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Eulogy For My Father

I recently read the eulogy for my father that I wrote when he died, and it still moves me.  It’s a call to action as well as a tribute to someone who made me possible:

Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you today not to mourn my father, but to honor him – as all of you do by being here.  The loss of a friend or family member cannot be undone, so it’s best to make the experience as positive as you can.  So I’m here today to simply say “thanks.”

But how do you begin to thank someone whose first gift to you was your very existence?  Where do you start – how could you even finish doing that?  I remember the old joke about someone famous standing up at an awards ceremony and saying, “I’d like to thank my mother and father for making me possible.”  But it’s so much more than that, isn’t it?

Every decision where that person gives up part of their life in order to enrich yours – that’s a gift from them to you.  Every time they drive you to practice, every dime saved for education, every meal cooked, every time they hold you back in the car seat while braking suddenly – everything they do during your life can be thought of as a gift without wrapping paper.  A present without a card.  Like a birthday every day.

And this extends to each and every one of you sitting here today.  It was once written that the value of a person’s life is directly related to the number of people they positively affect.  I can’t begin to tell you how many calls and notes I’ve received in the last week from people my father knew for most of their lives.  Many are here today, and I’m sure he is very glad about that.

As for me, I can tell you that I am, in no small part, a product of my father’s example.  He taught me to be self-sufficient, strong, compassionate, and giving.  Everyone makes mistakes, and he was no exception, but his mistakes helped me to avoid those pitfalls in my own life.

My father wrote me a letter years ago, with instructions to open it and read it upon his passing.  I read it for the first time a few hours before he passed away.  It includes this:

“Every parent, including me, likes to think that somewhere along the way, they said or did something that by its example, influenced their child to choose a better way to do things than the many other alternatives.  Hopefully the good examples I displayed outweighed the bad – I know you’ll set the same example for your children.  No man has ever had a better son.  I love you always – Dad”

I love you too, Dad.  I always have.  I always will.

You know, Life is a beautiful cycle – as he was leaving, I’m sure a couple of new babies were arriving not too far away.  And along the same lines, I have great news that you all should remember.  Regardless of your beliefs in the afterlife, this much I can assure you: my Father remains alive and well.  He is all around me, in all of you, every day.  So honor him today as I am, and write a letter to your kids today, please.  They will treasure it more than gold.  Thanks.

Here’s a “Dear Photograph” styled photo of him as a Choir Boy at West End Methodist, age 12, taken at the exact spot where the original picture was shot.


Character-Building is Overrated

A personal note: Many folks who know me understand my personal code of ethics, which I’ve been living by since I was a kid. A few people know what I’ve been going through recently, and have seen my ability to overcome challenges tested. Some people hit this site with some sense of casual fascination – who is this person, what’s he like?

Let me be absolutely clear: I know what I have and have not done in my life (because I was there when it happened).  There is no person, no group, nobody who can say with certainly that they know what kind of person I am better than me.  And I can say without hesitation that I have stuck to my strict code of ethics my entire adult life.  Not only that, but I have committed myself to “doing the right thing” far more than most people.

Anyone can judge others – we do it every day.  We look at a poorly dressed person in Wal-Mart and instantly think we know they they are about.  We see news stories and think we know the truth about the facts – it’s on the news, so it must be correct, right?  Wrong.  Not everything you see, or read, or hear is even remotely correct.  Just because someone is in a position to blare something from the rooftops, doesn’t mean they are any better at drawing conclusions, predicting the future, or explaining reality any better than you.

Actions speak far louder than words.  Example: deciding “I’m going to devote months of my life to raise money for people who don’t even know who I am” is a far braver act than offering up an opinion or judgment about somebody.  That’s transitory – just vapor.  What’s real is the results of your actions – who truly benefits from what you do?  You or others?

The picture above is the “check presentation” from one of the years I led the Riverfest Music Festival, a small charity fundraiser I founded to raise money for Atlanta charities.  This was not a trivial task – it required teams of volunteers, and was pulled off annually to raise tens of thousands of dollars for people who we would never meet or know.  But it was needed, and someone had to do it, and I decided one day that it would be me.

So what am I trying to convey in this article?  It’s not easy being generous or ethical.  What’s harder is enduring life’s challenges (whether you deserve them or not), and staying just as selfless as before.  An old saying goes something like “suffering builds character” – but some of us have built enough of it, thanks.  Before you go off knowing everything about a person, just know that you don’t, and should keep an open mind about others.  The world would be far nicer if we all did.