On this Father’s Day, a month after the passing of my dad, I wanted to write something in tribute to him. (It doesn’t have anything to do with autism. Here’s what I wrote about my dad and autism.) And then realized I already had just a month ago – his eulogy. Here it is:
Many years ago, I found an anonymous little wisdom essay originally published in a 1916 Old Farmers Almanac. I loved it. I clipped it out, saved it in a scrapbook, and read it many times over the years – to the point of having it nearly memorized. And I know why it spoke to me – it described perfectly my father. It reads:
A friend is a person who is “for you,” always, under any suspicion. He never investigates you. When charges are made against you, he does not ask proof. He asks the accuser to clear out. Anybody may stand by you when you are right; a friend stands by you even when you are wrong. He likes you just as you are. He does not want to alter you. Whatever kind of coat you are wearing suits him. Whether you have on a dress suit or a hickory shirt with no collar, he thinks it’s fine. He likes your moods, and enjoys your pessimism as much as your optimism. He likes your success. And your failure endears you to him the more. He is never jealous. He wants nothing from you, except that you be yourself. He is the one being with whom you can feel SAFE. With him you can utter your heart, its badness and its goodness. You don’t have to be careful. In his presence you can be indiscreet; which means you can rest. You give to him without reluctance and borrow from him without embarrassment. When you are vigorous and spirited you like to spend your days with him; when you are in trouble you want to tell him; when you are sick you want to see him; when you are dying you want him near. Friendship is the most admirable, amazing, and rare article among human beings. It is said the highest known form of friendship is that of the dog to his master. You are in luck if you can find one man or one woman on earth who has that kind of affection for you and fidelity to you. For if you can live fifty years and find one absolute friend you are fortunate indeed. For of the thousands of human creatures that crawl the earth, few are such stuff as friends are made of.
It may seem strange that I am reading about friendship while speaking about my father. No, my father was not one of those parents guilty of shirking being a parent in favor of being his child’s pal. He was definitely a father, but, for all the reasons described in that essay, he was also the greatest friend I will ever have.
Over the past couple of weeks, so many of you – sitting here today – have called, written, or come by to tell me just that. Eyes bright, voices rough with emotion, and sharing story after story of what a remarkable friend you knew him to be.
The thing that I liked best about my father was his ability to cultivate the most eclectic, yet loyal and happy friendships. He didn’t care how well his friends were dressed or where or if they attended church. He wasn’t the least bit concerned with their wealth, professional success, or level of education – merely pleased for them if they were doing well. He cared only about character, wit, and a spirit of adventure in those whom he chose to befriend. And, despite his widely known political views, several of his very favorite liberals are sitting here today, probably remembering some amusing and spirited debates.
Spread out across this church are many people I know a lot about. For, if my dad mentioned someone, he would tell you a story or share his view of what he really thought about them. Some of you right now might be thinking, “Uh oh”. But you have no cause for worry. Because he just didn’t have bad things to say about people. I’m sure he held the secrets of many people here today, but he held them to himself. He was, like the essay said, as faithful as a dog to those whom he called his friends.
For being such an analytical man, he rarely analyzed those he knew. Whenever someone would apologize for some imagined offense, he would laugh and say, “You don’t ever have to worry about offending me. I’m so unobservant, I likely won’t have noticed.” It was true. He wouldn’t have noticed. But not because he was unobservant. I think we all know just how quick his mind was. But, unlike many of us, he simply didn’t choose to look for slights from others. Even if those slights involved glazed and wandering eyes during one of his thrilling yet unabridged tales of Allied naval victories.
No, he wasn’t one to take offense. Yet he was such a humble person that he also didn’t look for praise. When told of something nice someone said about him, he was always somewhat astonished he crossed their mind in the first place. I promise you, he never dreamed of the outpouring of fond memories and heartfelt sentiments so many of you have expressed over the past several days. He never imagined the high esteem in which so many of you held him. I know he would have been completely surprised and quite moved.
Yes, my dad was a beloved character all right – and one we liked to tease mercilessly. Mainly because his playful spirit so enjoyed that teasing he would turn pink and belly laugh. From his always-convenient ankle-strapped mini-Derringer to his ever-ready bottles of homemade datil pepper sauce, it can be safely said there will never be another quite like him. As my dear friend Jen so aptly described his loss, “A wonderful man has left us. A grand Southern gentleman, an intellectual, a thoughtful and wry wit, and a deeply loved man. The world is less today.”
I could stand here and speak all day about my Daddy – his stories, humor, philosophies, and kindnesses. I could tell you of all the people in recent days who have poured out their hearts about what a fine man he was, how true a friend he was to them, and how much they respected him. But, rather than hold you nice folks hostage, I will sum up everything I am feeling right now to this:
There are no doubt thousands of little girls, both young and old, the world over who hold their daddies to be men among men. But I have had the honor and extraordinary experience of having so many others… agree. I am so very proud to have been his daughter.