The following is the text of the tribute I shared at my Dad’s memorial service on November 6, 2016. There were about 100 gathered from all corners of the country. The video is followed by a transcript of my remarks.
Before I begin, I must take a moment to publicly recognize the people who cared for my father this past year, many of whom are here today. The Carillon is truly a family, led by Richard Seifert with love and vigilant attention to detail. It is hard to fully express my gratitude. I’d like to ask the lovely people who are here from the Carillon to stand. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Somehow “Thank you,” seems so incredibly inadequate.
I always knew my dad had a knack for cultivating meaningful relationships; your attendance today confirms that. Thank you all for being here to help us in this tribute to him.
My dad would have been 85 this past Friday. When I began writing this, I thought to myself, “How do I possibly sum up 85 years of an exceptional life in a few minutes? How do I fully convey the giving heart and soul of my Dad?”
Should I tell you about his early physics experiments in which he pushed his younger brother, Stanley’s stroller down the hill and then ran after it to try to catch it?
Or should I tell you about his need for empirical evidence as a child, which drove him to drop his mother’s cat off the roof of a 3-story building so he could really see if cats always land on their feet? And yes, they do, he told me, but that cat broke its two front legs in the process and never went anywhere near my father again. It’s interesting to note that Dad and his mother hailed a cab to take the cat to the vet, while just a short time later when my dad suffered from chronic neck pain, they took a street car to get to the doctor. Puzzled, my father asked his mother why the cat got a cab to go the vet and he got a street car to go to the hospital. She thought for a moment and replied, “I like Buzzy better.” My father remarked that he believed she was kidding, but just in case she wasn’t, he began disliking the cat as much as the cat disliked him.
Should I tell you that when he got glasses in the 3rd grade and was called “Four Eyes,” he thought that was an improvement over all of the name calling that came with the name of Frankenstein?
Perhaps I should tell you that he was a voracious reader and that as a middle schooler, he got special dispensation to take extra books out of the library, because he would go through the normal allotment in just a few days? At that tender age, Dad read the Count of Monte Cristo in one sitting, all 463,958 words, which would take the average reader about 31 hours. As an adult he read mostly industry journals, BusinessWeek and the daily newspaper, always reading the comics first.
Or perhaps I should tell you that while in the Army he always made sure he was on duty on Christmas and Easter so his Christian comrades could be with their families? And by the way, he loved Army food.
Or maybe I should tell you about the numerous people he mentored while working at the Department of Defense and later at Strayer University and CPCC, where he ignited a passion for learning in others and then illuminated a path to career enrichment? Let me pause here to share a few stories, as I think these vignettes really convey Dad’s essence.
Dad had a young lady come to work for him in an administrative capacity. We used to call her a secretary and it used to be a dead-end job. Well, my dad,could not let this bright, young lady waste her abilities and intellect in a career that had little growth potential. So he . . . let me share her words with you from her condolence card to Mom:
Gordon was the best boss/mentor/friend anyone could have. He certainly changed my life for the better and I was fortunate to have him in it.
And why did she share that with Mom? Because my dad guided her and inspired her to go back to school, get a degree and to eventually become a Value Engineering Program Manager for the Defense Logistics Agency.
When we were all living in the DC area and I was teaching at Strayer University, I needed a substitute as I was about to go on my honeymoon with Dave. Dad immediately volunteered. After a meeting with the campus administrator, Dad was “blessed” to sub based on the interview and his engineering degree and MBA.. So, being the thorough guy he was, he decided to join me for a couple of classes to see how I taught and understand the flow of the class. As I started the class that first night, I mentioned my upcoming nuptials and honeymoon and introduced Dad as my sub. I was quick to point out that we had the same last name and that their sub was my dad. From that moment forward, every student in that class called him Dad. And he was so well received, he started teaching there too – nepotism in reverse.
In a similar vein, shortly after my father started living in a memory care community, my mother received a call from one of Dad’s former students at CPCC. He had started teaching at the community college a few years after Mom and Dad moved here to be with us. The pay was awful, but Dad did it for the students. Anyway, after Dad had been installed at The Haven, one of his former students called to say thanks. At the time, the student was taking Dad’s class, she was also a young mother. One evening, caught without someone to care for her baby, she sheepishly asked Dad to bring the child to class. My father immediately agreed and the child was brought to class without incident. During the course of the phone call to my mother, the student proudly announced that not only had Dad inspired her to complete her Associates Degree, she had already completed her Bachelor’s and was ½ way through her Masters Degree. She just wanted to call and say thanks to Dad for his guidance and compassion. As you can imagine, when Mom shared Dad’s condition, they both cried.
Dad’s ability to inspire and mentor was evident at home, too. Now you must know that as a high schooler, my parents were the cool parents. All of my friends liked hanging out with both Dad and Mom. It was not unusual to come home and find Dad listening to Queen, Crosby, Stills and Nash or Janis Joplin at decibels typically reserved for teenagers. When I set my sights on a fashion merchandising career, Dad gently said, “You may want to consider taking a computer science class.” And so, a few weeks later, I found myself in a high school computer science class, programming in 0s and 1s. His gentle suggestion changed the course of my life, as he had done for so many others.
I remember the frist time I was cognizant enough to know that my dad was special.
I was in kindergarten at Pixieland (and yes, I had the same haircut). At the time, when there were not cell phones, Mom was working part-time when I got sick at school. So, after not being able to reach my mom, Pixieland called Dad. Instead of being annoyed, he cheerfully picked me up and brought me to his office at Cameron Station in Alexandria, where he worked for the Department of Defense. I was miserable and all I wanted to do was sleep. So when we arrived at his shared office (and there were also no cubicles in those days), he cleared off part of his desk and I laid down on top of one side of it, using his suit jacket as a blanket. Before I drifted off to the sleep that I so craved, I saw a paperweight that I had made him, proudly displayed on his desk. I had carefully crafted this paperweight from a rock that I had lovingly painted and topped with glitter and a sticker. I drifted off to sleep, content to be with the dad I loved so much.
Here are some of my dad’s standard fathering practices:
- He would wake me for school or Hebrew school by rubbing my back and kissing me on the neck. When that failed, he would come back and kiss me on the ear as loudly as possible. That would work!
- Dad was a champ at helping us get rid of our hiccups – by scaring them out of us!
- We could talk about anything at anytime. No topic was ever taboo and he always had time for me. I never heard my father say, ”Can we talk later? I’m busy.” He was the same way with Brooke when she was born. His patience was unlimited and I used to tease him when Brooke was a toddler and they were doing things together that neither one of them had any sense of urgency.
- My friends were treated with respect and spoken to like they were adults, no matter who they were or how old they were.
- He loved music and would drop money in the bucket of any street performer no matter how talented or off key-they were.
- He always spoke the truth, reminding me on more than one occasion, that if you tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said.
- Dad painstakingly planned our family vacations and the occasional get-away with Mom. And this was before Travelocity, TripAdvisor and GPSs. He actually mapped out routes, called hotels to make reservations and researched specific points of interest. And then he would read every sign for each landmark or exhibit, later recalling them verbatim.
- When I moved to Germany shortly after college, Dad, Mom and I wrote faithfully each week. Dad’s letters were incredibly detailed, giving me a lifeline as to what was going on stateside. To this day, I have all of those letters, in chronological order, in notebooks.
We’ve been mourning Dad in little bits and pieces for a while, and I stopped calling him Dad, when he stopped responding to that. So, I resorted to calling him Gordon. The weekend before he died, he was still aware enough to let us feed him and give him something to drink. I remember two specific times during that final weekend when I kissed his head and said, “I love you,daddy.” Without opening his eyes, he said, “I love you too, sweetheart.”
If my dad could speak to all of you today, I know he would say that he had a good life and be grateful to each of you for your contributions to his happiness. Dad often quoted his grandfather, saying, “Life is but a dream,” highlighting both the beauty and brevity of life. He would also hold my mother tightly and tell her how much he loved and cherished her and how fortunate he was to spend 60 years with her. Mom was the love of his life and he never failed to express his devotion and gratitude to her.
I think the hardest part of speaking with you today is saying, “Dad was.” So I prefer to say, “Dad is,” as in, “Dad is and will always be in my heart,” as I’m sure he’s in yours. Thank you once again for being here today. Your presence is truly a gift.