Before I begin my remarks on my Dad, I want to thank Dr. Peres and all the staff of Life Care Center where my father lived the past 4 months. You supported my father with genuine care, love, and skill. That I never once had concern about the care Dad was receiving was a true blessing. I also want to thank Dr Nwacoby, my father’s primary care physician, for the way you guided my father through several difficult episodes the last few years of his life. And, I want to express my sincere gratitude to Marie Votino, Sarah, and the Funeral Directors of Hiers-Baxley for the professional and caring way in which you helped me plan and create my father’s tribute.
Since my father had his stroke on December 17, I reflected many times on Dad’s life, who he was to me and others, and what he accomplished during this journey on earth. I thought about what defined who he was and realized it was the relationships he easily built with all those around him.
And what defined my father’s life is what defines why we are all here today – we each had a unique relationship with Dad. And, out of our relationship come our own personal stories about Dad and the times we shared with him. Today we come together to create a shared story by celebrating Dad’s life and sending him off on a new journey.
Whether you knew dad for a few weeks or a life time, you knew that Dad had a loving heart and kind spirit. Dad was a man’s man, a lady’s man, and the consummate “Southern Gentleman.” He respected everyone he encountered and knew how to make every woman feel like she was the most important lady on earth.
Dad had a big personality and melodic voice that attracted everyone he met. He naturally cared about others and gave selflessly of himself. Dad lived big and embraced life fully!
Thinking back to my childhood years growing up in Ocklawaha with mom, dad, and my mom’s mother, who lived with us, my strongest memory was of mom and dad constantly telling me it is our obligation to make this world a better place for our having journeyed here. Both of my parents expressed this view in everything that they did – through their involvement in family, church, civic organizations, and how they conducted themselves in their daily lives.
In my pre-school years, I constantly wanted to be just like Dad. I had a pair of boots like his, went fishing and hunting with him, and would ride with him to the citrus groves where his crews were harvesting oranges and grapefruit. In my elementary school years, I remember Dad teaching me how to grill out, drive the boat, and water ski. Then as an adult, grilling a steak while having a drink together became one of our father-son rituals.
Although my life values were influenced by both my parents, they were more strongly influenced by my Dad. As young as seven or eight, Dad told me to never question another man’s religion because there were many paths to God. In my early 20’s I realized how wise and broadminded my Dad was to have said this at a time we were living in Ocklawaha and going to church three times a week.
While being clear about his own values, Dad had a true respect for individual differences and the right of each person to have their own life and views. And, although many people probably thought Dad was deeply conservative, he and I talked about this many times and he was actually quite moderate in most of his views and political convictions.
Now, Dad told stories and everybody loved them even though many of them weren’t true. Just like Garrison Keillor, Dad engaged his listeners and pulled them into his stories in a way that made you want to become an actual character in them. Whenever Dad began telling a story, people not only stopped talking, they gathered around to listen.
And, he used his story telling skills every Christmas Eve when family and friends gathered after having mom’s chili and brownies as Dad read the Christmas Story. Then the next day we all enjoyed Dad’s Southern dressing. It’s the best Southern dressing that I’ve ever had – and if any of you want his recipe, just contact me and I’ll be glad to share it with you.
There is perfect timing in life. All we have to do is watch and listen to the signs that are around us every day to know that God speaks to us in many ways. This is true when it comes to the date and time of each person’s passing. When Dad’s heart simply stopped beating and he transitioned to a new journey, intuitively I knew it had occurred at precisely the right time.
However, later at the funeral home I realized that God had left us a sign to help us in accepting our loss and in our grieving – a sign that is so clear it is unmistakable that Dad departed this life precisely at his appointed time. He was 90 Years, 9 Months, and 9 Days old when he left at approximately 9 AM in the morning, Thursday, April 14th.
And, just as Dad was constantly making friends while he was here with us, I am sure we can all imagine he’s already making new friends as he moves forward on his new journey. He’s probably already getting involved in the celestial versions of Kiwanis and Elks and is busy making new connections and getting elected to new committees.
But most of all, I’m sure you can easily imagine that Dad is right now planning his first party. And, like all Florida Gators, I knew he’d want to take something Gator into his new life so I want you to know he’s wearing Blue and Orange Gator Socks into eternity!
Dad’s on the fifth day of his new journey. Dad’s ok. Dad’s fine.
It is you and I who still have to deal with our loss. And it is because Dad touched each of us so deeply that we will all miss him so much.
Over the days, weeks, months, even years ahead, we’ll find ourselves wanting to call him, share another conversation, see him at the Elks, Kiwanis, or having breakfast at Tommy’s. Today you and I, all of us, have come together to begin our own healing as we begin to accept the amazing loss that each of us feels.
Take time today to share one of your own stories of how Dad touched your life – share it as you leave this church, call someone who wasn’t here today, or gather with others who knew Dad. Celebrate the times that you shared with him.
While many people have the opportunity to know someone as great as my father, I had the honor of calling him Dad. When I was growing up Dad would often tell me that he and his father were best friends. And, in the last ten years of his life, our friendship matured into that same experience – except this time I was the son who became best friends with him as my father. And, just as we shared this journey together I’m sure we’ll share other journeys as well.
DAD, you were a father, husband, brother, lover, friend, leader, and at all times, the consummate Southern Gentleman. Through the people you touched, and then those they touched, you made a positive difference to millions of people. You lived your life well. You completed this journey. Now, I and everyone here wish you our best as you begin your new journey – Dancing in Eternity.