My eulogy to my father
I should not be standing in front of you today as I vowed that I would not go to my father's funeral.
After all the years of bitterness and estrangement that defined our relationship and with so much still unresolved, I couldn't bear the thought of being here. I could not come knowing that my father died without ever taking responsibility for the hurt he had caused.
But then, something happened on the night that he passed away.
About six months ago, my mother told me that my father was losing the battle with cancer. We had not seen or spoken to each other in about two years. It meant that we were getting down to our last chance to make amends before it was too late, so I wrote him a letter.
Within this letter, I expressed how I was overcome with sadness that all I ever knew was a man who was so angry all of the time. He had constantly reminded me what a burden children were, how having children robbed him of his freedom and his peace and quiet.
I was desperate to retrieve some happy memories from the time I spent living under his roof. I wanted even some small tidbit to cherish after he was gone. All I could remember was his anger and I needed his help. In this letter, I asked if there were any moments that he remembered where he felt joy at having a daughter, even one single moment of pride. I thought if maybe he could remember some happy moments, he could remind me when these happened and we could share them together.
He never wrote back and that was that. I had put myself out there, tried to connect with him and, once again, I was let down, the way he always said that others let him down. I decided there and then that he would have to face his last days without me being there. He had worked so hard to convince me I had never been anything but a thorn in his side - the message finally sunk in. I stayed away.
Then the evening came when my brother called to tell me that it was looking quite grim for my dad. They did not expect him to last through the night. My brother said he would call again to tell me when the inevitable happened.
As I did not have a telephone in the bedroom, I took a blanket and pillow and lay numb on the couch in my living room as I waited for that final call to let me know that my dad had surrendered to the cancer.
Sometime between the first call and the second, my mind drifted into a state of semi-consciousness. Suddenly, I sat up and saw my father sitting on the end of the sofa. He was crying and between sobs, he said he was sorry that he never wrote back to me because there were so many things he wanted to tell me, so many happy memories that were all hidden beneath his anger.
He smiled and then said, "when you were four years old, all you wanted was to be a ballet dancer. So, you constantly walked on your toes to practice." He told me how when I watched Peter Pan for the first time, I kept jumping off the sofa, trying to fly. “Remember,” he said, “how frustrated you were when you couldn’t ride a bike. You thought a smaller bike would help so you borrowed a very small bike from Freddie who lived next door? This made me laugh until you just toppled over when you tried to ride it."
"And, remember that day," he continued, "when we went fishing on the cove, you were five. I gave you a fishing pole to keep you quiet and then you were the only one who caught anything! It was a whopper and we were all excited and so flustered that none of us were able to hold onto to the fish. It flipped out on to the other side of the boat and got away.”
My father and I laughed between our tears and he told me that, despite how much he might have made me think so, his unhappiness wasn’t my fault and that I needed to forgive him so he could move on.
I hated that he said this now instead of six months ago when we could have had some time together. I didn’t want to forgive him, I really did not. How can you forgive someone who has just senselessly made so many years of your life a living nightmare with their constant anger and rage?
Weirdly enough, in his spectre state, it was the first time I felt my father actually heard me and listened to me as if what I said had any meaning for him. It was the first time I felt that my father understood how I felt and that he was truly sorry for making me feel that way. Yet, I was still angry. He needed forgiveness so that he could move on. It was still all about him! What about me? It would not bring him back, it would not cure anything and it would not change my memories of him or of that early part of my life when I was always walking on eggshells terrified of his temper. He was still being selfish and wanting something from me without really giving anything of himself back.
Suddenly, he was gone and no more words could be exchanged. The phone rang and it was my brother. It was confirmed, my father had moved on without me forgiving him. I told my brother I wasn’t going to go to the funeral. My father had made his choice.
Then, a light went on and I realized that all of my life I had craved to have that kind of dialogue with my father. It meant everything to have him listen without fear of his anger and irrational reactions to what I would say. And, in those brief moments with his spirit sitting on the sofa in my living room, he truly wanted to hear what I had to say. He listened calmly and kindly which is more than he ever did in his living years. And, maybe the forgiveness wasn’t about him after all, but a truce so that I, too, could move on and not let his rage continue to color my perception of the world. It would be unrealistic to think that it would all disappear overnight because too many years went into its making. But, it would be a start.
Although, I had no intentions of being here at the funeral today, here I am. Sometimes forgiveness happens without meaning to. You want to be angry and maybe even have a right to be, but, instead, it's like you cannot help but look past all of those things that made you hurt or angry - to the person inside that you love. Real forgiveness is when it happens without effort or even calculating whether or not the other person deserves it.
As soon as I felt myself forgiving my father, the memories started flooding in. These quirky and endearing elements that made my father who he was – apart from the anger – were suddenly all I could think of. Here are just a few of those.
That cove fishing trip, at five years old, was my first introduction to my father’s world of fishing. The fish got away. I remember my dad going on countless fishing trips and coming back empty handed. I truly thought fishing was just something you did in name only - nothing ever came of it.
Then, there was his golf game which always made him mad enough to ruin his whole Saturday yet, determined to prevail over the green, he would always go out again the following week. I remember how my dad was a wizard at designing computers but how to open the childproof aspirin bottle baffled him and, in a tantrum, he would throw it down on the floor. “Stupid bottle!” he would shout.
My dad loved jelly, especially grape, and I remember how disgusted I was when he used it as a condiment on things I couldn’t understand like cheese bread and scrambled eggs.
His mind was always going, always inventing. He was determined to invent that single thing which would become a household item and would make him an overnight multi-millionaire. He did invent things but they sat on his inventor's bench until the product was already on the market – invented by someone else. Back at the drawing board, he promised himself that his next invention would not sit on the bench. Next time, he would get the patent and make that million. As fate would have it, he never did make multi millions but he was rich with such dreams.
My dad ultimately gave up golf and returned to his love of tennis – a much less maddening pleasure for him. Eventually, those fishless fishing trips became infrequent to non-existent.
But, as long as I can remember, my dad has been devoted to two things in which he was profoundly successful: his flute and his love of study as a true armchair scientist, always exploring other ways of thinking. Fascinated and intrigued by philosophy, history, religion, metaphysics and western mysticism, he was perpetually on a quest for knowledge. He was an incredibly brilliant man.
Sadly, I often witnessed his frustration with the limited expression of his true genius that his career offered to him. In some of the few really frank discussions we had about things, he would tell me he regretted choosing to become an engineer, that he would have enjoyed the humanities or social studies far more. He confessed that he had these fleeting wild glimpses, where he could see himself as a professor in a university or as a researcher. I shared his view that this would have been a much more fulfilling occupation for him and he would have been good at it. When my father delved into anything of interest, he did so with such amazing intensity that you could see the cogs of enthusiasm churning in his brain. He was voracious with it and would spend hours, days and weeks devoted to learning all he could about it.
A typical memory of my dad is him sitting on the living room couch, surrounded by and devouring books of various topics, one after another and writing down his volumes and volumes of thought, perhaps in response to what he was reading or maybe generating ideas of his own. This was my dad’s private sanctuary, the contents of which remain his forever secret.
I am indebted to my father for the love of music and study, along with the pleasure and compulsion for writing he passed on to me.
Sadly, one of the things I learned from my dad is that genius and love are not always compatible. But, what he has now learned from me, maybe posthumously, is that in the end, love always wins. How do I know?
Because I am here.
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