Eulogy for My Father

I was a little over a year old, and my mother was pregnant with my sister, when someone asked my Dad “Will you give her back now?” – referring to my adoption. Years later, when Dad told me this story, he would admit that it was the one time he’d ever felt like punching someone in the face. He didn’t, of course. At five years old, it was the first serious conversation I remember having with my Dad. It was the first conscious moment I have of knowing I was adopted.

Dad was good at telling stories – sometimes long-winded ones – that taught us to trust ourselves. He told stories that told us we were loved. Unconditionally. He taught us what it meant to be a grown up.

But when I had my heart broken for the first time, it was Dad who came to talk and let me cry and say that sometimes people are jerks. Loving someone sometimes hurts your heart, he said. That was being a grown up.

He defended my mom to us three teenaged daughters with a maddening consistency that confused and irritated me at the time. Now, as a wife and mother, I appreciate it and want that same unified, supportive backup for myself, for my family. It was part of being a grown up.

Dad had awkward moments as well. At my wedding, he rambled on and on about how he and mom tried to get pregnant and then tried some more for years before adopting me. And then there was the time he and I sat down to watch Barbarella – starring a nubile Jane Fonda. Obsessed with Duran Duran, I had heard the band’s name was based on a character in the movie. For those who know Barbarella, you’ll understand why many of the scenes were supremely awkward to watch with your teenage daughter. But he did it. And then we never spoke of it again. Because that’s also being a grown up.

Then again, when I broke my curfew to get smashed at a high school party, Dad taught me that being a grown up sometimes means facing the music. He carried me sadly into the house that night, all the while listening to me slur that this was all-his-fault. At the time, he just repeated quietly, “I know. I know.” And the next morning, he came up and talked to me about drinking too much and scaring my parents and being respectful of myself. But he didn’t raise his voice or get angry or shame me for my behavior. He was a grown up.

Over the last year, Dad and I have been talking about death and dying and what it means for those left behind. We talked about the blessing of being able to have time to say Goodbye and I Love You and Thank You. Not everyone has that chance. We talked about the afterlife, and he asked permission to discuss heaven and his abiding faith with my son. He knew the image of Opa waiting in heaven, young and strong and healthy, to play soccer with his grandson would be a comfort, not just to my son, but to our whole family. They were grown up talks.

It has always been important to my Dad to exhibit patience, to make it clear that admitting love is a sign of strength, not weakness, to show humility in all things, and to be fair. In one of our last conversations, my Dad asked me for confirmation that I felt equally loved to my sisters. Even 45 years after someone asked if he would give me back, he wanted to know that I knew he never would. We cried together that day. And we were quiet together and we knew we were loved.

Those who have been lucky enough to be a part of my Dad’s life know that his love for family and friends, his respect for colleagues and neighbors, his devotion to his God, and ultimately his humility in allowing himself to be cared for by those who loved him are all life lessons in how to be a grown up. And I thank him for those lessons.

first published here

He Too Shall Know Your Love

10882234_10205717011190439_6873386838322430560_nA couple of months ago, I was sitting with my dad while my mother was out. Out of the blue, he said that  according to the medical records, the heart attack he had had back in April should have killed him. And as he lay there, unable to get out of bed anymore, he said he did not really know why he had survived. But he thought maybe it was so there would be more time for Colby. Beckett and Eliza and Juliana will remember, he said, but Colby is so young and I am worried about him. His Opa will all of sudden be gone and he won’t know…and then he trailed off, tired and unable to speak anymore. I have thought about that conversation a lot in the last few days. I wish I had told my dad then what I am telling him now: Don’t worry, daddy, I will make sure he knows.

He’ll know that you loved history. That when we were younger, instead of going to Disneyworld or an amusement park, you took us to battlefields and historical sites and taught us what had happened there. You knew it was important to be able to place things in their historical context.

He’ll know you enjoyed collecting stamps because they are a part of history and because you loved the stories they told.

He’ll know that you loved Western movies. That you wanted someone to watch them with you, but in a house full of women, you rarely had any takers. He’ll know that to this day, I still regret not going to see Silverado with you.

He’ll know that you became an avid Patriots and Red Sox fan later on in life. That you watched every game and dissected each play, that even when they won, you always talked about what they could have done better.

He’ll know that you were a man of great faith, who still trusted in God’s ultimate plan, even towards the end when it became very difficult for you.

He will know that you were passionate about your beliefs, but that you never forced them upon anyone, instead choosing to consider what opposing points of view might teach you.

He’ll know that you were a man of science, whose hard work and dedication led to several important discoveries.

He’ll know that you were kind, patient and loving. Always there to lend a hand or an ear if needed, but not to push too hard.

He’ll know how much you loved and cherished his Omi for all care she gave to you and to us. He’ll know you told her often “Schatzchen, Ich Liebe Dich” (I love you) and that every decision you made was made with her wellbeing in mind.

He’ll know how much you loved me and my sisters. That upon our request, you once spent your whole birthday building us a tree house to make memories in.

He’ll know that I married his daddy because he has a quiet, thoughtful, caring heart like you had.

He’ll know that you loved music and song. And that because of this love it gave you immense joy to hear Juliana sing, especially in church.

He’ll know how proud you were of what a caring big sister Juliana is to him.

He’ll know that when you found out he loved Thomas the train, you went out and got him every single Thomas item you could find. And that you spent hours playing trains with him.

He’ll know how happy it made you to see the great relationships your grandchildren have with each other. How much fun and laughter the four of them share.

He’ll know you loved to hear Juliana and Eliza squeal with excitement at the very sight of each other, and he’ll know how glad it would have made you to see Beckett doting on looking out for him.

He’ll know how admired and respected you were by so many. And how very loved you were by friends and family.

I promise you daddy, I’ll make sure he knows. I’ll make sure he knows what an amazing man his Opa was. I’ll make sure he knows that the world is a better place because his Opa was here, and I’ll make sure he knows that we hope he grows to be as kind, faithful, loyal and caring as his Opa was. But most of all, I will make sure that just like the rest of us know how much you loved us, Colby too knows just how much you loved him.

Eulogy in Drafts and a Letter

10613076_10204909417031104_5526019312848196156_nI have spent many sleepless nights thinking about how to honor my father’s memory here today.

One draft covered how — for Christmas, Father’s Day, Birthdays and every other gift giving holiday, Dad often asked for just one thing:

PEACE and QUIET.

Totally understandable given that he was in a house full of women.

Then there was the version that highlighted when my Dad, headed over to our neighbor’s house to chat while my mom was readying the house for a dinner party. When he arrived, he sat down and carefully explained that he was there because “my wife is over there trying to achieve perfection, but what she does not know is that perfection cannot be achieved.”

I had yet another draft where I thanked him for opening up the world to me through travel. His work took him to Europe, Asia, the Middle East and more. He brought home interesting gifts for us…..and some great stories — and it gave me the bug.

BUT nothing can honor my Dad’s memory quite like reading one of his letters. You see, Dad was a letter writer – and a thoughtful one at that. When we were younger — if there was yellow legal paper folded neatly on your pillow, you knew you were in deep trouble.  Later on in life, those letters were less about explaining what we did wrong and more about offering some of his sage advice.

I found this letter he wrote me several years ago after his 75th birthday party — there’s a reason why I kept it.

Dear Katja,

This card is a very small form of thanks for all your work on my party, both in the planning and execution stage. I saw how hard you worked even on the day of the party.

All this you did in a time when you were yourself not altogether happy and I thank you particularly for that.

I can also not refrain from a few words of fatherly advice, particularly since I am still fighting myself about my life right now. Ever since I actually retired, I have tried to find something truly meaningful to do, that on the other hand does not separate me too much from your mother. I feel a responsibility to be near her as much as I can, since for many years I wasn’t always able to be there for her —- or for all of you.  

So you can see that even a retired father, more than twice as old as you, still does not quite know how to go on in life and has to search for the right path. So it is not surprising to me that you also suffer from this feeling.

I hope, though that you will find your way through it without giving up the wonderful side of yourself. Even though you talk to your mom more than me about these things, I know enough to understand that they are hard on you.

I want you to be happy, perhaps more than anybody else you know and I do not know whether this letter will help. But I had to try.

Love Dad.

—–

He was an amazing Dad. I was truly lucky to have him — and now I wish him all the peace and quiet in the world.  You were loved.