Eulogy for my father

My father’s funeral was a year ago today, in San Diego. Today is also his birthday. He would have been 91. I’m posting the Eulogy I wrote and said at his funeral Mass, mainly because I want to keep track of it and this is a good way. It’s strange because when my father was alive, I never would have described us as “close”–our relationship was complicated in the way every relationship is complicated–yet I miss him tremendously, every day, as much as I miss my mother and in some ways, more so. In a few years, I might have enough distance to write about my father, and the power he had over me, over all of us in the family. But for now, I’ll post his Eulogy, and remember him with love.

 

Good morning. I’m Jessica O’Dwyer, Bob’s third daughter. Bob—and his late wife, our mother, Gerry–had five children, eight grandchildren, and one great grandchild. On behalf all of us, thank you for coming. Thank you especially to our Uncle Roger, Bob’s youngest brother, and our cousin Sean, for traveling from Texas. Thank you to the community at San Rafael, where Bob attended Mass regularly and, afterward on Sunday, consumed many donuts with good friends.

Bob’s Catholic religion was a guiding principle in his life. Perhaps THE guiding principle. He raised his five children Catholic, herding us to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. He sent us to Catholic schools and made sure we received the Sacraments. More than that, he led his life according to the Golden Rule: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Beneath his rough exterior, Bob was kind. Compassionate. He was the first to extend his hand to help when it was needed. He understood hardship.

He also loved a good laugh. Bob collected jokes—Irish jokes, Jewish jokes, Italian jokes. Jokes that began “A priest, a minister and a rabbi walked into a bar.” He loved comedians from the Marx Brothers to Ellen DeGeneres. He’d watched every Seinfeld episode so many times he could quote the dialogue.

To his family, Bob was protector and provider. He rose at 4:30 AM to catch the commuter train in our New Jersey town to the high school where he taught in the South Bronx. When school was out, he caught another train downtown where he supervised a night school. Weekends, he did odd jobs for extra cash; summers, he “shipped out” to exotic ports, working as an engineer. When he was scheduled to pick us up, we never had to worry if he’d be on time. His adhered to the motto: “If you’re not early, you’re late.” My mother called him “Johnny on the Spot.”

And oh, how he loved her, his wife Gerry. Up until his very last days, he’d marvel that he’d gotten so lucky, that they found each other, that they’d shared such a beautiful life. They met on a blind date and fell in love at first sight. Theirs was a grand and happy union that lasted 63 years. I have no doubt they’re together now.

Bob was an avid bridge player who loved classic films, historic documentaries, and good food. On Saturdays, he cooked spaghetti sauce while Italian opera played on the radio. His Thanksgiving stuffing was legendary. (His secret was ground beef, cashews, and hot sausage. Lots of spices.)

Bob was opinionated and vocal, a writer of letters to the editor, including one from the 1980s’s that warned against the presence of “internal passports,” published in the New York Times. He was a master at agreeing to disagree. He believed in the dignity of all people, equal education and equal opportunity.

Bob’s presence was large and so was his heart. We miss him already.

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