One week ago today, in the middle of a crisp, technicolor Sunday afternoon, my dad passed away. That’s the reason for my long absence. And for his.
I thought I’d share the few words I spoke about his life at our family’s memorial services yesterday. If a better man ever lived, I didn’t have the chance to know him.
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Near bedtime one summer night when Allison was five and I was an exceedingly mature nine, a small spider showed up uninvited to the hallway outside our bedrooms. It wasn’t the kind of spider that jumps, or the kind that bites, or even the kind with the furry legs. But you wouldn’t have known any of that from the tone in Allison’s voice when she screamed bloody murder for Dad.
Always prepared, and always well-read, Dad grabbed the TIME magazine from the top of the pile and rolled it into a blunt weapon. I don’t think he liked spiders one bit more than Allison did. But when you sign up to teach a couple of little girls how to face the world with the same grace and the same abundant perspective that you yourself have shown every day of your life, spider extermination is simply a job requirement.
The problem was, the spider ran away before Dad got to the hallway. Dad couldn’t find it. If he couldn’t find it, he couldn’t kill it. And if he couldn’t kill it, little Allison couldn’t sleep.
Or so he thought. But then, as Dad often did, he took the time to think again. And he did something that perfectly characterized his elegant approach to solving all of life’s little problems, and to facing its big ones.
As Mom and I looked on, Dad tightened his grip on the magazine. He checked to see that Allison was safely out of view. He made direct, silent eye contact with Mom, then with me. I think I saw him raise an eyebrow just a touch, and I know I saw that fleeting, telltale Frank Gratzer gleam in his eye. He raised the magazine into the air. Then, with one swift, solid blow, he swatted the empty ground.
He waited a moment. He chose his words carefully.
“Okay, Allison!” he said.
“Okay, Dad,” she said, and went safely to sleep.
Later, he called me over for a little post-game wrap-up. He needed to be sure that I understood the integrity in his approach, and he wanted to be sure that I saw the humor in it.
It’s a trivial example, but that’s the point. Dad taught us all the important lessons about living a good life choice by choice, day by day. Always show up when you’re needed. Be prepared. Think critically in pursuit of the greater good. When you have to make a choice between getting the job done perfectly and making your family feel safe and loved, always choose your family.
And when you’ve done your best on all of those fronts every day of your life, you won’t have to sweat the small stuff. Not even if it has eight legs.
Dad, I never ran out of things to learn from the way you lived your life, and I know I never will. When I take the time to think again, there will always be more to see.