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(Belated) Eulogy for my Father   2 comments

Dad-Xmas 78- 20160617_093305_cropped-color correct

This picture from 1978 was the only one I could find. All the better ones were used at his memorial and I never got them back.

My father died of brain cancer in 1998, eighteen years ago. This is my eulogy to him—good times I remember, things I should have said when he was alive, and what he meant to me.

Quite simply, I loved him. So why did I wait so long to write his eulogy?

Because when my mother told me she’d asked my niece to give the eulogy it broke my heart, but I said nothing. I didn’t want to push my feelings on her then. I only know that my soul twisted into a tiny ball when my niece started with, “I didn’t really know my grandfather very well.” I knew him, I cried to myself; I could tell a thousand stories about him. But I didn’t tell my stories. For years I carried anger at my mother’s decision, but I never told her. It didn’t seem right. The truth is, it’s my fault, not hers. I should have told her how I felt; she would have listened.

I delayed because even thought I’ve thought about writing this eulogy every time in the past few years that his birthday, or his anniversary, or Father’s Day passed, I knew the memories, even the good ones, would hurt more than anything I’ve ever written.

Now I can only I hope that the heaven I believe in truly exists, and that he can hear my long-delayed words.

My father’s name was Harold… never Harry, not even within the family. He was the most honorable man I’ve ever known and I loved him. Everything else is secondary to that.

To understand my relationship with my father, you have to know that my family has never been the sort to show feelings openly. We don’t hug and kiss. If we’re hurt, physically or emotionally, we don’t talk about it. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about each other. We simply decline to show anyone the cracks and buckles and scars inside. I know my father loved me, though he only said so a handful of times. I know I loved him, though I’m not sure I said it to him at all.

I know he loved me because he let me stand on his feet to walk and dance with him when I was small; because he was always ready to pick me up at whatever airport, train, or bus terminal I happened to arrive at; and because he and my mother flew from Wisconsin to California on a few days notice (super expensive) for no other reason than that I told them it was important to me.

This is who my father was to me, the happy and the sad of my memories.

My father was a man who loved knowledge but despised what he called ‘educated morons,’ people with lots of book knowledge but less common sense than God gave ants.

I remember that He and I both tried to get to the daily crossword puzzle first—whoever didn’t would find at most a letter or two still to be filled in.

My sister once commented that debate was our family sport. She wasn’t wrong. If you made a point with which my father disagreed, you’d better be able to back it up with a good source (which did not include tabloids or hearsay) or you’d be treated to a lecture on all the reasons you were wrong.

On the other hand, when I was in college he once commented that he didn’t think I was studying hard enough. Since my tuition was provided by loans and grants, not by my parents, I proceeded to outline how little they’d been asked to pay towards my college education. Once that point was clarified, he said “OK” and never raised the subject again. His view was that if I was the one paying for it, how much or little I studied was entirely up to me. He was always fair that way.

My father firmly believed that you should should see what your own country had to offer before exploring other places. Because of our annual trips around the country, always with some form of trailer or camper, and his refusal to stop before we reached our chosen destination (except for gas), I now steadfastly refuse to pack sandwiches and eat lunch at the side of the road. That was his way—one I prefer not to repeat. I pull off at rest stops or restaurants and take a proper break.

Most of our early trips were in our home state of Wisconsin. One of those taught us all that guinea pigs and car travel are a bad mix. On later trips, my father, sister, and I hiked up and down trails from the Midwest to the Rocky Mountains, scrambled over rocks in Yellowstone and Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks (I won’t dignify it by calling it rock climbing), and on several occasions took ten-hour horseback rides in Wyoming. I was nearly fearless about physical challenges back then.

Somehow in recent years I’ve grown more timid, which makes me sad. Far sadder are the missed opportunities, the things left unsaid, the interests we could have shared. ‘If only’ must be the two most heartbreaking words in the English language.

When I was a teenager I developed an interest in auto racing (I suspect after reading a story called “Green Racer”). I never told him or anyone else because I was afraid others would find it silly. I was as frightened about emotional hurt as I was brave about physical risks. I only learned years later that he would have been happy to teach me about cars and engines; if only I’d asked.

I nearly made the same mistake with guns. My father was an expert marksman and had trophies to prove it; at one time he was captain of the pistol team at the Air Force base where he worked. He would have been delighted to teach me to shoot, but I never asked about that, either.  I finally took lessons when I lived in California, a few years before he died. I used shooting at innocent paper targets as a way to relieve stress but the best part was that it gave us a shared interest.

The fall before he died, when cancer already had an irrevocable hold on him. I brought my guns home, he collected his, and we went shooting at his local gun club, just the two of us. That day is the most bittersweet of all. Sweet because we spent it together, shooting each other’s guns and talking about everything. Bitter because that was the day I understood how far the cancer had progressed. I was out-shooting him with every weapon. Not because I was that good; but because he could no longer hold them steady. Still, I cherish the memory that day as few others in my life. It was the last time we had together when he could still walk.

As I said at the start, I have a thousand memories of my father—full of laughter and tears, and sometimes anger. I could have had so many more if I hadn’t been afraid to talk about the things that mattered most. I think he might have liked my writing, but I was too afraid then to write my stories on paper, let alone show them to anyone.

This Father’s Day, talk to your father if he’s still alive. In the words of Sara Bareilles’ wonderful song: “Say what you want to say, and let the words fall out, honestly.” Don’t leave yourself saying ‘if only’ when it’s too late.

Posted June 17, 2016 by Leoma Retan in Family, Holidays

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