Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Special Happy Birthday

Tomorrow would have been my dad's 59th birthday. I had mentioned once before that I would like to share more about him as a person and I thought it would be a good time to do that. I am writing this a day early because I know I will not have time to do it tomorrow and I don't want to let it go.

Awhile back I was going through some books I have and found a scribbled copy of the eulogy I did for my dad at his funeral. The handwriting is hard to read and not always in complete thoughts. After reading it again I realized I wanted to have a better written copy. It took a lot for me to get up and share my thoughts on him in the middle of a stressful time and I don't want to lose what it was I said. It might not translate very well to the written word, but hopefully it will give you an idea of who my father was to me. Happy Birthday dad.

Here it is, my eulogy to my father. Originally spoken on January 28th, 2002. For those that were there, it may vary slightly due to my nerves at the funeral, but this is how it was originally written.

"As I was going through some of my dad's things this weekend I discovered something I had never known. Inside a folder were several ribbons that were dated 1958. They were from a District 118 UIL meet, which was when my dad lived in Barstow, TX. I had never seen these ribbons before so I started reading the back to find out what my dad had won them for. There were the standard events - 1st place for Boys Track, 2nd place for Boys Doubles, Placed in Boys Singles...Then one particularly struck me. First Place in Storytelling. Now mind you my dad was only 9 years old in 1958 and he was already the best storyteller in Barstow, TX. Now any of you who knew my dad can certainly bet he was still the best storyteller you knew! One "story" he had me believing for many years was his lack of friends. When I would ask him about his friends, he would jokingly tell me - "friends? no one likes me, I run them off!" As I look around the room today, it just confirms he was once again practicing his storytelling for the love and support all of you shown far surpasses anything I could ever have imagined. Nothing was more important to my dad than friends and family so having everyone here means everything to me.

After talking with many people these last few days I understand everyone knew how much my dad loved me and how important I was to him, but not many of you know how I felt about him. If everyone had as much love and support as I received from my father, this world would be a perfect place. There was never a minute that went by that I did not feel his love. It was this love and devotion to me that pushed me to excel in life. Everything I did in my life was done to make him proud. Every grade I got, every activity - I did it for him. I did it because I knew how much my dad wanted me to succeed and I never wanted to let him down. He always had full confidence in my abilities and that confidence kept me going.

My dad made me what I am today. He always pushed me to be independent and strong-minded, even though these very traits were often used against him. I will never forget when we bought our house and I argued that I should have the master bedroom instead of him. Of course I didn't get the bedroom in the end, but he actually considered my arguments. Many a heated discussions went this way. He always let me vocalize my opinions and would disagree with me, even if he secretly agreed, just to give me that push to be confident in my thoughts and words. Many were shocked at the way we would be banter but my dad thrived on getting me all "riled" up as he used to say because he knew he was encouraging me to be a stronger woman. Even in little things he allowed me to make decisions that would later give me a strong foundation. If you saw us at the grocery store you would probably have laughed to see me, even at age 10, pushing my own cart around. He would give me a budget for groceries and I could buy whatever I wanted. Of course at that age, my cart would be filled with tubs of icing, marshmallow cream, Dr. pepper and candy bars. He never said a word but would just let me buy them and then realize later how silly I was when I was hungry for a "real snack." He granted me the opportunity to make real decisions and have a real voice and that has carried me my entire life.

I also admire the way my single father gave up every Friday and Saturday night just so he could take me to play mini golf or rent a movie. We loved to play mini golf together. I didn't know it at the time but my dad, a good golfer, would let me win most of the time which at the time made me feel like I was the best golfer in the world. He always knew how to make me feel important.

I am thankful to a man who sacrificed personal luxury so his daughter could go to college, or who was adamant about living in the same town my entire life so I could get a good education and have a stable environment. As a child he moved around a lot because his father was in the oil business. He felt that this made him less successful in school, so he wanted me to have every advantage there was despite other job offers that might have been more interesting to him. On the day I graduated from A&M, I had a special diploma made with both our names on it to show that it wasn't just me that earned a degree but it was both of us. My dad, who never graduated from college, beamed with pride when he saw it and I will always consider my dad a Fightin' Texas Aggie.

Finally, I am inspired by the role model my dad was. He had a love of life that I will never forget. This was displayed by his incredible sense of humor and ability to make any situation more fun. I remember when I pulled out of the driveway to go to college, the last words he said to me were "Don't let college get in the way of life." He knew how I tend to work too hard and he wanted me to focus on what was really important; not the academics, but the life. I carry these words with me today. He also carried his love of life into his hobbies and made the most of his free time. At 52 he was still playing racquetball twice a week, playing golf all the time and had even participated in the MS 150 mile bike marathon. I also don't want to forget all the work he did for Habitat for Humanity. He enjoyed Habitat because he actually got to do the work himself and not just write a check. All of these traits are what made my dad such a role model to me and inspired me to be a better person.

There is no doubt my love for my dad was as great as his was for me. Which is why these past few days the only question I can think to ask is "why?" Why did this happen? Why is it a man who is in better shape than his 25 year old daughter die? Why will my dad not be there to walk me down the aisle in 4 short weeks? This is probably the hardest one for me. My dad was so excited about the wedding. He would call and ask me about the details constantly. When the RSVP's started coming in, he diligently placed them in a box, recorded each name and would call me with excitement at news more people were coming. I looked forward to the actual wedding day when the man who supported me all these years would walk me down that aisle and give my hand to Jessie. So I really can't understand why he would have left before. The pain is almost unbearable. I feel lost without the main person who has guided me my entire life.

Despite the sadness there are times I am gaining a new sense of perspective and comfort. The other night after everyone had left, I had a chance to really stop and feel everything. I then saw what my dad had in his life when he left us. He was the happiest I had ever seen him. For years I prayed for him to find a person he could share his life with and when my prayer was answered with Cynthia I could never have imagined someone more perfect for him. My dad was also in the best shape he had ever been. Finally, he knew I was taken care of and truly happy with Jessie. He was on top of the world and would never have wanted to come down from that.

A special friend of my dad's shared something with me. A few weeks ago her and my dad were talking about me and the wedding. She said my dad finally came to the consensus that his job in raising me was finally done. I was officially grown up. Maybe this is true in many ways. My dad had touched so many lives and brought happiness to so many people. Maybe it was just time for his job to be done here so he could go on to his next one - a better job in a better place. For my dad I think that place includes one amazing golf course where he can play with all his friends and family who are already there and who will be there to come."

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