My Eulogy for Dad

Here’s the text of the eulogy I delivered at Dad’s memorial service earlier this week:

My dad turned 70 this past August. 70! That was quite an achievement in my mind. Both of his own parents had died younger than that. His wife, my mother, died at 43. As a teenager, I would half-jokingly tell her that he’d never get to 40. As a young man, I’d think that he’d never reach 50. As a slightly older man, I thought he wouldn’t get to 60. Now as a middle-aged man, I’m surprised that he got to 70. That’s not considered a long life, but I think my dad was very lucky.

He was a man who smoked, drank and ate as much as he liked, and never bothered with doctors, an exercise program or anything else that he felt was too much trouble. A month ago, he was forced to spend a few weeks in hospital, and I honestly can’t remember him being in a hospital before that since the late 1960s, when he broke his ankle playing soccer. I don’t even know if I’d started school yet.

My dad was the eldest of five children, and later in his life his brothers and sisters were very important to him, but as a young man growing up in Dublin, he craved adventure. When he was still in his teens, he went off to sea, working as a radio officer on board a freighter. In this way he got to see a lot of the world, and his trips to Canada convinced him that this would be a good place to raise a family.

My parents were married quite young by today’s standards (Dad was 21 and Mum was 20), and I came along just about ten months later. By the time they’d decided to emigrate in 1967, they were still just 24 and 23 years old. It must have taken a lot of courage to leave your entire family and support system behind. To make things worse, the job Dad was promised by mail evaporated when he showed up in person. He’d worked for the telephone company in Ireland and had arranged a job as a repairman for the phone company here in Canada. But when he arrived and they saw he was only 5’4″ they told him he was too short to climb the telephone poles. I don’t think that kind of discrimination would be legal today, but luckily the job market was pretty forgiving back then. As he described it, he walked across the street and got a job at a little company called IBM.

It was funny to see how both IBM and my dad’s job changed throughout his career there. As a kid I remembered him carrying a heavy briefcase full of wrenches and screwdrivers. Computers were mechanical machines back then and you could actually open them up and fix them. IBM also made a very successful line of electric typewriters. As components got smaller and his training became more and more irrelevant, his job became harder to describe. And his briefcase got lighter. By the time he took early retirement at the age of 49, I really didn’t know what he did there.

During those years, he never lost his love for the sea. He joined the naval reserve in the early 1970s and it was a hugely important part of his life for a long time. He made a lot of good friends at HMCS York and enjoyed his training trips to the coast each summer, although I am pretty sure there was more drinking going on than training.

Dad considered IBM his first career and the Navy his second, but he also spoke fondly of his third career, and that was as a concierge for the Commissionaires of Canada. The Commissionaires are a security organization started by veterans and they are the largest private employer of military veterans in the country. My dad always loved to wear a uniform and he was fortunate to work at the same condominium, Skyview on Yonge, a ten minute walk from home, for most of his nearly 15 years with them. He was proud to know everyone’s name and unit number in a very large building, and nothing made him happier than opening up all the cards he’d get each Christmas. It didn’t hurt that all the tens and twenties tucked into the cards added up to a very substantial (and tax-free!) Christmas bonus each year. The picture we have on display here today is of him standing behind his desk at Skyview.

Sadly, the Commissionaires lost the contract for the building in 2010 and rather than start over again somewhere else, Dad decided to retire. In hindsight, I think retirement took a lot of the purpose out of his life.

It’s not really possible to know what kind of a person someone is just from the things they’ve done, but I think if you’re here today, you probably know a little about what sort of man my Dad was. As I get older, I see the many ways, good and bad, that I’m like him.

The truth is that when I was a young man, we weren’t very close. My mum’s death changed that pretty dramatically. I was extremely close to her and probably took her side a lot. I was just 22 when she died, and so I feel like I spent the first part of my life getting to know her, and the second part getting to know my Dad.

I’ve learned that, like me, he was essentially a shy man who nevertheless loved people. I think he found it easier to talk to them when he had a job to perform.

While as a young man he took risks and wanted adventures, as he got older he realized the value of his family, both near and far, and spent as much time as possible with them.

He loved to read, which is something he instilled in me from a very young age. In fact, he loved to read so much that I have some library books to return for him this week.

He also loved to cook, and for him, cooking you a meal was his way of expressing love. Sadly, I’ve inherited only a bit of his love of cooking and none of his skill. And my wife Brooke doesn’t cook at all. He’ll be doubly missed at Christmas; not only will we miss him, but no one else knows how to cook a turkey!

I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to get to know my father. My mum’s death drove us together in a way that nothing else could have. We had no other family here, and so we had to depend on each other. Some families come to these sad occasions with so many things left unsaid, or with regrets. I can honestly say that there wasn’t much in the way of unfinished business between me and my dad. So while his passing is painful for me, I’m happy for him that it was sudden. He hated doctors and hospitals. And I’m proud that after more than fifty years as a smoker, he spent the last month of his life as an ex-smoker. We all would have liked it to be much longer, of course, but his willpower was impressive to see, even for such a short time.

Of all the things I’ve learned from him over the years, that might be the most important. That it’s always better to make a positive change, no matter how small, than to give up. For that and for everything else you’ve taught me, thank you, Dad.

4 thoughts on “My Eulogy for Dad

  1. James, what lovely words. You really got your Dad in 1. Seamus & Maire said you were brilliant.
    Take care, and I will be in touch.
    Lots of love,
    Sheila

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