Eulogy for my father

My dad died very suddenly on October 20. I was asked by my mom and siblings to give the eulogy. This was the hardest piece I’ve ever written. I hope I did you proud, Dad. I miss you and love you.

“Thank you, all, for being here and supporting our family with your love and prayers.

I loved watching Dad shine shoes.

He’d gather the necessary supplies and lay them out in order of how he would use them. First, he laid down a towel or newspaper. Then, place one shoe on his left hand and use his horsehair shoe brush to remove dirt and old layers of polish. I can hear the quick flick of the brush bristles scratching across the leather. And I can smell the polish.

He’d sprinkle a tiny amount of water into the lid of the Kiwi shoe polish tin. Then, he would wrap an old t-shirt tightly around his right index finger. Dip his finger in the water, then the polish, and rub the shoe in small, counter-clockwise circular motions, starting at the toe and working his way down one side to the heel and back up the other to the toe. After drying- sometimes overnight- he rubbed the shoe until he could see his reflection shining in the leather.

It was a methodical process that he loved. It had a beginning, a clear path, and a definitive end. Shining shoes was a metaphor for how he viewed the world and lived his life.

He was hard-working and generous. He cheered for us- sometimes too loudly- at soccer games, swim meets, and crew regattas- all activities that he made possible for us. He and mom provided the foundation on which we’ve built our lives. That foundation is strong and true, and deeply rooted in love and devotion.

He pushed us to high standards that sometimes felt impossible to reach. I know now that they were his way of saying ‘I love you and I want the best for you.’

He was organized and focused. At his house, Kiki found Christmas gifts that he had already purchased for us. And, if it were November, those presents would have been wrapped and labeled.

Dad was always early for events and appropriately dressed- jacket, tie, and those shiny shoes. He was there for all of it: baptisms, birthdays, holidays, graduations. I feel  untethered knowing he will miss so many of them in the future. 70 was too young.

He was a prolific reader who was in his element discussing current events or the state of his beloved sports teams. He did crossword puzzles in ink. He could drive somewhere once and remember every detail of the trip and then give you directions.

He loved and spoiled his nine grandchildren. He adored them. He contentedly held them as infants and rejoiced in showing them how to run the Lionel trains at Christmas. It was especially fun to watch him try to corral them for photos. And just this summer he treated them to a week at the shore, complete with tons of seafood, pizza, and rides on the Ocean City boardwalk- like he did for the four of us when were little.

I’ll remember and cheer him every time I have fresh berries, lemon desserts, chocolate Tastykakes, a soft pretzel or an amber beer, and I hope you will, too.

We miss you already, Dad. We love you. Semper Fi.”

Snark is my sugar

Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. As a Catholic Christian, Lent is an important time for me. It is a 40 day journey (47 if you count weekend days) toward Easter. It is a time to pray better, reflect more, and strive to end the journey different than when I started. I hope to have a stronger relationship with Christ as a result of this Lenten journey. I hope to have a stronger relationship with myself as a result of this Lenten journey.

Every year I start Lent with great enthusiasm. I actually love Ash Wednesday. I love getting ashes. I love that the ashes come from burning the palms used  on Palm Sunday the  previous year. The cyclical nature of the Church’s seasons is very comforting to me. Catholics also do symbols really well. I love the symbolism of the ashes- “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

In my circles (very small ones on Twitter and Facebook), there is talk about “what did you give up for Lent?” There are many great responses- eating out, cursing, sweets, caffeine, Facebook, sugar. I decided a few days ago that I was going to take a huge personal risk (Risk is my #oneword2014) and give up public postings of snark. For 47 days, I will try to make all of my public posts, wall comments, and tweets positive. I will not post sarcastic, snarky things in response to what I read.

This is a huge deal for me. Snark is my sugar. I love snark. I am addicted to snark. Snark is hard to resist. It feels so good going down.

I use snark to be funny and self-deprecating, to put others at ease, to feel smart. I used to think that my snark was justified because I am from the east coast, smart, and been through more than most of my peers. While these things may be true in my head, they do not matter to the outside world.

Several people whom I know and love have told me that I am direct. I thought this was a good thing. I say what I mean and I mean what I say. What you see is what you get. These are good things. In context. With people who know and love me and whom I know and love. Snark is not a good thing without the context of relationship.

I am slowly learning that snark is my shield, my armor, my way to strike first. It also creates distance. It puts the receiver on the defensive, or leaves them confused. That is the opposite of the impact that I want to have. This is the opposite of the impact that I do have with the students, colleagues, and friends who know me well.

Snark is my sugar. It is so, so good going down. But after a bit, the sugar high wears off and I get a headache.

So, this Lent, I am going to try really hard to give up snark. I am going to be honest and positive, not direct and snarky. I am going to challenge myself to start, endure, and finish Lent strong. I am taking a huge risk by doing this and by telling you all about it. I welcome and appreciate your love, prayers, and words of encouragement.