Today was my dad’s funeral and this was my final tribute to him at his mass.
Frank. My dad. He was quite a character, and he was many things to many people. He lived his life for others. He lived his life with honor and integrity. He was a complex man who never shied from a laugh but one who didn’t particularly care to share the warm and fuzzy aspects of life with many. Don’t get me wrong, I know he felt the warm and fuzzies, he just didn’t care to talk about them much. It wasn’t always easy to talk with him about the lovier side of life. So I want to share my story of the man I called dad in a way I think I do it best, through a letter I began writing this to him before he passed away, but didn’t finish until after he left us.
Through your life you have taken on many names. And you relished each and every one of them. To Chris and me you started as Daddy and then became Dad. To mom, when you crossed the line and she was beyond irritated with you, you became “Well, Crap Frank,” but on most other occasions, your name, Frank, rolled off of mom’s tongue with loving tenderness. To some of your friends you were called “The Gum Gardner” because of your devotion to your patients, and to your profession. To your brother, sisters you were Frankie or “The Imp.” You were the youngest, so you endured what was heaped upon you. Your name with your grandkids was Granddad and Grandpa. I know there are many other names you were blessed to have, but I think my favorite name for you is the one you earned last. “Frank the Tank.” That name was bestowed on you in your final days, but it sums up perfectly who you were throughout your life. You embody the name Frank the Tank. You plowed through situations none of us could ever imagine. And you did it with ease, never complaining one iota.
Before I started this letter I said, you worked and lived your whole life for someone else. I don’t mean that you were a doormat or a pushover. What I mean is, you lived your life for mom, for us and for your friends. You weren’t a big, showy type of a person. So sometimes we overlooked the little things you did to live your life for others. You never bragged about things you did, or any of the things you accomplished in your quest to live your life for someone else. You probably never told anyone many of the things you did for others, but they were there, at the core of your being. And it was at the end of your days where I saw it the most. I know you were never one to complain. I know you always wanted others to be happy, even at your own expense. At the end, when the pain from your hip had to be more than many people could bear, we would all ask, “How are you today?” You would say, with a smile on your face, “I’m fine. I’m just fine.” And you meant it. You lived your life for us. You made sure, until the end of your life, that our pain was eased while you endured your own. In all of this, you were the living, breathing entity of living life for others.
You were a man of honor and integrity. You taught Chris and me how to live our own lives with the same honor and integrity. You weren’t perfect, so don’t think I’m blowing sunshine up your you-know-what. I just want you to know it was the perfection of your imperfections that taught us the most. Your most shining moment, to me anyway, was when (at the age of 75) you realized you had a problem with alcohol and you fixed it. You fixed your imperfection and you showed us it’s never too late to make amends, to turn things around and to right things that aren’t quite right. In that shining moment of a perfectly imperfect time, you showed us how to live life with integrity and honor. You looked at yourself in the mirror and you saw a man you didn’t like so you changed him and you set a wonderful example for all of us to follow. I couldn’t be more proud of you for the strength and courage it took for you to admit your faults. It took honor and integrity to admit you had a problem, to admit you had a fault.
So, I want you to know, Dad, that I think you did a good job here on earth. I look around this room and I see how impactful your life was on others. I told you a little of this before you left us, but I never got the chance to tell you exactly why I think you did such a good job. I look at Chris and myself and I see happiness in our lives. Chris and I grew up and we grew up well. We have happy marriages and beautiful kids who are part of your legacy. You and mom set a prime example of how to live, how to love and how to work through good times and bad. You set the example of making marriage work and work well. Stan and I, along with Chris and Tammy, have a beautiful path to follow because of you. I look around this room and I see your six stunning grandchildren. Each and every one of them has a special course in life and a special role in this world because of you. I look at Kristine and Zach, both outstanding students, always striving to do their best. You always demanded excellence, not only of yourself but us as well. Kristine and Zach have taken your example to heart and are running forward with it. I look at Katrina and Lucas, the two who follow your example for being the ones who strive to make other people happy and put someone else’s needs above their own. I said above you never complained and you made it look easy to make others happy. Katrina and Lucas are working to follow in your footsteps. I look at Karli and Claire, they are the two lovey ones. They are the ones who freely gave you their love and demanded a little more of you than you were ever used to, but they were the two who sensed your lovey side and captured it. They took your deep, abiding love for your family and they magnified it. You did a good job. The more I look around this room and the more people I know are here, I know what a supremely good job you did. Your friends and your family came to bid you farewell. And they wouldn’t do that for just an ordinary man. People only do that for others when they’ve lived a good life, and you obviously did. People are here for you because of the wonderful job you did living your life. You weren’t perfect. No one is. But you were perfectly you and you did a good job. I couldn’t be more proud to be your daughter. I couldn’t be more proud to have been able to call you daddy and dad. You were a wonderful man whose life here on earth is at an end, but you lived such an honorable, integrity-filled, good life that your legacy will carry on.
One final thing, Dad, I know you never were one for sappiness. But I have to leave you with a quote that you might just believe rank up there in the sappiness quotient. You goal in life was to laugh and make others laugh. So although this is a little sappy, it truly fits you. Perfectly…
On Mother’s Day I gave Mom a card from one of my favorite card companies. Just as a little aside, Mother’s Day is the day you left us, so I have to believe there is a bigger picture to this story. The logo for this card company is the hummingbird. I think you might know why the hummingbird is important to this story…because it reminds me of you. When we went camping every summer you would always mix up the bright-red. sticky. sweet, syrupy water, fill the hummingbird feeder and put it just outside of the window so we could watch the beautifully, delicate creatures who came to enjoy the meal you carefully prepared for them. So when I read the back of the card I gave to Mom and saw the story of the hummingbird, I knew I had to share it with you, “Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.”
Thanks for listening, Dad. Until we meet again.