September 27, 2016 at 3:49 pm #54
Written for a speech, so forgive any mistakes. My dad would have copy-edited for me.
I called my dad last Tuesday because I went to Hastings to buy some cheap DVDs to keep my kids occupied in the car. I didn’t know they were going out of business, so I ended up spending almost an hour in there, on the phone with my dad the whole time, searching for anything he might like at 50% off. Everything I named he already had – every DVD, every Game of Thrones figurine. He said he didn’t have the Doctor Who number 12 figurine – and after digging, I found it. We were on the phone when I saw it buried in a pile and we both laughed. I said happy early birthday.
I am inevitably going to cry up here talking – and I always do when I give a speech like this, at a wedding. First time attempting at a funeral. But if and when I do, it will be in tribute to my dad, who was never shy about crying when something moved him.
When we went to see the final Harry Potter movie – my husband, then boyfriend, was sitting in between us – and after the credits started rolling he looked to his left and right and saw my dad and I, both with tears streaming down our face.
When I spent time in the hospital as a teenager, I was bored out of my mind. I had kind of rebelled against “reading” – because of course my parents would have loved for me to be a reader and it felt like a little rebellion to say I didn’t want to.
In the hospital, he brought me the three Harry Potter books that had come out so far. He read most of the first one out loud to me, and left them for me that night. I didn’t sleep. I stayed up until I finished them all, and then I gave in, and reading became my favorite thing to do.
My dad was a unique man. I think we can all agree on that. He was the kind of dad who, after the birth of my first daughter and two years out of college, created a custom poetry class for me just because I said I wanted to learn more about poetry. I got my own syllabus and everything. We went to an empty classroom in Peck Hall, just the two of us, once a weekend for months. He had so many students whose lives will be forever impacted by his teaching. My sister and I were his students too.
Peck Hall felt like a second home to me – I walked across the street from Campus School almost everyday and hung out in his office. Or my friend Meagan and I would pretend to be child prodigies already admitted to college. Sometimes he would roll me around the hallways in his office chair. He got to do that with my daughter Adelyn a few times too, and I’m so thankful for that. In college, everyone dreaded going to Peck Hall for classes. I was always thrilled to leave the “new” part of campus to go to that old building.
My dad taught me how to think. He was the kind of dad who read Sophie’s World to me when I was maybe about 9, trying to introduce me to the study of philosophy. I didn’t understand a word of it – but I understood what my dad was about, and I learned about his underlying philosophy to think about everything.
He was also the kind of dad who made me watch the Mel Brooks’ Hitchcock horror spoof High Anxiety at about 7 or 8 years old. My mom told him not to – that it would scare me, and I wouldn’t understand the satire. I didn’t understand it. It did scare me. And I insisted on sleeping in bed with them for a long time afterward.
He introduced me to Twin Peaks a few years later, after we’d moved to Murfreesboro. I still couldn’t understand its depth – but I did understand the horror of a monster who could live inside of a ceiling fan and a dancing midget in a red room. I’m still a little scared of ceiling fans.
But he was also the kind of dad who played catch with me outside for hours, all of the time, sometimes everyday during my childhood. He threw the ball up so high that you couldn’t even see it anymore – and we practiced that over and over, until I could always catch it.
He was the kind of dad who corrected my grammar at every chance. I’m sure that surprises no one here. I think one of his lasting catchphrases, for me, one of his many, many jokes that he would find any excuse to use, will be a constant conversation we had growing up. Every time I’d ask, “Dad, can I,” he’d interrupt with, “I don’t know, can you?”
He was brilliant. An intellectual. He also loved sports, something he tried to pass on to me but that never quite caught on. I know his sons-in-law appreciated having a man to talk to who somehow knew everything about literature and about football, baseball, and basketball.
My dad’s passing was extraordinarily sudden. We thought when he first got sick that he would be out for a semester. It escalated so quickly that we will all be in shock for a long time. I feel somewhat at peace knowing I got to call him right after the final episode of Mad Men for analysis. I feel at peace that the last conversation we had in the hospital, when I was trying to keep him in good spirits before we knew just how serious the situation was, went something like this: Do you want to talk about Trump? He laughed and grunted no. Do you want to talk about Stranger Things? He nodded yes. I loved it, he said. Do you want to talk about your grandkids? I love them, was what he said. That was our last conversation. I loved my dad. He was a dad, and a true teacher, in every sense of the word.
You can’t sum my dad up, because he was too unique. But I will try to do him justice with this scene from Mad Men, which he often told me was one of the best scenes of television he’d ever seen.
Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. In Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.
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