Today is the anniversary of my dad’s death. As a tribute to him I’m posting the eulogy I gave at his service in 2003. For my family and friends that knew him, I hope it brings a smile of fond remembrance. For those of you who never knew him, perhaps this will give you a glimpse of the man we loved so much. And Dad, I hope somehow, some way you know that the sun is shining on me now. Love you more with every passing day.
Thank you all for being here today to say goodbye to the man I had the privilege to call “Dad”. To you he was “brother”, “uncle”, “great-uncle” and to many of you he was ‘friend’.
Earlier this summer I had to say goodbye to a cousin I had grown up with. His sister spoke eloquently and lovingly at his service. I thought it was one of the bravest acts I’d ever seen. I pray for the courage today that I might honor my dad in the same way.
When I told my uncle I would like to speak today a million thoughts swirled in my head. Where to start? There seemed so much that needed to be said. But first and foremost my dad was a simple, direct man. He probably wouldn’t be happy with what he would call “the fuss” we’re making today. With that in mind, I’ll try to be simple and direct to honor the type of man he was.
I think it might surprise my dad to know what a great teacher he was. He taught me and probably many of you valuable lessons with his own unique sayings – and by example. Any of you that knew my dad had to have at one time been on the receiving end of one of his quotes to live by. My friends came to look forward to hearing me say “My dad always says…” They knew that what was coming next would be funny as well as wise. I wish I knew how many times in the last five years as I struggled to raise a daughter and make ends meet dad would tell me: “The sun don’t shine on the same dog every day.” Now you all know I edited that a bit from how he really said it. What on earth does it mean? It means my day is coming, every day is another chance and I have to believe that things won’t always be this way.
That’s another big lesson my dad taught me: NEVER, and I mean NEVER give up. Dad could be a hard man and he probably was hardest on those who didn’t try. He would never fault you for trying and not succeeding – you just had to try. “Can’t never did anything” was another one of his favorite sayings. How many times did we hear him say, “Don’t let me hear you say you can’t!”
My dad was an honest man and tolerated no lies. My brother and I both knew that was probably the worst thing we could do – lie to him. He taught us to tell the truth and we better tell him first before he found out elsewhere. He instilled in us a sense of honor and responsibility. If you mess up or make a mistake, apologize, do what you can to fix it and learn from that mistake. Dad gave us by example, the best work ethics. He worked hard for his family and taught us that was the right way. He didn’t believe in a free ride and didn’t have much use for those who accepted or expected one.
But if you needed help, wanted to learn something he could teach you, he was thrilled to do it. He loved helping those that wanted to help themselves. I think my dad was touched and humbled by the outpouring of love, support and encouragement he received these last months. I’m not. You know another one of his sayings was, “what goes around, comes around.” Lots of people look at the negative side of that. I see and believe Dad finally saw the positive. The good that you do will come back to you. The hard part – and I know this is for a fact because I’m like him in this way – is accepting that help gracefully.
I’m proud of my dad’s commitment to education. That may seem odd to some of you. Dad didn’t finish high school, but earned his GED and went on to serve the country he loved in the U.S. Navy. But he never stopped learning or encouraging others to pursue an education. I’m a college graduate because of my dad and even at my advanced age, I’ll pursue a graduate degree because of what he instilled in me.
My dad taught himself many things over the years. He built houses and could fix anything. No one was more surprised or thrilled when he brought himself into the computer age!! You can too teach an old dog new tricks!
His interest in history and love of his family brought him to his passion for genealogy. He was so excited at every new discovery and piece of the puzzle he found. He could talk for hours about family history and I was amazed at his capacity for remembering all those branches of the family tree.
My dad was courageous, a brave man. Life knocked him about a couple of times and he picked himself up and rebuilt his life. When this illness came and he was told the only real option for a longer life was a lung transplant, he said “let’s go for it.” He never quit – this illness forced him to quit.
But that was just the end of his earthly adventure. It comforts me to picture him in Heaven sitting on the porch swing with Grandma Watkins, swinging and talking like I saw them so many times at the house on Williams Street.
Loss forces us to examine things. We want to make sense of it all. I don’t think we are truly supposed to figure it all out down here. I believe God wants us to have surprises and things to talk over with Him when we get there.
But I do believe this: There are ways we can honor and remember the man my brother and I called Dad, you called Papa, Bud, Uncle Bud and Buddy. And that is to remember and live the truths he taught us. Tell the truth, fix what’s broke if you can, learn from your mistakes, continue to educate yourself, find you passion, have hope, courage and commitment to lead the life you want to lead. My dad did. We can continue the genealogy research and attend the family reunions to preserve what he loved so much.
Most of all, and here’s the hardest part – we have to go on without his physical presence in our lives. I can’t really tell you how to do that – that’s our individual journey. But I know we have to because it’s what he would want most of all. He wasn’t really a demonstrative man. So as he would say, ‘we need to stop all this crying and carrying on.’ Because he would expect us to greet each day with enthusiasm and anticipation of what might be and accept and rejoice in the gift that is life.