A Tribute for my Father

The Eulogy delivered at my father’s funeral on December 8, 2019

I want to begin this morning with a word of thanks on behalf of my family. Thank you all for being here this morning and for those who were able to come last night. Thank you to those who reached out to my family in the previous few days and provided words of comfort to us in this our time of sorrow. Each of us grieves in our way, but hearing from friends and family always makes the process just a little easier to get through.

As one would imagine, I spend time in cemeteries. As a minister and a hospice chaplain, I help people prepare for their life to come to an end, and part of that process is something we call a life review. If you take a look at the front cover of today’s program, you will see the dates of my father’s life. He was born on May 11, 1933, and he died on December 1, 2019. In-between those dates are the dash, and the dash is where we live.

The dash represents birthday parties, graduations, the birth of children and grandchildren, and all of the other stuff that happens in our lives. The dash is where life happens. But how can we, in a few short moments, summarize a person’s life? You have before you an obituary that lists the pertinent facts of a person’s life, but that still does not tell the story of the dash.

This may come as a surprise, but I have known my father for my entire life. It’s true. For as long as I can remember he was there. Like most people of his generation he worked hard. Most days, when I woke in the morning, he was already gone to work and many nights, long after I had to sleep, he would come home. But he was always there.

They say parents are the first teachers of their children, and my father instilled some of life’s most essential lessons in me that I have and will carry my entire life. He taught me such things as integrity, honor, service, and that, above all else, the family needs to come first.

My father taught me that a man is nothing if he does not stand by his word. If you say you are going to do something, you better do it. If you commit to someone or something, you still to it. All we have is our reputation, and no matter what we do with our lives, our integrity is everything.

My father taught me that honor is an important life lesson. Like integrity, it seems these that word honor has lost much of its meaning. These days you can say anything you want or do anything you want and, if you get caught you either blame someone else for it or you spin it in such a way that you are the victim, and you say “I did not mean it that way” and all is forgiven. For my father, things were black and white. If you made a mistake, you took ownership of it. If you needed to ask for forgiveness, you did. And that is what brings honor. Honor is found in how we recover and how we hold ourselves after a fall.

At the outbreak of the Korean Conflict, my father joined the United States Air Force and proudly served his country. I followed in those footsteps and continued a long line of military service that my family has provided this nation. He was honored this morning with his casket being draped with the flag of his country. The Honor Guard took great care in folding that piece of cloth and presenting it on behalf of a grateful nation.

But he also served his community. He told a story once of going to the church rectory and asking the priest why there was no Cub Scout Pack in the Church. By the time he left, he was the Scoutmaster, my mother a Den Mother, and all of us boys signed up! Scouting was and is a big part of our family, and my father was able to see two of his grandsons achieve the honor of Eagle Scout because he felt that we needed a program in the Church.

In 1969, believing that no incumbent should run for office unopposed, my father decided to run for Mayor of the City of Quincy. He ran against what was arguably the most powerful political machine in the City. It was a close race, a nail bitter right up to the counting of the last vote. Of the 23,000 votes cast in that election, my father received 4, 480. Not bad, until you look at the votes his opponent received, 18, 317. He only lost by 13,837 votes! He told me he was glad he lost because he was not sure what he would have done if he had won that election. But that was the point, we serve our country, and we serve our community even if we lose.

I mentioned before that my father would often leave for work before I got up and came home after I had gone to bed. My father believed that you do whatever you have to do to support your family. If that means working late into the night and on weekends, you do it. If that means sacrificing what you have so that your children have more, then that is what you do. My father worked hard, but there would be time for family vacations to exotic locations like Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Huntsville, Alabama. We would load up whatever care we had, sometimes taking along an extra kid or two, and we would head off down the road. We did not have a lot, but we sure did have fun. Well, until my brother Mark flipped me over in that little red wagon in Huntsville.  I think I still have the scars from that day. My therapist and I are almost a breakthrough on that one.

One of the gifts that he left us was knowing exactly what he wanted when his time came. Over the last few years, he had conversations with each of us about what he wanted.  Those conversations are not always easy to have but, and this is a little commercial interruption, please have those conversations with someone. When it came time for us to make those decisions, my father had made it easy for us since we all knew exactly what he wanted. Like having those conversations, making those decisions is not easy, but he helped us, but telling us what he wanted and I believe we have fulfilled those wishes.

I do have a few regrets. I could have spent more time with him, talked to him more, done more with him, and for him. But, my biggest regret is that he will not be here to give me advice on raising my soon to be born daughter. I am a little jealous of my brothers because they had the wisdom of both of our parents, also the free babysitting service that comes with being a grandparent. But I know that that advice they gave them will be available to me from them because of the lessons that he taught them. Through his life and the life of my brothers, my parents left wonderful examples, and I thank them for that.

So, they are back together, although I am sure my mother had some words for him about his beard, they are together again, and they continue to watch over us and guide us, and laugh at us a little from time to time.

I want to leave you all with some questions to ponder. What are you doing with your dash? What life lessons are you teaching? What legacy are you leaving, or will you leave?


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