This past week was a hard one for me as I gave the memorial for my father-in-law before his funeral Mass.
Before I start I want to thank my wife Joan and all my brother and sister in laws for sharing their dad with me. I lost my dad when I was 15 years old and didn’t have that role model in my late teen and early adult life. I learned some things from my dad and many of those things were reinforced by my father-in-law. But I learned many life lessons from my father-in-law, who I will most affectedly call dad from here on in.
Dad was a son, a brother, a nephew, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather, an uncle, a friend. He was a wise man, a miracle worker, as tough as nails, as gentle as a warm summer breeze kind of person. His broad shoulders and strong arms could carry the heaviest bag of grind feed or the squirmiest calf, and at the same time hold a sleeping or fussy child or grandchild in their gentle grasp.
There wasn’t anything that he couldn’t fix, and if it wasn’t fixable to his standards then he made something better to replace the broken part. He had a magical bench in his work shed that if anything broken was set on it, it would be mystically fixed.
Many times, he allowed things to get broken so a life lesson could be taught there, as he would say “Your experience by my expense.”
He helped children and grandchildren alike distinguish when it was time to work and time to play. And he brought a better understanding to what it meant to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, literally.
Learning simple lessons like cutting the twine by the knot so it didn’t get caught when you pulled it off, to finding a tree or post to drive to so you drove the tractor straight for the rock pickers. Or just showing how to find the right piece of grass to make a whistle or picking the best clover flower, and knowing how to get the sweet tasting nectar.
From teaching children how to ride a bike, finding the best place to dig for worms, picking just the right apple from the tree, and finding the best pea pod to open. There wasn’t anything that dad couldn’t do. Well almost, we won’t mention dad’s swimming ability or his attempt at riding a scooter.
Technology had nothing over dad. He could send and receive messages easily, from a towel hanging from a second story window, or a wink of the eye. He could get his message across from a stern look that would turn into a sly smile, to phases like, you have to have a heart, or I guess I’ll need a spade for that. Super speed computers, the Internet, or iPad never entered into any decisions making process for dad. A good night’s sleep was all that was needed as he would say many a time, “Let me sleep on it”
Family was important to dad, whether it was near or far. From Sunday dinners, baseball games in the yard, volleyball in the backyard, seven steps around the house, and of course a good game of sheepshead or pinochle . And the times of piling in the station wagon for a drive to check out the neighbor’s crops and a stop for ice cream, to trips to other states for vacations, weddings, fishing, or hunting. Or just being able to have the one on one talks on the glider swing as you watched the sun go down on another day. Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas was always special family tradition time.
No one was immune from the tricks and experiences, not even the city relatives, when it came to getting squirted with milk from the cows, learning to drink from the water hose or checking to see if the electric fence was on.
His love of mom showed every day. The quick smooch, the loud conversations when they both had their hearing aids out, up till the final days, wanting to make sure mom had a birthday cake for her birthday.
Dad seemed to have a hard time verbalizing his love to others. When his children or grandchildren would leave that would say Love you dad, and his reply was Ya ok. As he seemed to realize his time on this earth was coming to an end, he was the one to say I love you first. Even I got an “I love you” the last time I seen him.
And so we now say Dad, go with God, to break bread with the one whose life and death has guaranteed the everlasting life we seek. May his angels lead you today into paradise, as you begin your new life, in which health replaces illness, youth replaces age, and certainty replace doubt; as you enter the company of those loved ones who preceded you and as you wait for those who are to follow.
And don't worry dad, we’ll close the gate.
We Love you Dad.