On sept. 10, 2016, I laid my dad to his final rest. This is my remembrance as delivered that day.
Thank you all for being here. It really means a lot to me that you would all join us here to celebrate my dad’s life today and share in this remembrance of a man who we all deeply loved. I know some of you made long trips and a lot of adjustments to be here, so thank you.
As you all know, I’m a storyteller. Storytelling is in my blood on both sides of my family. My mom can spin a yarn with the best of them, and she definitely passed on her gifts to me. And while mom and dad both blessed us kids with a love of movies, I have particularly fond memories of going to the movies with my dad as a kid.
On all our father/son outings to the show, dad always picked the movie. Usually, he picked something like Stallone or Schwarzenegger, maybe one of the old Star Trek movies. But in 1989, a little movie called Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure hit theaters, and on Bill and Ted’s opening weekend, dad and I headed up to the Jackson Cinemas. As we got in line, dad said, “So what should we watch?” And I wanted to see Bill and Ted’s so bad, so I told dad I thought it looked really good and could we please watch that. And dad kind of gave me a little look like, “Really?” And I could tell that he immediately regretted his decision to ask me to chime in on the movie choice. And of course I persisted and said all my friends were going to see it and, please?? So he kind of acquiesced and shrugged it off, and we went and saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Dad sat through the whole thing kind of inwardly shaking his head at how galactically stupid the movie was. And I remember, even at 12 years old, that I could not really disagree with him. So when we got out of the theater and we’re walking to the car, dad says to me, “Well, that’s the last time you pick the movie.”
A lot of people don’t know that movies are the reason I became a writer. I have my love of film to thank for my career as a storyteller, and so that’s one of the many gifts dad gave me.
So if you’ll all indulge me a little further, I want to tell you my story of my dad, about the father I knew …
My earliest memories of my dad are of him as a bricklayer, a carpenter and an architect. I remember him being very focused on his work as a general contractor and trying to make a good living for his family. I remember, after a few days of me joining dad on job sites as a kid, he and I both realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t suited for the type of hard physical labor that he built a career on.
I like to joke that I inherited none of dad’s skill with his hands and patience for building and rebuilding things. People always enjoy the irony of the contrast: Dad rebuilt numerous cars and engines; I can barely tell where the engine is in a car. I’m sure dad never passed on the mechanics and the carpentry and the masonry because after a few attempts, he could see it just wasn’t in me.
To me, that was one of dad’s greatest qualities. He understood that you can’t make people change. You have to let them be who they are and love them as they are. That was dad’s greatest gift to me. He taught me kindness, gentleness, humility, acceptance and love. He taught me to turn the other cheek. My father hated conflict, and he always sought to mitigate it. In all my memories, my father embodied the Christian ideal that you do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and I was blessed to have benefited from the faith dad found after many years of stumbling through the trials of becoming a man and all the weight and responsibility that comes with marriage and children. I know I benefited from the mistakes he made as a young father and husband, and I’m forever grateful that dad found his way toward the light through the church. He learned to look inward at himself, to know himself and seek self-improvement, as we say in the Marines. Dad’s faith was a profound influence in his life, and I believe he did his very best to try and atone for his missteps in those early years and to emulate Christ’s virtue as much as possible for the rest of his days.
This was the father I always knew. I knew the Christian man—the guy who tried really hard. The man who put on a glove and played catch with me even though he was exhausted from laying concrete all day. I remember the man who wasn’t very good at basketball but didn’t let that get in the way of playing with me at St. Rose Middle School on the weekends. I remember a good provider who never felt sorry for himself or complained about all the things he didn’t have or that didn’t go right in life. I remember a man who never gave himself over to vice, who chose goodness and fidelity to his family as central guiding principles.
When dad got sick, I could tell he was scared. I remember before he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, he was lying on his recliner in our old house on Shakely Lane, and his leg was seizing and jumping uncontrollably. That was the beginning, the first scary symptom, the start of dad’s long battle with the disease, and I think the diagnosis was a turning point for him. I think he decided then that he owed it to himself to follow his heart wherever it guided him, and I’m glad he did. He lived many very happy years after that, and he never stopped loving any of us any less.
I have so many wonderful memories of all the ways dad showed his love in the years that followed, but I especially remember my awkward and rebellious teen years and how dad was there for me in exactly the way I needed him to be, how he was wise enough to understand that his gentle love, acceptance and support would do more to steer me toward the light than any heavy-handed reproach ever could have. I remember the countless nights he spent, picking me up from KFC in Jackson, when I was soaked in dishwater and smelling like a fat fryer. I remember the old beater of a Ford Fairmont he bought me so that I could drive myself once the suspension on my license was lifted. I remember so much goodness.
Toward the end, I went to be with dad several times. He knew he didn’t have much more time, and he was still worried … about us kids, about our mom … about whether or not he’d been a good man, about whether or not he’d done enough good with the life he was given. He told me he was tired and he was ready, but he needed to believe his life had meant something; that it was good. He said that when his father was sick he told him that what matters in life is the people you touch, the relationships your forge and how people remember you.
My grandfather was a wise man. He understood the secret to life. And so I reminded dad of all the good he did in his life. I reminded him of all the things he built with his hands—the fireplaces and gardens and walkways, the countless homes all over southern California, which people still live in today. I said, “Dad, you built a castle!” That’s one of the things I love to brag on my father for. I tell people, “My father built a castle with his own hands and his vision and brawn.” It still stands today in Southern California.
When dad passed, I received a lot of messages, and there was a recurring theme in all the sentiments and remembrances people sent. In all the messages, friends and family members who knew my dad said, “I really loved your dad. He was always so kind to me.” And these messages all meant so much to me because collectively they confirmed the narrative of my father that I know and love: My dad was good. He was kind and loving, and he hated to see other people in pain, and he hated conflict. My dad spent his life looking for peace and harmony and goodness, and he sought to make himself an expression of those ideals through his passivity. My dad was not a fighter, and that was sometimes a source of resentment in our family. Traditionally, the patriarch’s supposed to be a fighter, but we all had to learn to accept that that’s not who dad was. And honestly, I feel like the acceptance part came pretty easily for me because my father’s passive nature, his gentle kindness and disdain for conflict are the parts of my own nature that I hold most dear. I have no doubt that dad is vibrant and euphoric in the paradise he believed awaits good men in the afterlife, but I also believe he is immortal and infinite in that he lives on in this world through me and through all of you and everyone he touched with his gentle spirit and kindness.
I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite literary passages. It comes from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, which is kind of the closest thing to a holy book I have. When dad sat in that hospital bed in Jackson, wondering if he’d lived a good life, I immediately thought of this passage, and I read it to him (after a couple sentences, I was choking back tears).
“In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted shortcuts to love. When a man comes to die, no matter what his talents and influence and genius, if he dies unloved his life must be a failure to him and his dying a cold horror. It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.
“We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly re-spawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.”
If dad left any imprint on our hearts and minds, I hope it is this: Be kind. Be good to people. Learn to turn the other cheek and to mitigate conflict in this world as much as possible. Learn to let go of hate and resentment and frustration. Be the good you wish to see in the world. There is too much hate. Life is too short to allow your own spirit to be corrupted by hate and resentment. Just be kind. The world needs your kindness; it needs your goodness. It needs more people like dad.