I love you, Dad, and I miss you more than mere words can express.
I have an enduring image of my father.
We’re on a family hike, Mt. Moosilauke, perhaps. There were many family hikes, but my Dad’s outfit never varied. He’s wearing a red “crusher” hat, a blue bandana tied around his neck and wielding a walking stick he fashioned out of “perfectly good” wood he found in the forest. A folded map pokes from his back pocket, and his pack is stuffed to the hilt with anything we could ever possibly need for our climb: a green water canteen, moleskin, more maps, a compass, band-aids, bug spray. And, of course, Gorp – a concoction of granola, peanuts and M & Ms
I’m about ten years old, and it feels like we’re never, ever going to get to the top. My sister and I moan and complain, stopping more than necessary to drink water and pick the M & Ms out of the food bag.
My father is undaunted, patiently leading us on, pointing out the blue trail markers blazed on the trees. “The trick,” he says, “is to pace yourself. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and before you know it, you’ll be there.”
And, of course, we do get there, slowly but surely, and as we hit the summit Dad breaks into a smile. “Isn’t it something?” he says, as we gaze out over the peaks of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. And yes, it really is something.
This image stays with me because it encapsulates so much about what it was like to grow up under his loving, patient, steady guidance.
Words seem too small to describe Dad. To us he was larger than life, a steadfast presence, someone who would always be there to help us along the way. He wasn’t one for lectures or finger wagging; he taught us what we need to know about life by living it. And he always, always put family first.
My Dad worked hard, but of course as kids we couldn’t appreciate what he did for a living. What we knew was that he was home for dinner – every night. He would often have to work late into the evening, or head out again for a meeting, but each night he would walk in the door just as we set dinner on the table.
Family vacations were spent camping, hiking, canoeing, skiing or fishing. Dad loved to get off the grid; some of my fondest memories are of our times out at our beach cottage, bobbing around on the sea fishing for flounder. We would spend days together as a family in tents, paddling down rivers, hiking through the woods. Everywhere he went, Dad brought his unbridled curiosity about the world, and his seemingly endless knowledge of all things natural. Even during our eye-rolling teenage years, we would eventually be swept up in Dad’s quiet enthusiasm.
Dad taught us the importance of hard work, responsibility and balance by embodying these values and infusing everything he did with dedication, humor and patience.
He made us want to succeed in life, but it had nothing to do with prestige, pedigree, recognition or prominence, and everything to do with doing our best, giving back and having a grateful heart.
Perhaps the greatest gift my father gave us was to teach us compassion. He gave back – tirelessly – to every community he served. He gave his time – he gave himself – to his friends, family, church, town, school and to the less fortunate. As children we couldn’t appreciate how special this was, of course. As we grew into young adults, however, we began to understand that Dad’s compassion and dedication to giving back were at the very core of everything he stood for, everything he taught us.
Dad preferred to see the good in people, the possibility. He expressed a limitless curiosity in the things that interested us. Whether it was photography, horses or making jewelry, he wanted to know about our lives, who we knew, what we were doing, and would ask thoughtful questions in his own unobtrusive way. When we strayed from the path, got lost through poor choices or circumstance, he was there to gently nudge us back onto the rails - not with judgment, but with love and encouragement.
He taught us how to navigate adversity by playing to our strengths, rather than dwelling on our weaknesses. His motto would not have been ‘I Told You So’, but rather ‘I Believe In You’.
He wasn’t one for grand proclamations or recognition, and so it is possible that this next statement would have made him uncomfortable, but it is true: he was beloved by everyone who knew him. He was respected by so many because he was, himself, so respectful.
I realize I don’t have to search for words to describe Dad. All I have to do is look around this church, at all the people who have come together today from near and far, to honor his memory. Whether you knew my Dad as a colleague, friend, a co-committee member or trustee; whether you knew him from church, school or around town, from the good old days or only recently, you know what I mean about his authenticity, compassion, loyalty, humor and dedication, because he brought his whole self to every interaction, every relationship.
Dad taught us that you get back from the world exactly what you put into it; if you bring light, love and compassion to the world, then you will get light, love and compassion in return. And when you do? You give it right back again.
And so I carry the image of my father ahead of us on the trail, a walking stick in one hand and a map in the other, patiently beckoning us forward, encouraging us in his own quiet way to put one foot in front of the other, until we get to where we’re all going.
And the view from up there? It is really something, I’m sure.