My dad passed away at the end of last year and I wrote the following as a eulogy for his memorial service. My mom asked me send her a copy so I just got around to typing it up. Thought I might as well post it here.
From January 2008
Perhaps not as much now as in the past, do we hear or talk of role models or heroes. Sure we hear about super heroes, in the movies, on tv and in the original medium, comic books. And we discuss the idea of role models, most often in the context of some sports star or young famous person when they are not providing an appropriate role to model. I know it is not unusual to hear friends or family members, especially when memorializing someone, refer to them as their hero or their role model. But I think if anyone took a hard factual look at my father’s life we would all be hard pressed to use either of those terms to describe him. Although his life story had the promising beginnings of a hard life that could turn into a success story: born on Halloween in 1940, the youngest son of an itinerant farmer. His mother left the family early on, he was sent to an orphanage multiple times until his father remarried. However his story doesn’t turn into one of success. Early adulthood brought questionable friends, a drinking problem and then drugs, an early unsuccessful marriage and subsequent relationships that produce children he does not raise, me and my sister Kim. His life progresses to include more and worse drugs, crime, gangs, jail time and ultimately prison followed by drug rehab. And even though the rehabilitation is successful his life doesn’t really improve by our society’s standards. He remarries and has children he does raise, Michael and Mary, and he includes me in his life by this time. But his youthful mistakes have left him uneducated and untrained for most jobs. He struggles to learn how to read and be the sole provider for his family. He never receives a formal education, never makes a lot of money, doesn’t become famous for writing a life revealing memoir, he doesn’t join the television tabloid set and tell the sordid tales of his youth. He settles into a quiet life and as time advances he discovers his unhealthy past has led to consequences and he is diagnosed with Hepatitis C, which coupled with alcoholic induced cirrhosis leads to liver failure, a temporary reprieve via a transplant and ultimately his death on December 7th 2007. By the standards of our world and our society, his life was in every way an unremarkable life and certainly not inspiring nor an example to be held up as a role model.
But we know this is not the whole story. My dad may not have had a life that is inspiring by the standards of many others. But to me and many others he was inspiring. He had a sad childhood and a terrible youth that extended well into adulthood. But from that point on he began to make choices that fall into the heroic category. After more than a decade of addictions to alcohol and drugs he decided to clean up and change his life. And the most important choice of all, the decision that leads him to success in his attempt to give up drugs & alcohol, he accepts Jesus Christ as his personal savior. From that point on everything changes. He decides he will be a parent for the first time in his life and I come to live with him and his soon to be new wife. All parents know raising kids can be very hard work, try starting off with a moody 11 year old girl whom you have no relationship with. I know for a fact that was a very hard job. He marries again but this time his commitment is for the rest of his life, he finally truly means, the ‘until death do us part’ of his vows. He joins a church and becomes actively involved. The very church which held his memorial service, and he remained there through many changes and permutations. He had two more children Michael & Mary whom he loved dearly and was excited to see grow into amazing people. But what I consider most heroic about my father was his attitude. Oh granted there remained flashes of the classic ‘Massengill Anger’. But after his salvation he spent his life trying to do for others. In my adolescence I was always amazed at his eagerness to share his faith with anyone he met. I am sure his fervor could be off-putting to some, but it made perfect sense that a drowning man couldn’t help but share the amazing ways he was saved from certain death. He loved nothing more than doing for others. I imagine many of you who read this have been the recipient of his offers to chop, haul, repair, repaint, listen, pray or uplift. I honestly believe he was trying to live his life for others. Perhaps most remarkable of all was his demeanor. He was happy to help, he was happy to just spend time with people. He was never bitter. It would have been easy to become bitter, many in similar situations do. One thing I learned from my father was to avoid ‘the pity party’. That life is not about what happened before but rather what to do about it now. And if you spend all your time crying ‘not fair’, you waste precious time you could be using to change, to make the future better. Life is not about the mistakes we make but rather what we do about the mistakes we make. My father is my hero and my role model because although he wasn’t famous or a great man by some people’s standards, he lived his life as and taught the lesson that we need to work with what we have, that regardless of the hand we are dealt, it is up to us to make something of our lives and live as examples of God’s grace, goodness and kindness.