| Guys, my dad died. It happened earlier this month. We knew it was coming for a while, so we got to do a lot of preparation, which was nice. But still pretty sad. I may write more about this since I think there are some good stories (though it is difficult to write about), but I wanted to at least share the Eulogy I wrote for him, which I gave at the funeral.|
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Oh, man. I’ve actually been stressed about this since my father spoke at his own father’s funeral (Tom 5), years ago. He did a really good job and I realized I would have to do it for him some day. I thought about it a lot but I didn’t even really write anything until last night, I guess because I was afraid I wouldn’t do him justice. I’ll try.
The most amazing thing to me about my father was how selfless he was. He spent his whole adult life working tirelessly in public service and providing for his family. He saw us become the men and women we are, but didn’t get to enjoy the retirement he deserved. Yet he told me that he wouldn’t do it any differently, and I believe him—at Christmases his favorite thing was not giving nor receiving gifts but just watching us give each other gifts.
Sometimes he was working completely “behind the scenes” to make things go better for you; he didn’t need you to know that he did it. He would silently pay your car insurance or student loans if you were low on money, even if he was low on money. We discovered after he died that he kept a stash of wine bottles hidden so that he could replenish mom’s supply if she ran out at an inopportune time. Before I was born, when he and my mom lived in New Haven, dad protected her from a knife-wielding intruder, wrestling this guy down the stairs after getting stabbed multiple times, puncturing his lung. I didn’t even hear the story until I was an adult. I couldn’t believe that. I would tell my kids all the time: Oh, that’s cool that you’re watching He-Man, but did you know that that I’m an actual real master of the universe? He didn’t tell us, first I assume to protect us from the idea that there were even scary people in the world, and second because he was just that kind of humble guy. He was my hero even before I knew, anyway.
As you probably know he had no fear of doing things openly if he thought that was the right way. Ask any kid for a story of him embarrassing us together or individually. When we visited CMU, which is the school I ended up going to, I had been kind of disappointed with the official tour. He took the unimaginably embarrassing step of just walking into someone’s office in the computer science department (turned out to be like the associate dean) and asking for a tour. She was initially like, um, no? as my mom and I hid our faces in shame. But after he politely thanked her and left, she decided she needed a break after all and gave us a great insider’s tour, and honestly that made the difference for me, and it changed my life.
Which he did in lots of other ways. They’re easy to see: He instilled in us the importance of hard work and family. He valued teaching; Taylor and Kerrigan are teachers and Mike and I loved to teach while in grad school, too. Dad loved making things, his home filled with homemade furniture and most recently the effing greenhouse. Mike and I are engineers, Taylor a carpenter. We really fall in love, and fall hard. And writing, and public speaking, and telling stories, and tennis, and playing guitar. It’s trite to say but I do actually feel like he is a part of all of us. I care about the same things he does, and not just to honor him, but because it’s actually who I am.
Dad loved to brag about us so let me brag about him for a bit. In the days following his death there were several newspaper articles about him, and spots on TV and NPR. At his wake yesterday I counted about 500 people. In addition to the friends and family that made the trip, there were 10 reporters, many who told us he was their favorite to work with, superintendents, the commissioner of education, who told us that at a recent meeting of education bigwigs, they held a moment of silence for him and then went around the table sharing stories and kind words. A US Senator came. But what struck me most was not the volume of visitors but the consistency of their praise: He was a rare and great man. He saved my butt on many occasions. He knew everything but didn’t make you feel like he was smarter than you. He always went out of his way to help. We loved him. You boys look so much like him (which I take to mean that he was very, very handsome).
Dad’s presence in the world made it a better place, and so he deserved to live for decades more. But there are many positive things about the way he died that we’re thankful for. We knew it was coming, despite his attempts to protect us from it, and we were able to prepare for a long time. In the last five years we grew closer as a family. All of the kids got to say goodbye properly, and we heard him say he was proud of us, and that we are proud of him. And mom never left him for his last month, sleeping beside him, watching the sunrise, taking care of him. I saw them share many special moments, and she cherished it like being on a long camping vacation, which is how much they loved each other. We savored little things that in other circumstances we’d take for granted. His stories. His poking fun. His touch. How he won over all of the nursing staff. Pie drawers. Our scrappy and sentimental Christmas Eve and Christmas in hospice, arguably the best ever. We made our old house appear to be wheelchair-accessible and managed to get him home again after more than a month away, and he was so happy to be there that I think we made the van driver cry. The stream of visitors with kind words and stories and pepper spray. Dad counted his blessings for them: His beautiful wife, his children and their loved ones, keeping him company every day.
And he tried to provide for us from that bed, willing himself to stay alive to collect one more social security check, giving me stock tips (which were actually good), life advice, long shots in on-line horse racing, telling us not to miss the stash of diamonds he had in his glove compartment (??) that he was going to use to make mom a piece of jewelry. And he tended to our feelings, always taking an optimistic view in the bleakest of circumstances, making us feel as okay as he did, which was... okay.
So I say that dad won his battle with cancer, because he didn’t let it change him. He was himself to the end, he died right, and as he kept telling us, he had a good run. I’ll miss you, dad, we all will, but you’ll always be with us.