Friday, May 2, 2014

Eulogy for My Father

My dad, John Alan Barmack, died on November 3, 2009.  I was beginning to organize his letters and writings for posterity when I found the eulogy that I wrote and read at his funeral service.  I thought some of you who either knew my dad, or have lost your own dad, might appreciate it.  


When I was 25, I needed to have my wisdom tooth taken out.  I was in Boston at the time, staying with Dad and Sue.  My father offered to drive me to the dentist and hold my hand while they excised my tooth.

I thought, I am not a child.  I can have a tooth pulled out all by myself.

But the idea of holding my hand at the dentist's office was stuck in my father's head, just like the impacted tooth was stuck in mine.

We argued about it heatedly for days.

Ultimately, Dad drove me to the dentist.  He sat in the waiting room while I, in another room, was given an IV drip of Valium, to take the edge off.

After a minute or two on the Valium, I began to hallucinate.  I thought I was in a park, being mugged.  When it was over, and the Valium began to wear off, I found myself sobbing.  As the dentist and his two assistants retreated, someone reached out a hand to reassure me.

It was Dad, of course.

Sometimes, Dad knew that arguing with me was pointless.  When I announced my intention to marry a nuclear submarine officer, Dad, the socialist yachtsman, exercised restraint.  He was supportive.

And later, when I lived alone, Dad took me out to dinner a couple times every week.  We often ate at an organic restaurant in Jamaica Plain, and talked about relationships and life.  It was during one of those dinners that I had a sudden realization: Dad was a good friend.  For me, at 29, this was a revelation. Not only would Dad listen, when required; he would also offer deep and thoughtful insight.

Dad loved to be needed, and he always rose to the occasion.  Throughout my life, he was most engaged with and sensitive to me during my times of greatest need.  When my emotions were most raw, Dad was most tender.

Now is such a moment of crisis.

Earlier this week, I spent time in Dad's study.  Everywhere I looked, I saw evidence of his love.  He had put out a plate that I had given him for Father's Day in 1975.  A painted toucan made of balsa wood that I had given him peeked out from a shelf.  I saw photos of me as a baby, as a child, as a student, as a mom.  There were shots of Dad and my family and many photos of my son Josh, whose recent artwork was taped to the door.

I also found a box of photos that had been left open, on a chair, some of which dated back 1970, when Susie, our St. Bernard, was a puppy.

I hasten to add that the photos in Dad's office, and in the box of photos that I found, spanned his entire adult life and included many friends and family members.

There had always been photos of family on Dad's bureau, but now there seemed to be more, as if he had intentionally put more out for me to see.  Plus, there were all these little art projects around, which I had presented to him over the course of a childhood.

It felt like he had tried--in the event of this catastrophe--to reassure me in this way; to tell me, emphatically, in this moment of my great sadness, that he had treasured and loved me so much.

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