In Memoriam: Stephen Coltrin

Hmm. This one’s going to be a hard one to write. I alluded to some tough times I was going through the last bit, and here’s the reason. My step-father, Steve Coltrin, passed away a few days ago. He’d been in and out of the hospital steadily for the past few months, and this past time (a few weeks ago) the decision was made to move him to hospice care. When that happened, I came down to Pennsylvania from Maine to see him and help take care of him as he passed. At the time, it seemed like it wouldn’t be long at all. In the end, I stayed for three weeks. Three very long weeks.

I’ve been in a house as a person lay dying before, but this time last much longer, and was very draining. A lot of that came from the uncertainty of just how the process would work and what sort of timetable we were on. There were many times I was just so frustrated that it couldn’t be over. But it wasn’t, and you have to deal with things as they are, not as you’d like them to be. And in any case, it’s over now.

My relationship to my step-father has always been a complicated one. My mom married him when I was . . . six? Seven? I can’t quite remember. In any case, I lived with him from then on, so he played a huge part of my upbringing. Losing him feels every bit like losing a “real” father, even though things weren’t always peachy keen for us growing up. As I’ve tended to do when loved ones pass, I wanted to jot down a few of the memories I had of him. Not sure how many I’m up to putting down right now, but here we go.

  • “Coltrins love to walk.” I heard that so so (so) many times growing up. To this day, Denisa is always frustrated with how fast I walk, but it’s something I have a very hard time changing. Dad was a fast walker, and he and Mom took us into New York many times, and we were expected to not just keep up, but to move out. My siblings and I walked out in front, and if we started walking slow, we’d hear “Move out.” And we had to walk faster. (NYC is already a city full of fast walkers. You have to go even faster when your legs are only so long.) If we ever complained about the walking, we’d be told “Coltrins love to walk.” It was just a fact of life. We’d go to Disneyworld and be at the park, walking the entire day. When it came time to go to our car, did we take the tram? No. Coltrins love to walk.
  • Connected to this, he took the slogan to heart so much that in his later years, he would pretty much always be walking. We would get to a restaurant, and he’d walk the perimeter of the parking lot while we were waiting to be seated. He’d walk up and down hallways in hotels. He would count steps religiously, though I don’t remember him every using a pedometer.
  • Up until the last year or so, the only time I could count on him reaching out to contact me was when he accidentally switched the menus on his television to Spanish. I was typically the resident tech help for the household, and so it fell to me to tackle the big problems of life. I have no idea how he managed to do it so often, and it would have made sense for me to make notes for how to switch it back to English, but I never did, so each time it usually ended up with me having to Facetime with him and then show me the screen and the remote. I’m proud to say I had a 100% track record of always getting it back to the right language.
  • He liked to sing, but he wasn’t always the best at knowing the words to the songs he’d sing. (Or perhaps he knew the words, but just didn’t choose to sing them?) In any case, he’d just sort of make them up as he went along, and he would do this often.
  • He liked war movies and westerns. The last few days as I was sitting next to him in hospice, we watched a number of both. No matter what movie he was watching, if there was a horse involved, he would always critique the horse for how good (or bad) it looked. Sometimes he would watch movies just to see the horses.
  • Going to a restaurant with him was always a nerve wracking experience. I’m the sort of customer that won’t even complain if they bring the literal wrong dish. (Well, as long as it tastes fine.) I really (really) don’t like confrontation over silly things like that. A big reason for that is because I had to sit at a table many many times while Dad chewed out a server for getting something wrong, whether it was not filling his drink enough, cooking the food wrong, not being polite enough, or anything else. That has never been my style, but it very much was his.
  • He was big on playing basketball. I was not. He and my brother would go outside and play basketball all the time, and they’d often try to rope me into playing with them. Every now and then I went along, but my typical approach to the situation was to pretend I was asleep until they gave up trying to wake me up and just went outside to play, at which point I could pick my book back up and resume reading. I assume they were on to me, looking back on it, but it seemed like a good life hack at the time.
  • I wore a baseball cap a lot of the time growing up. For a while there, I wasn’t to be seen without it. It had never been an issue at all, until one day it suddenly was. Dad got angry I was wearing it indoors, something I’d done all the time for probably the last few years. But from that point on, I would get in a lot of hot water if I wore a hat indoors. You didn’t want to get in hot water with Dad. He’d be away on business trips a lot of the time growing up, and I often breathed a little easier when he was gone, because I didn’t have to worry about stepping out of line as much. (Such as leaving my shoes in the entryway. That was another potential time bomb if he found them.)
  • He was a verified Diet Coke addict, if such a thing exists. He branched out a bit into Coke Zero toward the end, but he pretty much was never found without Diet Coke within arms reach. He preferred it in fountain drink form, with plenty of ice, and he would even drink it when it was completely flat. He also was known to mix in other things, like orange juice. This is not something that has transferred to me. Then again, he could go through an entire large bag of peanut M&Ms, and that’s something that I’d have to admit to having the same penchant for.
  • He was a fantastic source for advice. If I ever needed someone to think through a problem from all angles and give a solid read on what I should do, Dad’s input was always fantastic. I remember calling him when I was thinking about marrying Denisa. At the time, I’d always sworn to myself I would wait to know someone for at least a year before I even though about marrying them, but Denisa and I clicked so easily, I was seriously reevaluating that decision. I called him thinking he would do a great job of reminding me why rushing into marriage was a bad idea. (He had always harped on that when I was growing up.) To my surprise, he said if I felt like I should marry Denisa, I should do it right away. “When you know, you know.” I’m still shocked that he gave that advice, but as it was so often, it was the right decision.
  • We went to Disney World a lot when I was growing up. Sometimes multiple times a year. He loved going on the rides and buying the photos they would hawk to people at the end of the ride. We bought so many of those over the years that I imagine if you flip through the collection fast enough, you can see me age from 8 to 18 in stop motion.
  • He owned a PR firm, and it was his pride and joy. He was totally devoted to it, often gone for long stretches of time as he worked around the globe. He started it from nothing and grew it until it had offices in New York, Houston, Salt Lake, San Francisco, Singapore, and London. He represented Burger King, the Salt Lake Olympics, Popeye’s, eHarmony, and more. He did a ton of work for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well, helping line up the Larry King interview with President Hinckley and the Mike Wallace interview as well. Before my mission, I worked for him for about a half year. We’d commute into the city a lot of the time together, which involved a half hour drive to Trenton, an hour plus train ride to Penn Station, and then a fifteen minute walk to the office. Growing up with a PR executive has really helped me throughout my life, as I feel like I’m much better at knowing how to handle a crisis and how to respond to difficulties. I also got a ton of IT tech support experience there, which later helped get me my first job as an IT Librarian in Maine.
  • Many of my views of how to live the Gospel stem from watching his pragmatic example. He always would emphasize the human nature of the whole endeavor, and I’ve never viewed church leadership through rose colored glasses. I know they’re human just like the rest of us, and it was interesting to talk to him and hear about some of the back room discussions that would sometimes go on at the top of the church. (President Faust was my grandfather’s mission companion, Elder Christofferson was a close friend of Dad’s, and Dad personally knew many of the Prophets and Apostles over the years.) Before I left on my mission, he gave me some of the best advice I got for the two years: “Remember that anything you can think of, a missionary has done, and he’s probably doing it right now.” It helps not to idolize anyone and to see things with a clear view.
  • He was almost always on the phone. He had a cell phone before there were many cell phones (back when they were the size of a football), and he would be talking nonstop. Business, usually. On vacation. In restaurants. In church parking lots. In his office. Always talking.
  • He was an ardent supporter of McDonald’s for the first long while I knew him. Not only did he use it as his primary Diet Coke source, but he loved their ice cream cones, as well. We’d go to McDonald’s pretty much anywhere, often multiple times in a day. (Probably a reason I ended up working at McD’s as my first job.) That said, when he added Burger King as a PR client, he made the switch to Burger King. (A switch he made multiple times thereafter. He did PR for Quizno’s for a while, and suddenly all the food we had for parties was catered by Quizno’s.)
  • We were driving across the country once, and we passed some animals on the road. “I think those were beefalo,” he said. All of us thought he was making that animal up. Beefalo sounded like the sort of name a kindergartner would give their imaginary pet. He doubled down on the claim, though, coming up with this elaborate back story about how they were cattle crossed with bison. The more he talked the more skeptical we all became, but he also grew up on a farm, and so he’d have a much greater chance of knowing the truth of this than we did. We still didn’t really believe him. Of course, back then you couldn’t just google the answer. Today, I’d have known right away that he was right.
  • “Plow the ground all the way to the fence.” Dad wasn’t always one to do the chores around the house. In fact, I can only remember a few times when he really worked with us to get something done. (He might have when I was younger; my memory doesn’t go that far. But by the time I was in prime Chore territory, he was a director, not a co-worker.) So when we had a job we’d been tasked doing, he would wait until we said we were done, and then he’d come give an inspection. Raking the yard? Every single leaf had to be off that yard. Shoveling the driveway? All snow had better be gone. Because if it wasn’t, we’d get the “plow the ground all the way to the fence” talk, referring to how good farmers wouldn’t cut corners, but get the most out of their field.

I could go on, but there’s only so much time, and everything has to come to a close eventually. I’m sure there are tons of things I’m forgetting, and it feels like I should just keep on adding memories, but I’m calling it quits for now. He definitely had a huge impact on me. As with most parent/child relationships, some of what I do is because he did it, and some of what I don’t do is because he did that too. I’ve had a lot of time to think over many things the past few weeks. They’ve been very hard in many ways, but I think I’m a better person because of them, just as I’m a better person because of the interactions I had with Dad over the years. He’ll definitely be very missed.

2 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Stephen Coltrin”

  1. Bryce,
    I worked with your stepdad in the early 1990s when I was associated with a company called Tenneco. I did not know he passed away as I had not spoken with him in years. He was such a go-getter and positive. I know he was a demanding parent because he always sought perfection. How sorry I am to hear of his loss! I enjoyed reading your memories of him. He talked of your mother and you children incessantly. He loved you all so much.

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