This is the eulogy I gave at my father's funeral today.
When I think about my dad, many things come to mind. But what I remember most about him is that he believed in second chances and he also believed in service to others.
Dad was, to a fault, someone who would always turn the other cheek and who didn’t believe in giving up on someone. I like to think that is because second chances changed his life many times.
- In high school, he was an average student who really only cared about his carpentry and shop classes and had no plans to go to college. His high school math/ carpentry teacher, Bill Davis, pulled him aside and gave him a second chance and the encouragement he needed to see life beyond Miami, Oklahoma.
So he put in the work and spent years at junior college taking required classes and eventually double-majored in Industrial Arts and Mathematics at Oklahoma State University, finishing a bachelor’s education in six years instead of four.
- Right after he finished college, dad got a draft notice from the US Army. On the advice of his uncle, he went to the Air Force recruiter and asked to have his enlistment backdated, because his odds were better in the sky than they were in the Vietnamese jungle. The recruiter agreed. Once in the Air Force, he earned an alternate slot to Officer Training School. Then he earned an alternate slot into flight school. Each of these second chances kept him Stateside and out of harm’s way for a bit longer. He did go on to serve in Vietnam, logging countless hours as the navigator in the F-4 Phantom.
- Eventually, his fighter pilot lifestyle caught up with him and he got a DUI. He was given a second chance by his base commander and sent to Alcoholics Anonymous. He made the most of that chance at redemption – for himself and for others.
Dad was always a friend to the underdog, to the person whom society had given up on long ago. AA was a place where dad would sponsor those who had ceased to believe in themselves, because he knew they needed someone to believe in them. It was also a place where he would gladly give his last dollar to someone who needed it more than him, helping many folks finish school and stay sober. Dad’s time in AA was defined by service to others. He spent many hours doing H&I work in schools and hospitals. And that is consistent with the man I knew.
- He spent 24 years in uniform. While there, he took many Airmen under his wing, mentoring and counseling them on financial matters, family issues, and the job.
- When it was time to retire from active duty, he went back to the career he’d planned before Vietnam intervened—he wanted to teach high school, not to the college-prep kids, but to the kids who’d been like him … smart enough to succeed if they worked hard and had a teacher who cared enough to help them along the way.
After he died, I got a note from a friend who had gone to my high school. She told me of dad’s patience and countless extra hours with her, helping her get through ‘remedial’ math after she failed pre-algebra. His time spent with her made all the difference – she got back on track and went on to college. She now teaches high school, too.
- Even when faced with a horrible cancer diagnosis, dad remained focused on serving others. Once he was diagnosed with stage IV bladder cancer, he chose a path of treatment that wasn’t just about him beating the disease. He underwent two brutal clinical trials because he firmly believed that if doctors had anything to learn about the disease, he wanted them to use what they learned from him to help others.