An unusual weekend
On Saturday morning I attended the funeral of family friend Russ Morgan, who in life had been (among many other things) my father’s best friend.
I last spoke to Russ in 2006 on the night of my father’s funeral. I don’t remember much of what we discussed, only that we had the conversation and it was probably the first time we spoke together as adults. Russ died after a long fight with cancer, and he’ll be missed by everyone that ever spoke to him for more than roughly five seconds, because that’s how long it took to think of him as a friend.
Later the same day we celebrated my daughter’s 22nd birthday, which was another excellent reminder that I might be getting older. She graduated college last month and is starting grad school at Boston College in the fall. B.C. is my alma mater. I’m looking forward to the day she runs into one of my old professors (or former classmates, as at least one or two teach there now) and make them feel as old as I do every time I see her.
And then, just to really round out the weekend, Sunday was Father’s Day, which kind of brought all of the above themes together in a way that usually only happens in TV dramas.
The best thing I ever wrote
I tell people when I give interviews that the best thing I ever wrote was my father’s eulogy. I still think this is probably true, if only because I’m giving myself points for degree of difficulty. And bonus points for standing up in front of a lot of people and delivering it.
And I shared it once, on my old site. But that site is gone now, and so I thought I would put it up again. Consider it my Father’s Day gift, if you want.
I apologize in advance for anyone whose day is ruined by reading this.
Eulogy for Gene Doucette Sr., 1947-2006
When I sat down to write this eulogy, I discovered I was going to have a problem with the word “good.” Very simply, my father was a good person. But while this is in so many ways the best possible description of him, it’s also not nearly specific enough.
You can be a good father and grandfather, a good husband, and brother, uncle and nephew and cousin, friend and coworker. And he was all of those things. But “good” is also how you might describe a TV show or a slice of cheesecake. It’s inadequate.
The thing is my father was good without meaning to be. Most of us have to work at it, at least a little bit, but Dad simply was, effortlessly. Which is why I’m looking for a better description.
* * *
I only learned a few years ago what he actually did when he was in the Air Force. As a child I’d been told that he was a mechanic, I think mainly because at that age I couldn’t pronounce the word ‘cryptographer’. Cryptography is the art of decoding secret messages, looking at an apparently random collection of letters and numbers and seeing the truth hidden beneath them. You might think this is an untranslatable skill-set, unless you ever asked him for advice of any kind. And if you’re here today the chances are pretty good that at some time or other, you did.
When someone dies suddenly and unexpectedly the first thing most of us think about is “when was the last time I spoke to him? What did we talk about? Why didn’t I tell him how much he meant to me right then, when I had that chance?” But the reason my father was always the first person to go to for advice– or if not the first then certainly the best– was that he understood you. He could see the hidden truth. When he dispensed advice– or even when he just struck up a casual conversation– he addressed more than just the person you are; he spoke to the person you wanted to be… and the person you could become. So I don’t want you to think about that last moment you might have shared with him and worry that you somehow failed to convey fully and thoroughly exactly how important he was to you.
He already knew.
* * *
Now. Does this description do him justice? I don’t think it does; but it’s closer.
It may be that part of my problem in finding the right way to describe him is that I’m doing something I expected not to have to worry about for another twenty-five years. My father was only fifty-eight, and he was supposed to be there when my children graduated from college, and I am angry that he will not be. But I don’t know who to be angry at.
I could be angry at myself, for not demanding that he worry less about the rest of us and more about himself. But he was already the strongest man I knew; there was no way I– or any of us– could have imagined he was anything but invincible.
I could be angry at his heart for giving out far too soon. But his heart was what we all loved so much about him, and I can’t bring myself to blame it, even in its last act.
I could be angry at God– or the universe if you prefer– for being so cruelly random. But I suspect that this anger, however appropriately directed, would not give me the understanding I’m truly looking for.
* * *
I’m not fully conversant with exactly what the seven stages of grief are– and I believe I’ve experienced roughly thirty-two stages already, so I suspect there are more than seven– but I do know that anger is one, and acceptance is another. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that acceptance is a very long way away right now. But it might help us to get there faster if we all just took a moment to look around.
Hillary Clinton once said that it takes a village to raise a child, but she had little to say about where the village came from. As I look out at all of you I see; you are the village my father built. He’s a part of everyone here, and as long as we remember that– as long as we aspire to be the people he knew we could be– he will still be with us.
Maybe that’s the best description I can provide. But I’d like to take one last stab at it.
In everything I have done with my own life– as a father and a husband and a friend– he is the man I always wanted to be.
* * *
Tacked up on a bulletin board in Dad’s office, we found a poem written by Bessie Anderson Stanley underneath a sign that read “people who think they know everything are particularly aggravating to those of us who do.” I have no idea when or how my father found this poem, but in reading it I know why it was so important to him.
“He has achieved success, who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has looked for the best in others and given the best he had.”
Thank you all so much for coming.
Gene Doucette Jr, March 21, 2006