My dad died six years ago today. His death was completely unexpected. He had had knee replacement surgery and then died from a subdural hematoma a week and a half later. He had been complaining about a headache since shortly after he woke up from surgery. Even after an autopsy, we still don't have a clear sense of what happened.
My relationship with my dad was complicated. And the best tribute I could give him came from the words I spoke at his memorial service. So, that's what I'm including here.
This is what is important to me: to not sugarcoat who Dad was. I refuse to present him as some saintly person, as that does him a grave injustice. Many of us loved Dad in spite of his faults, and that speaks volumes about his good traits.
If there is one word that I would use to describe Dad, it would be: intense. He was intensely joyful and intensely angry, intensely generous and intensely demanding, intensely playful and intensely competitive, intensely loving and intensely embarrassing. His sense of humor was often inappropriate. And boy, could that man hold a grudge. Dad took things very personally, and burned more than a few bridges over the years. At the same time, he was incredibly outgoing, and made new friends quickly.
The man had three wives and five children, and through it all, he had one house. The Farm, (as those of us who first lived and visited there called it), was always there; it was the one constant in his life. The fact that he is not still in that house is just wrong.
To say that his death was unexpected is to make an enormous understatement. He had lived through too much to be felled by delayed complications from knee replacement surgery. What he survived included: two boating incidents; alcoholism; one near-fatal car accident, which put him in CICU for a month; and Hepatitis C, which he got from the blood transfusion he received because of that car accident. Here’s the ironic thing: he put off having that knee surgery for so long because he feared the pain of the recovery period; it didn’t occur to any of us that it might lead to his death. Really, how could something so relatively minor affect such a survivor?
Dad was young beyond his years. He truly enjoyed playing any kind of game--especially with his kids. Popular board games included Sorry and Careers, which we would play for hours on end. Up to Seven Down to Seven (which is what my Grandmother Gaumnitz renamed Oh Hell) was the card game that dominated our house. He taught all of us how to play cribbage. Summer days were spent playing Frisbee and our special form of badminton, which involved no net and the goal was to keep the birdie in the air for as long as possible. Dad loved the pool—we would spend all day there and stay until it closed at night. In the winter, he would take us sledding and we would stay outside until we were sure that our whole bodies were frozen. Dad was tireless when it came to playing—particularly with his kids.
Dad loved to cook, and was quick to tell anyone what a great cook he was. For any of you who have tasted his food, you know his unspoken motto: more is more. This goes for flavorings as well as portions. Subtlety was not part of Dad’s vocabulary. There are two stoves at Dad’s house, because he refused to give up his beloved grill, which served up too many humongous breakfasts to count. Dad also hated to waste food, and his immediate family is all too familiar with his worst dish ever: leftover stew. Let’s just say that the rest of you are grateful you never sampled that one.
Dad had issues with privacy; it was a concept he just didn’t get. In addition to asking questions that would have been better left unasked, he often shared things about you that you didn’t want shared. I am sure that Dad never understood why I didn’t tell him more about what was going on in my life, but there was always the very real concern that whatever you told him would invariably be shared with others. Let me give you an example. When I was dating a woman in college, it took me months to tell Dad. Not because I thought he would have any problem with it, but because I knew he’d out me to everyone. Hi, my name is Glen, I’m an alcoholic and my daughter is a lesbian.
You will probably hear from many people what a generous person Dad was, and nothing could be more true. Heaven forbid that you might express interest in something, because before you knew it, it might be yours. One fall, Dad and Idalia came to visit Ethan and me in Northampton. I happened to mention that I liked some items I saw in the various stores we visited. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was surprised to find all those items under the tree at Christmastime. Speaking of that holiday, Christmas at Dad’s was an exercise in excess. Dad loved buying gifts for people.
Added to that, he was a bargain fiend. If Dad found something on sale, there was a good chance he’d buy multiples of it. The worst invention for Dad’s bargain obsession were those warehouse stores, you know, Pace, BJ’s, Sam’s Club. Dad was known to come home with gallons of cole slaw, for example. Something we clearly were never going to finish. We came up for a name for those items: Pace mistakes.
Dad would literally give you the shirt off his back. He has given me some of my favorite everyday items: two beloved baseball caps and a pen that everyone compliments me on when they use it. These were things that he really liked and enjoyed having, but which he thought nothing of giving to me. I’m sure there are many of you who have received random and not so random gifts from him over the years.
So, in the end, I know that Dad will be remembered for the many wonderful things he did for people. Things he thought nothing of doing, as it was simply his nature to give of himself. It’s clear that his tireless generosity will be missed in this world. And although, I will not miss those aspects of his personality which led me to dub him Mr. Annoying Man, it is the loss of the generous and loving part of him that I, and I’m sure many of you, find so unfair and impossible to understand.