This will be a tough one because it is very real, and will only become more so before I’m ever ready for it. I’ve thought about writing it for a while because I know when it comes time, I may be at a loss for words. So maybe being forward thinking on this matter is beneficial in a number of ways. It certainly will make me confront the very real future that I will not be able to control, yet it will certainly have control over me. No, he’s not sick, he’s not dying, not yet. I hope we have many more years before that has to be a real concern!
One of my favorite bands are the Drive-By Truckers. They have a song called, Dead, Drunk & Naked, with a line that goes: “Daddy used to tell me everything comes down to what they say about you when you’re not around.” I can only imagine how many times I’ve been called an idiot behind my back. I’d like to think people have said a few nice things too. But some people you meet, if you’re lucky, will be the kind who you only say or think good things about (mostly). And you’ll know that everyone else in their life says and thinks the same thing about them, too. And if you’re even luckier, that person will be a good friend, a sibling, a spouse. For me, it is my dad.
I’ve often joked that as long as he doesn’t outlive everyone he knows, his funeral will be standing room only. He’s touched that many people, and not just once here and there, but time and time again. He’s selfless. He embodies the Christian ethos so strongly that I’m forced to be less cynical about organized religion than I’d prefer. I’m agnostic, or better said, indifferent, and certainly critical. But having been raised in a moderate, but progressive, religious household, I have gained an awareness of the intents and purposes of the scripture, even if it appears that most who claim to follow them only do so in lip service, not in action. But my dad’s selflessness transcends any religion; it is secular. He’ll help whomever, whenever, and be all the happier for having done so. This is a eulogy for my father, before his time is through:
“It’s not surprising to see so many of you here today. I know my father was an important figure in all of your lives. He always was available to lend a hand, an ear, advice or a dollar. He never expected repayment. His gifts were not to gain allies or capital, but to gain friendship and build fellowship. My father always wanted to do what was right and what was fair. A fierce defender of the family, and the friend, he’d put aside reason to come to your aid. But that isn’t to say that he wasn’t pragmatic; anyone in here who he helped knows that he was one of the most rational, intelligent and forward thinking individuals they had ever come across, but he valued relationships more than anything else.
He was known around town as “Mayor Dan” or “Senator Dan”; at least those were a few monikers I heard ascribed to him more than once. He was encouraged to be involved in the fabric of the city, and he welcomed the opportunity to do so. Even if you were diametrically opposed to his position, you knew you would be better for having heard it. He added nuance and depth to meaning, and his investment in anything was never less than everything.
He loved his cars. He loved his lawn. He loved the opportunity to speak with everyone, anytime. There wasn’t one meal out where someone didn’t know him, where someone didn’t come up to him, where he wasn’t truly happy to see another being. I wish I’d learned more from that; I’m often a recluse and will forego social interactions to make my life easier. His word was his bond, and he was disappointed by those who didn’t embrace that ideal. If he said he’d do something, he would. And he’d thank you for the opportunity to help you out. He was a champion for the little guy, but was pragmatic in that he wanted you to help yourself. He’d go the distance with you if you were willing to keep pace with him. He’d share in your success, your happiness, and most importantly, your sorrow. He was a truly empathetic person, and he strived to feel the human spirit in all of us.
While he practiced organized religion, I don’t know how much his denominational allegiance held sway; he was more committed to his friends, his traditions and his history. I view his spirituality as more “of the people” and about humanity than any doctrine. He knew the importance of diverse thoughts and opinions and would therefore never close the door on the opportunity to learn. He was a deep thinker in that way without being academic about it. His understandings were practical, not theoretical or abstract. It was always for the greater good, but the greater good always started at home. He was a defender of the family, the family’s name and its future. That he’d never have grandchildren was surely a disappointment, but not one that he couldn’t rise above. He understood the importance of now. His eyes were always damp when I took off from home one more time. He was sentimental and aware that life is short.
I don’t think I lived up to my dad’s dreams or expectations for me, but I think he was okay with that. I didn’t stay home, I didn’t find a career very quickly, I spent money frivolously at times, I wandered throughout the country, and I made many decisions without thinking about the consequences. But he loved me anyways. And he probably loved me more because of it. I’m nothing if not my own person, and I think my dad, in the end, was proud that he spawned an individual. Yes, in many ways I was still a child to him, still spurned his always rational advice, still got frustrated when he tried to help, still looked at him as if I were 10 and he 40, even till the end. But it’s that last thing that carries the most weight. He was still my dad who was larger than life. We shared a sense of humor, and while mine became drier over the years, there were always those moments of inside jokes or quick glances that reminded us of a lifetime of fun, love and hardships. And maybe more hardships than anything, especially as time wore on. But he was steady in the face of those obstacles. His love was only more pronounced. He shined in the darkest hours, provided comfort when I was certain there was none to be found, and his steadfastness served as a reminder that we were in it together.
So now he’s gone. I’m in it alone, at least in body. But in spirit, albeit secular for me, we are bound by memory and heart. His damp eyes that always said goodbye before he waved still greet my every departure. His quick laugh, smile and joke still frame my every triumph and moment of happiness. His intelligence and rationality still guide my thinking, and I’m thankful that he was proud to be my dad, as I am proud to be his son.”