EULOGY: PART 1 OF 6
When I first started trying to write this eulogy, my Uncle David told me that I would have to follow my dad's signature formula. That I would have to boil everything about my dad down to one word or phrase and work out all the applications of that word or phrase in his life.
So, I started looking for a good word . . . a eu logos . . . for my dad. Many of you have sent me words about my dad in the past week and, since I know that great writing is always some combination of effective recycling and creative plagiarism, I started there. You told me that my dad is creative, kind, inspiring, smart, compassionate, cool, empathetic, energetic, funny, loving, generous, talented . . . and all of these words seem perfect and not good enough at the same time. Not big enough.
But many of you also told me that you're going to miss talking to my dad. So many of you said this exact phrase. I'm going to miss talking to your dad . . . that it became a theme in my mind. In fact, when I think about my dad, the only word that comes close to fully encapsulating his personality is . . . words.
We have many sayings about "talk" that make us start to doubt its value. Talk is cheap, all talk, no action, better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt, close your mouth and open your mind.
People speak of rather scary and off-putting men in low tones of respect, saying: "He's a man of few words."
And while that man might be more stoic, more dignified, more successful, more revered . . . he is a lot less like my dad. You see, my dad was a man of many words. And most of them were good.
I think of all the times Mrs. Day has sat at our table, playing word games with my dad. Of how he could make her laugh . . . hard but almost silently . . . at his word tricks. He really loved to make her laugh, because her laugh made him laugh.
My dad did not think talk was cheap. He labored at his writing. He would want to be remembered as a writer, and he believed in the power of words. Any time any of us kids got short-changed or ripped off . . . or got our feelings hurt, he immediately started working on a "strongly-worded letter.” That was the greatest threat he could think of. It was his ultimate protection. And, if it was really important, he pulled out the letterhead.
My friends all loved talking to my parents. All of our friends did. Teenagers. While most parents I knew were trying to figure out how to talk to their teens, my parents always had a houseful of them, sitting around the fire, the island in the kitchen, doing chores and talking. I remember one time, in high school, I was at the beach. I called home and one of my friends answered the phone. It was a little disconcerting but, during the course of our conversation, I found out that five of my friends were at my house, in my kitchen, and that they'd known I was gone. They came by to talk to my parents.
It was my dad's love of words, and good conversation, that led him to my mom in the first place. They often told me that, after their first date, they stayed up all night talking. My parents never got over their love of talking to each other . . . I think half of the reason that they liked to take long car trips was the opportunity they got to talk to each other without interruption.
My parents loved to create new words together, and to think of new definitions for old ones. I was in 7th grade, on a youth group ski trip, when I learned that shouting "Let's vandalize!" doesn't mean "everyone hurry up and get in the van, we're about to be late" in the real world.
And I shared this love of words with my dad. This was our main point of connection. I have spent a third of my life officially learning or teaching about words. Learning how to put words together. How to pull words apart. But my unofficial writing teacher, my first teacher, my best teacher, was my dad. He was my writing coach in college and in grad. school. So many nights he noticed the vague look of panic in my eyes, took pity on me, put on a pot of coffee and stayed up with me, listening to my writing, saying: "That's not exactly the word you want there."
When I moved away to grad school, most of my papers began as emails to him. I would write: Hey Dad, I'm thinking about writing about _____________ and then launch in to my paper. I'm not sure if he read the stuff, but I always found it easier to write imagining him as my audience.
And now, here I am. Last night, I faced the toughest writing assignment of my life, without my writing partner. But I do know what he would say. So, in a way, I wrote this with my dad: