There are a lot of memories from that day, but I don’t want to remember him that way. I’d rather remember his life, not his death.
I’ve re-posted the eulogy I read at his funeral service.
It is impossible to sum up a person’s life in just a few, short paragraphs, with just a few sentences, and but a handful of words. It is even harder when that person is someone you love. And harder still when that person is your Dad.
There are so many things about Dad that I want to remember, and hold onto, and share with everyone. Like how he loved long walks, cheese and crackers, baseball games, ebay, staying up late, playing cards, trying weird foods, renting movies, listening to the radio, and shopping at discount stores. I want to recount every last detail and every personal story of my dad so that you can understand him and love him the way that I did. I suppose that to do this, I should paint a picture of a perfect dad who was perfect in every way that led a perfect life and raised perfect children. Even though the latter may be true, painting a picture of perfection would not be telling the full story of who my dad was.
My dad was not perfect. And anyone who knew him knew that he could be difficult, stubborn, extremely opinionated and hard-headed. He was a pack-rat. He saved empty boxes from 1983 of items that had long-since been broken or discarded, and then became angry when you threw these old, useless boxes away. He could talk and talk and talk and talk¦and talk¦and if you were ever so lucky (or perhaps, unlucky) to take a tour of his tools and machines in his garage, you knew that you could count your blessings if you emerged in less than 2 hours.
My dad was loud, and goofy, and awkward, and oblivious to people staring at him. He loved fried chicken, ice cream, candy, hamburgers, and chips “ all the things that were bad for him. And he loved LOVED to embarrass us in public. Dad loved to joke and laugh and took every single opportunity to ham it up–oftentimes at our expense–so that someone could go home with a picture of him with his glasses askew and a large dopey grin on his face.
Every time we had a family function, you could always count on my dad to abandon the grown up table in favor of the œkids’ table. He took this opportunity to put on his best show”he played with the food, put orange peels in his mouth for teeth, took lemon slices and placed them over his eyes, and shot green beans out of his nose. He made whole chickens dance, duck heads talk and sing, and lobster heads smoke discarded cigarette butts.
In the grocery store, he ran up and down the aisles, jumping and clicking his heels to the music. When we passed the section where there were perfume test bottles, he snuck up behind us and sprayed us with the foulest concoction of scents known to man. This began our perfume wars. It took us at least 3-4 showers to get rid of the smell, but it took us even longer to stop laughing at the sight of my dad, drenched in 10 different ladies perfumes, surrounded by a 10 foot invisible wall of stench. On the way home, we drove with the windows open, nauseated by the smell of all the conflicting perfumes.
Maybe because he was so child-like in his view of life, or maybe because he just liked to cause trouble, Dad always loved to tease us kids. Actually, he loved to antagonize and tease just about anything”cat, dog, turtle, tarantula, you name it, and he would chase it, poke, yell at it, or talk to it in one of his voices. Of course, as little kids, not knowing any better, we fell prey time and time again to Dad’s antics.
One of Dad’s greatest accomplishments in life was tricking my sister into believing that hot dogs were, in fact, made of a monkey’s private parts. He had me convinced that there was such thing as a man-eating Venus flytrap. And he scared my brother into thinking that a very terrifying bird would come to eat him if he didn’t go to sleep on time. How many nights did I lay awake, wide-eyed and terrified, thinking about the two goblins my dad made up, Eat ˜em and Catch-you, sitting in the attic waiting to gobble me up at any second. Most dads try to protect their children from monsters in the closet, but not my dad. He loved to see us squirm.
And while we were potentially scarred for life, you could never blame my dad for not being creative. As good as he was at concocting scary stories and silly tales, he was even better at igniting our imaginations with stories of travel, adventure and of far-off places. One evening, when there was nothing better to do, Dad grabbed a stack of blankets and flipped on our huge, square box fan. œLet’s pretend we are in Antarctica, and that the wind is blowing and we are trapped on a tiny island with no where to go. We all bundled up, huddling side-by-side, shivering and chattering to keep warm on a warm summer night. It was there”in the living room-turned-Antarctica”where our imaginations were forever ignited. With my dad, we never took something as ordinary as a detour, we traveled on what my dad called, œthe secret route. A simple shoe box, when filled with mementos became, for my dad, a treasure chest filled with gold. Dad had his own names and his own stories for just about everything. For Dad, a rose with any other name could smell even sweeter.
Dad instilled in us a sense of adventure and wonderment with the world around us. Even though he spent so many years of his life traveling to far off places“Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, Germany”he was just as excited about the small things. Dad loved the rain. Or better yet, he loved torrential downpours accompanied by dark, thunderous skies, and bone-chilling winds. He liked to sit outside, bundled up in a sweatshirt, hood pulled and tightened over his head like a hermit crab, and listen to the rain falling as if it were the most magical thing in the world.
Dad could take something simple and make it seem extraordinary. He took the greatest joy in the smallest of things”the color of a flower, peaches growing on a tree, leaves changing in the fall, fish swimming in a pond. These were the things he found most beautiful in life, and he shared this joy with us every single day.
Like Dad, I have a wild imagination and a dreamer’s perspective of life. But like Dad, I am also stubborn to a fault. Growing up, we always went head-to-head; neither one of us giving in to the other. I knew every single button of his to push. Once, in a fit of fury, I ran up to my room, and blared rap music as loud as I could. After several attempts at yelling at me and trying to barge in through my heavily barricaded door, Dad went downstairs and flipped the breaker switch. Instantly, the house went dark, and we could hear my sister yelling from her room that our little skirmish had cost her an essay paper that she had been writing for class. Naturally, my dad felt terrible about this and immediately stopped. But not me. Once the smoke cleared, I turned on the radio again¦to the same exact station. I may have lost the battle, but I was not going to lose the war.
The year my sister first went to college, my dad and I were at a stalemate. Eventually, he waved the white flag and started slipping my favorite candies and treats underneath my door. By the end of the year, we were sneaking out of the house on a regular basis. Every night (even on school nights), around 11pm, he would tap lightly on my door and wait. One knock meant there was a candy bar underneath my door. Two knocks meant, œWant to go for a ride and get a Big Mac from McDonalds, and a light scratching sound accompanied by a scary monster voice meant, œI’m here if you need me.
It took me a long time to realize that the reason why Dad and I always butt heads was because we were so much alike. As a child, I wanted nothing more than to grow up to be a princess, and wanted nothing less than to be a tomboy. My dad let me be a little of both. He made me crowns from cardboard and tinfoil, but he also took me fishing and taught me to change a tire. I may have inherited my dad’s hard-head and unwillingness to compromise, this same stubbornness has made me both strong and independent “ a far cry from the prissy bratty girl I was destined to become.
If I was the princess, then my sister was always Daddy’s little girl. Whatever he did, she did. Sometimes, this was not such a good thing. Like the time when my dad gave my sister beer to drink instead of milk. My sister wanted so much to be like Dad, and my dad, wanted my sister to be so much like a boy, that, let’s just say there were a few years when my sister looked a little bit awkward. Dad bought my sister trucks, instead of Barbies, and talked to her about sports and machines and other nerdy topics that 99% of the population could care less about. My dad had to pay me five bucks to read a book on computers, but my sister was always ready to absorb any new information that Dad wanted to pass along.
I’ll never forget the summer my sister cut her hair. Not just cut, as in a trim, but cut as in like a boy. When she emerged from the bathroom with her hair short and choppy, my face registered complete horror. Then, knowing full-well I would be next, I ran as fast as I could from my scissor-wielding mom,. My dad took one look at my sister’s new boy haircut and said, œNice hair. Short and good for the summer. My sister, who up until then had been wailing in the bathroom, ran her fingers through her hair and smiled. It didn’t matter that she looked like a young Ricky Martin from the Latino band, Menudo. All that mattered was that Dad had given her his approval, and that was all that she needed.
Their relationship was nothing short of special. As a child, Dad carried my sister on his back, giving her piggy back rides, and carrying her when her feet were too tired. But as an adult, it was my sister who my dad came to depend on and lean on the most.
And then there is my brother, M, who is what I imagine my Dad to have been like when he was his age. Like Dad, he is always finding trouble and antagonizing everything in sight. But like Dad, he is also so passionate and caring about so much. My brother and my dad were always so funny to watch in action, as each would egg the other on. With each other, they had found their perfect match. They chased large, Texas-sized roaches together in the parking lot of a grocery store. Sometimes they would jump around the living room playing a game of chicken. Imagine the scene”a grown man jumping around with his hands outstretched, and my tall, skinny brother mimicking the same behavior as they danced in circles around the other, waiting for the first strike. They made quite the pair. Goofus and Gallant. Frick and Frack. Dumb and Dumber. M and Dad. My dad could never give tough love to my brother, maybe because he saw in M, so much of him, and understood that, just like him, everything would eventually turn out okay.
These reminders of my dad are his greatest legacy, and are what we will carry with us always. The good is as much a part of us as the not-so-good. We also carry with us so many distinct memories, of a person who was, for us, larger than life. Most of all, we share his sense of humor: silly, strange, off-beat, and completely œDad..
What makes up a person’s life are these little moments”the small seeds of memory that have taken root and grown so that they have not only grown within us, but have spread from him, to us, to our family and to our friends. Through every person that we meet, we carry these seeds with us”pieces of him”and pass them on.
They say that you learn everything you need to know about love from your parents, and if that is true, then I’ve learned this from my dad: Relationships are not perfect, but when you love someone, you make it work. My parents could argue about the most ridiculous things”like what was the correct way to cook something, or what was the correct temperature to set the thermostat, or if something was 14 cents cheaper at Kroger. But at the end of the day, my mom and dad always stood by each other. And whenever my mom was mentioned in conversation, my dad would stop and suddenly become very serious. œYou’re mom is a beautiful woman, isn’t she? he would say. Through better and through worse, my dad loved and adored my mom, just like he loved and adored his family and treasured all his friends.
From my dad, I learned that people are not perfect, but that you love them because of this, not in spite of this. For all his imperfections, and for all the embarrassing moments we endured, my dad had an extremely gentle and loving heart and such a unique and special sense of humor. My dad was not perfect. Far from it. But he was our dad. And he was our hero.