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Becoming a father is a lifelong role that can be filled with blessings and heartaches. It's a decision that was life changing for me in ways I could never imagine. My father gave me a life full of fond memories, something I tried to do with my own sons, supporting them the best way I knew how until I lost them both.

My dad was 40 when I was born. Bill Killian and my mom, Vera, made my sister, Nancy, and me the center of their lives. In the early 1960s in Georgia, Dad put his forestry degree to use by walking through the woods marking trees to be cut for Georgia Kraft, an industrial timber company. He was instructed to step on a log, not over it, to spot a rattlesnake and avoid being bit. He eventually collected a cigar box full of rattles that we still have today.

In the 1970s, we moved to Wisconsin where Dad worked for the Department of Natural Resources. We lived at the state parks he managed. The parks were our playground, and we'd sled endlessly down hills in winter on our Flexible Flyer with Dad lying on the bottom, Nancy in the middle and me on top. Sometimes we made it to the bottom of the hill before falling off and laughing hysterically.

We were fortunate to have a log cabin in northern Wisconsin where Dad took me fishing on many early summer mornings. At 6 a.m., he'd whisper to my sleepy state, "Hey, the fish are biting." I'd pull on my jeans, T-shirt and tennies and we'd be pushing out the canoe 10 minutes later. I will never forget the image of loons swimming near the boat as the sun was rising, and chasing beavers as they'd slap their tails and plunge again after spotting us.

Dad was proud of the freshman letter he earned in tennis while attending Purdue University on the G.I. Bill after World War II. In my teens and 20s, we played hundreds of tennis games together on indoor and outdoor courts, including at the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis during my last year of college. After playing for several hours, we'd shower and enjoy lunch at the McDonald's across the street while discussing life. We continued to play tennis until Dad was 87 and said he physically needed to stop. I reluctantly agreed, despite my suggestion that I'd retrieve the balls he couldn't hit back.

Dad and I also dueled in ping-pong during many winter evenings in our family basement and kept score over a five-year stretch. The final tally: Dad — 462 wins, me — 483 wins. When we moved to Hudson where Dad managed Willow River State Park, we developed a similar rivalry in pool.

To the day he died at age 100 in 2019, Dad was a devoted father and grandfather.

My two sons were born 21 months apart: Craig in 1990 and Keith in 1991. I, too, made them the center of my attention after getting home from work and on the weekends. I became a Cub Scout leader, youth sports coach, and wore other volunteer hats for Craig and Keith's activities that gave me more time with them as they started advancing through their youth. I'll admit I grumbled to myself occasionally while canvassing the neighborhood with them for Scout holiday wreath sales on Sunday afternoons instead of watching my favorite football team. However, I'd give anything to relive those days now.

Unfortunately, the joys of Craig and Keith's youth started to transform into challenging times as they advanced through high school and college. Most parents would do almost anything to help their children avoid mistakes in life, but we need to let them negotiate the ups and downs to learn often painful lessons.

As a dad, I watched Keith's free spirit translate into a love for gardening, dancing, guitar playing, painting and playing with our dogs. My wife and I also watched alcohol steadily grip his life as we rushed him several times to hospital emergency rooms to snatch him from the jaws of death during severe intoxication. When Keith pursued his dream to become an organic farmer in Kauai in January 2021, we knew we couldn't rush there to rescue him again. After a year of tilling the soil and making new friends, but not attending AA meetings, Keith succumbed to alcohol poisoning in January 2022.

Craig was Keith's best friend and also battled depression and anxiety. He spoke at Keith's funeral about his love for his brother and how much he would miss him. Sadly, Craig would pass less than four months later from accidental fentanyl poisoning. He was only three weeks away from graduating from dental school at the University of Minnesota. His classmates gave him a standing ovation and a moment of silence at the graduation ceremony as Craig was awarded his dental degree posthumously.

Most parents would exchange their life to save their child's if they could. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. My wife and I grieve the loss of our boys — our only children — as the hope of seeing them get married, have children and experience other joys in life has dissipated.

If I could go back in time, I would still choose to become a father despite the eventual outcome. When you become a parent, you learn to love at a deeper level and put the needs of another person before yours. You also learn patience, tolerance and other virtues that help in other parts of life.

My sons in spirit are now helping me to show love in my daily interactions with others during my remaining days on Earth. I often fall short, but feel their encouragement when I talk to them while driving, taking walks or listening to their favorite music.

I hope all fathers pause on Father's Day to reflect on their journey. Helping a son, daughter or grandchild through life is an enormous responsibility and a precious gift.

Doug Killian recently retired and lives in Lake Elmo. He spent most of his career in public relations and marketing for Northwest Airlines and Mall of America.