(as delivered at his funeral on March 9, 2017)
A defining moment in my life came at 35,000 feet. We were flying to a wedding in the heartland of America. A week earlier, I had been informed that WVU no longer required my services: I had been kicked out of America’s Number 1 Party School. How might one, you ask, be kicked out of America’s Number 1 Party School? Fortunately, this is neither the time nor the place for that particular story. Or stories.
Regardless, we were cruising at 35,000 feet… and this is the time I decided to tell Dad that his favorite son had been kicked out of college. He was already frustrated with me, because I had set the time on my watch for Central Time in the terminal as we waited to board the plane. And, because of that, my wife, who was then my fiance, and I nearly missed the flight. Dad had to run down the terminal to find me.
“Dad… relax, man. We’ve got an hour.”
“YOU ALREADY CHANGED YOUR WATCH!” he yelled.
So as my future wife and I boarded the plane, we were greeted by my mother standing in the aisle with her hands on her hips, giving us the motherly glare.
“Welcome to the family,” I told Teressa.
So we took our seat and, quickly after, took to the air.
And this was the venue and the circumstances I had chosen to tell Dad that WVU no longer required my services. Timing is not a strong suite of mine….
So… the moment arrives. Dad is reading the paper, and I am seated next to him.
“Yes,” he replied.
“I got kicked out of WVU.”
I was prepared for him to remove me from the plane by opening the back hatch and giving me a good shove.
Instead, he didn’t look up from the paper. “Fix it,” he says. With authority.
“How?” I ask.
“Fix it,” he says. “I didn’t raise a failure.”
Dad didn’t teach me to shave with the grain… because he never taught me to shave. And we never really had “”The Talk.” In fact, the only conversation we ever had that was even close to “The Talk” was the advice, 3 rules, he gave before I left for college that went something like this:
Number 1… Don’t drink and drive.
Number 2… Don’t get anyone pregnant.
And Number 3… which encompasses numbers 1 and 2… don’t do anything stupid.
I clearly didn’t master number 3…
He taught me more important things than to shave with the grain.
In 8th grade, I got into a little bit of trouble on the bus and was being removed for the remainder of the year. While Dad was on the phone with the Director of Transportation, the director accused me of being a liar.
Dad’s response… “My son might be a lot of things… but he is no liar.” Not a glowing endorsement, but an endorsement, nonetheless.
In this, he taught me the importance of truth..
Through his actions, he taught me the importance of service… that it is not enough to simply go to church on Sunday in order to serve the Lord. You have to serve within the church and, then, by definition, the community… It was not a spoken mantra… it was a mantra of action.
He also taught me the importance of service on church committees… thanks for that one, Pop.
He taught me that being a father is not a matter of biology or DNA… it is a matter of showing up…
It’s the always showing up for practice and games… the showing up for theatre performances,.. the showing up at every single band function… showing up when your son calls you and tells you he broke the axle on your minivan… again… showing up when you need someone to go through the home inspection with you… showing up to be a huge part of the life of the children of your daughter and son… no matter how far you have to drive.
Show up… for the mundane and extraordinary.
And he taught me to never quit… he taught me while I was a boy playing basketball, and he taught me as a man while he fought cancer.
One of the main reasons he tried the last treatment, Opdivo, was because he wanted to teach his grandkids the importance of never giving up… of never losing hope. “I don’t want the grandkids to think that it is OK to give up.”
And he didn’t… to the very end.
The ESPN anchor, Stuart Scott, who faced a cancer battle of his own, said this of cancer patients… “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”
By this definition, Dad kicked the crap out of cancer.
To say he was a good man doesn’t do his life justice… And any tribute I write could never do my father’s life justice.
All I can say is that many people never have the opportunity to meet their hero… I am fortunate enough to call mine “Dad.”
Thank you, Dad, for a life well lived. I love you.