Monday, January 11, 2010

More about Dad

When I spoke at my father's funeral, it was with the belief that while he knew a great number of people, there probably were not a great number of people who would stand up to speak at the funeral. I wanted to be sure that there was not just silence when we were given the opportunity.

After I spoke, a high school friend of my father's got up and spoke about how they used to sneak my grandmother's corvair out and time themselves trying to make a 1 mile stretch of curvy road in under 1 minute. Flat straightaways are few and far between in New Hampshire.

Several others spoke as well, far more than I had expected.

My father's next door neighbor spoke of how many things they shared in common. It was astonishing. They had kids about the same age. Worked at the same place, had the same hobbies, belonged to the same Masonic Lodge and on and on. One of their only differences, he pointed out, was that my father was over 6 feet tall and he was under.

Another neighbor spoke of my father's generally good disposition and of how he sold my father his lawnmower and then asked him to borrow it a few days later to mow his lawn. His hairdresser spoke about the first time she cut his hair 28 years ago... a story that has been repeated several times over the years and dealt with exactly what it means when someone says they want their hair cut "over the ears."

A friend of my dad's (and my former swim coach) talked about the many challenges my father took on and how he the way he lived his life reminded him of John Wooden telling his players to try to make each day their masterpiece.

My dad's cousin told a story about how cool of a cousin he was and how he and she use to try to switch positions on the T-bar when going up the mountain skiing.

My dad's boss talked about his hiring. He talked about how my father's interview was really just a courtesy to my mother who had worked at the company for years but how my father gave the most complete and well prepared interview he had ever seen. He praised my father for his work ethic and his reliabilty.

My sister Emily told a story about my father teaching her how to drive and how while she did not appreciate his methods at the time, everything he did to "torture" us growing up was intended to make us better later in life.

My old college roommate Tony told a story about teaching his own son to drive and how he had unintentionally used some of the same methods that I had shared with him about my father teaching me. He laughed when he realized how my father had unknowingly influenced him.

A lot of people spoke, and I have probably left out a couple. There were two that stood out the most to me.

First was a friend and former co-worker of my father's named Mark. Mark was layed off from the place where the two of them worked together. A few months later, with no success in looking for a job, he mentioned to my Dad how he had trouble because his Jeep was in need of inspection and it would not pass because the tires were too worn. He did not have any money to buy new tires so was going to have to drive it uninspected on those tires until he could make some money. He came home the next day and had four tires sitting in his yard. My father had bought new tires for his own Jeep and gave Mark the slightly worn tires he had been using. I had never heard this story before the funeral and was very glad my father had helped this man in his time of need.

The last, and most impressive story came from a former employee of my father.

The funeral was almost over. The funeral director was clearly wrapping things up and this man came forward asking for a chance to say one last thing. He was a short man and was of East Indian descent. I recognized him only because he had introduced himself to me before the funeral. With apparent nervousness and a heavy accent, he began to speak.

"I work for Chip for six year. When I look for a job he interview me and he is very nice. When I work for him I never see anything on his face but a smile. In six year he never say a thing to hurt my feeling. He help me and my whole family. He is a good man to work for. When he leave (company) we walk out the door with him and he gave me his book to help me understand some things. There were some tears on my face. Thank you"

This was the most moving of all of the speakers, in my opinion. Despite the fact that the service was ending, he felt compelled to speak, knowing he would never get another chance to say those things in that forum. Despite his obviously difficulties with the language, he stood up and told this story and blew away those assembled with his simple story of how with nothing more than a little kindness and decency, my father had made an immense impact on his life.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Dad passed away December 26, 2009. As his funeral approached, I considered whether or not I wanted to speak. I knew I had much to say, but was not sure whether I would be able to do so in any sort of comprehensible form. I thought about it for days.

We got the call on Saturday night. It was supposed to be date night, but for one reason or another, date night had turned into stay home and watch a movie night for Heather and me. We found "The Green Mile" on television and watched. The call came at 9:14 Central Standard Time. My brother Drew called to tell me that my father had had a heart attack. My mother was at the house with my father and the Paramedics. They were bringing him to the hospital and my sister Emily was on her way to meet them. He would call me when he heard anything else.

I got off the phone and told Heather what was going on. She had a million questions and I couldn't answer any of them. I told her everything I knew from the 90 second conversation. She urged me to call Emily. I called and learned from her, that my father had passed away. Immediately thereafter, Drew called and relayed the same news he had heard from Emily.

"Had anybody called Chris?" I asked.
"I have left him three messages," Drew responded.

I got off the phone and called my brother Chris and got through... he had also heard the horrific news from Emily who had finally reached him by calling his wife's mobile phone.

This flurry of phone calls set into motion a series of events. I lost it and exploded, letting out more emotion than I can ever recall in my lifetime. Heather held me as I sobbed like a little kid.

We were in New Hampshire 24 hours later. The funeral arrangements were made the following day and I had a few days to consider what to say if I could bring myself to speak at my father's funeral. A lot went through my head. I asked Heather what she thought. Of course she encouraged me to do it if I wanted to do it. I decided not to write anything down in case I chose not to speak. I didn't want to know I had prepared and couldn't follow through. If I were going to speak, it would have to be extemporaneously.

When Saturday came and the service was underway, the man conducting the ceremony asked if anyone cared to speak and share some memories with those assembled. First my right leg moved. Heather, sitting to my left, patted my left arm. I rose and walked forward. When I spoke, it went something like this,

"Hello everyone. I knew I wanted to say something, but I didn't really prepare, so we'll see how this goes.

I wanted to take a minute to talk to you about my father and the perspective that I have of him. Those of you in the family know this, but many of you outside the family may not know this. My mother died when I was very young... 6 years old. So, for a few years, at least until he met my wonderful mother (step-mother) Roxanne, he was raising 4 kids on his own as a single Dad.

A few years ago, I told my dad how impressed I was with what he had done under those circumstances and thanked him for everything he had done for me and my brothers and sister. His response was, "Well, what did you expect me to do?"

Of course it was understated and that is how he was about much of what he did. One time I asked him about his philosophy on parenting and fatherhood and he said, "Ian, more than anything, I always wanted to be someone you could count on."

He was definitely that. I could always count on him and still do. Not only would I literally not be here without him, but I wouldn't have been able to tie this tie. I certainly wouldn't have been able to drive here in this snow. So, I still count on him and will continue to do so.

Finally, I wanted to share one last thing with all of you. I spoke to my father on the phone on Christmas day. At the end of the call, the last thing I said to him was that I loved him. The last thing he said to me was that he loved me. I am SO glad that is the way things ended; I am so glad we were not in the middle of some petty argument about something that doesn't matter.

I urge all of you to tell the people you love in your lives how you feel about them. Be sure they know it because you never know when might be your last chance to say it.

Thank you."

And that was it. That is my best recollection of what I said. I am sure some of it didn't come out exactly that way but it is pretty close I think. I urge anyone who reads this to take the same message from this that I tried to pass on to those assembled on Saturday. Also, I thank Heather for reminding me to call him back on Christmas. I'm glad I did.