My father died recently from COPD and complications from emphysema, namely pneumonia which quickly gained a foothold and killed him within a week of going into the hospital for something somewhat major but what could have been fixed in a couple days had he not gotten sick so quickly. This is the eulogy I performed at his funeral on the 12th of November. People who never knew my father (but were there for others) said that they knew him after this, which was one of the best compliments ever. I post this as an easy way for others who weren’t there to be able to read it, as I’ve gotten a lot of requests.
With a Corona in his hand, a Hunter S Thompson book at his side and Chuck Berry or NPR on the radio after a long day of gardening was when my father was happiest. He liked a variety of books of course but Thompson, with his irreverent political humor, was his favorite.
My father was pretty politically savvy but carried views not popular in the Midwest. During his Mid-Life Crisis he would read and get angry about George W. Bush. He would read to us long screeds from Mother Jones or The Nation and then lecture about the historical implications. He also loved Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky. And yet, as politically savvy as he was, I could never get him to read his true political twin — democratic socialist George Orwell.
I was always his daughter and not his friend if that makes sense. He had always wanted a daughter, as his own relationship with his father was difficult. That doesn’t mean we never had fun, we did. He would color with me (I’d get so angry at him as a little girl because he could color within the lines), taking me to movies (I remember clearly seeing my lifelong favorite movie, Beetlejuice, with him and my sister Melanie), watching cartoons (he loved Sesame Street and Inspector Gadget. He hated The Smurfs) and teaching me how to drive. I was spoiled by my mom and remember having to be in the hospital before dad would consider getting me the ALF puppet from Pizza Hut I wanted. He did get it for me, it was the Chef one. One memory, before I go on, shows his deadpan humor and how it didn’t quite work with children: I told him one day that I didn’t like Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. I have no idea about why I disliked him. But dad said seriously, “Why don’t you write him a letter and tell him that?” I was shocked. “I can’t do that! It would hurt his feelings!” I think I probably cried. Now you’ll remember that story whenever you see Snuffleupagus, like I have for nearly thirty years.
When my half-sister Melanie would spend time with our mother, my dad loved to include her in things before I was born. There are lots of photos of them together, at Christmases and at the old Robert and Mary farmhouse. My sister was spoiled by my great-grandmother, Olive who loved to take her shopping for clothes. But even after I was born, and a girl at that, my dad didn’t demote Melanie or ignore her. My father made a great impression on Melanie. One of her boyfriends called him The Great Orator. Her own children, Jake age seven and Edie age four, were a source of pride for him and he saw them as his own grandchildren. Which is good because he was never going to get any from me!
He was very proud of all the places he worked. As a little girl I was never able to get government clearance to see him at the Nevada Test Site but I heard plenty of stories (and ate plenty of cookies he brought from the cafeteria for me). He was disappointed he couldn’t take me there but at various work sites around Kansas City he would take me and show off his Backhoe. I asked what he did all day. “Sit and listen to the radio.” In reality he dug holes for pipes to be put in. One of his projects was the Kansas Speedway. He got tickets when they opened to be at the opening race. Needless to say he never went back.
He loved baseball and got into football when we moved to Kansas City. He was a Yankees fan and a Royals fan, when they started winning again. He also loved golf and played up until New Year’s Day 2000. In Vegas he would play every Sunday with his team like clockwork. In Kansas City he never quite could find a team he liked so golfed with the neighbors rarely. But on the first day of the new millennium he played golf with two of the neighbors, fell on his ass after a swing, got laughed at and made fun of, and refused to golf ever again. We figured there had to be more to it than that but he never disclosed any information.
He was also quiet about his childhood and relatives I never knew. I know few stories, even when I begged for them he would just shrug and turn back to his reading. He told me about him and his brother Steve watching a wrestling game and then wrestling in the living room and breaking a lamp. About him and Steve upsetting a hornet’s nest, the hornets coming out and he outran Steve and left his brother behind to deal with the angry insects. He has fewer stories about him and his youngest brother Craig since Craig was about five years younger and in childhood that is a big gap. But he and Craig developed a relationship when we moved to KC and Craig’s death hit him hard, probably way harder than he would ever tell me. It was Craig that turned him on to the gardening he loved so much. There’s a photo of dad he insisted I take but which I cannot find of him for the collage on the bench in the backyard with a Corona and a golf bag full of gardening tools. I’m the only one who thinks he looks like a total dork but that’s because I’m his daughter. My sister Melanie tells me of being embarrassed by the jeans he wore in the 1980s.
Of his college days he told me even less. I know enough, info given to me by my mom. His best friends were Bob “Bumps” Willard, Jim Wolken, and Steve Petersen. I’m not sure if anybody has been able to contact Petersen but we wish him well. I’ve also seen enough photos of their days for me to think, “I would have hated these guys if I went to college with them.” So that probably means they were pretty cool. When those friends were around a side of him he would not want me to see — telling dirty jokes and swearing — came out and I saw him how he really was, before his illness. I’m a big fan of swearing and dirty and tasteless jokes but then again I’m his daughter and he hated when he saw that part of me.
As for Monty Python, he was a big fan. He never really told us his favorite movie and I believe Hail, Hail Rock and Roll was probably his favorite but Holy Grail was up there. In fact, he was such a huge Chuck Berry fan that HHRAR was the first movie I remember seeing in the movie theaters. To me dad always had the most resemblance to John Cleese, his favorite Python.
He liked to keep his driving record quiet but that didn’t work because I probably have as many speeding tickets on my record as he. But he also destroyed his fair share of cars and, as of this moment, I have never gotten into an accident that was my fault. One of them was his fault though.
Towards the end of his life he had to leave behind everything he loved to do. I think he felt hopeless when he had to quit gardening and our yard was overtaken by weeds. A testament to his talents was the pond out in our backyard. He built 99.9999% of it but our neighbor liked to take total credit. My dad never spoke up against him but that’s fine. Those that mattered knew who built that pond.
He managed to build himself his own routine towards the last few years that he followed religiously and woe to anyone to tried to disrupt it. He would read the paper, followed by leaving the house at 10:45 on the dot to drink a couple of Coronas at Dirk’s Bar and Grill. Then he went…somewhere….probably gambling which was kept a secret. It was an open secret nobody talked about, liked my Grandma Mary’s smoking. Then he would get something for lunch at Hy-Vee or Subway and bring it home by 1:30. He would play Spider Solitaire while he ate lunch then go out in the garage listening to NPR and doing crossword puzzles until it was time for his nap. He would fall asleep during a show, either Law & Order or something on the History channel. After his nap it was mostly Spider Solitaire and TV and such until he went to bed around 10 to 11.
As his lungs became more decrepit over time, he had to ask me to do more and more which he hated because that would admit defeat. He couldn’t lift the garbage anymore or help with groceries but curious sidenote—he had no problem lifting a case of Corona from the back of his truck to the mini fridge. Priorities.
He hid it well but he suffered a lot. Had he been alive today he would have suffered even more. He left a hole in all of our lives but a part of me is happy that I don’t have to watch him deteriorate more and more. Seeing him in the hospital caused a nervous breakdown with me and I ended up in the mental hospital for three days. It was those moments he tried to protect me from, and for good reason I see today. He certainly didn’t want me to see him in the hospital so my visits weren’t long. Working on the collage helped me greatly to push the memories of him in the hospital out.
Of his wife, Penny, he loved very much. They had rocky times and terrible fights at times, which every married couple go through and it didn’t help that my dad could go through terrible rages that I inherited. But something must have worked as they were married for thirty-seven years. In fact, my parents met at my mother’s wedding to her first husband and father to my sister. My father was the usher at the wedding. Oops!
He was an atheist and so am I, although he was more of an atheist angry at religion and I’m an atheist who just never grew up with religion. Where we go when we die is a mystery but there is one thing I do know — without Kent around my mom and I will probably kill each other. So expect one of us to be back here shortly.