Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Father is Making Me Sing Duran Duran

My father died two weeks ago while cutting the grass.  It came as a surprise and I am still a bit off balance. His absence hits every once in a while with no obvious cause, leaving me a little short of breath as I go about my day.

I am no fan of Duran Duran, but I have been singing a song of theirs in my head for the past week at my job and in the car and while shopping at Wegmans. The song is called Ordinary World. It was not one of my dad's favorites. In fact, I would be shocked if my father had any idea who Duran Duran was. His taste ran to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. But the chorus of Ordinary World has always struck me with far more of a wallop than a cheesy early 90s pop song should.

At root, it is about going through something shattering and then realizing that the rest of the world has simply gone on without you. You have been broken and the world has paid no notice.  Everyone else has just gone on with their ordinary lives. And, in fact, you will need to go on with your ordinary life, as well.

A friend sent a message last week talking about how hard the death of her father struck her a year ago. She said that it has continued to reverberate in many surprising ways over the year. Her note drove home to me how utterly common and, at the same time, how utterly devastating the death of a parent is. Most everyone goes through it, and most everyone finds their way back to the ordinary world after a while.

And then we see them a few months later and they look the same as they always did. What we can't see is the scar and the pain and the something missing that will never be filled again.

My father was a good man. I knew him for 48 years and I cannot think of one time where I thought, "That was not an honest/thoughtful/caring thing to do or say, Dad." Not ONE time.  In many ways, he was the man I strive to be. Below is a draft of the eulogy my brother Mike delivered at the funeral last weekend. My father was a good man and I will miss him every day.

"This funeral mass brings together everything and everyone Jerry Dawson loved. His family and friends are here, his brother knights are here, many people he helped in a hundred small ways are here, and it is taking place in Saint Mary Magdalen Church--a church where several of us Dawson kids were baptized, received our first holy communion, and acted as altar servers, where both Jerry and Irene served on the Board, and where Jerry married Irene more than 50 years ago.

The Church meant so much to dad that it is not hard to think of a life for him different than the one he had. In fact, it is pretty easy to imagine him entering the seminary as a young man and becoming a priest. He truly did love the Church and Jesus’s message of eternal life, and he loved the idea of living to serve others.

But that future did not happen for dad. Instead, he met Irene Michaels at a Young Catholic Adults dance and, if he did have any thoughts of a calling to the priesthood, those went out the window after one dance with Irene. He was smitten. She was pretty smitten, too. When he asked Irene’s parents about marrying their daughter, they had one condition: that he first get a job that could support a family.

The young Irene held him to the same standard—in fact, she wrote up a contract for Jerry to sign that held him to attaining a certain level of income in their first years of marriage. Dad had just started working for John Hancock and mom is not saying what the conditions of the contract were, but luckily for all of us, he reached her goal.

Sales was perfect for dad. He loved to talk to people—as many of you can attest---and selling insurance gave him the chance to have long conversations with new people just about every day.

Some people get into sales because they see it as a way to get rich.  That was not my father.  Dad sold insurance because it helped support his quickly growing family and because he truly believed in the value of what he was selling. He believed it made people’s lives better.

And in the end, that was always his main goal—he wanted to make people’s lives better. He did so by selling insurance. But he also did so by becoming active in the union representing his fellow salesmen and women. When he earned a promotion and became a manager in Long Island and then back in Delaware, he took many new salespeople under his wing and mentored them with patience and love and conveyed to them some of his faith in the good work they did and in the products they sold.

Dad often worked ten or twelve hours a day. Yet somehow he managed to make it to just about every baseball, football, basketball, volleyball, and softball game we played through many years of Catholic League games for Jerry, Chris, me, Rich, Teresa, and John.

All six of the Dawson kids could probably tell a story about the time our father embarrassed us a bit with his very vocal support. (But we were also glad he was there.)

When we started having kids of our own, he did the same for the grandkids. He loved his grandchildren and was as proud as a man could be of each and every one of them. Dad truly meant it when he said one time that he was rich in the things that mattered most—he had the love of a good woman, he had a pack of kids who were off in the world living lives he was proud of, and he had nine grandkids who were everything he hoped they would be.

At 55 dad decided that the changes in the insurance business were not changes he could live with, so he took early retirement. It was then that his life took a different focus. He became active with the Knights of Columbus and this group gave him an outlet for his many ideas on how to help spread the Catholic faith to which he was so dedicated. He eventually held many statewide offices with the Knights—including State Deputy.

Mom can certainly attest to the importance of the Knights to dad and to how meaningful they have made the last many years of his life.

It is impossible to sum up a person and a life in a few words. If we were to try to do that for Dad, it might be something like: he loved to sing (even though he often didn’t really know the words), he loved to dance, he loved to revel in his kids and grandkids, he loved to be helpful, and, mostly, he loved mom.

Basketball coach John Wooden once said, "the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." Our dad took this advice to heart.

This week mom has said a few times that it is as if someone came and just erased dad away.

It does feel that way.

But if you look around this church today you will see that dad touched many people in his 73 years. No one can erase away the conversations, the bad jokes, the help, and the love he has shared with all of us. We will miss you, Dad."

1 comment:

  1. Chris, this is very moving and eloquent, and the eulogy your brother wrote is lovely. I remember feeling this way when my father died-- surprised at the audacity of the ordinary world, which continued to function in its ordinary way, in spite of my suffering. I hope writing this has given you comfort. My condolences.