Dad.

It’s been a year now since my dad passed away. His health had been bad for years (about fifteen by my reckoning), so it’s not like we didn’t know it was coming, but still, dealing with the death of a parent is the absolute worst. Since June of that summer, his condition had gotten bad. Like, real bad. My mother doesn’t remember saying this, but in September she told me he wouldn’t make it to Christmas. So I made arrangements to see him before then. This is that story.

A year ago today, my father died.

A little less than two weeks before that, I was on a plane, heading to my favorite academic conference, which was happening in Chicago, in late October, which is the only time Chicago is ever remotely acceptable. So I flew into Chicago, and I got to see all my academic friends who I only see once or twice a year at conferences, and I got to see my best friend from college, who lives in Chicago, who I only see maybe once a year, and I got to see my best friend since 1992, who also lives in Chicago, who I only see once or twice a year, and the weekend was amazing and I was overflowing with joy.

Chicago is a short six hour train ride from my parents’ house (my childhood home), so after my amazing weekend, I hopped the Amtrak down to Southern Illinois to surprise my mom and dad. And I got to see my parents and my sister and my nieces and it was lovely. And Shawn flew in from Austin and he got to see everyone and we had a great couple of days. And then Shawn and I drove up to St Louis, saw his family for a quick day, then flew back home to Austin. And those three days were amazing and I was so happy.

Back in Austin it was Halloween weekend, and it was Shawn’s birthday, so we went to the house party that we’ve been going to every year on Halloween since like 2004, and I got to see all my friends that I don’t see very often because I was teaching in San Diego and commuting (kinda) between California and Texas, but everyone was there, and everyone was having fun, and it was wonderful I had a hell of a good time. That was on Friday.

Then on Sunday, two of our dear friends got married, their wedding was out on a beautiful ranch in the Texas Hill Country, and it was a Quaker-style lesbian wedding which is about the most endearing thing you will ever witness in life. And our friend-family was there– friends who we used to see every day, friends who have become family over the years, friends who– like family– moved away or had kids so we only get to see them rarely anymore, maybe once a year if we’re lucky. But they were there, and we were there, and it was amazing, and I was so overfilled with happiness.

And then it was Monday, November 3rd, 2014, and I got on a plane to fly back to San Diego. And on the transfer in Phoenix, I turned my phone on to take a selfie (of course), and I snapped the picture, and the phone rang, and it was my sister.

Dad died.

And that was it.

I scrambled off the plane; up to the gate agent to explain my situation– Get me to St Louis or Paducah as fast as you possibly can. And while I was waiting for the agent to find me a new ticket (Southwest is great, btw), I called Shawn to tell him. And I quoted Roseanne“Dad’s not with us anymore. Dad’s passed away. Dad’s dead. He’s dead.”— because I didn’t know what else to do.

There was no way to get me close to home, but they could get me back to Texas, where Shawn could retrieve me, and we could drive back to Illinois, together. So I flew in to Dallas; took a taxi to the first hotel room I found, fell down on the bed, and cried. Shawn got there eventually, crawled into bed with me, and held me while I cried some more. Then we drove back to Southern Illinois and I buried my father. It was not a smooth or easy funeral/wake/etc. It was two weeks of absolute hell, but that’s a different story. This is the story of the joy that came before. And so, this is the eulogy for my father, that I finally finished, and which Shawn read, one year ago.

This is a eulogy for my father.
I started writing it over fifteen years ago, when we had our first hospital scare. That initial draft began, “If there’s anything we can all agree upon, it’s that my dad could be a real jerk.” I thought it would be funny and irreverent and, actually, in that first version I said something a bit stronger than “jerk”. At the time, I was in my late teens and I was arrogant and brash, and the eulogy reflected that, because I have always been a reflection of my father– the spirit of his grace, and the image of his obstinance.

This is a eulogy for my father.
I wish I could provide an anecdote– some vignette from dad’s average day that would summarize his outlook on life and honor the man he was. But that’s not how I think of my father, so pervasive is his impact on who I am. Instead, I remember my father in snippets, tableaux out of context from the larger narrative. 

I was a child, maybe 5 years old, and I remember trying to help dad air up a tire by a lake.

I’m in preschool or kindergarten, and it’s 2am and I’ve woken up so I can sneak down to the kitchen and sit on the edge of the fireplace and wait for dad to get home from work.

I’m maybe nine or ten, standing in the shed, and Dad’s marking a two-by-four in pencil, showing me where to cut so I could practice using a hacksaw.

It’s 1989– dad and I are in the Carbondale Mall, shopping for our first computer– ostensibly it’s for the family, but really it’s for me and him.

I’m 16 and I’ve been causing trouble at high school again; I’ve been sent home, but dad is on my side. He shares my healthy distrust of authority. Or, more likely, I share his.

It’s this past summer and I’ve come home again for another health scare and dad won’t stop talking about how proud he is of his Concealed Carry permit and I have to keep reminding him that his politics are slightly different than mine, but still, I’m happy that he’s happy.

It’s any given week in the last twenty years, and dad and I are arguing about politics, and I can’t imagine how anyone could be so wrong about something so obvious. And I’m pretty sure he thinks the same thing about me.

It’s last week, and Shawn and dad and I are outside Rebecca’s house, standing in the driveway, hugging goodbye, and it’s the last time I’ll see him.

This is a eulogy for my father.
I’d like tell you not to be sad, that instead of mourning his loss, you should celebrate his life. But it’s not my place to tell any of you how to grieve. And this is something else I got from my father– a deep belief that people are responsible for their own actions, and should take responsibility as well. I’m now about the age dad was when I was born and I’m only just beginning to understand this man who utterly shaped who I am.

This is a eulogy for my father.
I’ve been writing it for over fifteen years. Fifteen years we had with him that we didn’t expect, fifteen years when he got to see the birth of a second grandson and five granddaughters, three of his kids’ college graduations, two of his daughters’ weddings, and so much more. Fifteen years is a long time, especially when it’s borrowed, and whether you want to think of it as Divine Grace or just cosmic good luck, I’m so thankful for it. Thankful that I–that we– have all those additional memories of my father.

Thank you.