Jan 30

Dear Dad,

Well…it’s over.  Your memorial was yesterday.  I hope you are happy with it.  Actually, I know you are.  It was pretty unbelievable.  So many people came up to me and said that was the best memorial they had ever been to.  Now, I know – who has ever heard of a good memorial?  But I knew what they meant; they meant it wasn’t too long, wasn’t a bunch of horseshit content, it logistically made sense, etc.  The whole day has been running through my head like a movie…non-stop.   On the way home from dropping Rhonda off at the airport yesterday I even recited your whole eulogy again, out loud.  I am proud of the tribute we put together for you.  But I’m sad, too.  I don’t want it to be over.

The last month was spent digging through all the pictures everyone had, scanning them, creating a slideshow and setting it to music.  I hand-picked all the songs that were played.  They were songs that made me think of you – actually, that made us all think of you.  It was a very challenging month and I cried a lot.  All the time.  But I knew I had to keep things moving.  When things got tough, I could hear you in my ears telling me to push forward, to get moving and make things happen.  I took the lead on everything and that’s because I knew that was supposed to be my role.   That’s what you wanted me to do.

I think I did a good job of keeping Kathy in the loop without her ever feeling sidelined.  I ran everything by her before ever making decisions on anything.  There were a couple things that I know she wanted to do but they just didn’t fit.  For example, she wanted you to have the theme song ‘I Did it My Way’ by Frank Sinatra.  And whereas I understood where she was coming from, I just couldn’t figure out how that would fit.  It fit you.  It didn’t fit the memorial.  The other thing was that she wanted me to read all the excerpts people had said about you online, etc.  There were literally hundreds of touching and/or hilarious messaged that people sent.  And I thought it was a good idea to read a few of the standouts, but I wanted Kim to do it.  She wasn’t willing/able to do it and, in the end, I just thought they wouldn’t fit in with the flow of the other things I was going to talk about.  So…Rhonda printed them out on note cards and we put them on your memorabilia table in the back of the room.  But regardless, I think the event was so good that she never even thought about those things.

The venue selection was initially tough for two reasons.  First, we knew it was going to be a large turnout.  Initially the funeral director said we could do it at their chapel.  But when he told me it only held 200 people I said that wasn’t going to be big enough.  He was skeptical, and even said that people always think there will be more attendees than actually shows up.  Then he said if we weren’t going to do it until a month after your death, the number of people that would come would probably drop even more.  But I was steadfast that we needed a bigger place and told him we weren’t going to use his room.  The other thing that presented a challenge was that we wanted a location where we could do a formal service and then have the celebration in the same place.  Oh also, on that note, there was a bit of a struggle in the beginning about whether or not we should have a bar at the celebration.  You can probably guess where that came from.  And even though I could intellectually make sense out of the concern, I just kind of laughed.  How ridiculous would that have been?

Several people really stepped up for you Dad.  Cheryl Spotke was one of them.  I knew immediately that having her sing was something we simply had to do.  I just hoped that she’d do it.  She agreed right away and handled all the details of getting the music, rehearsing at the venue, etc.  Here’s something weird…in trying to decide what she should sing, I listened to and read the lyrics to dozens of songs.  When I finally narrowed it down to just a few, I brought mom in to help with the final cuts.  We easily landed on one song – Goodbye My Friend by Linda Ronstadt.  Neither of us realized until Cheryl pointed it out that that was the song she sang twenty years ago at Grandpa’s funeral.  How about that?  No matter.  We thought it made sense and she was happy to do it.  I knew she was nervous, too.  She did great.

There were others, too, like Beau and Stan Watkins.  I really didn’t know who we could get to emcee.  We had several ideas, but they just didn’t work out.  Max Wilsey, for example…he said he was just too emotional about it.  But looking in the rear view I thought Beau was perfect.  He’s a good speaker.  He knows you well.  This whole event has made us closer I think.  I have never known Stan, but he and I spent the week leading up to the memorial on the phone, sharing stories.  What a great guy.  So nice, just a genuinely gentle man with a good soul.  And boy does he care about you.  And Dr. Strickland!  How funny was he?  There was a moment when he started talking about greedy corporate CEO’s when I thought he may have been flying off the reservation but then he made his point – money doesn’t make a person successful.  He truly believes that teachers and coaches are some of the people most instrumental in shaping kids and you were one of the best, and his message was well received.

Finally – my friends were huge supports throughout this process.  I spent the last month filling my days with all the details of this event…making the slideshow, booking the venue, figuring out the details, giving people jobs.  When that roadmap was finished, when the vision was there, they stepped in and took things over as if you were their father.  Scott even said to me at one point “Do you know what ‘right’ is?  Do you know what this event would look like done right?” I said yes. Then he said “Tell me what ‘right’ looks like then, and then I don’t want you to worry about it anymore.  It will be right.”  I know they were hurting, too – especially Cory and Scott.  I have the best friends in the world.

Do you know I never had any stress about delivering your eulogy?  It’s weird, too, because I have been thinking about it for years.  And here is something funny as well…or telling.  Whenever I would think about your death in the past, the role I would play in delivering you eulogy was slightly different.  For example, when I was in college I was convinced that I would need to write and sing the perfect song with my guitar.  Somehow that made me feel like we’d be bridging our divide, like in death we would finally find our resolution and become closer.  But in the end, it was what it should of been (I think).  And I mean that for you and for me.  I say that because, even though it was your day, there was something else going on too, something inside the fabric of what we were trying to do.

I told Rhonda about it on the drive to El Jebel; there was a convergence of experience going on.  See, my job was to take your life and out it in its rightful place inside these people’s heads, and then I was supposed to take the baton from you and move your legacy forward exactly how you would want me to: acting as a better version of you.  But it was also, at the same time, the point in my life where I would address a room full of my peers, teachers, coaches, family and a whole bunch of other people and show them who I am today, years after they ever knew me, as a man.   Some people – even our family – have always been a bit tentative around me because they were intimidated by you and have never been certain how much of you I have inside me and whether or not there is any reason they should be intimidated by me.  That’s confusing.  Do you understand?  I needed to put you in your rightful place and I needed to do it for me as well; just like in my twenties I needed to find my place where I could be in the same room with you without turning into a 16 year old again, I needed to show these people that I was worthy of framing your life and taking your torch.

I woke up yesterday morning feeling good.  I’ve been listening to Higher and Higher by Jackie Wilson anytime I want to think about you and feel good.  When we got to El Jebel, we had a room upstairs where family could be while others were arriving.  That way none of us had to have big lengthy discussions with people we haven’t seen in years.  We figured there would be time for that after the service.  About 20 minutes before we were scheduled to start, I decided I should practice your eulogy.  So, I walked down to a room at the end of the hall upstairs.  I paced for a minute or two before looking out the window.  As soon as I heard Higher and Higher playing over the sound system I got a big smile on my face.  I stopped pacing and walked over to the window and looked down below.  And Dad…there was a line of cars backed up as far as I could see, waiting to turn into the parking lot.  At that point, I got so happy!  Then Cory stuck his head inside the room and said “Its time.”

I had Ava by the hand and Rhonda had Lily.  We walked into the auditorium and up the middle aisle.  I could tell people were watching us.  They had been waiting for us to arrive and when our family walked down the aisle, towards the front, it quieted all the talking and laughing that was going on throughout the auditorium.  Things got serious.  They knew it was time to begin.  I know that a lot of people were watching me for another reason Dad.  They were watching me because I am the son.  They know that, for all intents and purposes…I am you.

There was a moment after Stan Watkins spoke when Beau came over and said to me “The golf course says they’re going to start towing cars.  Apparently a bunch of people have parked in their lot.”  We looked at each other for about five seconds.  Then he said “What do you want to do?”  I thought about it.   I thought about the hundreds of people sitting silently behind me.  No way was I going to break up the event.  I figured that, with the number of cars that were parked out there, trying to pull off towing them was going to be a bigger labor than the golf course could actually pull off.  I was ready to play chicken with them.  “Fuck it,” I whispered.  “We’re not stopping.”  We continued.  I later found out that Cory went over to the golf course and got on their asses.

After Dr. Strickland it was my time to deliver your eulogy.  I turned to mom and said “Oh no, where are my notes?!”  Her eyes got big and worried but then I just started smiling at her.  I held them up and then tossed them on my seat, leaving them behind.  Then I stood up, gave her and Kim a hug and walked over to Kathy and gave her one too.  I headed for the stage and skipped up the stairs two at a time, feeling unbelievably content.  Now, the truth is that I had a secret stash of clean notes under the podium in case I needed them.   But you know?  I didn’t.  I knew what I had to say and I felt good.  I felt ready.

I could see that the room was full, but I had no idea just how packed it was until I was on the stage, behind the podium.  I made it up those steps and turned around and there an absolute sea of people below me.  Beyond that there were people sitting upstairs in the balcony as well!  We did some math today and with the number of chairs we set out and people who signed the guest book, we think we had between 350 and 400 people.  Pretty impressive!  I mean, you retired 13 years ago!  And you know…you haven’t exactly been out and about since then.  So, considering that the majority of those relationships were from at least 13 years go, and some waay before…I think that was an absolutely incredible turnout!

Everyone knows you in a different light Dad – everyone.  So my plan was to give them some things to think about that I knew they didn’t know…things that would take anything they did know about you, and give it new meaning.   Some of the things I shared would have made you squirm a bit.  I shared things that you and I have never discussed.  Even things that I just learned.  And actually, I learned a lot more than was appropriate to share at your memorial.  But you make so much more sense to me today Dad.  I wished we could have talked about a lot of these things while you were alive.  But I know you weren’t ready to do that, and that’s ok.  I’m proud of the job I did Dad.  I hope you are too.

So many people said to me afterwards that either they would never be able to speak at their parents funeral or that their parents have already passed and they weren’t able to say anything at their service.  I just kind of shrugged it off.  I don’t know what the right answer is, I’d tell them.  I guess everyone knows if they are supposed to do it or not when the time comes.  And Dad – you and I both know that I was supposed to do it.  From day one I knew that was my job, that you’d want me to do it and no one else.  It was my rite of passage into manhood in more ways than one.  It was a lesson from you and I knew you were there, shepherding me.

I’m worried about what comes next.  What do I do now?  I miss you…  I don’t want it to be over.

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