Today is my dad’s birthday, he would have turned 66 years old. Dad passed away in October 2019, just two and half months after I became a father for the first time. Our story is a long journey to find forgiveness between father and son. Even as of this writing, my relationship with my dad with all of its’ unresolved issues still affects me. It also is a constant reminder of the type of dad that I want to be to my daughter, Ava, and son, Ace.
I previously promised to share the eulogy that I gave at my father’s memorial service. I’ve also shared in my prior post, Pride: Dealing With Daddy Issues, some of the ways that I was impacted by my relationship with my father.
In celebration of his life, I finally feel comfortable publishing his eulogy for all to see in the hopes that it will continue to fuel my growth as a man, a husband and a father.
I wanted to find a quote to sum up what I’m feeling, and I stumbled onto this one that I thought described my complicated relationship with my dad:
“If you love someone, remove them from the pedestal that denies the fullness of their humanity. Allow them to be imperfect as their imperfection is also a reflection of the divine.”
This so eloquently describes my journey towards forgiveness of the man who was my father.
I used to call dad, Houdini. He’d disappear, and you wouldn’t hear from him for days, months and yes, even years. Yet, despite that absence, I love my dad. I just wish he was around more when I was growing up.
This is where the high expectations I had for him as a father, directly conflicted with the imperfections of his own humanity.
See, the tragedy of this story is that my dad lost his father when he was just 13. My grandpa Gene was murdered in 1968, he was only 40, the same age that I am, today.
My pop idolized grandpa Gene and the loss of his father really shook him to his core. My dad also suffered from mental illness from a young age and struggled over the years with substance abuse.
All of those things combined made being a good, consistent father and role model for his sons – pretty tough. Objectively, as a fellow human, I feel sadness for that little boy who lost his dad and grew up ill equipped to face those challenges.
As his son, it wasn’t lost on me the irony that those feelings of abandonment caused by the loss of his father he passed them onto his owns sons.
I am proud to say that my dad over the years was able to wrestle his addictions and attempted to make amends. Unfortunately for us, those advancements happened after my brother and I were already young men.
I once told dad, “you can’t live in the past, your window to be my dad has closed, but you still have the opportunity to be my friend.” I will say that friendship was fraught from the beginning. Our relationship even until his death continued to be a work in progress. But, I will miss his random phone calls and texts and yes, even letters he sent me that remained unopened until after his death.
I want to ensure that your opinion of my dad is not defined but what he failed to do as a father. I also want to highlight those reflections of the divine that so characterized him.
My dad was relentless. He got up every day and tried. Yes, he stumbled. Yes, he made many mistakes along the way. But, he was unwilling to give up his quest to make peace with his sons. I commend his persistence.
My dad was charming, I mean, he somehow convinced my amazing mom to marry him! He’d butter you up and make you feel so incredibly special. And, he’d regale you with his stories – from roadtrips to Baja, his adventures in the US Marine Corps to the time he saved Uncle Perry from drowning, dad always had something to talk about, even if you weren’t particularly in the mood to chat…he somehow drew you in with one of his infamous dad jokes.
He was a talented musician and could play a mean guitar.
He had good hair, although I think I have better hair…I can hear him up there saying “naw, John-Paul, you’ve gone too far with that one.” But, it’s true.
I have good memories of my dad. When I was 9 and my brother was 4, my mom spoke to my dad who was living over in Los Baños, CA with my Uncle Perry and Aunt Joan, and he invited us to come see him. He was doing pretty good at the time. My brother and I were so excited, we hadn’t seen dad in a long while and my brother, Pierre, in particular probably remembered less about him than I did.
Pierre was so worried that he wouldn’t wake up in time to make the early drive to see dad. So I said, Pierre don’t worry, I’m gonna tie this string from my finger and run it down the bunk bed to your finger, so when I wake up and lift my hand, your hand will also lift up and we’ll get ready together. He was so happy with my ingenuity and felt relieved that he wouldn’t be left behind.
On that trip we had a lot of fun. We bbq’d over at Uncle Perry’s house, we did the slip n’slide in the backyard and just had fun, together. We didn’t want to leave, in fact on our way home my brother and I started crying so hard that that my mom totally frazzled made an illegal u-turn on Highway 5 to go back and see dad one more time and she ended up getting a ticket. But, she got us to stop crying and we spent a few more hours with dad at the park. That was a nice afternoon.
Another time we went camping at Lake Berryessa and dad taught Pierre and I how to fish. We tried most of the weekend and didn’t catch much. But, there were a few guys on a boat near us who were fishing and I remember they were pretty drunk and didn’t notice that they left their catch on a line along the shore as they rode off. So I floated over there cooly and snapped up the two cat fish that they caught still on the line. I came strolling up the beach like a hot shot with a big grin and said, dad, I caught two cat fish. He smiled and said, John-Paul, how on earth did you catch 2 fish without a fishing rod. And, I said – with my bare hands, dad. He laughed at my fib and he taught my brother and I how to clean them.
More recently, my dad came up to New York for my graduation to help me celebrate getting my masters from Columbia University. Dad paid for his flight, but he didn’t have enough to pay for his hotel, meals or transport. But, was he going to let that stop him? Of course not. He would have gone without eating and slept on the street, but he was not going to miss such a momentous occasion. I got him a hotel room and we spent the weekend seeing the City sites. My friends marveled at the pride my dad felt at my graduation party and I enjoyed having his support. That was very special.
So dad, if you can hear me, I forgive you.
I remove you from that pedestal of unfair expectations and accept your human shortcomings and imperfections. I appreciate that each of us can only carry the burden that the universe knows we can handle.
But dad, it comes with one condition.
I’m counting on you to watch over my kids and my nephews – I expect you to be a hyper-vigilant guardian angel – you have a lot of making up to do. No talking to the ladies up there.
And dad, you’ll be happy to know that we’re burying you in California so you’ll finally be as close to us in death as I know you wished you could have been in life.
May you rest in peace, dad.