There is a story in one of my Dad’s books, The Girls From Ames, about a girl named Marilyn and the relationship that she had with her father. This storyline always resonated with me because Marilyn’s father, Dr. McCormack, seemed like a pretty remarkable man. Marilyn and her father seemed to share a beautiful bond. It reminded me of my own relationship with my father. There was a particular line that touched my Dad and me the most. Right before Marilyn left for college and was worried about being away from home, her father said, “Here’s what we’ll do: we’re going to keep you at the end of our fishing line, and if you ever need anything, you just give a little tug and we’ll reel you back in.”
My dad didn’t just keep my sisters and me at the end of a fishing line. He let us keep him in our pockets. He was more accessible to us than any other resource in the universe. He managed to give us guidance without telling us what to do, he was our rock without being a crutch and he was the light of all our lives without ever letting us live in his shadow. He was perfect. He was and is as perfect as a father can be.
You’re all here today because my father has touched your life in some way. He has a tendency to do that. He touches lives for a living. And then he comes home and continues to warm his family’s hearts with his endless loving acts of kindness. It was nonstop. He did such a great job of making sure we knew how much he loved us that we used to feel his love even after he went to bed. That’s how we can still feel it now.
I remember realizing how special he was when I was little and he would turn on music in the family room and start a Saturday morning dance party that involved a conga line and some upbeat Springsteen tunes. We were the five happiest people in the world and that’s how we celebrated our happiness. The song we seemed to obsess over on those Saturday mornings was the underrated Bruce Springsteen song entitled, “Without You.” I know contextually it’s hard to believe that these lyrics accompanied a very upbeat track:
Monday, I go to work
Tuesday, can’t find my shirt
Wednesday, I’m feeling blue
I’m helpless, darling, without you.
It was the most fun song any of us had ever heard. The song had us all bopping around the family room loving life. When I look back to those lyrics – probably the least poetic of any of Bruce’s songs – I think they’re about the frustrations of a long distance relationship.
That’s what we’re gearing up for with you, Dad. A functional, long distance relationship where we still talk every day and know exactly how much we love each other because we took the time to say the words and express our emotions when we were together. Not only did you express your love for us, but you inspired other fathers to follow suit. Whether you were writing a column in the Wall Street Journal about leaving your daughter a little note in her lunch or encouraging parents across the world to hug their kids, fathers looked to you for guidance, for creative ideas of ways to express love and for ways to go about it in a meaningful and effective way.
How is the world supposed to go on without you? You made it such a better place and would have continued to do so, I know it.
There is a hebrew phrase, “Tikun Olam,” that means repairing the world. People often mistake this phrase for meaning giving tzdukah or recycling. You helped repair the world just by being you. Sure, you were a philanthropist, but your personality and the way you treated people contributed to the Tikun Olam efforts in extraordinary ways. It’s really beautiful to think about. The world was undeniably a better place when you were in it and is a better place because of the things you did in your life.
It’s a funny problem I’m having right now. Not being able to find the words to express my love, my sadness and my gratitude for your life. I pray that you’ll give me the words – or at least the strength to be able to articulate how great of a loss this is for myself, my family and the world. I love you – truly more than these words or any words will ever be able to express. I love that you already know that. I love you.