I attended my aunt’s funeral recently. She was the last of her generation in my mother’s or my father’s family.
Two of her children and one grandchild eulogized her and spoke of her affection and her infectious love of fun. It was acknowledged that she had had an unusually tragic childhood.
My uncle, her husband, passed away about fifteen years ago. Only honor was spoken for both parents. Yet I know there was such turmoil in that home. How does it all add up?
An extremely conflicted marriage which bore legendary stories produced five upstanding, moral, faithful, loving people. And each one produced functional homes and happy families of their own. Such is not always the case.
Somehow a couple who clashed tragically, worked together. They persevered to guide five children to responsible adulthood. The kids had two models who together covered most of the bases and who somehow taught them well to discard the bad examples and to emulate the good.
He was everything good in this world and protection from everything bad.
My cousin had this to say of her Dad. She borrowed it from her brother who wrote it for his eulogy.
It was certainly true for them and their siblings. I knew that he stood in the way between his kids and a lot of negative outcomes. The fact that all five turned out well is the proof of his success.
I knew him as a guy who had a way with stories, who loved to visit his elderly mother (my grandmother, who lived with us) on Wednesday nights for a glass of wine and a lot of laughs. According to his kids he was also a rock-solid course-corrector. In the face of nonsense, he was no nonsense. He poured out his whole life, all of his energy and time, for his family and for his kids.
And here is the thing that I think makes him truly remarkable: he stuck with a marriage that most today would have abandoned. This marriage was not one in which he found comfort, peace, or support. Clearly there was nothing in it for him for many years.
He stayed with his children.
Would anyone say this about him:
He was everything good in this world and protection from everything bad
if he had not chosen to stay and face the conflict every day, and owned the responsibility to keep his family on a straight course?
Today we are encouraged to live our own lives, to pursue our own particular brand of happiness, and to let go of what–and who–makes our lives anything but happy. Just walk away if you perceive another person as “toxic.” In other words we are encouraged to jettison difficulties, and to exclude what–and who–does not serve us.
How will we ever know what kind of people we are? If my uncle had not lived in the crucible, would he have known the steadfastness of which he was capable? Would his children know he was a hero?
It was a different time. He lived by an old code. Men were men. He stood up and did his duty. You can say all these trite things.
But it seems to me old codes and doing one’s duty, being a man and living according to a different time…knowing how men are expected to behave and committing to being a man…are all things that work. Thank God there are people who fulfill their promises, no matter how much it takes from them, who commit without turning back, who endure no matter what comes.
Fathers can be heroes, and my uncle was one.