Remembering My Dad

As Father’s Day arrives, I’m thinking of my dad, who passed away four weeks ago. My brother Chris spoke wonderfully of dad at the funeral. Here’s how mine might have gone …

First off, I’d like to thank so many people for attending the wake yesterday and this funeral today. The death of my dad has been difficult on my entire family, and I want you all to know that your care and concern have been a huge lift.

There have been so many hugs, and condolences, and stories. One thing about my dad was he lived the life he wanted to live, and that led to a lot of stories. Funny stories, touching stories, can-you-believe-he-really-did-that? stories.

Those stories helped me to put my dad in perspective. As the most complicated relationship in my life, I could talk about him for hours. But this is not the time. Instead, I’d prefer to briefly share some thoughts on who my dad was, and the role he played in his life, in your lives, in my life.

First, there’s Tom the Trickster. In Native American culture, there is a mischief-making spirit called Loki. He’s often portrayed in stories as a coyote. He’s not bad, he just likes to have fun—and by fun, I mean he likes to mess with people.

My dad had a lot of Loki in him. He loved to tell joke. He loved the put-on and the send-up. So many of you told me yesterday how much you loved that glint in his eye when Tom was orchestrating mischief.

He had a wicked sense of humor. His cousin Catherine, in England, shares this story:

My mom and dad were visiting Catherine and her husband Terry and they traveled to France. At the car park, Terry told my dad the passcode to unlock the car but my dad forgot. Terry, knowing my dad to be an accountant and a real numbers guy, chided him, “What do you do for a living, anyway?”

The next day, they were driving about and Terry hit a curb. My dad looked at Terry and asked, “What do YOU do for a living?”

Terry, of course, was a professional driver.

Dad’s business colleagues have many, many stories. But there are kids in the room. Here’s a clean one and a good one.

They’re all in Puerto Rico for a convention and dinner’s a very fancy affair, but the food is awful. Inedible. It’s so bad, it’s awkward.

Suddenly the doors open and four Chinese men, carrying large platters, burst into the room. “Which table is No. 42?” one asks loudly. My dad stands up and directs the men to the table. He has ordered Chinese from a local restaurant. His tablemates are thankful, the other tables envious. “Who would have thought of that?” a friend sitting at a nearby table asked. “Only Tom,” was what a friend told me yesterday.

Also, my dad loved to perform simple tricks for the kids—the fake-removal of his thumb, showing off his prosthetic leg. Sometimes you worried that it was a bit much. But it wasn’t. The kids loved it. The Trickster always had the sense of what was funny, what was curiosity, and what was scary—and respected those lines.

The second role of my dad was Tom the Protector. My father’s father died at the age of 37, and as the only son my dad was thrown into the role of man of the family at a very young age. Now, as a child that came with some privilege—everyone has heard the stories of how his sister Margie would put him on the bus and run behind it so she could spend her fare on buying him some candy. There’s no way to understate the amazing job the women in his family did of raising him, and for that, Pat and Margie, I will always be profoundly grateful. And as he grew into a man, he took that family sacrifice and its responsibilities seriously.

Dad’s sister Pat told me yesterday how her brother stood up for her when a boy hit her in the head with a ball. It was going to be a big showdown on the playground, Pat said, Donahue vs. DeGrazio. As an adult, he was good and generous with kids—and not just his own. When his help could get a niece the educational resources she needed or his generosity could help a nephew out of a serious youthful misjudgment, he was there. One thing we forget is that he spent years on the board of the Collier School, making sure that kids who had trouble in public school systems were not shut out of opportunity. His generosity is something I would like to emulate in my life.

Thirdly, there’s this idea of Tom, Forgiving and Forgiven. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called forgiveness “the ultimate form of love.” By that I think he meant ultimate in two senses—as the last and the highest. My dad, I think, found forgiveness in the last weeks of his life.

And it couldn’t have been easy. My dad could hold a grudge, a deep grudge, a find-him-sitting-in-the-dark-with-a-drink-thinking-and-muttering-dark-thoughts grudge. As his health deteriorated, he let a lot of that go. My sense, and we did not talk about this because it’s a tough conversation and his thoughts were very clouded at the end, was that he had made his peace with the people and the circumstances of his life. Some clouds that had hung over him for a very long time seemed to lift near the end. I think he had taken the long view. And the long view is a loving view, I think.

Finally, there’s a question of forgiveness. For me, for many of you, there are questions, many of which resolve to this: Why couldn’t he take better care of himself? Today we bury a 69-year-old who had more reasons than anyone should need to want to live a long, healthy life—a wonderful wife, a loving family, the means to enjoy a long retirement. And there is no getting around the fact that his choices played a role in our sad gathering here today.

And the only answer I can offer is, because he was who he was. Because to do otherwise wouldn’t have been my dad. It wouldn’t have been Tom. It wouldn’t have been your brother, your uncle, your friend, your father, your husband. Imagining Tom without a Marlboro and a Dewar’s on the rocks, splash of water and twist, is an exercise in denial. Dad liked to quote Robert Frost’s “good fences makes good neighbors,” though he spent a lot of his time leaning over fences, talking with people. To me, he was more of a “to thine own self be true” kind of guy [that advice comes with much more in Hamlet, here, starting with LORD POLONIUS saying to LAERTES: “Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!” As advice, it’s a bit of a mixed bag]. He did what he wanted. I respect that decision, and who he was, and at the same time I feel a great loss. This is grief, and why, I guess, it takes so long to get over.

For the last 44 years, I have known and loved my dad. I will remember him as a man who drank deeply from life, who gave much and left us richer for it. If you’re here, he loved you. And he’d thank you for being here. He can’t, so I will. Thank you for holding up my father, Thomas Donahue, in your hearts and thoughts. He was a good man. May he rest in peace.

Love you, dad, and missing you on Father’s Day

2 thoughts on “Remembering My Dad

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s