I wrote and presented this eulogy at his funeral in Momence, IL on October 9, 2017. I share it with you to motivate, to move you, to paint the picture of how great an imperfect parent can be.
My dad didn’t die well. But he lived full steam ahead. The number of traffic violations he had suggest he lived a little too fast. But he gave us all a string of adventures to remember.
- Riding on the back of his motorcycle on country roads in Wisconsin
- Reading novels together at night in middle school
- Late nights working underneath a car covered in grease
- Thanksgiving football games where he kept trying to run like he was still young
- Wrestling, no "Wrastling," so hard until we broke mom's rocking chair
- Dad fixing anything that broke whether he should have or not
- Dad using hose clamps to stop the shampoo holder from sliding down the showerhead
- Waiting for dad at the airport after a long business trip and getting gifts that told us we were what's most important to him
- Watching football on the recliners hoping each year the Bears would get good again like 1985
- Copying and cutting out fake money at my dad's office while he did some work on Saturday
- Shooting rockets with a frog inside just to see how dizzy it would be when it landed, and puncturing a hole in the roof at Lowes because he didn’t take the time to reset the launcher angle when he put the big one on
- Going to Indy races with my dad just to talk about how much horsepower Honda could put in those engines and to get another autograph from Mario Andretti
- Eating bacon, egg, and cheese mcmuffins on Sunday night because dad didn't know how to cook anything else
- Smoking cigars on the back patio and swapping stories about lessons we have learned in business
- Answering questions he had about what difficult Bible verses really mean so he could teach his small group better
- Going to Don Pablo’s for Mexican food at night after a long day of working in the garage together
- Playing Caroms and Canasta on family game nights
- Sledding down the snowy hill at the Nenonen’s house in upper Michigan after dad created a banked trail through the trees that nearly killed us all
- When it came to fiscal responsibility, he taught us: “don’t leave the door open, it costs a lot to air condition the whole neighborhood.”
- When it came to human equality, he taught us: “everyone has to put their pants on one leg at a time.”
- When it came to enjoying the simple things in life, he taught us: “if you’re bored, why don’t you pick your boogers and roll them into little balls so you can throw them at each other.”
I was always impressed how my dad could drive with one knee when we were young. Now I do the same thing to impress my kids. I only wish I had his ability to take out his teeth in one quick move for entertainment or the reflexes to catch them when they fell out going down the fastest roller coaster at Cedar Point. To be honest, I have never met another man in life who could write so well with a "pin" (since he could never quite pronounce "pen" properly).
I never did get used to him blowing his nose in a handkerchief and sticking it back in his pocket, but I did wear a lot of sleeveless undershirts in high school to be just like him. I still wear his red plaid lumberjack coat when I work in the yard or sit by the fire because I have nothing but good memories of my dad working and walking around in that old coat. I wear it proud, hoping one day my kids will have a million good memories of me taking care of them in that old coat.
I want my kids to know that I am who I am because of my dad. Every time our toilet breaks or the washer stops working, I stay up late fixing it because that's what my dad taught me. Every time I get out my Craftsmen toolset, I got ratchets and sockets because that's what my dad got me for my high school graduation gift. Every time I tickle my kids on the floor or set up the Hot Wheels track to race cars, I do it because that's what my dad taught me. Every time I do a tune up on my car or stare at a bird, I do it because that's what my dad taught me. Every time I bring back gifts for my kids from a long trip or drag kids around my house hanging onto both arms and both legs, I do it because that's what my dad taught me. Every time I snuggle up with one of my kids to watch a movie or say goodnight, I do it because that's what my dad taught me. My dad gave me everything he was, and I couldn't be more grateful for what I got.
When I was 19 years old, I wrote a poem to tell my dad what he had done for me. I wanted him to know how good my childhood had been, how I carry the confidence of ten men because of his strength. I wanted him to know the legacy he had left. He kept this poem on display in his house for the last 18 years of his life.
cold nights with greasy hands
a sleepy helper under the old van,
but when I gripped that wrench tight
i saw my dad smile at six-year old might
next a four-inch saw in my little palm
a three-foot tall kid helping at grandpa's home,
still my father's eyes though sharp and rough
tell me that i am strong enough
even scared to play the game again
having took too many balls to the chest,
i overheard my dad tell mom
i was one of the best
then preaching with passion's poise
one morning on chapel's stage,
i heard my dad brag later
did you see my son today
and cradling a small orphan child
abandoned in a Bolivian home,
i cried for little Serbando there
and shared what my father shown
these words and smiles mark my mind
the memories I can't forget,
my dad has said he's proud of me
with that I am content
dad I can't tell you what you've meant
wish i could share at length,
but know you've made this boy a man
and given a Father's strength
Now My dad didn't have patience or a high degree of emotional intelligence when it came to deep, personal relationships, but he was light years ahead of the abusive example he had growing up. He suffered through night terrors from things he experienced as a child, and pushed himself ruthlessly to exceed expectations on every job he had so that no one would ever say the kind of crushing comments he heard from his father. Despite the bad deck dealt to my dad that left him feeling unimportant, my dad did what he knew how, to give us kids a different life--a better life. And after consulting with my brother and sisters, I can confidently say, he succeeded.
The passion he had for us kids and his grandkids was palpable. If you walk through the hallways of his house or sit in his office chair, you can see that passion for his family everywhere. You might have heard a lot about birds in his final years or seen his bird books that he published, but his home was lined with photos of his family. It was easy to see what he truly cared about. He longed for long conversations with his kids, even though he didn’t know how to have them very well. But he did know how to give good, long, full hugs.
He did know how to sacrifice his health to help someone in need. I can’t imagine how long the list is of family, friends, and strangers whose car he fixed, or roof he repaired, or who received a check when they were struggling to make it. He was the definition of a generous man, ready to serve no matter what. In the last week of his life, he spent it building a wheelchair ramp for an elderly woman. That was my dad.
I know so many people who go through life not knowing if their dad loved them, not knowing if he believed in them, not knowing if he was proud of them. But I never once had to have that doubt. In the past few years, the saddest days in my dad's life always came on the last day he was visiting one of us kids and knew he had to say goodbye. I know how that feels now. Goodbye dad.