Who Was My Dad? A Eulogy
My sister, Addie, and I spoke at my father's funeral on Saturday, February 16th, 2019. Here are the words we shared:
As I read my father’s obituary, I thought how unfortunate it was that no timeline of events or achievements could capture the essence of who my dad was. He was a man who could tell a ghost story at a campout with all the drama and intrigue of a paid playwright. He told stories of history like he had seen it himself- from the tragedy of Jonestown to the causes of the Great Depression, from George Washington to the importance of the Beatles. To me, he was the smartest man I knew, and before there was ever Wikipedia, there was my dad. But he wasn’t a nerd either. He was that dad that all my friends thought was the cool one. My mom and he hosted me and my college friends every Sunday for years. We ate all their food and often they would barbeque or play some music or lawn games. He came through for me, but he often came through for anyone I loved when they needed it. He once rented a canoe when my friend had been let go from their job and couldn’t come along on the float trip anymore. He paid for meals when he didn’t have to, stepped up to lead when others wouldn’t and he noticed people that others didn’t. The greatest stories that people tell about Dad tend to revolve around this theme. “He noticed me, he noticed I needed something, and he made it happen.” Or he noticed our community or church needed something, and he made it happen. Sometimes it was something fun, like putting on a fireworks show or a pig roast. Sometimes it was something desperately needed, like hundreds of visits to so many family members in their final years of life.
When we were young, my mom ran the ship at home. Dad was gone often, climbing the corporate ladder. But something shifted externally and internally for him, and we found ourselves in Aurora, Missouri. This is where most of my memories begin. I remember a father who was neither distant nor detached. My dad was funny, spontaneous, generous, and engaging. He loved music and would play it loudly as we cleaned or cooked or rearranged the furniture (which he was fond of doing). His spontaneity gave us a little extra something in our family. An impromptu trip to Sonic for slushies or adding an extra night to a camping trip, he liked to plan, but he was flexible. In fact, I think he thrived on problem-solving. He was generous, and while I may have leaned on the side of being spoiled, I felt so loved. He took us so many places, so many adventures. He was who you wanted as your shopping partner because he would always buy more than you came for. An unspoken shoe shopping rule of his was “If there is a buy one get on half off shoe sale, you always pick out two pair.” If he were here he would say, “Well, of course.” He was generous with his time- playing kick the can with us as long as daylight would allow. He was generous with affection- sneaking kisses with my mom, caressing my hair, giving good foot rubs. He was engaging. When we would talk about faith or politics, he never shied from sharing his feelings or struggles. I remember the struggle of acceptance Kenny and I felt during our dating years, and it was my dad who softened first and led the way for others to embrace our engagement to be married. That love and acceptance was life-changing at the time.
We were his girls. My mom, Addie, and me. He protected us and loved us, he told all of his girls how beautiful we are and how strong we could be. My dad asked Kenny one thing when we wanted to marry, “How will you help Chelsea be her own woman?”
The greatest gift my dad gave me is a bit hard to describe. The greatest gift my dad gave me was a beautiful and loving example of how God the Father views us. My dad’s imprint on me paved the way for my faith in God. To know God as a loving Father began with experiencing my own father’s love toward me. What joy it has been to imagine that now, my dad gets to fully experience life with God and fully feel the love of God the Father toward him. We talked of faith often, and some of the things he said are so special they are left in the sacred spaces of my heart. But I will say that he said experiencing the Spirit of Christ was very real and something that he could not deny, and that believing in Jesus was what he chose, and he said he thought everyone didn’t have to, but he did.
We love you Dad, we wait to see you again. I know without a doubt you are proud of me, because you told me many times. We will continue to make you proud. We will travel the world with fabulous itineraries. We will play music, loudly, and will pride ourselves on a finding a fantastic camping spot. We will be spontaneous, generous, and engaging. We will listen. We will speak up. We will continue to make you proud, not by what we do, but by the way we see ourselves. We will see ourselves as beautiful and strong and capable as you declared over and over.
My dad’s legacy is bigger than he was. Literally. At 5’3”, 5’4” on a good day, he was a small guy, but he carried himself as though he were the tallest, richest man in the room. And he was rich.
The day he married my mom, 46 years and 4 months before he died, he won the only lottery that mattered. He found a partner with whom he could build a life of love, service and adventure. They fanned each other’s flames and spent the next 10 years falling even deeper in love with each other as a vast circle of friends, many of whom you see here today. That’s when my dad grew tall. With every challenge, he grew stronger and more assured of his purpose. He learned how to forge ahead and forgive. When he found out the family secret, that he’d been raised by his grandmother and his sister was his biological mother, he grieved but leaned into the pain, and embraced the new iteration of his family, including his brother and sister, Leesa and Tom, who are here with us today.
My parents waited 10 years to start a family, and then they struck gold a second time: two daughters they could shower with love and bring along on the adventure that was well underway by the time we arrived.
We were happy campers, and he was the happiest cooking breakfast over a campfire with a cup of French press coffee and a newspaper nearby. We knew our dad was special. We knew not every dad could balance being a city councilman and a basketball coach and a caregiver to his elderly aunts and uncles who, one by one, moved to the Aurora Nursing Home during their final years. We knew not every dad could speak the words, “I love you and I’m proud of you,” with such regularity.
We all knew Dan as a community leader and a businessman with the ethics of Jesus, as I’ve heard a few of you say, but his legacy. His legacy, my friends, is how he loved my mother. They married on a lark when they were teens and had only known each other a few weeks. They became the envy of every lovesick romantic they ever met. They counseled their couple friends about how to be better listeners. They showed the world what it meant to be partners who didn’t always agree but knew the importance of compromise, forgiveness, passion, trust and unyielding faith in their commitments to themselves and each other. They had full lives outside their marriage, but those careers, friendships, hobbies and spiritual lives wouldn’t have existed without the foundation of what they built between them. He couldn’t have been the Dan that you all knew without being the Dan he was for my mom.
Sis and Dan. Dan and Sis. Yaya and Papa.
My mom was whispering sweet nothings in his ear until the moment he died. Holding his hand. Kissing his forehead. Making sure he was comfortable and maybe even laughing. “We did it together,” she told him on one of his last nights. She was talking about helping him take his pain medicine, but she was talking about so much more.
God brought my parents together, and they brought all of you into their lives, and today, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. I learned many things over the years from my dad, but two things stand out today: That grief and gratitude go hand in hand, and that if you really love something, you’ve got to be willing to let it go. In the days, months and years ahead, it might seem like we’re carrying on without Dan, but in truth, we’ll be carrying him with us, wherever we go. So go make the most of us.
The day my dad died was also the day that the great poet Mary Oliver left this Earth. I wanted to conclude with part of her poem, “In Blackwater Woods.”
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.