Saturday, November 7, 2015

eulogy for Dad

Before we get rolling, there are three things to say about this blog post. First, this is a paraphrase of the eulogy that I delivered about my Dad at his funeral service on November 4, 2015. I used my typical approach: bullet-point outline format for my notes with extemporaneous delivery. So, I didn’t say everything I’ve written here and I didn’t write everything I said, but it is a faithful representation of what was said that day. (It also led to an appearance on Kurt and Chad's radio show, Solid Steps Radio.) 

Second, the pastors and funeral folks expressed gratitude that Dad was eulogized by someone who knew him well. In his particular case, Dad was not so active in church (beyond worship services) that the ministers would have known him well. This was exacerbated in that all of the church’s ministers (other than the minister of music, who preferred not to lead a funeral) have only been there a few years. The pastor for the service opened with Dad's obituary, which was helpful. But (well) beyond that, a strong eulogy from a family member or friend will often trump what a minister can bring to the table. It is my hope that this post inspires you to deliver eulogies (as appropriate).

Third, of course, there are many other things to say about the planning of the relevant events: visitation, funeral and burial/cremation. This article by Gary North is helpful as a resource on the financial aspects (and the economics) of these questions.   
Finally, a cool providence about a memorable story that I was surprised to learn that I did not share: I had a minor accident with Dad's car on October 30, 1981-- what turned out to be exactly 34 years before his death. (It was after a football game at James Madison HS; I was distracted by Leigh Whitfield was in the front seat.) Dad had driven down from NH for the weekend and it was one of his favorite cars. (He had pictures of it on his wall at one time.) He handled it so well-- one of those gracious moments that stick with you and model how to handle difficulty. 

There were many small things to know about Dad.
-Dad was a proud Marine, especially over the last decade or so.
-Many of you know Dad as an avid golfer. But Dad was an active tennis player earlier in life. When he began to have frequent trouble with “tennis elbow”, he switched to golf.
-Although Dad never owned a motorcycle, he was a big fan of Harley-Davidson. The last pair of underwear he wore in hospice was his HD boxers. And for his 60th birthday, Cath got him an hour on a bike with a “Harley chick”. Awesome!
-Dad loved ice cream, especially Blue Bell Vanilla Bean, Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip, and anything from Graeters. I remember him eating a half-gallon in a sitting—and not today’s 3/8ths of a gallon! We’ll celebrate tonight in part by eating ice cream!
-Dad was a big sports fan, especially the Celtics and the Yankees. (I never asked him why he happened to root for big winners!) He went to the 1976 Summer and 1980 Winter Olympics, since we lived between Montreal and Lake Placid for four years. And he was good at predicting football games; he won our NFL “confidence league” once and was near the top the other two years.
-Dad was into cars and this leads to a number of memories. He was arrested twice for drag racing—once as a teen and then one last time, a few months after I was born! He delivered Cathy in the back of a police car, on the way to the hospital. Our home was only a mile away from Baptist East, but Cath was in a hurry to get out. I don’t think Dad had a catcher’s mitt, but he caught Cath on the way out. I also remember the one car accident I’ve had that was my fault: After my parents had separated, Dad came for a visit and let me borrow his car (one of his most prized cars). It was a minor car accident, but I thought he was going to be really upset. Instead, he told me to pay for the damage and the higher insurance rates—and was really cool about it. (Update: I realized, almost a year later, that the accident was on October 30th, the same day Dad died!)

Celebrating Dad’s life: four larger things
First, Dad was a worker. In Genesis 2, we’re told that the first thing God gave Adam was work to do. The first institution established by God was (kingdom) work; the second was marriage. (Of course, marriage and family are often part of our Kingdom work, but the institution of “work” is primary.) In other words, we’re built to work and Dad took that seriously. He wasn’t a workaholic, but he enjoyed his work.
After “The Fall” in Genesis 3, “work” would often become “toil”. But Dad was good about “redeeming” his work, avoiding drudgery and finding purpose in his work life. Dad loved working with people, especially the customer service aspects of it—wanting to find products and services that would make them more effective in their work. And from what I understand of Dad’s career as a newspaper publisher, he would go into difficult situations and try to turn things around or transition them into a new phase. I like to think of this as “newspaper redemption”.
So too, we’re to work through difficult situations at work, find purpose in our work, and redeem the time and the opportunities available to us. Colossians 3:23-24 says: “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.”
Second, Dad was good with financial advice; he had a good sense of humor; he had a ready smile; he was a good encourager; and so on. But he modeled a lot more than he ever said—in many areas.
Dad enjoyed work and play in balance; more broadly, he enjoyed life. Philippians 4:8 says to meditate on whatever is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Dad did that in spades and showed us how to do the same.
Dad was friendly—gregarious is the best word, I think, but also quirky and personable. And he did this with everyone, most memorably with those serving him in retail and other service environments. In a word, he extended dignity to all people—even to those who had nothing to offer him. Many of us treat people well when they have something to offer. But even the pagans do that (Matthew 5:47). Following Dad, we should treat all people with respect and dignity, especially those who are not used to receiving it.
Part of Dad’s affability was his corny sense of humor. For example, he would routinely introduce himself as my “older brother”. At the visitation last night, a lady introduced herself to me and asked if I was his brother. So the joke continues from beyond the grave! He would often ask cashiers: “Do y’all take cash?” His sister Mary gave him a visor with blond hair sticking out of it; he loved wearing it. I won’t steal many of his lines or props, but I’ll definitely use his approach.
In all of this, he lived out Colossians 4:5-6: “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Dad was saved by God’s grace and he was quick to extend grace to others.
Putting it another way, Dad was a “good guy”. The word “guy” is funny. Often, it’s a term used as a criticism of immaturity—someone who’s being a guy rather than a man. Or one can be a “nice guy”, but that implies getting trampled and being bland milquetoast. What you want is to be a “good guy”—and Dad was that.
Third, beyond merely a “good guy”, Dad was a hero with respect to marriage. Dad was saved by Jesus at 16, but was not walking closely enough to handle marriage with my mom. They separated in 1980 and divorced in 1986. They usually got along well enough after the separation, which was really helpful, but it wasn’t a marriage. After moving to Northern Kentucky, he re-dedicated his life to Jesus in his 50s; his walk deepened; and his character strengthened. He continued to pursue my Mom and eventually, they remarried in 2004.
The Church is worried about marriage, saying that it’s under siege from recent events. But the fact is that marriage has been under attack for 50 years—often from within the Church, as marriage has been diminished by people who claim to revere the institution, but have treated it and its covenantal commitments in a cavalier fashion. Dad did something about the decline of Marriage—not for the sake of Marriage, but for the sake of his marriage and his family—and it’s changed everything for us. Our family tree doesn’t have a break in it anymore. We didn’t have to explain a fractured family to the grandkids. And we have the model of a man who was devoted to his wife, even when things got really difficult—within a culture was telling him he could walk away. Who does that? A hero.
Fourth, he was a really good Dad, but he was a great “Papaw”. He didn’t live long enough to be a great-grandfather, but was a great, devoted grandpa. He stepped up his game as a grandpa. This is the biggest loss—and the saddest aspect of his passing: for the grandkids. Joseph said he would miss Dad at birthday parties. Brennan said he would miss his jokes. He was the “ultimate babysitter” for Reagan and Maddy, living just down the street and willing to play with them until somebody got too tired to continue.
What to do with our loss?
Yes, we would have enjoyed another 10 years with Dad, especially for the grandkids. It’s tempting to be mad at God and really sad at the situation. But as an economist, I’m trained to think about alternatives—what we call “opportunity costs”. Let’s think about some of those with Dad.
How can I be sad, compared to other sorts of life? Dad was comfortable with the grace of God and the goodness of God’s Kingdom. Could I ask for anything more? Dad could have had a greatly-abbreviated life. My friend Kurt lost his amazing wife Kristen at age 45. My son Brennan had a brain tumor that could have killed him at age 12. Dad got 76 years! And Dad could have lived a profitless/empty life (I Pet 1:18, NIV). Goethe said that a worthless/wasted life is only an early death. But Dad lived a full, profitable life. I’m so thankful that he was the sort of person who will be sorely missed!
How can I be sad, compared to other sorts of death? There are three basic ways to die. One can have a long, painful death. One can die in a moment, surprising everyone. A man at the visitation said that he had lost his father in this way. His dad didn’t suffer at all, but there was no time to say goodbye. With Dad, we had seven weeks for goodbye and he had very little pain. There’s no better way to go!
So, I have no complaints about how he died, but I might be tempted to complain or quibble about “when” he died. The timing does seem a bit strange, but presumably it’s providential. And God has already given us clues: it happened just as Dad was selling the business. He had a massive stroke on the Monday before his Wednesday appointment at MD Anderson, which eliminated all possibility of treatment. And when Phillip (the music minister at their church) visited us at hospice on Friday, he concluded with a prayer, asking twice that Jesus would “give David what he needs”. I had laid hands on Dad and his breathing changed dramatically during the prayer. Within 15 minutes, he had passed on.
All that said, we don’t know the answer about the timing of Dad’s death. In any case, in God’s economy, we hold to the promise of Romans 8:28: “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”.
Any funeral should do a few things. A funeral should encourage us to number our days well. A funeral should remind believers that our eternal life in Christ Jesus has already begun—and that death marks the passage into the next phase of that eternal life. And as we’ve seen with Dad this morning, a funeral reminds us that we get to write a good bit of our own funeral message.
But let me close with particular lessons from Dad’s life. First, strive to enjoy your life and your work. Life is too short—and life is too long—to spend it in drudgery, missing out on the joy and peace that God wants us to have. Strive to find those in your life too. Second, love others and invest in them: family and friends, but also with those in your everyday life—particularly with strangers and especially with those to whom dignity is not always extended. Third, persist in the important things, even when they’re really difficult. Dad modeled this well, especially in his marriage.

I thank God the Father for my Dad. I hope and pray that I can emulate him where he most closely followed our God.


At February 26, 2016 at 7:29 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Eric, I enjoyed listening to the Solid Steps radio broadcast, and through that learned of your father's passing. I am so sorry for your earthly loss, but rejoice with you in his destination. Although I didn't get a chance to meet your father, maybe I know him a little through knowing you and meeting your brother - I also know him better through your post of his eulogy. I'm thinking he was a GIANT in may ways through his example. Our sincere condolences, our sincere love to you, Tonia and the boys. Ginger and Rick


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