On Dad

Or, what I had to say when he left.

This is the text of I read at my father’s funeral. I miss you Dad, and I love you.

“”My Dad has been one of my best friends and my hero since I was a little kid. I was always, and still am, kind of a nerd, but when you’re a little kid, you have no idea what that is. I loved a great story back then, and still do. I was a sucker for comic books and movies (and still am), I worshipped spacemen and superheroes and cowboys, and my Dad was all of those things to me, all at once. One of my best early memories of Dad is him coming by to pick me up for the weekend, and driving together over to his place. A lot of the best times with Dad were these trips, times when we’d ride in his big red and silver van, just he and I, and we’d talk about all the things we had been doing, and all the things we were going to do. My Dad was forever watching great movies with me, showing me things he thought were exciting, and I loved it all. We watched old episodes of Gunsmoke, we watched black and white classics, we watched science fiction flicks and westerns. I knew back then, just KNEW, that Dad grew his beard just like Clint Eastwood’s in The Outlaw Josey Wales because he WAS an outlaw. On this particular day, Dad was really excited, and telling me all about a movie he wanted to show me. “It’s about this Immortal Scottish warrior,” he was saying, animated and talking with his hands even while he was driving, “ and he fights these other Immortal Warriors, and the only way for them to die is if they cut each other’s head off … and the guy carries this ancient Japanese sword … and lightning shoots out of his body … and the bad guy has this helmet with skulls on it and this big scar on his neck … and James Bond is in it … it’s just really great! … “ He went on and on like that, and all I could think was, “Wow, my Dad is soooooo COOL!”

As I got a little older, I got to know my Father in new ways, and he never lost that luster of Cool. I got to Junior High and was still obsessed over comics and movies, and slowly started realizing that I was a nerd. I loved sports, Dad having taught me love Dallas Cowboys football, and though I was a runt who couldn’t play, Dad never cared about that. We’d watch games and be excited when they won, and then we’d watch a movie. I knew by then that My Dad wasn’t John Wayne or Roger Staubach, but I also knew that I didn’t care. My hero worship was strongly intact, because Dad didn’t make any apologies for who he was. He drank whole milk and ate ding dongs, and smoked unapologetically. He had the best VHS movie collection of anyone I knew. He liked to engage with people and laugh and tell a good story, he still talked with his hands, and he enjoyed the pleasures of his life.

As I grew into High School, my nerdy mind turned to what all boys minds turn to. Not that. Cars. Thankfully, again, here Dad was my Hero. I’d heard the stories of how he and my Mother met, that Dad used to run around with her older brother David, getting into trouble, stealing car parts and building hot rods. When I was in High School, dad got a job at, and eventually ran, his own Auto Garage. He taught me all sorts of great stuff about cars, turning me into a grease monkey just like him. These were some more of my best memories of Dad, working in the shop and hanging out with the guys on the dirt track race teams, going to the track on Saturday nights, and he was still my hero. He just seemed determined to live life on his terms, and stay his young wild guy, smoking cigarettes like Steve McQueen or someone, and I still thought, “Man, My Dad is soooooo COOL!”

I went away to college, and that’s this first time I really remember Dad’s health beginning to get lousy. For a long time I was afraid I’d get a phone call, that scary one, and I spent a lot of years sort of steeling myself for it. I thought, Dad would want me to toughen up, to be prepared, to not get morose. As I got older, and I saw my sisters have kids and saw him become a Grandfather, very loving and attentive. I saw him get wound up talking about an 7 year old girls soccer games and my older self began to realize Wow, my Dad is able to be a dork, and a tough guy, and still be a solid family man. That is soooooo COOL!

In these last months, I’ve seen my Dad dealing with his illness, dealing with the consequences of his life the same way he always did. I remember when he first was diagnosed with cancer he told me a story about how he had the first of his tumors removed while under a local anesthetic. We were just hanging out in his living room, but the way he told me the story like he was having a bullet removed in a western, pouring whiskey into the wound while chewing on a rawhide leather strip and cauterizing the thing with a hot poker. I realized then that he was telling it that way for my benefit, that he was approaching this in the unapologetic way he approached everything else, accepting the bad things with dignity and enjoying the good things in life with relish. And I realized that I still thought he was sooooo COOL.

I’ve been telling versions of these stories about my Dad my whole life, to friends and strangers and now my fiancée and step daughters, and sometimes I wonder if I’ve worshipped him so long that they’ve grown out of control, into tall tales in the eyes of others while they feel like gospel to me. I wonder, was he really so into the same things I was? Cars and westerns, football and sci-fi flicks? Or am I still a little boy who never grew out of the hero worship of his Dad. But I look back on one of the last letters he wrote to me about two years ago, and it always makes me smile. It’s two paragraphs, the first one the tough guy one …

I have taken a leave from my work and applied for my company disability insurance so I can just laze around for a while … my oncologist said I should stop working so I don’t just wear myself out and maybe shorten my life span … My last set of x-ray’s and CT scans showed no increase or growth in the cancer’s … My breathing is a little more labored, but I get by pretty well. I do take lots of naps these days.

And then

“We went to see Watchmen last weekend. Totally Awesome!! It was even more than I had anticipated. It’s almost hard to believe that it got made, it is so far beyond anything else out there. We went Sunday afternoon and we were the oldest people in the theater. I think I am just younger than most old people I know.”

My Dad was sooooo COOL!”

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