My dad died dramatically Super Bowl weekend exactly 20 years ago. To mark the occasion, I am posting the eulogy I wrote. It’s longer than I remembered. I wrote it on a few scraps of borrowed yellow legal paper sitting outside the door of my hotel room in Franklin, Kentucky at 2 a.m. the morning after he died.
I’m 28-years old and I’ve never bought a coat. No one in our family has ever bought a coat and yet our closets brim with them.
Buying coats was Dad’s job and he did it with his trademark generosity of spirit, unique sense of style and, as always, with a touch of humor.
Coats and jackets marked the changing seasons in our house, but they also celebrated milestones like making a team or starting school. Sometimes the coats came after studied shopping expeditions and accompanied by stern reminders about Wisconsin cold and the female tendency to forsake common sense in the name of fashion. More often, though, they were casually, almost shyly delivered with the word “I saw this and I thought of you.”
Dad’s coat purchases became legendary. And if you look around today I guarantee you you’ll see us all wearing coats purchased by him. He said he just liked to buy coats. I know he wanted to keep us warm.
My father took his role as head of our household very, very seriously, but also with obvious joy and remarkable wit. We respected him, we counted on him and we loved to hear him laugh. He and my mother shared a marriage filled with adventure, laughter and love.
As a parent, my dad came whenever we called. He loved to be asked for help.
As a grandparent, though, he even went beyond that.
I called him at Mainline one spring day as I went to drive my then three-year old son Charlie to school and realized I’d lost my car keys. Later that morning, still unable to locate the keys, I hooked up my bike cart, strapped in my baby daughter and rode off to pick Charlie up. Unfortunately, I blew a tire en route and found myself with two kids, two bags of groceries, a huge bike cart, a useless bike and no way to get them all three miles home. Suddenly, unsummoned, my Dad appeared driving a huge white Mainline truck and chuckling at my rotten luck. “Hop in,” he called as he loaded up the bike and cart. I’ve never been able to forget that morning. How had he managed to be in exactly the right spot when we needed him before we even asked? He always was.
In addition to anticipating help, my father loved to be asked for it. Charlie was convinced his grandpa could do anything and grandpa encouraged this faith.
Last fall I attempted too late to find a child’s rake so Charlie could help rake leaves. In vain we looked everywhere but Charlie told me not to worry, his grandpa would find him one.
“Well then he’s going to have to invent one,” I said a little crossly. Dad did. After their weekly lunch at Martines, Charlie came home with his own rake. Dad had bought an adult rake, hacked off both ends, sanded it down and presented it to a delighted Charlie. “Just a little American ingenuity,” Dad said – a favorite saying of his.
From rescuing a stranded paper airplane from the top of a tree, to building a puppet theatre, my dad did anything my children asked. He taught them, wondered at them. dressed and diapered them and played with them. My youngest son is only seven weeks old and Dad was in Florida for four of those weeks but he still managed to have spent several hours alone with Vinnie on separate occasions and I’m so glad.
My father taught my children about love and I hope they remember and treasure those lessons for the rest of their lives.
My dad’s generosity and love defined our whole family and they also reached out to strangers.
Two days before Christmas several years ago as my dad walked from the driveway of our house on a frigid night, a tiny Vietnamese girl approached him. She spoke no English and wore no shoes or coat. She obviously was lost. I, standing next to Dad, had no idea what to do. Dad did.
He hustled her inside and handed her a phone. She dialed a number and he got on the phone and asked for someone who spoke English. Then, after feeding the lost little girl and before driving her home, he did what he always did.
He gave her a coat.