42435050_2093293160760111_4630001528504057856_nThis morning I gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral. It was the most difficult task I have ever undertaken. I was unprepared. I was in shock. And the one man I knew I could always turn to for steady advice, cool counsel and sharp insight– that man was my subject.

This morning I gave the eulogy for my father. This is my tribute to the most influential man in my life– forty-eight years summarized into barely eleven hundred words.

It is not enough. It will never be enough. And yet it must be. This is my what I said in church this morning in front of hundreds of our grieving friends and family.

I don’t want to be here.

I want to be somewhere else. I want to be with Dad.

I want to be cold– and tired. I want to feel blisters popping on my toe. I want to hear the whir of chainrings rush past my ear. I want to be above timberline. I want Dad to encourage me one more time. “It’s all downhill from here.” All the while he’s looking over me toward the treeless peak far above my head.

We could be anywhere else. Someplace evocative! We could be on our way over Music Pass. Phantom Terrace. Mount Massive. Old Monarch Road. I want to be bouncing around the Jeep onto the back side of the Sand Dunes. I want to try once more to dam Medano Creek with sand and look for arrowheads.

I want to hear the winds howling down the San Luis Valley and look on in wonder as it shreds our campsite to pieces.

I don’t want to be here. I want to be with him.


Let me tell you about my Dad.

My Dad is an explorer. He takes me exploring everywhere. Mountains and canyons and rivers and lakes and sea shores.

When the destination is a bit further away, a bit of a logistical nightmare, we go by book. He opens a novel and he and I travel to a new world. A world of pirates with peg legs. A world of castaways. We pilgrimage to Mecca. We go to Mars. We go on adventures with his friends across the river in Missouri. Do you know Tom and Huck? We go everywhere. Anywhere.

And when I got to a certain age, an age when I had absolutely determined the exact locations of everywhere cool–. When I foolishly decided Dad can’t know anywhere cool. You may know that moment yourselves. That wise old age of, oh, let’s say six. Or was it twelve? Or twenty-one. Or forty.

At that moment I resolved to find my own destinations (thank you very much). My own evocative locations. Why not? If Dad can do it, so can I.

I think a proper eulogy should contain some parables, right? A myth or two? A heroic legend? An epic, told by a poet. Let’s go.

I am remembering a cold February evening in Berlin. I am deciding to take the U-Bahn to the end of the line and walk across the bridge to Potsdam. I am disembarking the train and walking down the road. It’s dark. Snow is falling. The air smells of coal fires. I stop. I pick up a fragment of concrete– a shard of the Berlin Wall.

I am continuing on to the bridge. I am imagining myself involved in some clandestine prisoner exchange with East German Stasi agents.

Close your eyes. Close your eyes as you stand on the Glienicke Bridge. See a tall, dignified man emerging out of the snow from the other side. You recognize him as he points to the Wall fragment.

My Dad is a student of history. Listen. Listen as this man, my Dad, describes the weight of the piece of history you hold in your hand. What shaped it. What broke it. How you came to hold it. Listen. Listen in this cold quiet. The snowfall swallows all other sounds. Listen and you can hear him. He is right here.

Listen as he explains the complexities of war– both hot and cold. The intricate web of incremental choices. Some are small and seem insignificant. They become powerful when he sums them together. Some are dramatic. Bold, decisive actions taken by just a few. He teaches you patience. It takes time to expose the truths of history. He teaches you understanding. He teaches you to listen. He shows you the enormous complexities of the world.

He is right here.


My Dad is a storyteller. I’m trying to be that for him– to be his raconteur. It’s an impossible task. To summarize a man’s life into minutes. I’m trying to be Homer. Or Plutarch. Or Herodotus. I’m trying to demonstrate some aptitude for his laconic speech. It’s an impossible task. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here. Here are a few anecdotes about arguments with Dad. They could have occurred some evening on the back patio, or at the kitchen table or on the shore of a tarn at timberline in the Sangre de Cristos. We are arguing. We are having some ridiculous argument. He and I.

Which is the most representative form of American music? Dad says “bluegrass”. Me. I say, “the blues”. I lose. (This one I remember. It happened at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago.)

We argue for an age-appropriate curfew. I lose. (Maybe that was parental privilege.)

Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton? It doesn’t matter. I have this argument twice. I defend each side. I lose. Both times.

My Dad is a musician. I’ve already told you about the first round of arguments about music. Blues vs. bluegrass. Let me tell you about the rematch.

This should be good. I’m confident about this one. I’m older now. I’ve seen some things. I’ve been to a concert or two. This one I’ve got. I go into it wanting to quote King Leonidas’ response to Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae (Yeah, wonder who first told me that one?). I want to declare “Molon labe“. Come and take.

Dad chooses the Beatles as the finest rock band of all time. He picks Rubber Soul as his exhibit. I choose Led Zeppelin. Physical Graffiti. I think maybe he was spotting me some points by avoiding Sergeant Pepper. I still lose. Demolished. Trounced. No contest. Dad admits a little grin behind that ever-present moustache. It’s as close as he ever gets to gloating.

After all, it was Dad’s voice that guided me to rhetoric. He showed me the power of argument. How to support statements with evidence. Deductive reasoning. Nuance. Subtlety. Flavor.

In the end he instructs me to, “Say what you mean. Mean what you say.”

I want to lose the next one. I want to have the next one.


Through all of this my Dad is teaching me about failure. All of these methods: rhetorical combat, climbing insurmountable mountains, racing on the velodrome and hiking across untamed wilderness. Through all of this he’s teaching me what is important about failure. Failure, he says, does not matter nearly as much as what comes after. Get up. Try again. Learn. Adapt. Adjust. Overcome. Surmount.

And because of him, we do.

This is my Dad. You know that already. I know you know that. You’re here.

Dad emboldened you.

Dad defended you.

Dad challenged you.

Dad guided you.

Dad supported you.

Dad championed you.

Dad made you a better you.

Dad loved you.

This. This is how Dad loved you.

 

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