Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Talk for Dad's Funeral - for those interested

We are all gathered together today to celebrate the life of the man I am honored to call Dad. He’s known by many names and titles: Grandson,  Son, Brother, Husband, Father, Eugene, Gene, Don, Donald, Gener, Babe, Grand Pooba, Grandad, Uncle, Coach. All have particular meaning and are special to each one of us. But as we celebrate the life that once garnered such titles, we also mourn the loss of his life. 

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

"Death separates “the spirit and the body [which] are the soul of man.” (D&C 88:15.) That separation evokes pangs of sorrow and shock among those left behind. The hurt is real. Only its intensity varies. Some doors are heavier than others. The sense of tragedy may be related to age. Generally the younger the victim, the greater the grief. Yet even when the elderly or infirm have been afforded merciful relief, their loved ones are rarely ready to let go. The only length of life that seems to satisfy the longings of the human heart is life everlasting." 

In order for us to understand Dad’s death, we need to understand a few things about life and the glorious blessing that it is. Elder Nelson also said:

“This life [was to become] a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God.” (Alma 12:24.) But we regarded the returning home as the best part of that long-awaited trip, just as we do now. Before embarking on any journey, we like to have some assurance of a round-trip ticket. Returning from earth to life in our heavenly home requires passage through—and not around—the doors of death. We were born to die, and we die to live. (See 2 Cor. 6:9.) As seedlings of God, we barely blossom on earth; we fully flower in heaven." 

Today I want to focus on some things about Dad that exemplify to me what a life that was born to die and died to live means. Everyone here today likely has a different experience, a different story and likely knew him in ways that were meaningful and deep. While I can’t say my experience was a perfect one, or even the deepest, I knew him in a special way that will forever have a profound effect upon my life.

Dad relished mystery and kept people around him guessing. From the diverse set of names mentioned previously, to his distinctive driving routes, he was not a predictable man. Dad would tell me, when taking a different route home from church, the soccer fields or sometimes on a short trip, that he didn’t want the “injuns to catch on to where he was going,” as though taking a different route would cover his tracks and lead some unknown being off his scent. It was all fun and games, or so I thought. I think what Dad was really teaching me, however, was to take new adventures, stop and enjoy new paths, see the world with new eyes and live life.

Dad taught me to have confidence and instilled in me the ability to succeed. His life was a pattern of success, rising from a home of poverty where he said he grew up in a “chicken coup” to gaining a university education with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. His confidence was learned and not inherited. He told me of how he lacked confidence, had taken a career test and was told he was useless. After enlisting in the Air Force and attending boot camp where because of injury he was forced out, he learned how to be confident and his outlook on life changed. Taking the same career test again he was told he could do anything he set his mind to. His confidence led to success and success led to a life of providing well for his family.

Along with demonstrating success in his career, he actively showed me how to achieve goals through sports. Dad was my first coach. After years of watching my older brother play soccer, I asked Dad if we could form a team for my age, just 5 years old. I’m not sure he knew what he was getting into with such young ones, but through the years he personally impacted many young players. One friend said the following:  

“I remember being in your driveway in Fairwood (must have been five) and your dad asked if I wanted to play on this new soccer team.  I had no real idea of what soccer was, but I said yes.  I then joined the Sharks . That was the beginning of my love and involvement with sports.  Who knew that 35 years later I'd be an Athletic Director at a university.”

Dad took the time to not only teach us the game of soccer, but he emphasized good sportsmanship, effort, desire, respect and interestingly, a love of God and faith in prayer. Each game I remember praying as a team. Imagine that. Here in WA, in a liberal area of our great nation and Dad had us openly pray. Down in TX I continue this tradition with my teams and certainly feel confident praying in the Bible belt but here Dad had a lot of courage and faith and it translated favorably upon his players. 

Another friend remarked a few years ago that Dad was one of his greatest mentors as he taught more about life through the sport than any teacher he had ever had.

While most of Dad’s players were average, seeing no worldly success come of their sports careers, one player reached for the stars and made it big. Dad coached him briefly as the Kentridge High School defensive coach and the player went on to play in the English Premier League as well as the US Men’s National Team as a goalkeeper. He’s also currently a keeper for the Sounders FC. Dad saw his success and a part of him, that confident side, reveled to know that he had a small hand in a recognizable success story.

Many of you may not know that Dad also coached basketball. Well, church ball. He had the opportunity, again, of taking kids that were athletic and some had former BB skills and turning them into a united team. I saw Dad work miracles with what he was given. I also saw him reach out to individuals that were not active in the faith, using the basketball program to help engage them and have them attend some church. While some were thrown out of games for fighting, Dad always challenged them to rise above the natural inclination to fight and accept a higher path of integrity and good sportsmanship.

While Dad instilled in me the ability to be confident, he used multiple ways of developing this trait. Having fun in the outdoors was a vital tool that I am grateful he employed.

Dad loved to camp and took us on exciting adventures to Yellowstone, Utah, local areas in WA and the Canadian Rocky Mountains. On a trip to Penticton, British Columbia, Dad demonstrated courage in the face of certain death. After eating some bad hot dogs or drinking bad camp water (we’re still not sure which was the cause), our whole family became deathly sick. Darin and Gina traded turns throwing up in Dad’s ears while he also got sick. Throughout this whole ordeal, a wounded momma bear roamed the campsite searching for her stolen cubs. At one point, after being so sick he couldn’t stand it anymore, and having the moaning bear come into our camp site, knocking over the garbage cans and approaching the tent, Dad desired to be eaten on the spot by the bear rather than deal with anymore sickness. Gratefully the bear smelled our tent and limped away and we lived to tell  one more camping adventure.

Dad loved to fish and used to take us to places like Flaming Gorge Reservoir and Strawberry Reservoir on extended camping trips or vacations. On one such trip, Dad showed me how to shore cast and fish for trout. My rod was hot and I outfished both he and Darin. While a little put out, I think Dad was proud that he had instilled a love of the catch in his son. We also were once caught in a storm out on Strawberry and with the winds howling around us in a tiny row boat with a small outboard motor that never seemed to push us towards shore, Dad raised his voice in mighty prayer, calling for help. We safely reached the shore and never rented a tiny boat again. 

Dad, while confident, knew the value of repentance and recognized when he needed to make amends. He was a humble man and was able to see his own faults and mistakes and would own up to them. On a family trip to Hawaii, he booked a “hotel” that ended up with only one light bulb. I’m still not sure what I slept on but I’m positive it wasn’t a bed. The next morning, likely after moans of discomfort, Dad arose early and found us a high rise condo that more than met our needs. 

On another trip to Disney World, we rented an RV in Tampa and drove it up to Orlando where we stayed in an RV park on the Disney World park. Not only was the RV hideous, it was uncomfortable, stuffy and the park was a nightmare. Once again, Dad arose early after the first night and found us a luxurious condo on park that more than met our needs.

Dad enjoyed time in the car with us. Sometimes we’d just drive and explore new neighborhoods, highways and paths. We would often drive to the sounds of ABBA, Simon and Garfunkel or Irish folk songs. One folk song in particular was about an Irish wake. I don’t remember much about the song other than at the end of it the man for whom the wake was being thrown suddenly sat up in his casket and asked who died. Dad would have laughed had he been Irish and could pull off such a stunt today.

Dad loved drama. He loved plays and even wrote at least one. I remember it was a road show and he helped build the sets. It was some abstract concept about the stomach. I can’t tell you what spiritual significance it was supposed to have but I’m sure it was in there somewhere. He also loved to act. His favorite role was the villain in a melodrama. He loved to twist his large mustache and twirl his cape as he would sneak around the stage. He lived for the moments when the audience would “boooo,” and “hisssss!”

Dad was an avid reader and you could always find a Louis L’amour book in his hands. He used to read to us at night, sometimes taking months to finish books. Once he retired he even set out to write his own novel but got caught in the trap of technology and kept losing his manuscript in the bits and bytes until finally he gave up. When Mom told him I was writing a novel this last fall, his face apparently lit up in delight, knowing he had passed yet another love down to one of his children. I was so glad I could read some of that novel to him just a few weeks ago.

Dad had an odd relationship with tools. He tried instilling in me the love of fixing things but I’m afraid this may be the one area he failed. He even threw me a “tool time party,” with my brother and father-in-law, as a bachelor party where they hooked me up with a bunch of tools. He tried teaching me car maintenance and I refused to learn. Two tools he relied upon most were a screwdriver and a hammer. When both were placed next to his computer, I asked what the hammer was for. He told me if the screwdriver didn’t do the job, the hammer would. Dad went through a lot of computers.

One time, Dad oddly combined his ability to shoot and wield tools when he needed a new bolt hole in his wheelchair. Taking out his pistol, he shot his chair in exactly the correct location and trajectory for the needed bolt. 

Dad was a protector and I learned both physical and spiritual lessons through his example. He taught me from an early age how to shoot firearms: rifles, shotguns and handguns. Despite the previous tale, he taught me proper use, how to load, how to check whether it was loaded, range safety, etiquette and proper storage of firearms. I learned to enjoy guns and had a healthy respect for them. He taught me to hunt and I spent many cold and miserable mornings in duck blinds waiting for flocks that never came. On one such outing, a rather large, lone bird came flying over head and while Dad and I were separated from my brother and a friend, someone in the other group took aim and came close to shooting an American Bald Eagle. I think repentance for such a crime would have landed one of us in the Federal Pen for a few years. I’m glad we didn’t have to learn that lesson.

On a trip to the pot holes in Eastern WA, we were hiking along a trail to one reservoir to go fishing. It was memorial day weekend of my 12th year and I remember looking down next to the trail and spotting a snake slithering past my foot. I called out to Dad who came to my rescue. I was shaken, knowing a rattlesnake was nothing to trifle with and Dad showed courage and his natural ability to protect his son. The next day, still shaken, I happened upon my second snake where I was supposed to slide down an embankment to our fishing spot. Calling to Dad again where he was positioned below, he took out his colt 45, asked me to step way back, and he shot at it until the area was clear. Rather than cause me any more psychological damage, we packed up and left and I’ve hated snakes ever since. But I knew my dad loved me enough to take out his pistol and shoot at a snake in my direction. But there was a deeper spiritual lesson I learned from these experiences. I learned that in life’s journeys, temptations and trial are close to our paths, and sometimes right on them, and we have to be mindful and watch out for them. Dad taught me that protection is near and we can call for help and be rescued. 

Dad provided a spiritual safety net in the home. He taught us to search the scriptures and apply them in our lives. A friend used to tease how Dad, when driving home from a soccer match, would quote some random verse from the Book of Mormon we were sure didn’t exist and apply it to what we were talking about or with which we were struggling. It challenged us to validate whether the reference was correct and how it actually applied. I spoke to this friend just a couple of days ago and he still remembers these interchanges and he confessed it still has had a positive effect on his life. Dad honored his priesthood by giving blessings and officiating the priesthood ordinances. Dad baptized all of his children (check with Cyndy on this). He gave us the gift of the Holy Ghost. He conferred the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood upon me and ordained me to every office of the Priesthood I’ve ever held. He has been present for every critical spiritual event in my life including my Patriarchal Blessing and temple endowment, setting apart as a missionary and temple marriage. Dad has participated in my own children’s ordinances including baby blessings, baptisms and confirmations.

Dad has a firm testimony of Jesus Christ and while we mourn his loss in this life, he knows the following truths:

1) We will all be resurrected through Christ’s infinite gift. What a miracle this is for someone that suffered for so long in life with physical pain and discomfort. Knowing his corruptible frame will be replaced with a perfect and incorruptible body is surely a blessing.

2) Our salvation comes only in and through Jesus Christ. His grace is sufficient for all but we need to willingly accept it. Dad will be the first to admit he wasn’t perfect and needed and used Jesus’s infinite atonement in his life.

3) Enduring to the end is not some phrase we relate to marriages or mock in Sunday school. It has been his agonizing reality for the last couple of decades and he proved that it is possible to remain true in the faith.

In the 2012 Oct General Conference of our Church, Elder Shayne M. Bowen of the Quorum of the Seventy had this to say which I feel relates directly to Dad’s situation in life and his passing:

“Remember as you attended the funeral of your loved one the feelings in your heart as you drove away from the cemetery and looked back to see that solitary casket—wondering if your heart would break.

I testify that because of Him, even our Savior, Jesus Christ, those feelings of sorrow, loneliness, and despair will one day be swallowed up in a fulness of joy. I testify that we can depend on Him and when He said:

“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

“Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.” 

“as we rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, He can help us endure our trials, sicknesses, and pain. We can be filled with joy, peace, and consolation. All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
I testify that on that bright, glorious morning of the First Resurrection, your loved ones and mine will come forth from the grave as promised by the Lord Himself and we will have a fulness of joy. Because He lives, they and we shall live also. 

So what would Dad suggest we do with the remaining time we have in life? Elder Nelson had this to say:

“Meanwhile, we who tarry here have a few precious moments remaining “to prepare to meet God.” (Alma 34:32.) Unfinished business is our worst business. Perpetual procrastination must yield to perceptive preparation. Today we have a little more time to bless others—time to be kinder, more compassionate, quicker to thank and slower to scold, more generous in sharing, more gracious in caring.

Then when our turn comes to pass through the doors of death, we can say as did Paul: “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:6–7.) 

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.)”

Dad cared. When I gave him a blessing recently that was terribly emotional, I asked him if he was ok. He flipped it around and sought for my peace by asking me the same. He was a loving father that truly understood Christ-like love.

How grateful I am to know Dad has been taken home to a loving Heavenly Father, is surrounded by family that have gone before him and friends he’s made in this life to welcome him home. I found a picture I hadn’t seen until yesterday of Dad greeting my high school best friend home from his mission and I sent it to my friend via text. He replied with a thank you and an observation. Off center of the main view of the picture was my friend’s step father who recently passed away. He remarked that like Dad was welcoming my friend home, his stepfather was likely welcoming Dad home. I believe the reunion in heaven is surely sweet and knowing it’s all possible through Jesus Christ is my faith and my hope.

In Jesus name, amen.

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