Published on: June 16, 2017
Content Guy's Note: My Dad's funeral was yesterday, and so there will be no MNB today. I should be back in the swing of things on Monday; once again, I appreciate and cherish your patience and support.
However, I don't want you to go away empty-handed ...
One of the things I think my brothers and sisters and I have learned over the past week is while we always knew our Dad touched people's lives, there has been enormous and tangible evidence of this fact in the reactions and responses of people we knew, and many people we didn't. It has been extraordinary.
And so here is the text of the eulogy I delivered at Dad's funeral. Think of it as a Last Goodbye...
One of the realities of having lived a long and full life is that you end up going to a lot of funerals. Dad went to his share over the years, not just as a family member and friend, but also as a lector. And when we'd talk to him about his own eulogy, he'd insist - no longer than two minutes.
Dad wanted it short and sweet. We'll do our best, but two minutes is going to be tough.
In preparing for this moment, we found ourselves returning again and again to how Dad's life was built around love. It is not an accident that his favorite song, and his favorite Scripture passage, was "God Is Love."
There was his great and undying love for our mom, which was like a rock. They were a team, utterly devoted to each other, and that was never more evident when Mom got sick and Dad dedicated pretty much every hour of every day to her. And even when she was sick, Mom was worried about Dad. Their absolute and unwavering love of each other was never flashy or dramatic but always certain and deep. It was a fact of their and our lives.
We never had any doubt of Dad's love of us, even if we didn't always make it easy for him. He taught us math (some of us successfully) and taught us to swim, to ice skate, to ride bikes, to drive. He taught us something about the world outside of Larchmont, New York, when he took us to the South Bronx as part of a community clean-up program.
Most importantly, he taught us how to love, though he did so quietly and through example.
Dad loved to teach and to learn, in equal measure, and possessed what might be called an un-showy intellectual quality. He loved few things more than a good book; he always seemed to have a new one that he was reading and ready to share. The books he loved the most almost always were nonfiction, ranging from biographies to histories to books about religion and faith; while Dad was conservative in his politics he was progressive in his faith, determined to learn and grow even when the path took him to a place that was less than comfortable ... as when he opened his heart and mind to Amy and Suann's committed relationship and marriage even when it ran counter to traditional Catholic doctrine. They loved each other and he loved them both, and so, how could it be wrong? After all, God is love ...
And he was relentless. I sometimes would take him to Mass on Saturday afternoons after he moved into the Osborn's memory unit, and he enjoyed the irony that I - of all people - was the one going to Church with him. We'd sit in the pew, and he'd struggle a bit to follow along, but he'd do his best, and I'd sit next to him and enjoy the moment. Once, though, he nudged me and said, "Y'know, it wouldn't kill you to pray and sing a little bit." Like I said, relentless.
Dad would grab any opportunity to teach a lesson. Once, when Uncle Roland and Aunt Bessie were visiting, Dad was determined to show them these new Corning ware plates that he'd bought, plates that were said to be unbreakable. So, to Aunt Bessie's consternation, he took one out of the cupboard and dropped it on the floor - and it shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. He was perplexed - he'd done this before, and the plate never broke. So what did he do? Well, he grabbed another plate and dropped it ... and this time it didn't break. Lesson learned, and lesson taught.
As principal of Murray Avenue School, he viewed himself as the "principle teacher," and continued to spend as much time in the classroom as his schedule would allow. Among his favorite things to do was to venture out on the playground at lunchtime, and play with the kids - shoot baskets, play kickball and just hang with them. It kept him involved. It kept him connected. It was who he was.
There was the metric system, for which he frequently advocated, both at home and in the public arena, often giving presentations in which he would argue for the US to convert completely to the system used by most of the rest of the world. He loved math, and his passion for the metric system may have been the best reflection of that passion.
Dad believed in continued self-improvement. As a teacher, he was a naturally gifted public speaker ... but he wanted to be better, so he took some Dale Carnegie courses, read some Dale Carnegie books, and continually worked at improving his skills.
Dad loved to drive, and in the years after Mom died, he'd get in the car and drive all over the country, once even tracing the trip to the Pacific Northwest originally taken by Lewis and Clark. He made us a little crazy, because he most definitely did not love cell phones, but he loved the independence and the adventure of it all.
He loved to compete. Dad wasn't showy about it, but he also loved to win. As kids, if we were playing 21 in the driveway, we knew that if Dad got the ball and was at the foul line, the game probably was over, because he'd sink shot after shot. No mercy. If we were going to win, we'd have to earn it.
And it wasn't just Dad. Clare remembers playing Scrabble with both Mom and Dad, and how they'd tell her that she'd never learn if they went easy on her. She still thinks her vocabulary grew because of it.
Once, when Laura and I were invited to play in a bowling tournament with Mom and Dad at the Shore Club, Dad took Laura on his team and lovingly but firmly taught her how to be a better bowler. (They won.)
And even last summer, when he was faltering, Dad played ping-pong at his 90th birthday party and got frustrated when he thought Tim - who just wanted to make sure he didn't fall - was getting in the way of his making a winning shot.
Dad loved the Mets. He loved a good political argument. He loved taking a walk on Greenwich Point. He loved playing tennis. He loved chicken parmesan - Mom's most of all, and then Debbie's, but if he went to an Italian restaurant, that usually was the dish he wanted. He was, in his own quiet way, a passionate man.
This eulogy could go on much longer, but that would annoy Dad, and so we'll close with this...
One of the things Dad loved to do was tell a story. They weren't always true stories - like the tales about how he was in the circus, or how in the Navy he used to be on a submarine that had a screen door. But it seems appropriate here to close with one of his favorite stories.
"I was driving on Mamaroneck Avenue," he'd say, "and I realized that I needed gas. And so I pulled into a gas station, and the attendant (this was way before self-fueling options) was filling another car's tank. But he wasn't paying attention, and pretty soon the tank began to overflow, with gasoline going all over the pavement. At that moment, a stray dog wandered over and began to lap up the gas, and so I went over and tried to shoo the dog away. When I did, the dog took off, running down Mamaroneck Avenue as fast as it could ... until, suddenly, it keeled over. You know why?"
"Why?" we'd ask.
Dad would grin. This was his favorite punchline: "It ran out of gas!"
It occurs to us that while in some ways Dad has run out of gas, his ideas and his enthusiasm and his passion and his beliefs and his love have not ... and his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren - as well as all the friends and students whom he touched deeply over the years - will carry them with us.
- KC's View: