still a record by the way! My dreams of playing professional baseball came crashing down. My whole identity was wrapped in baseball.
I woke up from a 3-day binge. I couldn’t remember the last few days. Broken on the inside, I tried to connect to God. Without any preconceived notion of what anyone had told me God was, I tried to be still and connect to my creator. I said, “God please just give me something…Jesus help me.”
Then, I felt these words on my heart. Not audibly or visibly, just clearly on my heart from somewhere other than myself. “Just wait something better is coming for you.”
In that moment, I had peace. The peace that passes understanding, because I didn’t deserve that peace, I had done nothing to create it, but it was upon me. The key was this, I thought I had lost my purpose in life. I was supposed to be a ball player. But now, was just destined to drift through life in some lesser existence.
But when I stopped viewing the circumstance as having taken my purpose and started viewing it has having purpose for me to be forged into a more capable person and find a higher calling is when everything changed.
It developed a deep resilience, and it took faith to get there. Two things dad had taught me to be, by making me work for things and being tough on me.
I learned about myself in suffering and found God through it. 9/11 had just occurred, and I decided I was going to go be a Navy SEAL. While waiting for my BUD/S class to start, I mentioned to dad that I was feeling nervous and a little afraid.
He wrote me back and told me this, and I still have this letter, “Jason if you weren’t just a little nervous about attempting the most difficult military training in the world, something would be wrong with you. You’re ready. Not only will you make it, you’ll probably be the best damn SEAL they’ve ever had. Just enter the training the man you are, and the rest will be history.”
He also flew out to San Diego the weekend before hell week started just to be with me and support me while I prepped my gear and mind for the training.His timing with those words and action was perfect. Now dad’s timing with words wasn’t always perfect…in fact they could be the opposite, but also often funny.
So, on that tradition, I’m going to say something inappropriate. I loved to hear my dad laugh and there was one thing that would always make him.
A well-timed, high quality fart or a bathroom scene on tv would always make him crack up. Sometimes, I’d turn on dumb and dumber and wait in anticipation for the bathroom scene where Harry drinks the laxative, because I knew he was going to lose it,…no matter how many times he had seen it. I didn’t always really want to watch it, but I wanted to hear my dad laugh. I don’t know why, but it just made me happy to hear my dad laugh.
When I imploded in baseball, it was due to something called the yips. It’s rare thing that happens in sports. It’s usually treated by a sports psychologist, but they can’t solve it. Most players who experience it, simply don’t play anymore. But I taught myself how to throw again using theories I learned in the SEAL Teams.
After my time in the Navy, I met Tyler Matzek. Tyler was a first-round draft pick but was out of baseball for 5 years due to the same problem of the yips.
I told him I knew how to beat it, but it was going to be different than any other method he had tried. We trained together developing throwing solutions and mindset training extrapolated from experiences in SEAL training.
Tyler got back into the Big Leagues and the team that he was with, was the Atlanta Braves and in 2021, they won the World Series. The first Word Series they had won, since 1995. Tyler was crucial in their success nearly winning the World Series MVP award.
The life experiences it took (in both baseball and SEAL Teams) to develop a solution for this specific problem are unique. I had it, so I understood it. The pain of it motivated me, but I also had the mentorship through my father to be resilient through it, then gain experiences in special operations training and war that helped us solve it. None of those things would have been accomplished without my dad’s guidance. The ripple effect is real.
You can tell me that’s random. It was all coincidence. But I don’t have enough faith to believe that. You see faith isn’t blind, it’s through clear observation of life. And we all serve something, whether we realize it or not, so we best choose wisely.
In my time overseas I’ve had a lot of time to think, reflect, meet all sorts of people, pray, doubt, fear, fight, read, debate and figure out what is this human experience we have?
What’s the purpose to it? And I’ve come to this conclusion. We have to let the ego die. I believe this is what it means to “Deny yourself.” That will free our need for constant affirmation or the never fulfilled, seeking of praise.
But once we get there, how do we move forward to fulfill our potential? We feel stuck or unworthy from the mistakes of our past and the bad things that we’ve done along the way.
That’s where redemption through Jesus’s sacrifice comes into play. We’re forgiven through grace, justice remains aligned, and it releases us into the peace that passes understanding. I’ve felt that peace. It’s real.
It untangles the webs and puts everything into alignment with a calm and grateful spirit. It provides clarity, because it’s true. There is no doubt in my mind this is how it works. Heaven is real. My dad is there. And he’s in the best most pure version of his soul possible having been forged by the trials of this world.
I have conviction in purpose. And there is purpose to my dad’s death and timing of it. Through it, I’m going to learn to love deeper and forgive more completely.
That’s what he would want us to do today. He would want us to spend time together. He would want the grandkids to play together, he would want us to crack up with each other, forgive each other and love each other. So that’s what we’re going to do.
Jesus saved the best wine for last. And so did I. We will be celebrating my dad’s life at our house with a big party. Thank you all so much for coming to honor my dad and support our family.
But before we do, we’re going to remember and be sad one time with my favorite song (Love Without End Amen, George Strait). This was our song. The words, Love without end amen...Dad’s body is gone, but our love endures without end.