The following post is the final draft of the eulogy I delivered at my father’s funeral service on Tuesday, August 24, 2021. The draft—as all drafts do—differs a bit from the spoken version delivered to family and friends who gathered to commemorate all he meant to us during his long and richly rewarding life.
These are the beginning of the numerous words that come flooding into our minds when my sisters and I think about our father.
We received The Call last week—just eight days ago. That long-dreaded, inevitable call letting us know that the classy, funny, loving, generous, unpretentious man we had known all our lives was gone. Our father. Our sweet father. Who worked hard all his life. Who loved family and friends above all else. Who remains a tremendous source of inspiration to us for all he did and all he offered throughout the years we were lucky enough to have him.
It doesn’t make it any easier to know that his last four years were difficult for him. That during his final months with us, he openly expressed the wish that he could die. Which is not to say that he didn’t have plenty of lovely moments during those final four years. When dementia wasn’t eating away at the core of all he was, he maintained a sense of humor and engaged in interactions that led even hospice workers, in those final days, to refer to him as a “classy” person. None of that, however, erases an indisputable fact: He never recovered from the death of my mother, in January 2017, and his two-year descent into dementia leading to his death last week were difficult for him and my lovely sister, Carol, who took him into her own home when he was no longer able to care for himself.
Our mother and father were a finely-matched pair, one of those mystical two-in-one entities where each had a fully-developed individual personality that symbiotically was made stronger for the intertwining of those two personalities into one united presence. She was focused. Businesslike and loving all at once. Deeply immersed in her faith. And never happier than when she was cooking and spending time with her family. He was playful—a prankster whose humor was never mean-spirited and often made the person on the receiving end of those pranks smile every bit as much as anyone else present. And he had an innate sense of humility that meant he never displayed the slightest hint of pretentiousness. He, like my mother, was fiercely protective of family and friends; if anyone made the mistake of in any way attacking a member of Dad’s family, that person quickly learned to not make that mistake a second time.
We admire our father for the lifelong work habits he maintained—a great example of teaching by example. As someone who spent his entire working life as an employee, then a manager, in grocery stores in our hometown, he was up early. Worked late. Never complained about the levels of responsibility he assumed. And always made sure he was home for dinner. He somehow also managed to carve out time to do community service work: he served as president of St. Bernadette’s parish council. And he was also active, long after he retired, in Stockton’s Oak Park Senior Center, where he served as president on the center’s board of directors and, more importantly, loved to dance with our mother. (Oh, those two could dance! They met on a dance floor near my mother’s hometown in upstate New York while he was completing his military service in the U.S. Air Force near the end of the Korean War. They danced at church functions. I even remember watching the two of them dance one foggy Sunday morning when they were visiting Licia and me in San Francisco; went out into Golden Gate Park; stumbled upon an outdoor ballroom-dance gathering; and they stepped into the crowd and held their own.)
Dad had a lifelong passion for fishing. I still have memories of sitting with him on the lovely levees that create an incredible network of waterways in rural areas outside of Stockton. Sometimes we would talk. (I don’t, of course, remember a word of those conversations. What remains in the priceless memory of time spent with a loving father.) Sometimes we would just stare out at the water while waiting for the fish to bite. (Or not!) What I didn’t know until my two sisters and I were talking about it last week was that my father did the same thing for one of them long—Marie—after he realized I would much rather be sitting somewhere reading a book than waiting for a fish to strike. (Mea culpa.)
He also loved to build things in his backyard. Storage sheds. A patio cover. A deck—not always well, mind you, but he always tried. And if you wanted to get him angry, you asked him for help when you needed to put something together. (The frustration he often felt in trying to follow instructions for self-assembly items seems to be something he lovingly passed on to me.)
He took immense levels of pleasure in planting and maintaining a vegetable garden and a handful of very productive fig, plum, apricot, and peach trees, along with several enormous citrus bushes and numerous rose bushes, in our backyard. That endeavor provided opportunities for three generations of us—my father, his father, and me—to work side by side in planting, watering, weeding, and gathering (with my mother and sisters) fresh-grown produce that often found its way onto the family table for lunches and dinners that are among the numerous memories he provided. The love of stepping out into that magnificent garden creating beautiful floral bouquets for the family dining-room table, or picking fresh produce from plants and trees, were labors of love that he passed on to his children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. And it wasn’t all about family; my mother and father shared those flowers, fruit, and vegetables with neighbors and other friends for many years—which, of course, made it very difficult for any of us to ever be completely satisfied with produce we bought in supermarkets. (To this day, when I buy fresh produce at a wonderful neighborhood market near my home in San Francisco, I occasionally find memories of my parents’ garden flowing through me when I bite into a particularly delicious peach, plum, fig, or tomato.)
This has, so far, been extremely personal, and that unfairly leaves you without the more nuanced view that comes from hearing stories from other family members. My brother-in-law, Tom, recalls him as “big-hearted” and remembers how my father taught him to barbecue a turkey for Thanksgiving celebrations. (Dad was an absolute master of the grill when he stoked the coals and placed something on a barbecue.) My sister Marie remembers going camping and fishing with him and family friends who would whimper about having to hike into backwoods areas to reach some of those streams; her friend was apparently surprised by Marie’s response to the question, “Why aren’t you crying, too?” “Because I know if I cry, he’ll never take me out here again!” she admitted. She also shares a memory I have about going out on fishing boats with him and trying to fend off feelings of wave-induced nausea while Dad was steadfastly enjoying every minute of our deep-sea fishing adventures. My wife, Licia, remembers how my mother and father were always such a great team. Cooking together. Canning fresh peppers from their garden. Sitting around our dining-room table while shelling walnuts from the two huge trees in their front yard. Dad, stirring candy on a hot stove for Mom in our kitchen when she no longer had the strength to do it. Even the little things, like opening jars for her when she didn’t have the strength to open those jars herself.
Two of Dad’s grandchildren, Rene and Tim, still laugh at the memory of Dad saying “I thought I was back in Korea” after one of his great-grandchildren ran shrieking through a room where he was sitting.
My sister Carol remembers that “his sense of humor was amazing; he had a sense of humor up to the end.” He also was tremendously concerned about others even when he should have been—and deserved to be—the center of attention. During those final two years when he was living with Carol and her family in Fresno, struggling with the ravages of dementia, he always somehow climbed out of it long enough to ask something simple like “Did you have enough to eat today?” and she would teasingly remind him “Dad, I eat all the time.” She particularly remembers how, as often as he could, he would end his day by looking at her, Tom, and their son Tim and say the words “thank you for another very special day.”
Which, I believe, pretty much sums up everything any of us who knew him would want to say to him if he were standing face-to-face with us here today: Thank you for all the very special days you were generous enough to give to me.