Monday, February 26, 2007

Eulogy for a Giant

(When I started this blog, I started thinking about this post. Mostly because I knew I wouldn't be there on this day, or at any time during this week. Military service will do that. And I'm afraid that, as I try to write it, it won't measure up to what I want. But here goes, anyway.)

My father died one year ago Tuesday. He was 65.

You learn things you really didn't want to know when a parent dies. Some are important; some are trivial. One of the trivial things I learned was that the Rite of Christian Burial doesn't include a provision for a eulogy. This surprised me, because every funeral I've ever seen on TV, or attended in person, there is a eulogy - and it's performed by a family member. I thought I'd have to say a few words about my Dad. Who can say a few things about their Dad? But the priest, a friend of my father's, gave a brief sermon and he touched on Dad's life. It was what my father would have wanted. The obit in the paper that week was a good synopsis of his life (my siblings and I crafted it). But I needed to say more.

My father was a tremendous athlete. He still holds a shot-put record for the state of Missouri. It helps that they quit using that particular weight at the high school level, but he's the guy who threw it the farthest. My father played 4 years of Varsity football in high school, and 4 years of Varsity football in college. (He's in the photo; I wear his number now on my softball jerseys). My dad was good enough he was invited to try out by the New York Giants (the Sam Huff/Frank Gifford Giants, not the pansy team they field now) and the Baltimore Colts (the Johnny U Colts). These were two of the best teams in the game in the early 60s.

The fact that he didn't want to spend his young adult years getting his head kicked in speaks volumes to his character. I don't know if he'd have walked away from the game had they been paying what they pay now, but I suspect so.

I got my love of the Cardinals from him. I remember the first and last games I attended with him. The first was at Old Dodger Stadium (the Dodger Stadium of my youth ceased to exist when Fox added luxury seating behind the plate, cut down the foul territory all over the field, and took out the scoreboards that were behind first and third base). We sat in left, where my favorite Cardinal (Lou Brock) patrolled. I came as close to catching a ball that day as I would for 20 years; some bozo listening to a transistor radio (he wasn't even paying attention!) caught it just before it hit him in the mouth. St. Louis was god-awful in those days, and the Dodgers would go to the World Series in 1977. Cards got smoked 11-0.

The last game was eerily familiar. Again we got down there early for BP. Again our seats were in left. Again the Cards got shut out. But this time it was Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, 3-0 to Boston. Yep. I was there when Boston clinched it's first title in 86 years. My singular regret from that day is I didn't get a picture with my Dad while at the game. I have it in my head, and I visit there occasionally; but I would have liked to share it with my son.

The next August he was diagnosed with liver cancer.

He was in a lot of pain, but you never knew it. He went from a 250 lb man to a 210 lb shell in just over 5 months as the cancer, and the kemo, and the other treatments took their toll on him. But he didn't complain. He taught his classes literally up to the day he died (he was forced to stop 2 weeks before the end). And he handled the ordeal with dignity and humility. Courage is facing the unknown calmly, even though you know it will not end the way you want it to. My Dad had more courage than anyone I've yet met.

When you lose someone close to you it leaves a huge hole. It takes a while to get your bearings straight; to figure out what's important and where you can go from that point. I'm still trying to figure all of it out. What keeps me going? The belief that there is more to existence than this 'crude matter'. The chance to be the father to my son that my Dad was to me. I will never get over the loss of my Dad. But my life didn't end that day. And he would expect me to keep living.

RIP, Dad. I miss you.

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