Eulogy for Dad

This entry was posted by on Tuesday, 16 August, 2005 at

It’s hard to know where to start.

For these last few days, everything has been so strange and disorienting. It’s as though the fabric of reality has been torn or twisted. I keep wondering if I’ve been transported to parallel universe: one of those strange fictional worlds where the Germans won the war, where animals can talk, or where dad goes to the hospital and never comes home.

I’ve had a hard time sleeping these last few nights. I keep waking up in the middle of the night, tears in my eyes, trying to believe the new reality. But despite all the grief, the pain, the infinite night… amazingly, unexplanainably, the sun keeps coming up.

I was shocked when I first saw it rise on Friday morning. The audacity of such a thing was insulting. My universe lying in pieces, and yet the sun did not stop… not for me, nor anyone else. And when the same thing happened on Saturday morning… the rays of light coming in my bedroom window, I finally realized that this was not some fictional universe. It was the same universe I’ve always been in. The sadness was real. The heartbreak was real. The sun was real. But also, the love was real.

Dad’s entire life was about making people happy. This is not an exaggeration or euphemism: it was his actual self-admitted goal. Nothing made him happier than nuturing others. He exuded compassion wheverever he went, took care of everyone. As a psychologist, he even made a living out of it.

Growing up in my house, my parents’ roles were reversed from the stereotypes. Mom was often the breadwinner, the one who encouraged us to study, and achieve, and be confident. Dad, however, was the nuturer: a giant cloud of unconditional love. He would cook for us, bundle us in warm clothes, give us backrubs, spoil us whenever he could. He was the ultimate mother. But at the same time, he was strong… incredibly strong, because he was open about his feelings. He showed us how the deepest strength flowed from vulnerability.

Strong, nuturing, funny… could you ask for a better role model? When I grow up, this is who I want to be. And I know I’m not the only one who has thought that before. He wasn’t just a father and role-model to me and my brother, but also to all four of his siblings. As they have told me, he was a “beacon” to them — a beacon of sanity, humor and joy.

And then there was his marriage — it’s hard to find words to describe it. He and mom may have been marriage counselors by trade, but their wisdom didn’t come from psychology books. It came from experience… they lived the perfect marriage. In my entire life, I have never seen two people more in love. After forty years, still holding hands and looking at each other as if they had just started dating… it’s almost unbelievable. This, again, is another role model. Theirs was the marriage that every one of us dreams of and strives for. Very few people in this world are ever so lucky.

The night before his surgery, dad and I had a long talk in the hospital. We spoke mainly about my own imminent parenthood: what it’s like to become a father, how the world changes, the frustrations and rewards of parenting. Will I know what to do when my child arrives? As always, dad was both candid and comforting. He said that being a parent destroys your confidence and also makes you more confident than ever, all at the same time. He said not to worry, that I’d know what to do.

It turns out that dad was right. These past few nights, when I bolt up in bed, I’m surrounded by images of my own childhood.

  • Sleeping next to dad in the waterbed, waiting for mom to bring my
    newborn brother home from the hospital
  • Standing in the shower-stalls of the YMCA, while dad dries my
    head with a towel
  • Sitting on dad’s back while he does his daily push-ups, both of us
    listening to his favorite Beatles album
  • Making jokes with dad about all the silly, harmless monsters that
    might crawl through my bedroom window
  • Teaching me how to make tuna salad
  • Watching him point out the constellations in the sky, then looking
    through his telescope
  • Following him upwards as he as scales the side of a huge sand
    dune. Summer after summer.
  • Swimming in the waters of Maine, watching our skin turn blue from
    the cold
  • Exploring the Tower of London together
  • Listening to him explain the difference between regular and
    cross-pack sardines

All of these vivid images swimming around my head in the middle of the night… they’re pictures of compassion, moments of intense love. This is my roadmap for parenting. Everything I need to know about raising a child, dad has already given me.

I’ve always felt cheated that my own grandfather passed away just before I was born, that I never got to meet him. And now history has horribly repeated itself. But this time, when my child asks “what was your father like?”, I know what I’m going to say.

I’ll say: look at all these people around you — all these family and friends, all the people who knew dad, and the the incredible bonds between them. We’re like a giant jigsaw puzzle which fits together so tightly, that when you remove one piece, you can still see its outline in the empty space. All of the love dad left behind, the relationships he nutured… they define his shape. You can still see him and feel him.

And still,
every morning,

the sun keeps coming up.

5 Comments to Eulogy for Dad

  1. Greg says:

    August 16th, 2005 at 5:25 pm


  2. C. Michael Pilato says:

    August 18th, 2005 at 3:53 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Ben. The text, when read, is every bit as moving and inspirational as when spoken Monday.

  3. Karl Fogel says:

    August 18th, 2005 at 4:27 pm

    What Mike said.

  4. iBanjo » Blog Archive » Eulogy for Mom says:

    December 29th, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    […] eulogy is really a continuation the one I wrote for Dad in 2005. It was delivered December 29, […]

  5. Jeanne T. Arrigo says:

    March 19th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Ben – as I said in my message to you, this was truly a wonderful eulogy; what a tribute to your dad, and all he meant to you and all you have become under his guidance. So much of what you wrote, has been said about my mom, too; and I feel the same disbelief that life is going on, and the world is still spinning, when such a crucial part of my life and my world, is no longer here. So… it especially touched me. Sounds like they were similar souls, and maybe they’re having a good ol’ time together in some form of afterlife.

    Thanks again for sharing it with me!