Monday, May 25, 2009

In Remembrance of My Father

Today is Memorial Day and I'm thinking of my father. Dad served in both the Korean War and World War II. During his time in the service he not only survived the sinking of a ship, he survived when a gun mount he was in blew up - in fact, of all the men that were in the gun mount at the time only my father and 1 other man survived. When his ship was sinking, after he made sure all his men were safely aboard the life boats Dad went, against everyone's wishes, back onto the sinking ship so that he could retrieve a photograph of my mother as he was determined that said photo would not sink with the ship. Dad was a Navy man and retired as an officer when I was in the first grade, having served 20 years active duty. He then spent another 5 years in the reserves. After that he had a full civilian career from which he retired.

My father and I were always on different sides of the political fence but I still respect how he served his country. One doesn't have to support a war but one can support the men and women who put their lives on the line for their country. I put my life on the picket lines and carry those scars while my dad put his on the battlefield and carried his scars.

My father was proud of his time in the service and, as he neared his death, he shared with me stories that were beyond the pale. When I was young he told me stories but they were stories that were innocuous. Hearing the more damaged situations broke my heart, knowing that he carried those experiences deep within him. Knowing the horrific experiences he endured gave me some insight into why he had certain outlooks. We can never know what a person truly is until we walk a mile in their moccasins. My father had an extremely difficult life growing up - his mother was not a nuturing person and he suffered the effects of her "issues". He also had some adventures though - he actually ran away to join the circus when he was young and he also played minor league baseball - in fact, he was due to be called up to the "majors" when he joined the Navy.

My father died in late Februray of 2003. On March 3, 2003 I gave a eulogy at his funeral. My eulogy is shared below:

"(name deleted for privacy) was my father and I loved him. When I think of Dad a myriad of thoughts come to mind and I'd like to share just a few. He played semi-pro baseball as a young man. He had quite a varied life and he was a survivor. He survided a ship that was torpedoed, a gun mount explosion and 2 open-heart surgeries.

Dad was a collector of watches. He had more than 15 and wanted each one of us to have one - as if he knew the importance of marking the time we have on earth and how truly short life is.

Memories of Dad - waking up to the smell of a freshly cut lawn on a summer morning. The smell of chlorine and the sound of water as Dad filled the swimming pool for the first time each summer. Sitting on an old-fashioned ice-cream maker while Dad made ice cream (he always got the "paddle" in the middle with the most concentration of the ice cream because "he did all the work"). How when Dad made pancakes on Saturday mornings he always gave the first one to our dog "Laddie". How he was so sentimental and always cried at television shows like Bonanza and at weddings when Mom would sing. How he always wanted to make sure there was plenty of food for the ducks, geese, squirrels and birds at his and Mom's home. How he liked to decorate the front yard at Christmastime with Christmas lights. How he made several trips to the desert in El Centro to retrieve the Pegasus Horse wood sculpture you've all seen in Mom and Dad's front yard (by the way, he was so concerned about it not incurring any damage during the trip from the West Coast to the East Coast that it was placed in its own crate, wrapped by more packing that any piece of artwork hanging in the Louvre, when he and Mom moved back here to Delaware). Dad wasn't perfect - none of us are - we're all human - but he had his ways and he had a big heart. Above all, he was always worried about the safety of his family.

Those are just some of my menories of Dad. There are so many more I could share but time doesn't allow and my heart needs to keep those memories private. I'd now like to share a poem that I think is germane to this occasion. It's called "The Dash" and reads as follows:

I read of a reverend who stood to speak at the funeral of his friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the the end. He noted that first came the date of his birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said that what mattered most of all was the dash between those years. For that dash represents all the time that he spent alive on earth...and now only those who loved him know what that little line is worth. For it matters not how much we own; the cars...the house...the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash. So think about this long and hard...are there things you'd like to change? For you never know how much time is left. (You could be at "dash mid-range"). If we could just slow down enough to consider what's true and real and always try to understand how other people feel. And be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we've never loved before. If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile, remembering that this special "dash" might only last a little while. So when your eulogy is being read with your life's actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say when people recall how you spent your "dash"?

I hope you all know how truly big Dad's life was. He was so very excited every time he spoke of his grandchildren Paul, Christine, Alexander, Channing, Chandler and Dylan. His eyes shone with the love that only comes from a grandfather when he talks about the "babies". Randall and Keith, Dad loved each of us very much and was proud of us. He took joy in the beautiful and gracious adults we've become. Mom, what can I say? You were the love of Dad's life. He was always concerned for your well being and was looking forward to spending many more years with you. You were always in his thoughts.

The best way everyone here today can honor Dad is to live life to the fullest, love to our heart's capacity, and laugh - laugh often.

As for me, I'd like to leave you, the audience, as well as Mom, Randall, Keith, Paul and, most importantly, my father with the following thought. In Shakespeare's play "Hamlet", Horatio, after his friend Hamlet has died, bids him audieu with the following epitaph:
"Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince: and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest".

So, Dad, though your physical body "cracked", I too bid you farewell and good night. May flights of angels also sing you to your rest."

Happy Memorial Day, Dad - I love you.