Eulogy for my father

My father passed away in 2006.  This was the eulogy I gave for him:

FOR MY DAD

I have heard stories before about eulogies. Stories about eulogies which were so excessive in their praise that the relatives of the deceased went to look again in the casket to see if they were at the right funeral. And then there are those stories of eulogies which turn into a private venting session at which all the grievances of the past are openly aired, causing a lot of discomfort. I intend to do neither today, but to simply talk about the man who was my father and my recollections of him, for what that is worth.

When we are children and very young, w e have great expectations of those families into which we are born. Children are too young to realize that the father and mother whom they have been given have “feet of clay,” and are quite human. To a young child, Mom and Dad are the center of their world. We expect a lot from them . . sometimes perhaps too much. We look for the faultless kind of parenting that we see on television or believe that our friends have in their parents. And this is understandable. The world is a harsh place, full of bumps and bruises. We desire comfort from our parents, but in doing so, we place upon them the burden of perfection that they simply do not have.

Children cannot understand that the father they look up to was once a child himself, and from his own childhood grew up with his own imperfections and faults. Many of these faults were not of his own making, but were created in him by the imperfections of his father. And from there, by his father…and on and on back. Each generation feeds into the next, and the faults of poor fathering simply do not disappear with the next generation. It is hard for a child to understand why Dad is so quiet and withdrawn. The child does not realize that his father was raised in a time when the maxim was “children should be seen and not heard.” and therefore, grew up feeling that there was not much to say around people because he would not be listened to anyway. That is not a bad thing, that is just the way it is, a character defect, if you please, but one that the young child cannot fully understand.

I grew up not understanding my father very well. Times were rapidly changing in the ’50’s and ’60’s as I grew up. I think my father was as perplexed as anyone to watch the sudden and rapid changes that took place in that time. He was old school, but the old school was coming to an end and a new generation was making the claim that there was a new way of living. Some of their changes were good and needed, such as the Civil Rights marches in Alabama which ended segregation. But a lot of it was just immoral license parading under the guise of “civil rights” and my Dad was perplexed by it. He understood it was wrong, and he couldn’t understand why people would run so hard towards it. It mystified and disgusted him to see people doing wrong and calling it right.

You see, my father was a man of another age and time. He was a man of honor in a time when dishonor has become rampant. He was a man of principles in a world where we see principles being sold to the highest bidder, and quite often, at the price of considerable public scandal. He had a moral code when people were quite publicly telling the world that morality was “old fashioned” I think the story that sticks in my mind the most about this… .and there are several other stories I could relate.. is the one about his fight with the government.

I heard the story this way — maybe some of you heard it different — but I will tell what I remember of it as I heard it years ago. My Dad was a mechanical engineer. He worked with architects. That alone was enough to make sparks fly. One day, the three architects under him brought him plans for a new boiler house at the federal prison in Chillicothe, Ohio and asked him to sign off on them. He told them he’d look them over and get back to them. Oh, no. They wanted them signed off. Well, an argument ensued and he basically told them to leave. Then he did what he was best at and made the necessary corrections, which did not make these architects all too happy. So they went around Dad to the “big man” and had a fit about it. And the big man called Dad into his office and proceeded to rip into him.

After this was all done, my Dad simply said “George, this is your office and you can do what you want with it, but I will guarantee you something. You build that boiler with those configurations and someone is going to get hurt.” And he turned and walked out.
Three weeks after they finished the boiler house and had all their fine little ceremonies, the boiler exploded and blew the roof 40 feet into the air and the walls straight out and killed three inmates who were tending it.

Now when something like this happens in Washington, everyone starts scrambling to cover their hindquarters and find someone to pin the blame on. Well, the people in my Dad’s office, not liking him anyway, decided that he would be the one to get the nine yards of rope around his neck. The would have been better off playing with angry rattlesnakes. It took two years of litigation, but my Dad proved to everyone that he was right and everyone else should have listened to him. And in the end, the head of the department started listening to Dad and taking him out to lunch to hear his ideas.

You see, it would have been easy to give in and go along with the crowd in his office, then to pass the buck of blame around to someone else. But that wasn’t my father. He would do what was right. Period. And I watched him lose his hair over the two years that they tried to railroad him and he never backed down because he know he was right and this was the right thing to do.

I have some good memories of my Dad. Of Saturdays when we would drive into Atlanta and drop Mom off to shop. The three of us would go over to the zoo at Grant Park or sit in the car and watch the squirrels. Saturdays on the golf course with him. Man, did I ever love those Saturdays on the course with him. That was just the best. I remember the trips we used to take down old US 1 from Atlanta to Florida to see my Grandmother and Aunt Dot in Daytona Beach. The smell of the beach — to this day I can’t smell the ocean without going back to those glorious trips we used to take in the old Chevy, seeing the souvenir stands and the little motels in every town along the road.

But was he a saint? No, he was quite human. Sometimes it takes a child 20, 30, or 40 years to understand this. In my case, it took me having children of my own to begin to understand him better. We never got real close. That was just not his way. He was just not very emotional. Some people are real effusive in showing their love.. .they kind of gush all over you. That wasn’t Dad. He showed his love by doing what was right and by taking care of us. He was there for us. He was a Navy man. I remember how fondly he spoke of being in the Navy, and watching the great discipline with which he ran his life, I realized that he really regretted leaving the Navy. He would have been the happy warrior, the supreme soldier. He was just wired that way. Strong and silent. He loved people, but he just had a hell of a hard time being real showy about it.

And he ran the family that way. Efficient. But commanding officers don’t get on real friendly terms with the enlisted personnel, so my Dad and I just never really became pals. Again, this doesn’t make him a bad person. That was just the way he was.. ..but I didn’t understand it at the time. Now I do. I’ve had kids of my own, and try as I might, I just never really became the father I wanted to be to them. Some of Dad’s imperfections got handed right on down to me. That’s the way it works, like it or not. We fathers put a lot of ourselves into our kids. I got a little better with each one that came along, and I have a good relationship with them, but there was too much of my own problems that blocked me from being the father I really wanted to be.

And the same was true of my father. He had his own personality. His own “issues,” if you please, and some of them got in the way of us really getting close as father and son. I really think he did the best job he could have as the person he was. understand now.
Like most of the kids in the “60’s, I heard the call of license and “free living” and all those other hippie slogans and I rebelled against him and went off to “do my thing.” And when I finally hit the ground hard, he was there to pick up the pieces and help me. He was always supportive in a quiet way.

We got along better after I grew up and began to understand him better. I don’t know if he ever got used to my hugging him as an adult — remember, he was from another time and age when men “don’t do those things.” Now it is quite public — you know, ball players hugging each other after a great play that wins the game and that sort of thing — but that was not his time or his way. But I still did it and he finally came to hug me back because he knew that every time he came to visit us I was going to hug him hello and goodbye. He was my Dad, and even if he had a hard time showing affection, I wanted that and I was going to press the issue with him.

I remember the last time I saw him over at Doctor’s Hospital. He seemed glad to have me drop by and visit. We talked a bit, but it was still all on the surface — you know, stuff like how’s the kids and isn’t the weather nice and the like. But at least, the last thing I got to say to him as I left was “I love you.” I’m glad that’s the last thing he heard from me, for it is true. I have put away the anger I had against him as a young kid misunderstanding him and God, I’m gonna miss him, even though he didn’t talk much and could be a crusty old coot when he wanted to be. It was sometimes just good to sit in a chair across the room from him and see him sitting there — a good, decent, strong, moral man with his faults like every other human being in this world.

So here we stand today to say farewell to our Dad, our grandfather, our husband, and our friend. Each of us must someday pass this way ourselves, and I think it fitting, and perhaps part of God’s plan that we come to funerals, for they are a good place to stop and take stock of our lives. We will all walk this path. None is exempted. In the midst of a world that seduces us with a thousand little vanities designed to make us forget, today reminds us that we shall all one day cross this threshold and stand before God to review our lives. We are called to remember that by this day. Even after the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to live His perfect life in front of us and die for our sins, we still have to deal with death. It is God’s reminder to us that this world is not all there is. It is a reminder to prepare to meet God.

I do not pretend to speak for God, and the Church forbids me to do so. My hope for my Dad is in the abundant mercy of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. We don’t know much about how passing over goes, but I can hope that in the time my Dad was in a coma, living out the last hours of his life, the Lord might have appeared to him and gone over some things. And I can hope that Dad said “I’m sorry, Lord, I really am. Please forgive me for my sins.” We just don’t know, but we can hope. I talked to him about these things, but he just never took much interest in “religion.” So I leave him in God’s mercy and hope for the best. My brother told me some things the other night that make me realize that Dad — like all of us — would have liked to have had another chance to “do it right.” That he had his regrets.

I guess the old Pennsylvania Dutch saying is so true — “We grow too soon old and too late schmart.”

Goodbye Daddy, we’re all sure going to miss you a lot.

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