Sunday, July 13, 2014

A eulogy for my father

(To hear the audio version of this eulogy, scroll down to the player at the end of this post.)

My father taught me many things in life. Some of them I learned better than others. But for all of the things he taught me, it's funny that I remember so few of his words.

My father was a quiet man. Most of what I learned, I absorbed from being around him and watching what he did. When he taught me how to ride a bike, he demonstrated to me that he would hold on for a long time to help me feel safe. But he also showed me that he wouldn't hold on forever. I eventually had to learn to apply brakes and turn corners myself, even if that meant I skinned some knees and elbows until I developed confidence.

Early on, he installed a basketball hoop on the garage of my childhood home and taught me to shoot baskets. I tried to learn the finer points of hook shots and jump shots, but mostly we settled for countless games of H-O-R-S-E where at least I had a fighting chance against my taller brother and father. I didn't know until I was somewhat older that I had been taught to shoot like a boy - something that pleased me greatly.

In his quiet way, my father also taught me a lot about the mysteries of life, about Christianity and how to live compassionately in this hard world of ours.

As a young child growing up in Minneapolis, I remember getting up before dawn to attend 6:30 Mass with him. (He went daily, I did not.) I cannot remember clearly what induced me to get up at this dark and chilly hour. Certainly I was not the natural early riser that my father seemed to be.

But there was something about the sacred stillness of the church, the mumbled words in Latin (that I did not fully understand) and being with my Daddy that made it a holy time worth getting out of bed for. And when we got home, he would cook me a poached egg for breakfast. Such a beautiful memory, poignant in its simplicity.

As I got older, I found books like The Imitation of Christ (Thomas a Kempis) and Seeds of Contemplation (Thomas Merton) on my father's bookshelf. I don't remember discussing them - but I read them and I learned.

I do not recall my father ever once instructing me to speak up for the less fortunate, to help those in need or to offer service to the church. Yet throughout life, I saw him do each of these things many times over. As a Eucharistic minister, he brought Communion to the sick and homebound. He was a care partner to a man with AIDS. He was a sacristan, helping the priest set up for daily Mass and funerals. When living in North Carolina, he traveled to a flood-damaged community to help rebuild homes.

He gave generously of his time and money but didn't talk much about it. He did it as naturally as he washed dishes after dinner or tended to the tomato plants he grew in the back yard. That was simply how he lived his life.

But this life of his was not a dry or joyless one by any means either. My father was dedicated to his golf game and he played a good hand of bridge. He traveled with my mother to the ends of the earth, from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia to the Great Wall of China. He had a wonderful sense of humor and I will perhaps miss his laugh more than anything.

I have often wondered how I came to be blessed with such a father. As a psychologist, I hear of fathers who molest or beat their children, fathers who tell their children they will never amount to anything or who walk away and never support their children, emotionally or financially.

Certainly I did nothing to deserve such a great blessing. I simply came out of the womb and landed in the arms of parents who loved me. I do not know why this was given to me, nor do I understand why it is not given to everyone.

But I do know that with this gift comes a responsibility. My father taught me many things. But most of all, he gave to me of his spirit, a Spirit that was poured out in him when he chose the Faith as a young adult.

I too must live that Spirit always, in the fullness of love and compassion. Though I do not have children, I too must share that Spirit or it will die within me.

And so I ask you today, in Christ, to be my child or my brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, aunt or uncle. Let us be family, that we might share this Spirit always, for this is what we were made for: to share One Father, One Spirit, in the love of Christ our Savior.

To Him be glory. Amen.