This is the eulogy I wrote for my father and delivered at his memorial service on August 2, 2020.
Let me start by saying that every one of us will have a different view of Dad, as unique as our relationships all were with him. I experienced my father differently than my siblings did and differently than his grandchildren did. And, of course, no one knew Dad the same way that Mom did. We all had a relationship with him that was as different as we all are. And, I know he’d hate to be remembered as some kind of saint with no flaws or foibles, so we shouldn’t remember just the best things, but the whole humanness of who he was. We may all see that a little differently, but, there are some things that shine through all of those different relationships.
For one thing, as we wrote in his obituary, Dad loved a good story about himself or some other family member. And, he had a lot of them. Most of his stories were meant to surprise you a little and, hopefully, make you laugh. One of his favorites, which I think must have been one of his earliest memories, involved his own Grandpa Hoffman. Grandpa Hoffman was a tinsmith who worked his way West with the railroad and then hoboed home to Chicago. Along the way, as Dad tells it, he met a couple of fellas that would become notorious in Chicago politics in the early 1900s; Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna and “Bathhouse” John Coughlin. They were two of the most corrupt Chicago aldermen who ever held office according to Dad. One day, when Dad was about five or six, he was out with his Grandpa who took him to meet his old friend Uncle John at his business “Uncle John’s Bathhouse, Pool Hall and House of Leisure”. Yes, that’s right, Grandpa Hoffman took his grandson to a house of gambling and prostitution. Dad loved to tell people how he sat at the bar while his grandfather played cards with his old friend and how the “nice ladies” doted on him and brought him a glass of milk while he waited. You can imagine how upset his mother was at her father-in-law for bringing her little angel to such a place. Dad would tell that story, making sure to include his very proper and upright mother’s reaction when she found out, with a twinkle in his eye and punctuated with his deep, booming laugh that could fill a whole house.
Dad liked to stir things up and make a little mischief, but that’s not to say that Dad was all laughs and funny stories. He had strong opinions about, well, practically everything, and he wasn’t shy about sharing them. In fact, one of the most frustrating things about Dad was the by the time he’d made up his mind about something, his logic was so tight that it was pretty much unassailable. When he’d made up his mind, he was all but impossible to convince otherwise. He could be the living embodiment of stubborn, a trait I’m afraid he may have passed on to at least one of his children. The worst thing he could possibly say about someone was that they weren’t very quick. As someone who worked hard to be as smart as he could, he had little patience for anyone who was mentally lazy or wasn’t working their hardest. I know he was proud of how smart all his children and grandchildren are no matter what they do or their particular area of specialty. Right up to the very end, Dad’s mind was razor-sharp and he was absolutely up to date on the latest news. In fact, if not for the COVID-19 lock down, Dad would have been renewing his driver’s license a couple of weeks ago and, until relatively recently, split the driving duties with Mom. Two years ago, going to Bill and Kara’s wedding, it took no small amount of convincing to get him to let me drive and navigate using my iPhone. More than once he said, “Well, I wouldn’t have gone THIS way, but, oh, I guess it is getting us there a little faster than my way.” He was so convinced that he knew Chicago better than any technology could, but, it turned out, except for a couple of turns, Google Maps took us the same way he would have.
Dad loved the outdoors, too. He loved going with the Boy Scout troop to Camp Makajawan for the week in Wisconsin. But, he enjoyed having a few more of the creature comforts than most of the other leaders, camping with a full footlocker of gear and gadgets. Another leader once jokingly told him that he camped like a Prussian officer on campaign, which I think appealed to Dad’s sense of history and style. He used to say that he wanted his ashes scattered in Sioux Village at Camp Makajawan so that he might become a ghost story told at one of the big campfires that happened at the start and end of camp. But, we’re pretty sure he was just joking and was amused at the idea of finally becoming a tall tale, besides none of us want to try and sneak into Makajawan with Dad’s ashes and scatter him in the bushes. Though, I’m sure Dad is looking down on us and laughing at the dilemma his little joke made for us.
Dad also had a life-long love of music. He was a classically trained singer and had a gorgeous voice that was in demand even well after he felt it was past its prime. His favorite time of year was Christmas, not just because he could put out his extensive collection of strange Santa Claus figures, but for the Christmas music. He absolutely loved performing Christmas music and singing the old, classic hymns. One of my favorite childhood memories is of Dad singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel unaccompanied, from the back of the sanctuary in Glenview United Methodist Church. He was often asked to sing solos at church and, ironically, at funerals. Dad loved performing, especially with a good group of fellow musicians with a piece of music that challenged him. In fact, Dad almost was a professional singer when he got out of the Army. He said that the only reason he didn’t take that opportunity was because he didn’t like the opera the touring company had chosen.
Instead, Dad channeled his showmanship into sales. One of Dad’s favorite sayings was “Everything is sales. If nothing else, you’re always selling yourself and your ideas.” And, I think I learned more from Dad about being a good salesman and a good manager than any class I took in business school. To this day, I find myself asking what would Dad do when faced with a situation at work that I’m not sure how to handle. And usually, some bit of advice that Dad gave over the years comes to mind and turns out to be just the right thing to say or do.
Dad may not have always said it out loud, but he worried about his family. Just a few years ago, Dad admitted out loud that he was a natural-born worrier. I think he tried to hide that from his kids so that we didn’t pick up that trait from him. Dad was also fond of giving us all advice, though the kind of advice changed over the years. One of the first things he told me when I was looking to him for advice about some choice I had to make was, “Well, whatever choice you make, be sure it’s a choice you can live with because you’re the only one who can know what that is.” Looking back, it’s great advice that I remember forty years or more later, but, as a twelve-year-old, I was looking for something a little easier to deal with. Some of his other advice that sticks with me didn’t quite make sense at the time. One time, when I was wrestling with the idea that something I’d done or said had made someone not like me, he said, “If you make it through life without SOMEONE not liking you or being irritated by you, you’ve done it wrong.” What he meant was, that if no one finds that they have some conflict with you, then you never had anything you believed in very strongly or took a stand and held firm, because that will always bring a person into conflict with someone, sooner or later. It was his way of saying, hold true to your convictions, no matter how many people disagree with you.
And, that was something Dad said he and Mom had always hoped to do; raise four, strong, unique individuals, who made their own way in the world. I know that he was more than satisfied that he’d done that. He may have been a little shy about telling his children directly, sometimes, but he was immensely proud of all of us. I don’t think he wanted anyone to get a swelled head so he was careful not to brag in front of us, but more than once I caught him telling someone how great one or all of his kids were, each in their own very different ways. I think the fact that we were all so different from each other, while still having so much in common, was one of the things that made him so proud.
Most of the time, talking about feelings too long made Dad a little uncomfortable. But, the last time I talked to him when I expressed some regret that I wasn’t an easier child to raise or that I hadn’t visited as regularly as I’d like, he said, “None of you kids have anything to worry about.” From the context, I’m sure he meant all of us; children and grandchildren alike. It was his way of telling me that we were all doing our best and he knew that and was proud of us all. And, as uncomfortable as it may have made him, the last words we exchanged were a heartfelt, “I love you”, which is how I’ll always remember Dad. A strong, ferociously smart man, who loved big and with everything he had.
I’m sure everyone remembers him in their own way and we all have stories about Dad or that he told us, or maybe even a joke that’s a little too off-color for church, even if it’s Dad’s memorial service. I know that he’d love it if we can share those with each other as we remember them, especially the jokes.
But, I also know Dad would have wanted us to keep things moving along. Most of his life was spent living to a calendar and a schedule. This is the man who was well known for looking at his watch and saying things like, “Oh! Look at the time! I must be hungry for lunch!” So, let’s not disappoint him and keep moving things along. He wouldn’t have wanted us to dawdle or say a long goodbye.
So, we’ll see you on the other side, Dad. Keep everyone busy until we get there.