I am truly honored to be here today. Although the occasion is sad, it’s an honor and a privilege to represent my Dad’s life to those he cared for and loved most. My Dad was an amazing man, a descent human, a loving father, and a very involved grandfather. I don’t think words can do it justice – to consider how great my Dad was. Forgive me as words alone are inadequate.
On a normal day, if you happened to see my father on the street, the first impression that my father gave was that he was not materialistic – the furthest thing from it! He might have been climbing out of one of his many jalopies, coming directly from doing some form of manual labor – proven by the disheveled hair left on his balding head. Clothing: mismatched, oversized, spattered in paint. He’d be carrying half a cup of cold 7-11 coffee, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He would bounce by making conversation with anyone he passed and as quickly as he appeared, he’d be heading for his next adventure – likely whistling and smiling.
Unpredictable, maybe a little scattered, and definitely eccentric, that was the man you’d see on the outside, but I’m here today to talk about the man on the inside … that we, as the closest to him, knew him truly to be.
My Dad was warm to an impractical fault: He was an old softy. You know those adorable little chicks? The cute yellow ones that are all fuzzy and cuddly? My Dad was walking through the local pet store with my then 5 year old niece when she saw these adorable little creatures. My Dad immediately went home, brought together a make shift chicken coup and returned the next day to buy my niece a couple of chicks. He nursed those chicks in the early days – keeping them in his bedroom overnight to protect them from the cold. The bright incubator light and incessant chirping robbed him of his sleep, but he didn’t care. My niece was in love with the cute fuzzy chick aspect of these animals, my Dad knew that those chicks would grow out of their adorable phase and into that awkward pin feather stage within weeks of purchase – but he wanted to give his sweet granddaughter those adorable chicks she wanted so badly, even if the long term investment paid off only for a matter of days.
My Dad was humble: Days after turning 18 I found a room to rent and I packed my bags. In the middle of the day, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, without warning, I started loading my belongings into my car – I was moving out. My Dad was sitting at the dining room table talking with one of his tenants. He was half engaged in the tenant’s complaint and half perplexed by what his daughter was doing. My Dad was crushed when he learned that I was moving out. Weeks later my Dad invited me out to lunch, asked me how he could have missed this huge transition in his daughter’s life. He humbly admitted that he’d been an uninvolved parent throughout the years. He apologized for not taking the time to get to know his daughter. We shared some hard truths that day; we shared our hurts and found forgiveness. Through tears he asked if we could start again. From that day forward our relationship blossomed into what it is today.
My Dad faced challenges with courage: We anticipated my Dad’s death. In August of last year he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. With every doctor’s appointment he wanted and asked for the truth; if he was afraid he sure didn’t show it. He took every measure, endured every treatment; he never complained, he never wanted to be a burden. When he showed up to his first oncology appointment he arrived wearing a three piece suit with dazzling suspenders and a ridiculous grey wig and top hat. My Dad was a bit of a nut case like that, but when I look back on it now I realize he was trying to make light of the situation to protect us all from the extreme gravity of his reality. He chuckled when I let him know that when the doctor ordered a brain MRI as one of the follow up screenings … an oncologist would only look for metastasized tumors in the brain if the patient were showing behavioral issues – I called the Oncologist to provide my Dad a character witness – this cute costume get up was not something out of the ordinary for my Dad – THAT, was normal. Even in his final days, he withheld from us that he was ready to go, to the very end he was protecting those he loved most. He showed courage in protecting us.
My Dad was thoughtful: The gift was not something expensive and impressive – honestly, his gifts never were. I remember right after we had our son and laundry somehow became overwhelming – just getting to it proved challenging. When Dad was helping around the house he noticed that the washing machine knob had broken off. One night, when our son went down for bed, my Dad stepped out for a bit, and upon his return he was talking about something rather benign, the traffic or the weather or something and as he chatted, he pulled out this small accessory. Discreetly he tested the knob on the washing machine. It was a little thing, but he knew that even the little things, like a working washing machine knob made the harder things in life, like caring for a newborn … just that much easier.
My Dad valued connection and relationships: My Dad and I were very close. If ever I had good news or difficult news to share, after I got off the phone with my husband Berilac, I’d call my Dad. For many years my husband and I struggled with recurrent pregnancy loss. During that time of struggle I called my Dad four times to tell him that we were miscarrying … again. And every time my Dad did not have a trite “just relax” or an almost callous “I guess it wasn’t meant to be” … instead my Dad wept with me. When we would see each other, he would just wrap his arms around me and tell me how sorry he was. He tried to keep his tears from me; he didn’t want me to see how heartbreaking the experience was for him when he knew we were carrying our own very heavy burden.
I remember the day my son was finally born. Given our journey, many people surrounded us in love and support, waiting outside the delivery room. I tell you, if my Dad were a girl – he would have been in there with me every step of the way! When Grandpa came in to finally meet his new grandson, Berilac handed him to my Dad and my Dad through alligator tears said “we’ve been waiting a long time for you”. And he had to hand him back and leave the room to rebuild his composure. The days, weeks, and months following Dru’s birth were tough. And who was there, taking the overnight shift to allow a couple of exhausted new parents to get some sleep? … my Dad. He’d jump at the chance to change a dirty diaper. He held, and rocked, and sang to Dru – comforting him in those early days – it was such a blessing. Months before he died my Dad said to me “I am so proud of you, you are such an amazing mom” … now that would have been a nice compliment coming from anyone, but it meant so much more coming from someone who knew me and knew my life – coming from my Dad, a man I love and respect.
He was filled with compassion: My Dad not only opened up his apartments to help those who needed an extra hand, but he would also take people into his home. He would meet folks on the bus, at the store, and he didn’t care what kind of complicated trouble they were in; he judged people on their heart and their character, not on their worldly belongings. He was the kind of guy who would still pick up hitch hikers, because hey they were having a rough day – with no regard for his own safety, he would help out someone in need.
The recurring theme here is of my Dad with a servant’s heart. Whether expressing his love in warmth or compassion his actions were ALWAYS surrounded in servant hood. He would drop whatever he was doing to help another in need. The stories that I’ve shared of my Dad putting other’s first was the tip of the iceberg. I am confident that if we polled everyone in here we would hear story after story of how my Dad helped them in some way. Dad was always giving out of his heart even when he didn’t have much to give materially. He was generous with his time, always willing to help, never willing to take anything in return. When I reflect back on my Dad’s life I see a man who may have struggled a bit, but still a man with Godly character. If my Dad had a life verse, it would be:
Matthew 25:40 “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”
I love my Dad, I miss my Dad; I can’t believe I have to say good bye to him … for now.
In spite of all these wonderful stories my Dad had his struggles, life wasn’t always easy for him … but when I think of my Dad and the legacy he left it is the attributes mentioned today that will reach far into his family for generations to come.
And because some were asking - we miscarried on January 10, 2011. Another IVF is not in our future. I will share more of our next steps when we've had more time to process them, but as of now our best "medical" chance at a biological baby is behind us.