Dad’s Memorial

This is the eulogy that we read during Dad’s funeral.  It was so damn hard to write and it just does not capture enough, but it scratches the surface of him.

[t]Growing up, we viewed our dad as the embodiment of the Marine Corps. As a really young child, I recall thinking that my dad must have been one of the men in the famous Iwo Jima photograph… and that that explained the cause of the back injury I had heard about. It seemed to us that our dad was personally responsible for protecting the entire world against anyone who wanted to cause harm. And we felt safe in the knowledge that dad was fighting to protect everyone.


His personality was big, his voice boomed, his eyes blazed… he was omnipresent to us. Even when he was away on various deployments, when I heard a big booming voice on the radio, I would often ask my mom if the voice was Dad’s. It simply had to be him. He was everywhere.


In many ways, he was the stereotypical Marine. He was commanding, decisive, intimidating; he quickly assessed a situation and seemed to know just what to do right away; he struck instant fear into the hearts of the few male callers brave enough to approach the door to take either of us on dates; he got us up out of bed a few mornings in the same way he would a recruit (mattress flipped over “get up get out of the rack”); he was stoic in the face of horrific situations and the terrible memories that remained afterwards; he endured unimaginable physical pain with acceptance and fortitude.


But in other ways, our dad was not your stereotypical Marine. AS commanding as he was, he didn’t order us around like mini-Marines. He involved us in decisions and explained his reasons for forbidding this or vetoing that. As a young child (maybe 6?), I remember him getting down on his knees to look me in the eye to tell me why what I did was wrong.  He respected us as individuals and wanted us to understand.


AS decisive as he was, he enjoyed talking about issues for which there were no easy solutions. Some of our favorite moments were around the dinner table or beside his living-room chair, discussing problems with which philosophers, theologians, and political scientists continually grapple… problems we never solved, but learned the value of trying to tackle. We never walked away from these conversations thinking, “oh right, we’ve solved that.” Rather, we learned something about critical thinking, seeing more than one side of an issue, and working out differences. For dad, it was not the end solution that was important; it was the process that mattered. And it was his wide-ranging interests, curiosity, and his valuation of discussion and debate that inspired us to tackle our own research questions in our respective (and very different) fields.  Looking back with adult eyes, it is amazing to think that, after a long day of work, he wanted to come home and debate religion with his 10/11yr old daughters.  Instead of chatting with friends or neighbors, he wanted to know the thoughts of his little girls on a subject.


When I was little, I used to save up the most impossible philosophical questions for bedtime… to buy some time probably. One night I asked my Dad why I was so fortunate (great family, good friends, etc) while other people suffered. I asked him if the great fortune I enjoyed meant that I was “due” misfortune, telling him that I was worried about my future because it was certainly going to be full of hardship… to balance out the good stuff so to speak. He told me that I couldn’t worry about the possibility of bad things happening, since if I was continually looking over my shoulder waiting for misfortune, I’d never be able to enjoy the good things I had in my life. He stressed living in the now—advice that he followed himself even in the most difficult circumstances.


He often told us that we had to rely on ourselves, since there were no guarantees about anyone else. During one of our conversations, he told me that the only person I absolutely knew would be around for the rest of my life was myself. He assured me that he would always love me and that he would always be there for me, but that one day he might be gone and I would have to live without him. Although I’m not ready for that, he did his best to get me there.


[c]As imposing as he was, he didn’t impose on us. He left the field wide open for whatever we wanted to do. There was no talk about gender, or race, or class as limiting factors in life; in fact, they were non-issues. Most people spend their adult lives trying to escape the box their parents, environment, society, or whatever put them in.  We never had to spend time doing that, because our parents never put us in one.  I never thought it was too “girly” to do anything or not girly enough, for that matter. No goal was too big; no interest was too trivial. I mean, how many fathers buy their daughter a Jeep Wrangler for their 17th birthday and take them out muddin?


He taught us to speak – loudly if necessary.  He never balked at an opportunity to do the “right” thing, even if that meant losing a job or making waves.  He showed us the value of honesty and bluntness.  I never feared speaking up in my classes where I was one of 2 females – since Daddy raised me to have a voice.


As seriously as he took his job as a Marine, he was even more dedicated to his family. He took seriously his responsibilities as a father—to teach us about the world and to prepare us to live in it successfully and independently, ethically, and responsibly. He taught us to love each other unconditionally, as he loved us, as he loved our mom and later Mary and her children. Whenever we would argue, he would sit us down and tell us that we HAD to get along with one another– that our bond with one another would carry us through life (and he was right).


You would think, for as much as he taught us growing up, that we were done learning life lessons from him.  But, in the last 6 years, he has taught us so much about living life and the grit and determination sometimes required to get through it.  I remember holding his hand the day he was diagnosed with Stage III throat cancer.  He heard the news and paused for a moment. As the doctor mentioned statistics, my Dad said that he didn’t need statistics, because he never followed them.  His next words were “Tell me how I kick its ass.”  He showed us, in the last 6yrs, what it is like to live life.  As difficult as it was for him to keep fighting these last battles, he continually accepted bad news stoically (and with a lot of humor).  He constantly had us cracking up in the hospital rooms, cracking jokes and pissing off the nurses.  During periods of remission, he said that he didn’t want to look over his shoulder waiting for the cancer to return. He enjoyed the time he had.


While I am not at the point in my grief to accept his absence from my life, I know that he will continue to be an integral presence.  He will be there as we both raise our daughters, in the same spirit that he raised us.  While I feel right now that I have lost a kindred spirit, I hope that I will be able to take comfort soon in knowing that he is still with me, guiding me through life.  


We are still very angry that, after all the times he fought for his life while a Marine, he had to spend the last 6 years fighting. He should have been given time to rest and relax, time to be with his wife, and time to travel.  But we are grateful for all that time we had – grateful that he was such a fighter that we were able to have him for those 6 extra years.


And as empty as we feel right now, we still hear his voice telling us to “be strong” and “you’ll get through.” Because life was so precious to him, he lived it with great intensity and we had the benefit of 20 lifetimes with our dad because he was such a strong presence each and every day. When he was there, he was there. And so he is still here.

Dad and Pregnant me