I’m Alright, You’re OKBy
Below is the transcript from a tribute I gave at my dad’s funeral on August 2, 2011. I never considered putting it on my site for fear it might desensitize or exploit what was behind it. However, several family members and close friends that attended the service have since encouraged me to post it. My dad supported me in everything I ever succeeded or failed at, especially my love of creative writing.
Imagine, if you can, a boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old. He’s lying in bed in a small house in rural Arkansas. His mom has worked tirelessly, ironing clothes for a few of the wealthy families in town, bringing home a small wage for her young son, his older sister, and older brother, who will soon die in a war on the other side of the world. Memories of his father have all but faded due to a tragic death years earlier.
In countless conversations, myself, Lori, Scotty, and Mitch have tried to imagine how hopeless it must have seemed for our dad all those years ago. Many of us have heard stories about successful businessmen, or famous actors, who were raised under similar circumstances. They claim to have been motivated by their poor upbringing to become wealthy, or destined to travel the world to escape their humble beginnings. Often, these type stories can leave us moved, impressed, even inspired. This morning, my intentions are to tell a story much less grand. This story is of a man, whose family says goodbye knowing he gave us everything.
Make no mistake, his background left him a little rough around the edges. Just ask my mom, who once sat at home in the dark, anxiously waiting for her new husband to get home from work. She was concerned because the electricity had been cut off at their small house on Fairview Ave. Her angst would soon turn to annoyance, when she noticed the stack of unsent bills in the glove box of their only car. In the words of a former neighbor, “That was one, mad white woman!”
Lori remembers a party when she was 13, where my dad, of all people, organized a game of spin the bottle. He manipulated each spin to land on whichever boy the respective girl was most disgusted by.
Once, when Scotty was in college, he could hardly contain himself when dad called him with the news that he had traded in the truck they had worked years to restore, straight up for a Jeep. My brother had visions of driving through campus with the top down and the tape deck blaring, until a friend from home called to tell him there was something that resembled an ambulance parked at his parents house. It seems dad was less than forthcoming with the make and model of the Jeep. The anticipated 2-door Wrangler would in fact be a ’74 Wagoneer that darkened our driveway on Pomeroy for months to come.
This same Wagoneer was later used to pick up a self-conscious middle school-er-turned fighter pilot from the old Eastgate movie theater, where he waited nervously among several of his classmates, both guys and girls. Mitch describes watching in horror as his shirtless father pulled up to the cinema, laid on the horn, then backfired the exhaust with an intensity similar to the bombs he now drops from his jet.
I can remember several family trips, my dad driving through McDonald’s to get food for his 4 kids, each of us safely unbuckled in our seats. When we would finish our meals, he would calmly bag up all of the trash, roll down his window, and hurl it to the side of the road, never so much as tapping the breaks.
It wasn’t that he didn’t care. He was just Mac. Dad. Pappa.
The 52 year partnership between he and my mom has served as the most influential model in all 4 of our lives. They are devoted followers of Christ, who leave no doubt among anyone they meet about their love for Jesus. Last night, we marveled at the hundreds of people who stood outside in 100 degree heat to simply tell all of us, “I loved your Dad”.
Now I want you to imagine a 74 year old man. He’s sick, very sick, lying in a hospital bed with only a few moments left. He thinks of his little girl, adopted at only 6 weeks old, and the proud smile on her face each time one of her friends begged him to dance at their pool parties. He is still overwhelmed by the gift of her. A head cheerleader, Homecoming court member, honor student in both high school and college. A devoted wife and mother.
His oldest son, who gave everything he had on the football field in high school and college, for his dad who never once left his side. His eyes begin to close, with the assurance that he raised a man who would now lead two families.
He is close to the end now, but his heart comes to life for a moment. He knows that his soldier will be home soon to say goodbye. He was never able to contain his pride for his second son. Not because of what he was, but because of what he became. He saw in him the discipline, focus, and bravery that can not be instilled with just parenting alone, but with faithful prayer, and a constant reminder of “stick with it. I believe in you.”
He manages a final smirk as his thoughts travel to his youngest, a confident, yet careless enigma, who reminds him so much of himself. This will be difficult for his last son, he knows, but he is confident of his promise to him. That one day he will find what he has wanted for so long. Something that brings him purpose. It might not be found in the prestige of his job or the amount of money in his bank account, but in the lives he knows he will change someday.
He will miss his wife. Each day of the past 52 years was more humbling than the one before. What gift could ever be enough to show how much he loved her, how much he owed to her? How would she ever know the extent of his amazement towards her?
Suddenly it all becomes very clear. She is outside, surrounded by a lifetime of friends they made together that will never leave her side. She is held by their 4 children. He knows they were not brought together by tragedy on this day, they have always been together, and will never be divided. He knows she will be lonely, but his last breathe is one of comfort, as the pictures of his 8 grandchildren, his most precious gifts, dance in his thoughts. He sends them now to her, so she can finally rest, and know they created a love personified, that will grow beyond the Earth and continue together in Heaven.
This is my favorite story. Thank you.