Yesterday we held my father’s memorial service. During the service, rather than a eulogy or a homily, my three siblings and I took the opportunity to share stories and memories about Dad, who he was, who he was to US. At the reception that followed, I had many people tell me that they were moved by my remarks. Many others expressed that they found them helpful, that my story about my Dad shined a light of hope on family conflict, illuminated a path to breaking destructive patterns or to healing hurts so that relationships that are just okay can become deeply fulfilling. My Dad and I walked that path.
Our relationship had been marred by stories we both told ourselves after my parents divorced. We never shared our interpretations with each other, just took them as gospel and allowed ourselves to be hurt, and therefore more distant and more wary of each other’s words and actions. It didn’t occur to us for a long time that there was anything that needed to be cleared up. My husband says I started these conversations with my Dad. I’m pretty sure my Dad did that, but really it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we did it and the results were life-changing. I am gratified that my words about my amazing Dad could be deemed helpful to anyone, and so in that spirit I will share them here in this larger digital space, just in case someone else needs to hear that message. For my healing in my grief, it is good to tell.
When he was a young man, trying to decide whether or not to change his career path, his then father-in-law asked my Dad why he couldn’t just be satisfied. Dad shared this piece of history with me in part to ease my concerns about my own circuitous path toward my calling. I’ve been thinking about this assessment of his character a great deal and it seems to me that it was really was both very wrong and very right.
Dad was deeply satisfied with so many things in his life: his relationship with his loving wife, his time with family and friends, a particularly moving night at the symphony, a provocative sermon or lecture at The Chautauqua Institution, the growth of his community, and his time spent with fellow artists. He was also deeply satisfied by more simple pleasures like ice cream and chocolate.
But in other ways, Dad was never satisfied. He was never satisfied that he had made the most of his abilities. He was never satisfied that he had done all he could do to better the world. He was never satisfied with simple answers to complex questions. He was never satisfied with “just okay.” He worked at it. He worked at bettering himself, at growing, at connecting, at engaging, at questioning because he was not satisfied with the status quo.
For our relationship, Dad’s unwillingness to be satisfied with “just okay” led him to undertake a series of careful conversations with me over the last 8 years. He asked questions; he gave answers. He prodded into old wounds and soothed old hurts. He applied new apologies to mistakes of the past. He listened and waited, and considered, and came back with more questions because he didn’t want to just let it lie. He worked at it until it had all been said, until it had all been touched on, until it had all been healed. He listened until I was out of things to say about the past and only wanted to discuss the present and future. I am so grateful for my Dad’s tenacity, for his unwillingness to be satisfied, for his courage and persistence, and for the love of me and of this world that drove his healing dissatisfaction.