In Remembrance of My Dad

Very recently my father died. While we’re all still in a bit of shock about it, and we’re working to pick up the pieces, below is the first draft of a eulogy for him. This was delivered, actually, as-is on the occasion of his first memorial service this past weekend. Nothing was changed from when it was written on the plane ride down.

When he is laid to his final rest at Arlington National Cemetery in a few months, this will be expanded upon and include more perspective. The benefit of time will allow us to write something collaborative that will better encompass what the man meant to us, and so many others.

But these are the words we had in order to give closure to his friends and family in Florida. I’m sharing them because I’ve spent so long memorializing my mom, it’s only right that I commemorate my dad. I hope whoever reads this gets a better understanding of him and why, at the end of the day, I loved him so darn much.

My father was a man of contradictions. Beautiful, masterful contradictions.

He was not overly expressive all the time, but he was a passionate man. He definitely passed that on to his sons.

He was a compassionate man capable of deep forgiveness and overwhelming generosity, but he was also a man who believed – deeply – in the importance of following the rules. He may have left the Marines but they remained in his very marrow.

He believed in discipline though often had a hard time being disciplined himself. How many times we told him to go to the doctor, just for a check up. “OK, OK,” he’d say. And that was the end of it, until next time we’d bug him. But trust me, if he wasn’t going to listen to our mom about that, he wasn’t going to listen to us.

He was lost without her in many ways, and though he rebuilt his life I know he never went a day without thinking of her. He once said to me after her death, “I went 19 years without her, and I’ll go 19 after.” He believed he had a time limit defined by these eras of his life – a trilogy of existence. His final act seems to have been cut short, but he did manage to continue a full life here in Florida.

There are shades of my father indelibly marked on my brother and me. Our childlike enthusiasm for the small things stems in no small part from his passion for model trains. My brother still loves comic books and my well-established love of all things Star Wars stems from him. They are our model trains.

Our love for the escapism of movies is unavoidably “Dad” to me. He thrilled to movies and enjoyed classic adventures. And every year he watched every version of A Christmas Carol he could find. Once he had them all, Christmas shopping for him became inordinately more difficult.

He was unafraid to be seen as child–like, sometimes to the shock of us and our mother. I could spend days recounting funny stories of him; we will spend our lives recounting them between ourselves. I hope we can all share those happy moments with each other in the coming years.

He seems to have given these memories to people even we didn’t know about. We know that they’re grateful for him, and we were loved by him in his own way. He tailored that love to each person. It was his way. But my brother and I had the unique experience of Dad without a filter; and we are the happier for it.

My father was not perfect and he understood that he wasn’t. There is nothing to gain from recounting whatever small shortcomings he had. But they were few and they are not worth remembering here.

He was humble to a fault. I like to believe that he knew his gifts but remembered that pride was a sin. He was grateful for what he had and what he had done. This man had worked from the baseline and went all the way to the executive level at Ma Bell…later C&P…later Verizon.

He instilled in our family through example the cardinal lesson that “book smarts” and “wisdom” are two uniquely different things. He was no man for an ivory tower, though he could have built them himself. He was intensely smart, and I’d throw my dad against any Ph.D. Any day of the week, he’d teach them something. And if there was something he didn’t know – he’d learn it. This is what consumed him and why my brother and I still obsessively buy books – he showed us without saying a word that we had to learn outside the confines of academia.

Heavenly Father, we commend your son Thomas Henry – Tommy, Tom, Dad, Father, Pop, and a host of other nicknames – to your eternal care. Let him know Your love and that ours will be forever with him.

14 thoughts on “In Remembrance of My Dad

  1. Sweetly, honestly, heartfelt….brought tears to my eyes. But honestly, i expected nothing less. You have always been great with words. I only hope that if i ever have to do this that i can memorialize as well as you did. Again, our deepest sympathy.


  2. No words seem like enough, so I will borrow someone else’s –

    “When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose [him] all at once; you lose [him] in pieces over a long time—Gradually, you accumulate the parts of [him] that are gone…. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that [he’s] gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” —John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

    That quote has always struck me as the most accurate, and painful part, of losing someone you love. And I’m so sorry you’re going through that, and so sorry for your loss. Sounds like there are many traits of your dad in you – movies, books, a certain stubbornness, forgiving, but also big on rules. (did he make them up on the fly like you do? 😉 )


  3. This is beautiful, and I’m glad you shared it.

    I liked your Dad, even though I had few interactions with him. I do have two vivid memories of the man, though: one that makes me want to cry, and another that always makes me laugh. I hope you don’t mind my sharing them:

    The first was the day that your mother was buried. He was doing his best to keep it all together, even though it was clear that he was in an unfathomable amount of pain. The more he smiled and shook hands and said encouraging things about how beautiful the ceremony was, the more sure I was sure that he was overcompensating in every single way just so that he could to get through the day. I can only imagine the strength that took.

    The other was a winter day a few years earlier, when you and I were out, and you decided at that moment that you needed to impulse purchase a Sega (or some other gaming console).

    Fresh with your new acquisition, we barged into your house, explained our circumstances to your dad, then ran upstairs to your room. I looked over my shoulder at him as I went upstairs, and he had a bemused look on his face that seemed to say, “I’ll allow it.”

    Twenty minutes later, he came by your room to inquire about all of the shouting and cursing. And he stood there, still bemused, listening to us vent about how difficult it was to hook up the stupid machine.

    He offered a few pointers, we flipped a few switches, toggled a few settings, and were soon set up to play Madden.

    We thanked him, and he said, “Nah, you did it. I just watched. That’s what I do at work, too!”

    Hang in there, buddy.


  4. I wouldn’t rewrite this if I were you. If you feel the need to add more, go for it, but something like this usually comes out best the first time.

    As for Uncle Tommy, he gave me one of my favorite Christmas gifts. It seems ordinary, but I loved it, and it was exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from him. He gave me a toolbox. I was in my early twenties. I owned a screwdriver or two. I said something like, “I guess I need to buy some tools.” He said not to worry about it; within a year, I’d find that toolbox full. It’s been to New York, Chicago, then back to DC. It’s still going strong, and I appeal to it at least twice a week. I guess it really is the little things that matter most.


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