My dad passed away at my home on January 2, 2013. He departed peacefully during a blazing sunset that streamed through the windows onto his bed. My mom and many family members were surrounding him. At the wake someone remarked that surely a host of angels and Jesus came to greet him. That being said, in retrospect, I regret that I forgot to vacuum.
Below is the eulogy that my brother and I gave together. I love you dad and my heart is broken.
Our dad was a very special guy. While it is impossible to tell you everything about him, hopefully, my sister and I can shed some light on his character, which was, by many accounts, larger than life.
Mom recalled that from the beginning of their relationship, she always felt protected by him.
“He treated me like a princess,” she said, adding, “I used to call him my MacGyver.” Dad got a kick out of the way mom confused clichés, team names, and the English language in general.
For example, my father nearly busted a lung when my mother lamented, “I wanted the Bull Skins to win the Super Bowl.” Mom said, “He was very witty and he used to tell me that I was the only one who laughed at all his jokes.” She was always very proud of dad and their deep love was apparent through the ups and downs of 39 years of marriage, an experience that they shared as a Marriage Encounter team couple for ten years.
My brother and I both pursued teaching careers, but our father was our first teacher. We absorbed his love of learning and natural curiosity. He could quote his favorite writers- Robert Frost and Henry David Thoreau. He put himself through college at night while working full -time to improve life for his family. He traveled all over the country and world to provide for us. He was extremely courageous and never complained.
My father loved science. He liked to take things apart and learn their inner workings. When I was 17, I had a job at Sears. One day, I ran a customer’s credit card and saw that he lived on the block behind our home. I said, “Oh, I know where you live; I live on McCall Ave!” He replied, “Really? What’s with that weird guy with the spaceship in his backyard?” I said sheepishly, “Oh, that’s my Dad’s completely self-sufficient, computer controlled greenhouse.”
My dad was my best friend and biggest fan. As a father, he gave me the tools I needed to grow. Like a friend, he encouraged me to use them. When I was ten, I showed an interest in music. Dad gave me his old Silvertone guitar and taught me a few chords. On my 11th birthday, he went down to Paisley Music Center in Babylon and bought me an electric guitar. That guitar was way beyond my level of skill at the time, but Dad believed in me. I remember when I learned my first song, “Sunshine of Your Love,” he listened from the yard as I practiced. When I came outside, he happily hugged me and said, “I knew you could do it.” I went on to torture my entire family with that song for the next two years.
Dad drove me to and from band rehearsals when I was a teenager. He always sat and listened. I remember him enthusiastically chewing the drummer’s father’s ear off about how I took the guitar so much further than he had and how I could, “really play lead!” Even when he was sick, Dad came to my gigs. Without my father’s faith and encouragement, I would not know the joy of making music.
Thanks to my father’s kindness of heart, there were other things that he made sure I understood. Just before his illness, he pulled me aside and said, “I just want to tell you how proud I am of the man you’ve become.” Many sons never learn the depth of their father’s recognition. I always knew, and I am forever grateful.
Dad was very creative and had many hobbies over the years. He built a man cave in the basement for this purpose, where he would spend hours blasting classical music and tinkering away at his latest interest.
I remember sitting on the basement steps imagining the scenes that went along with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at An Exhibition. The music reminded dad of when he was a little boy and grandpa would connect the phonograph to the television. Dad would lie on the floor and put his ear up to the television speakers, doing the same thing I did a generation later.
He was fascinated with airplanes and immersed himself in boating. My mother recalled how, during a boating course he took, dad was the first to volunteer to take apart an engine. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Dad was a carpenter for fun. Although he would say, “your mother always has a new project for me,” we all knew he liked working on the houses he owned. In this area, dad was a jack of all trades.
As dad worked on his projects, he always had his “boys” at his side. By “boys,” I mean his two standard poodles, Leo and Merlin. When our parents got a third poodle, Teddy, dad proudly assumed his role as “Top Dog.” Our father’s love of animals reveals the gentleness of his spirit.
As a gentle spirit, Dad was humble and very aware of his imperfections. No one was harder on dad than dad. He tried to become the best version of himself. It was his deep Catholic spirituality that made this self-reflection possible.
My father was dedicated to his belief in God. He was the spiritual leader of our family. I can recall many long walks filled with deep conversations on faith and the trials and teachings of Jesus. Dad knew how to listen and always offered reassuring spiritual insights. As a man in his thirties, my father taught himself how to recite the Rosary as he drove to and from New Jersey each work day.
Toward the end of his life, dad started a new tradition. He united his family each Friday night by leading a group recitation of the Rosary. Dad knew that this would strengthen our family bond. This was my father’s last labor of love; one which we are excited to continue. Our new tradition emphasizes my father’s legacy of faith and family; because of his strength we know how to be strong.
Dad was an avid reader. In Brookhaven Rehab the Activities Director asked him what type of books he liked to read. “Survival stories,” he answered, adding, “Isn’t that ironic?”
His ability to make you laugh seemed effortless. He never lost his sense of humor and that was one of the qualities that made him so likable.
Dad had a playful spirit. Growing up he was the uncle that all my cousins climbed on, and he always riled up the kids. When I was little, I loved when he would wrestle and play with me in our living room. One time, as he lay sprawled out sleeping on the living room floor; I took the opportunity to whack him directly on the nose with my trusty, red Fisher Price hammer. While most dads would probably have to kill a kid for such an infraction, my dad laughed it off, even though I learned later that he “saw stars.” Recently, I watched as he played with his grandchildren the same way. He said, “I’m giving out beatings- who wants one?” My niece and nephews shouted in reply, “Me first! Me first!”
There is not a person in my family that would dare enter a pool that my father was swimming in. In fact, it was dangerous to even walk by a pool that he was in. Many an unassuming cousin, oblivious to the Jaws theme music Dad was humming as he lurked in the water below, fell victim to a “washing machine” as they passed dangerously near the pool’s edge. Dad never let on that the “washing machine” was actually not deadly. He used to joke and ask, “What good is having kids if you can’t torture them?”
Dad was a protective father. I remember on my 16th birthday, he came into my room early in the morning before going to work and announced: “Today you’re almost a woman and so I’m making you a special breakfast.” I could sense then that he was afraid of me being almost a woman.
Dad didn’t realize that my growing up was nothing to worry about because I feared disappointing him more than anything. Little girls believe what their fathers tell them. My dad helped me become a self-sufficient adult. Although he told me he had no delusions of grandeur, dad was a hero in my life.
My view of him formed from the many talks my brother mentioned, and watching his actions. Those “lectures” -as he called them - I secretly enjoyed. They shaped my self-esteem. When he saw me starting to date and said to demand respect in relationships I did, because I saw how he loved my mother and knew it was possible to find a man who was good at the core.
Dad was a list guy. He always had a plan and a backup. In 1997, when my husband John went to him to ask permission to marry me, it was not surprising that Dad’s response was:
“What’s your plan John? How will you support my daughter?”
The fact that John had none didn’t sit well with dad because he planned thoroughly for everything. That’s why, when his health issues began in 2011, one of the first things he said was “I can’t believe this, I am not prepared.”
Despite the inner turmoil he surely felt, Dad faced his mortality with stoic optimism and unflinching bravery because he loved us. He wanted to show us strength. I think his brother Jim said it best when he wrote in a tribute to dad:
“My brother Bob spent the last 17 months fighting an awful disease, never feeling sorry for himself, never questioning God's plan. His concern for others, sense of humor and deep spirituality remained constant.”
There was not a day that went by while dad was sick that he did not express his gratitude for all the loving actions and prayers that others showed him. He was deeply moved by these acts and told me he felt joyful because of them.
In recent months Dad valued each relationship in his life with renewed gusto. He often talked about the importance of family. He wrote in a letter to my sister:
“God is with us and wants us to love each other as best we can. Fear and misunderstanding is from the evil one. We must help each other to resist.”
We have no doubt that when he died; Dad’s greatest hope was realized. God said to him, “Good job, my faithful servant.”
|This is me dancing with dad at my wedding, June 1999. If it is possible that a picture can give comfort, this one does.|
"Tears stream down your face when you lose something you cannot replace ... Lights will guide you home and ignite your bones. I will try to fix you." -Cold Play