It’s been two weeks since we buried my Dad.
He passed away on Sunday, May 26th. It wasn’t a surprise to any of us- he had been sick for a long time, and his health declined noticeably over the last few years. At the end, he relied on a caretaker twenty-four hours a day- an aide cooked for him, fed him, dressed him. For the last ten months or so, he was bed-ridden, and for longer than that he was almost entirely non-verbal.
That’s not who he was, though. My father was a loud, friendly person who would strike up conversations with just about anyone. He was a pharmacist for decades, and he had a knack for learning about his customers. This habit led to one of Dad’s customers becoming our family’s go-to automotive mechanic for years. On another occasion, Dad set me up on a totally awful blind date with one of them. We had nothing at all in common, but it was a perfect example of my father trying to do things to make his children happy.
My brothers and sister and I each said a few words at the funeral. I didn’t want to at first- in fact, only my oldest brother was going to speak initially. We all talked about it the night before the funeral though, and it became apparent very quickly that we all had very different perspectives about him. My sister is nine and a half years older than me, and my brothers are five and six years older, so we each had a very different relationship with Dad. When we realized how different each of our remarks would be, we decided that it would be good for each of us to say something.
Speaking at the funeral was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. When I stepped up to the podium, I actually couldn’t speak for a moment. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to speak at all. When I finally started, I had to force myself to slow down. Staring down at the paper the entire time, this is more or less what I said:
My father was always larger than life, and growing up I thought he would live forever. When I was a kid, dad was a mythic giant. I used to call him The Ogre, after a stand-up comedy bit that I liked. He didn’t much care for the nickname, because he thought it was a mean sounding word, but I meant it fondly. He was my giant.
Dad was the guy who would surprise me with a trip to Disney, just the two of us. He took me to my first concert, the first of many, even though he didn’t really like the music. He would watch movies with me, and then he would annoy me endlessly by loudly and correctly guessing the second half of the plot halfway through the film.
He taught me all sorts of things about being a man. He had opinions about everything from my schoolwork to the checklist of things you wash when you take a shower to the sorts of things a man should wear. When it was time for me to buy a real suit, he went with me to the store and explained what to look for. He helped me to pick out the suit – this suit that I’m wearing now – but then he also made me get a sport coat for some reason.
When I had the chance to go live abroad for a while, his health had already started to turn and I told him that I was worried that I would miss important dad-time if I went. He told me to go, and that I shouldn’t miss a great opportunity just because of him.
He was like that- more than anything else, Dad wanted me to be happy. He wanted all his children to be happy. Above all else, he taught us that family was important, and happiness was important.
When I was a kid, I thought he would live forever. And as I look at all the people who have gathered here to see him off, and I think about the lessons he taught us, I realize now that in some ways, he will.
For a very long time, I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about my father, but I learned things about him all the way up to the very end that I didn’t know. I learned less than a year ago that his sister called him “Hal” when they were kids. I learned from his childhood friend at the funeral that he grew up in an apartment above a candy store. (That totally explains the sweet tooth that I inherited from him.)
Not every memory is a pure and happy one, of course. My parents divorced when I was in high school, and there was a bit in the middle of my childhood where he wasn’t around very much. He tried to make up for it though, and he did his best to spend time with me. We took quite a few trips together, including one summer in high school when Dad loaded my brothers and me into his Honda and we drove up to Washington DC and upstate New York and New York City. We walked through Central Park more than once because we were a little bit lost, but it was still fun.
It became apparent to me as I got older that he would do anything for his children. I can think of countless times that he went out of his way to make sure that we were healthy or happy or successful. On balance, he was a pretty great Dad, and I feel fortunate that I had him for as long as I did.
I’m going to miss him.