Sunday, February 13, 2005

my fil (father in law) passed away this day last year. i'll never forget getting the call from popzilla in kansas city after kidzilla and i had gotten her first haircut and were celebrating and cataloging the event. it seemed so pointless to scrapbook anything without my fil to share it with.

although my fil and i fought small superficial battles, we always kissed and made up. he was very precious to me and i believe i was very dear to him. he is deeply and painfully missed by our little family. i'm really glad that before he passed away he was able to laugh and hug and play with kidzilla.

anyway, i've only been to one other funeral which moved me in the way that my fil's did and it's due to my husband's eulogy for the father and friend that follows. it's beautiful and i thought it would be nice to share it with you since you didn't get the chance to meet him. my father in law was such a wonderful person, a treasure that i was lucky enough to find and cherish.

"it is a cliche that no man is a hero to his valet but i think the opposite is true for fathers and children. every father is a hero to his kids. and that certainly is true in our case.

now heroism was not the first thing we considered when being taught that socks must be rolled, not folded, or that garbage cans must be kept clean lest the contents end up on the bed or that the proper way of teaching a 6 year old to dive from the high dive was to hold him by the ankles and release.

but even then, we must have followed our father's lead and emulated his leadership as we engaged in verbal battle with him over whether the spitfire or the mustang was the prettiest fighter of WWII or as we engaged in no-holds-barred sibling battles, which dad heroically parachuted into bringing peace from on high.

after our parents split, my fathers heroism became more obvious. in the turbulent early 70s our father took us and ventured forth to tilt at windmills and slay the dragons of the outside world. he raised us as a single father and the manner in which he raised us will seem, well, eccentric.

dad ran our family like a military dictatorship. he was fond of telling us that his family "was not a democracy". like many military groups, the food was terrible - swanson tv dinners, kfc and anything else simple.

despite the poor provisions, morale was high. how could it not be with the finest pilot who ever flew in command? our father flew for the greatest airline in the greatest country in the world. not many of our friends had dads who did something like that. morale remained high as our father escorted us out the door, playing his harmonica and singing "good-bye, children" as we walked off to school. it remained high through countless dinner table conversations that covered such mundane topics as the wives of henry the VIII, the periclean age of athens and the adventures of cortes and the conquistadors.

in our younger days, those conversations generally took the form of a soliloquy while we listened. as many of you know, our father was very good at talking. eventually, dad stopped delivering speeches and started questioning us, a practice which led us to wonder if he wanted children or debate partners.

as we grew older, we stopped seeing our father as heroic. he still had a great job and went and did pretty interesting things. he continued to fight the good fight against petty bureaucracy, refusing to tender what he considered non-relevant information (such as an SSN or phone # when asked). or else making up reasons for school absence that administrators squawked over like "mountain climbing in the himalayas" or "tiger taming in bengal" when all we were doing was going to the dentist.

but to a teenager, no father is a hero, even when doing admirable things. at best a father is merely tolerable. certainly , a father can't be a hero when ihe is grounding you or talking away or driving priviledges because you let the gas level drop below a quarter tank.

eventually, we left our little squadron and in the fullness of time, started our own families. and as we became parents our view of our father returned to a heroic one. yet it was not heroism in the sense of feats of arms that echo thru the ages. nor was he a hero for being a pilot and commanding the flight deck as he did. we see our father as hero for going beyond the call of duty in deciding to raise two hardheaded kids on his own through difficult and demanding times. and for doing it so well that he felt safe in saying "he had not fathered us in vain for i was better man than he was" during a toast he gave at my wedding - a sentiment that i deeply disagree with.

our father loved to talk. he was able to pass that trait to his children, occassionally to his regret. yet one of the great things about having such a talkative family is that as darkness fell, everything had been said. our father left this mortal coil for the undiscovered country he needed no further assurances of love from us, nor did we need them from him. we cherished each other and no child really needs more than that.

the phrases and quotations and aphorisms tossed out by my father during our conversations over 37 years will in turn be repeated to my children. yet only one seems appropriate for me to say here, and so i say to you, oh captain, my captain, may god bless and keep you."

4 comments:

Square1 said...

That... is absolutely beautiful. I'm sure you and your hubby miss the man very much.

mamazilla said...

thanks, square 1. yes, we really really do. :'(

B said...

Thank you for sharing a wondrous and moving tribute. As a parent of a nineteen-year-old, I find myself marveling that he, too, is a better person that I. Please tell your husband that's how it is supposed to work. His father was not saying that he felt lacking in some way. He was thanking God for the opportunity to fulfill every parent's mission; namely, to produce ever-more decent human beings.

g_pi said...

I was just going to sneak in on padded feet, take a peek, and glide silently out again (I'm not much of a commenter, even though I'm a regular visiter).

I was moved to tears by popzilla's eulogy to his dad, but I still wasn't going to say anything, because I thought, well, it sounds corny to say I was moved to tears. And yet I was. I think, if - somehow - popzilla's dad was able to hear that speech, he would've been very proud. Of himself, and his son. And rightfully so.

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