I have a PhD. Dad would have wanted you to know that if you didn’t already. Then he would have taken his wallet out to show you pictures of me and my dog. Brother and his girls, Little and Smallest One. He probably didn’t disclose that I struggled a little at the end of my studies and finished my doctorate four months later than I’d planned. That he and Mom came to bring me presents and buy me dinner for my originally scheduled defense date in July. That he drove me to Madison and back over Thanksgiving break so I didn’t have to turn in my thesis alone. Then – after he stood beside me to pay my final fees and hand in hundreds of printed pages – we stopped for a cheeseburger on the drive home. He said he wanted to go somewhere nicer, but I thought it was perfect – sitting across from my dad – who was so proud of me and loved me so much - in a booth at a Culver’s on the back roads.
He drove that trip – as he did most times when he was with me. I wasn’t great at following all Dad’s driving rules. Like not driving in the left lane unless you were passing. Not jerking the wheel when the road curves. I should follow gravel trucks at a safe distance so as not to risk cracking the windshield. Not sit so close to the steering wheel in case the airbag went off. Don’t park too close to the entrance because people can be idiots and open their doors right into the side of your car.
Despite calling people idiots, Dad had a gentle soul – was protective and kind and funny and smart. But he’d also shoot at squirrels out back. Served in Vietnam. Guarded Mom against any of the people she thought might get her. He was a car guy and liked doing car stuff that I never really embraced or understood. I remember being so bored – in garages or at cruise ins or taking a ride just to look around. Walking through lots at car dealers. Going to car museums. And the races – so many races. I’d look at my mom and think – my goodness, she must love him a lot. In all honesty, she loved him more than I can begin to understand – and Dad would tell you that I’m pretty smart. They’ve been married 43 years and she was as devoted to that man – and he to her – as it was possible to be. They made a home together – at old address here in the Heights then at current address, where Brother and I grew up.
Whenever we’d lose something in that house, we’d go get Dad. He had this deliberate nature that kept him searching – for my keys, Smallest’s iPod, Brother’s hat. Little and Smallest both went through a Webkinz phase – those little stuffed animals that linked to an online cartoon version for which you could buy online toys and furniture. Mom and I started dutifully playing Webkinz games to earn KinzCash for these online animals and when we didn’t earn enough, Dad would go in and play Eager Beaver Adventure Park. You were supposed to make words from these stacks of letters – a little like Scrabble – but you could only use adjacent letters. Mom and I could only find words that were too short and the little cartoon beavers would get so mad. I’d rarely last more than one level. But Dad would sit and click and think, reporting his earnings and number of letters in his longest word when he’d return from the office. He was always good at thinking and planning and thinking some more. And he would have moved Heaven and Earth for his granddaughters – one letter at a time.
Daddy loved Brother and I know they were closer than we were. Dad worked from home while Brother was small – pouring cereal while we sat at the counter, waving from the front door as we walked to school, working in the garage, running errands. He and Mom coached sports and beamed with pride at graduation ceremonies and sat in the front pew for Brother’s wedding. They did projects – Dad and Brother – and my goodness does he love that kid. When it came time to go for chemotherapy every week, he asked that Brother take him. I think Daddy drew strength from their bond and defended his youngest child when Mom and I were mean to him. We'll try to be nicer - we love you lots.
Thanks for coming. For loving us and loving my dad. When hospice came last Thursday, Dad sat in his chair and when the pastor asked what she should pray for, Dad said ‘comfort.’ We miss him tremendously right now so I’d ask that you pray we find comfort in knowing how much he loves us. That he was the most supreme comfort while dwelling with the Lord.
And clean your cars when you go home tonight – Dad would have liked that.