This is the eulogy I read at my father’s memorial service on March 18, 2018. I did not edit it for grammatical correctness.
Thank you for coming today. I’m Mike’s oldest daughter, Mel(anie). It’s overwhelming and comforting that so many people care about my father.
It seems to me that eulogies often comprise a slew of compliments and favorable adjectives. I don’t know if those I’ve heard have been for truly remarkable humans, or if in one’s grief, people focus on all of the good about their loved ones. That would make sense. But that’s not my aim, today. I don’t think my father was the greatest human being on the planet or the most amazing father in the whole world. But he was my father, and I loved him, enjoyed him and accepted him even when I wanted to clock him. He was an imperfect human being who was both kind and short-tempered. He loved us, his family and friends and maybe drove them nuts at times. My dad was real. He was humble, hard-working and authentic. He did not aim to please those around him.
My dad held many jobs and roles in his 59 years: he was a miner, a steel worker and a maintenance supervisor. He was a councilman, a baseball umpire, a volunteer fireman and more. He had many loves and hobbies: his family, our community in Seward, bowling, Cellas cherries, Sheetz coffee, Centrum Silver, Pittsburgh sports, guns, archery, deer, fishing, poker, Bob Seger and Jim Croce.
My dad taught me everything I know about fishing. He was an outdoorsman for most of his life, and in the recent past still-so at heart. My dad taught me how to fish, camp, make Red Rose tea with milk and sugar, canoe and garden (or at least eat the vegetables from it). He taught me the injustices of an overprotective father who wouldn’t let me play baseball “with the boys” nor work in the garage. But he did teach me how to fix a popped bike-chain and to diagnose and repair a busted tube, which was pretty much everything I needed to know during my adolescence. He taught me how to start a fire, make mountain pies, shave marshmallow sticks and put the fire out when I was done.
I learned what conservation was before ever hearing the word. Dad taught me to turn off the lights, to use water sparingly while brushing my teeth and how not to litter. I remember driving into Pittsburgh one night to visit Aunt Anne after my great-grandmother had died. The city was bright with lights. I had thought to myself Don’t they know they’re wasting electricity? My third-grade self felt indignant.
My dad was loud. Whether barking out commands and expressions of exasperation, or laughing and engaging happily with those he loved, his voice boomed. It always startled me, even as an adult.
My father might have been a little impatient. He taught me that when caught in a battle-of-wills with an inanimate object, the best course of action is to swear, and to throw or otherwise harm said object. This lesson isn’t a fruitful one, but launching an object while telling it off sure does feel good in the moment. (Or so I’m told.)
Through my dad, I learned some complex lessons pertaining to the head and the heart.
I learned that acceptance is all there really is when it comes to loving someone.
And not mutually exclusive from that is the inability to make someone else’s decisions for them. My dad loved Budweiser and Marlboro Lights 100s. It didn’t matter how much we preached to him about their risks, asked him to stop or exerted the energy to be angry about these habits: he chose them anyway. As I got smarter, I accepted these choices as his, and alleviated myself of the presumed responsibility for him. And now I’m left wondering what drove him to such habits to begin with.
He taught me how to be married to one person through the messy and complex dance that is life. He wasn’t always the best at showing his love for my mother, but it was obvious in the way he worried about her. It was obvious when, after a procedure at the hospital, he held her hand tightly, and cried when she let go before she left for work.
My dad believed in God, and his faith was strong. Stronger than I could ever relate to. As such, I wanted to incorporate something biblical, and the first thing that came to mind was the passage from First Corinthians, Chapter 13: Faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
When I was a kid, Dad used to say he was the richest man in the world…because of us. I thought it was corny and weird, and I even thought he was BS-ing me a bit. But as I’ve moved through life, I’ve grown to believe him. And, I get it. He never fixated on what he didn’t have, and what he had was enough. He loved us, and he was loved.
My kids and I were excited to visit Dad last week in PA. I thought it would be the calm before the storm, that the kids could get some quality time with him before he withered away due to the cancer and the chemo. While driving to PA on Tuesday, my sister called and told me to take her off speaker. Once I had, she said, “Dad’s gone.”
Gone. Dad was gone. Dad IS gone. What does that even mean? Maybe it’s because his death was sudden and unexpected. Maybe I’m still in shock. Whatever the reason, I still can’t comprehend it. But I’m trying.
I know I won’t hear him say, “Hey kid,” or, “Yeeeeeeeeeeep,” or hear him bitching at Mom or admonishing whatever sports team pissed him off on the television.
My kids will never again say, “Hi Pap-pap.”
I won’t see him grow old or be further decimated by cancer or the chemo.
Thus far, all I can understand (partially) is that I won’t hear him, anymore. But I can feel him. I feel him in the necklace I’m wearing around my neck and in the music he loved. And I see him. I see him in the snow flakes, in the birds soaring through the air, in the deer tracks in the yard, in the river, in the trees, the animals, the sunrise….
No longer bound to his physical body, he is everywhere.