My Dad passed away last Thursday. Although we knew his end was near, saying goodbye is one of the hardest things I've ever done.
Sometimes life teaches you lessons in peculiar ways. In Dad's final couple of years, I sometimes found him difficult and demanding. I saw only what was in front of me (the disease, the pain, the suffering turning him into something else) and easily forgot and became oblivious to the dimensions of his personality which made him so unique and a brilliant force of nature. Now I am kicking myself for being so short-sited, for not seeing the whole man and only what this disease made him. My hope is that one day I will gain a better understanding of his "formula" and master it as well as he.
Shortly after Dad was diagnosed, I was talking with him and lamenting the situation. And the basic truth, the essence of Papa, something that I had known all along but never appreciated, simply rolled off my lips.
"He doesn't have an enemy in the world."
And the more I reflect on it, that's not only what Dad was about, but it's a remarkable achievement, especially in our modern world. In ever area of his life, whether business or personal, he made people laugh, was an engaging storyteller, sympathetic listener, simply honest, upstanding and all around pleasant. He was civil to a fault.
Everybody has their own personal remembrance, but I suspect all who knew him observed these qualities. Dad was not one for grand "charitable" gestures, but rather spent every minute of every day making life a little more comfortable, funny, silly, civilized, and peaceful. I remember him picking up a lady off the side of the road who ran out of gas. He explained to me that he never would have done it if I wasn't in the car for she might have been afraid, and so he was glad I was there so she would accept help from him.
In return, Dad asked for little more than a cup of coffee, a delicious meal, a bike ride, some sunshine, and the company of quality people. He lost the bike rides first, and it was a hard blow because I know how much he loved them. When he got really sick and entered the final stage of Parkinson's, and it became clear that he would be in his new dining room bedroom for his remaining days, his two constant requests were always coffee and a snack. He had the coffee almost to the very end. I only wish we could have taken him to the canal one last time for he loved watching the boats on a sunny day.
The friends, I am certain, will stay with him into the future. And while he was friendly to all, Dad was also very selective about whom he associated with, and, quietly, a stern judge of character. Those who were fortunate to have become friends should cherish having had the opportunity, and be proud that he chose you.
Dad was not a religious person, yet he served his Creator as well as any man. He did it diligently, without question, every day of his life. He taught me to cherish the little things, to appreciate nature, that all animals are our friends and it's ok to give even your backyard squirrel or bird a name. He taught me to be patient, to put myself in someone else's shoes, to not be afraid of failure, to try what others were too afraid of, and to listen to my instincts. And he always told me to invent something. Each of us can improve the world if we incorporate some of what we've learned from him into our own lives and our own dealings with others. Preserving his memory is nice, but practicing his values can make a real difference. I can attest that it's difficult, but also that it's worth the effort.
I want to thank all of you for being a part of my life, to thank my Mom, Beatrice, for looking after him and enabling him to be who he was. And of course, I want to thank Papa for making me, well, a fraction of the person he was. Turns out that's something to be proud of.