This weekend I spoke at my father’s memorial.
He passed away three days before turning 73, after a seven year war with cancer where he won three separate battles. Below is the text I wrote for his memorial. A recording of the service won’t match this verbatim, as I followed the outline and spoke freely except when things would get tough. I did my best to keep it light and fun, only turning serious and mournful at the end.
Many here watched me grow up, but for those of you who didn’t, my name is Patrick. But to dad I was more often Paddy. Or son. Or honey. Or sweetie. Or once or twice I was even Chester, which was the dog’s name. He had many names for each of his kids, but all of them conveyed one important thing: love.
My dad loved his family. He loved us more than anything else in the world. He loved us so much that much of my childhood is filled with memories of him bragging on me and my siblings to friends, customers, and strangers in the line at the grocery store. Anyone who would listen was subjected to these stories.
This habit of his was only slightly mortifying to a gawky teenage boy. And so, with that in mind, I stand up here to accomplish two things:
1) exact just a little bit of revenge on my father by sharing stories of his life, and
2) make us all smile and laugh a little as I share.
Dad would have loved to be here to see all his friends and family gathered together. It seems like that is said for every memorial but I know it’s the most true it ever has been here today. He would have loved to catch up and hear about what everyone was up to, and of course brag on each of his kids and grandkids.
Dad loved being involved in anything his kids did. For me that ranged from church choir to scouting to watching me play football. Dad felt football was a great teacher of resilience, teaching me to get back up after life knocks me down.
I was a sophomore at Edgewater and practicing with the JV squad after school when the coach came around asking if anyone “knows who that guy is in the bleachers?” We all turn around to look and there’s my dad. He had finished up work early and was just enjoying the Florida sun, the Orlando Sentinel (something he read cover to cover each day), and most of all his son’s football practice.
Coach Campana was quite upset by this spy in the stands. He clearly thought a competing school was doing some scouting. You have to understand doing that was tantamount to a declaration of war. So, he was visibly upset trying to figure out if we were under siege.
And so, slightly embarrassed to have stirred up this ruckus, I had to raise my hand and say, “That’s my dad sir.” I don’t know what I expected, I think I expected it to be something that would lead to me running laps or something. I’m not sure why. But the truth is that once the mystery was solved it wasn’t a thing at all.
So after practice, I told dad about what his appearance stirred up, and he just laughed and laughed. He loved that story. And as I think back I honestly can’t think of another parent who came and watched the team practice, just dad.
As I said at the beginning, dad never left anyone in doubt of where they stood. His kids and grandkids all got asked an important question, to which there was only one correct answer.
He loved to ask “Who loves you?” To which the correct answer was only “You do!”
But kids being kids, most of us discovered another game we could play, sometimes to exasperating levels for dad I’m sure. He’d ask us “Who loves you?” And we’d name anyone, everyone, and everything except him.
The president does.
The dog does.
On and on we’d go. But he was persistent. You weren’t free to go until you said the all important, “You do.”
This was just one of the ways he made sure you could never doubt… never question… his love for you. For us. For me.
Another feature of dad was his keen engineering mind. He was always curious how things worked. He loved marvels of engineering and space, both were endlessly fascinating to him. He loved to explain how things worked, he loved to teach. I’ll tell you a story of one of his more unusual venues for a lesson I learned.
In 1988, when I was five, the family took a trip to Colorado for skiing. Being five years old I was old enough to believe I could do anything grown-ups could. Including ski.
Now, dad made sure both Charlotte and I took ski lessons and and then once we had mastered not falling down on the bunny slope through careful use of the all important snow plow, dad took me up on a green slope and after successfully making it down, I was handed between family members to keep me out of trouble. Dad… mom… my brothers.
My brothers, not to be dissuaded by being saddled with their five year old brother, decided that I was a good enough skier to join them on a slope more difficult than the beginner level “Green Circle.”
Now, for those of you who don’t go skiing, given the fact we’re here in Florida I am guessing there might be a few of you. Ski slope difficulties go bunny slope, Green Circle, Blue Square… Black Diamond.
Now, my brothers meant well, and knowing me I probably begged them to take me on a big boy slope. So when I tell you they took me up the mountain to a black diamond, don’t judge them too harshly.
I mean, I’m here today, I made it down in one piece. I knew enough to fall down quite frequently as a way to manage my speed. Get up, ski down, fall over, stop. And so on. And so we reached the bottom of the slope and I had survived.
Later, when my father learned that my excursion with my brothers had included this… experience. I think the only fitting word is that he was apoplectic.
As any good father would be.
BUT… and here’s the thing that is just so dad. Rather than let that experience just be what it was and admonish me to never do it again…
He took me AND Charlotte up to the slope again, and made us ski it again. So that he could show us how to do it properly.
Dad believed strongly in making sure his kids were prepared. Always prepared for what might come. And he wanted to make sure I knew how to handle a black diamond slope in case I should ever find myself at the top of a ski slope again whether by my, or my brothers doing.
I could go on and on with stories like this.
My dad’s legacy is in this family. He poured his soul into the family. He wasn’t perfect. But with those imperfections he loved us all and wanted nothing more than for us to love him and to love one another.
I visited with him just a few weeks before he passed and at the time he knew what none of the rest of us knew – he was dying. I wasn’t ready to accept it and I tried to convince him otherwise, but we ended up having the talk that only really happens in the movies. We talked as if it was our last conversation. Quietly, lovingly, holding hands. We got to have a closure he didn’t get when his father passed away.
He told me he was proud of me. He told me he was so excited for the family I’d eventually raise because he knew I’d be a good father and sad because he wouldn’t be around to see it. And of course he told me he loved me.
That conversation will stay with me for my entire life.
I don’t believe what he told me was unique, but that I think I was simply the recipient of the message from him. A message which is meant for the whole family.
He was proud of each of us. He was excited to see what the family would become, whether children of our own or just how it would grow. And he loved each and every one of us.
As if there was any doubt.