Author’s note: My dad, Ross, passed away on December 27 at the age of 81 after a short battle with cancer. This is the eulogy I gave at his memorial service.
What can be said about my dad that hasn’t already been said?
Over the past week I’ve had so many people share with me the great memories they have of dad, and I keep hearing the same things repeated: “he always made me laugh”, “his generosity knew no bounds”, “he was always so friendly, always had a big smile on his face”, “he was the true definition of a gentleman”.
What I can add to that is that without him, my life would be profoundly different. You see, I was adopted by Ross and Doreen Pennells when I was eight years old… and Ross was fifty-five. At an age when most men are thinking about and planning for retirement, he willingly took on not only the financial responsibility of raising another child, but more importantly, the moral responsibility. Because of dad’s love, the choice that he made has gifted me with thirty years of great memories. I was telling my sister Lori-Anne that, through dad, God fulfilled the promise made in Psalm 68, that God will be “a father to the fatherless” and that God “sets the lonely in families”.
I have so many good memories of dad. Memories of going to the cottage, and going to Blue Jays games; of watching John Wayne and Harrison Ford movies; I think about the dozen or so times he accidentally forgot me at church, or so he claimed; and I think about all the bizarre conversations we had, such as the time he said, with no context what so ever at the time, “Don’t I have a beautiful forehead?”
Two memories define him, for me. The first is when I was 14. I had to get braces, which meant no eating popcorn for the next two years. I was upset because I really love popcorn. The night before I had to get them put on, dad took me to the movies. We went and saw Apollo 13, we loved it, it instantly became one of our favourites, and he made sure to get me the biggest bucket of popcorn the theatre had, knowing that that was it for me for two years. Neither of us could finish it, but that was never the point; it was about quality time and doing something nice for someone else, bringing them joy. That was dad.
The second memory is I was eighteen and we were at the cottage. Wasps had built a nest in the roots of a tree. We decided the best way to get rid of it was to burn it out so we got some gasoline and started pouring it into the hole. We’d look at each other, say “Enough? Little more? Little more” and fill it some more, until it was so full that the gas was spilling on to the lawn around the tree. We got a piece of newspaper, lit it and tossed it at the hole.
All I remember from then on is a bright flash, a loud whoosh and then mom running down the pathway from the cottage, yelling “what have you two done this time!”. She arrived to find flames shooting up from the tree, the lawn around the tree ablaze, and dad and me sitting on the lawn, singed, still slightly smoking… and giggling like a couple of three-year-olds. After a few moments dad was able to compose himself and then he turned to me and said, completely seriously, “I think we used too much gasoline”.
I know that all of us have similar memories of my dad, ones that make us smile and laugh. That’s what I’ll miss about him the most: the good times, the smile, the laughter, the way those blue eyes would light up and you could see all the love in the world in them.
The past few months, I’ve noticed those eyes weren’t quite as bright. I saw age finally catch up with someone who seemed years younger than he was. I could feel him start to slip away and, for someone like me who is driven by solving problems, it left me feeling utterly useless, and even helpless.
Yet in the midst of this I started to see something I had never seen before: in dad facing his mortality, I saw his humanity laid bare and I finally realized what he’d been working so hard to pass onto me and my siblings all these years. I saw that as his children, we are the sum of his hopes, his dreams, his beliefs and the sacrifices he made over his lifetime. I saw that even in the mistakes he’d made, he always had our best intentions front and center. Even in seeing his flaws, I saw dad’s love shine through more clearly than ever before.
In working through my feelings in saying goodbye to him, I remembered the words of the English poet John Donne: “all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but is translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation”. This past Saturday night, dad took God’s hand, and peacefully, without pain, in the midst of his family, was himself translated into something mere words can never describe. That deep faith that guided him through his life finally guided him home.
I guess all that’s left to say now is goodbye, dad. I love you. I’m going to miss you a lot… we all are… but I know will see you again one day.
And finally, dad… thank you.