My father passed away just over a year ago, in April of 2011. This post is an adaptation from the eulogy I stumbled through during his memorial service.
It is impossible to sum my father up in the space of a normal blog post – or even the lengthy “normal” that passes as normal for me, and if I started with "how can I do this, where shall I start?" I'd sound like I was complaining, which would be wholly inappropriate.
I've realized that I don't know what his favorite saying was, unless it was his favorite Bible verse (II Corinthians 5:17). Don't get me wrong, he certainly had some well-worn sayings, like "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (that's a Doris Day reference by the way) but I don't think I can call that a “favorite saying” given that I know he would have absolutely loved to have never had an occasion to say it.
What was his dominate characteristic? Was it love? Was it honesty? Was it his devotion to the disabled? Was it his expansive acceptance of others, or his ability to exhort anyone towards success? Maybe. He had those traits in spades, but underneath it all I think there was something else, something primal, and by that I mean something I believe God built into him from the start, long before he ever came to know Christ.
Persistence. Tenacious persistence. A dogged determination to pursue what was right and to slog through to his goal regardless the opposition.
I’ve come to realize that if you don't do something in life for a long, long time, you often forget how. I think that might be one of the possible ramifications of the “Parable of the Talents”, but even if not – it still seems true. Like everyone else, Dad occasionally failed at something - it was very rare, but it did happen, and he considered that a crucial part of the learning process - but I honestly think he forgot how to quit long ago. That is, of course, if he ever knew. He couldn't quit. Quitting did not seem to tempt him. I'm not sure he even understood why people would quit because taking the easy road or the easy way out held no appeal for him.
When I was a child, my father told me about Winston Churchill's famous "Never give in" speech, although he had heard it as, and relayed it to me as, "Never give up." He was emphatic about not quitting.
When I first watched the movie "The Terminator", in the part where the character Reese in describing the cyborg says in part "...and it absolutely will not stop, ever!!!" I thought "Funny, I didn't realize they consulted my dad on the system requirements".
He never quit. He didn't quit on his marriage, his kids, his extended family, or his friends. He even didn't quit on MY friends. Although I expect most might not want to admit it (although some readily would), in the long run the thing that benefited a number of my friends the most from knowing me was in fact getting the opportunity to know my father. And he never quit on them. He could always be counted on.
Don’t get me wrong - he knew how to play by the rules (he was an outstanding lawyer after all), so he was not one to keep moving the ball down the field once the final whistle had blown, and we can all be mighty thankful for that because otherwise I'm sure he'd still be haunting us to this day. Please forgive my off-color sense of humor, but can you imagine a greater danger than a Churchillian Zombie Charley? How could you ever get away? "Quick! We can probably make it to the roof!" "No, he would have already thought of that, in fact – in fact – well surely he’s already gotten the building's architectural plans from his staff!" “You’re right, and don’t call me Shirley!”
Aside from those foes normally encountered in the Christian walk, I think God gave Dad some special adversaries. Ones that kept him sharp, ones he could defeat time and time again. In fact, I think the argument can be made that God put Dad on Earth to wage battle with two unique foes - the IRS, on behalf of his clients, and Murphy's Law, on behalf of everyone. He was always considering the ramifications of a given course of action. Somehow - and I don't know how - he didn't seem to get bogged down in "analysis paralysis", perhaps because of the speed at which his mind worked. But he was always full of advice. And I don't mean the "gosh I wish he'd stop with the nosey intrusions into my business" type of advice. No, I mean the "Whew! He just stopped me from walking off a cliff I didn't even know was there!" type of advice.
He was singularly insightful in areas that mattered to him. Of course, you could baffle him with technology - he was generations behind even his peers and this didn't distress him. He went to his grave happily never having had a Facebook page. But he was ahead of the game on some things, and on more than one occasion he changed my entire life with a sentence. Let me share a couple with you...
When Ted Turner outraged a bunch of people, myself at least temporarily included, by saying "Christianity is for losers", Dad said "He's right. Good thing too. Pity he doesn't realize what losers all we humans are."
When Madonna (of whom I was a bit surprised my Dad was even aware) was doing her outrageous stage act featuring her own crucifixion, and several religious groups were freaking out in the media, Dad's totally untroubled response was pretty much "Well, I don't expect people who don't share my beliefs to act like they do."
When I was angry at some media figure, and I don't remember who, for some seeming blasphemy, Dad admonished me saying "Why are you getting all worked up over this? God's big enough to handle the insult if he wishes, and why in the world would you expect the Lost to act like anything other than lost?"
He didn't say this arrogantly. “Lost” was not an insult coming out of his mouth. It was a status – a factual state of being. He knew very well that he didn't earn his own salvation, that neither he nor I were any better than "the Lost". But we did by grace of God know something they didn't. So why get angry at them for their ignorance? Was it their own fault that they didn't know what they didn't know? This was a lesson I'm fairly certain I would never have figured out on my own. Ever.
So among my father's many lessons to me that he demonstrated consistently and without fail I will sum up with these: Love people for who they are, where they are, and never give up. It should go without saying but I'm going to say it anyways, you can do none of these - and Dad knew this - unless Christ is your strength and you do it ultimately for him.