Wednesday, September 13, 2023
Today is my father's birthday. We haven't had a service for him yet. He passed in February.
I wrote the following eulogy not long after he passed, for me to process, because that's what I needed to do. It's less a summary of his accomplishments than a look into how he loved as a father.
How do I say goodbye to the person I knew I could rely on no matter what else went on in our family, at school, my life as an adult? He was my first teacher, and led by example.
“Here is a nail, here is a hammer, line it up with the one I just hammered in. Hold it steady. That’s it, you got it.”
Here is a ball and glove, now catch. Hold your gloved hand out and support the catch with your throwing hand. Oops. That’s okay, pick it up, toss it back to me, aim for my glove, we’ll do it again. That’s right in the pocket.
Hold the frisbee level, flick your wrist and follow through to where you want it to go.
This is how to paddle a boat.
Here’s how to toss a fishing line out. Shhh, quiet or the fish won’t bite. We’d listen to birds and breeze, and watch for a fish to tug the line.
He taught me how to call and respond with the birds, identifying a chickadee from a cardinal or blue jay.
Here’s how to angle your racquet and catch the sweet spot. Now you can roll it in a curve, so it drops over the net forcing your opponent to run for it. If they manage to hit it back, you are the one in control. Now that they’re close to the net, hit it hard to the back corner, just inside the line. That’s it, you’ve got it!
By the time I was 12, he and I stalemated in chess and gin. We’d play games for days, adding another 100 points or 2 out of 3, 3 out of 5, 7 out of 10... He never let me win, I had to learn and earn it.
You haven’t driven a standard yet? You’ve been switching gears from the passenger seat since you were little. Here. He pulls up to the bottom of a steep hill at Fairfield U. Get out. Come on around. You’ve got this.
No matter how many times I choked the gear and stalled trying to get up that hill, he never gave me a hard time. He was patient with me, no matter how anxious and frustrated I got, he believed I could do it. That was enough to get me up that hill, and then to fall in love with driving a standard, knowing the feel of the road under me, and how to react to it.
He held on, supported, and let go when he knew it was right for me from bicycle to water skiing, and downhill skiing, to driving, to when I left home. He knew I had to figure life out on my own, and I knew I had a safety net when I needed it.
That was my Dad. When I was little and we’d watch 60Minutes, Disney, Lassie, M*A*S*H, Rockford Files, I’d sit in his lap or cuddle next to him, and try to match my breath and heartbeat to his slow and steady pace. I don’t know that I ever did. But when I get out of sorts about a lot of things, I always remember his calm, and I still try to match his slow steady breath and heart beat when I need to calm myself.
I know my relationship with him was different from my brothers’. It wasn’t a matter of favorites. I think he just wanted to be sure I would be okay and able to look out for myself, yet I always knew if I needed him, he was there. He’s not a phone call away anymore. We can’t talk about the weather or gardening, two things we shared a love for.
One of the last conversations we had while his mind was clear, after they extubated him, went like this:
He held my hand and I could see he knew it was serious since I was at the hospital. He then got that look on his face where I knew he was setting me up, ever the straight man for a family of comedians, the Abbott to all our Costellos. “Cathy… you wouldn’t know anything about being sick, would you?”
“Daaaad, I just survived cancer!”
We both laughed pretty hard, which made him choke, and the nurses came running. But I think that laugh was worth it for both of us.
Days later, when he was kind of in and out of sensible consciousness, he had a moment when he tilted his head up, talking to mom, and said, “our kids are good.”
He put up a fight with the nurses more often than not after that, and I think that was his way of saying he was ready to go be with her. Now they’ll be here together forever. The way she wanted it, to be with her family forever. Because that’s what he always did for Mom.
He was the quiet one of us, even as he was just as stubborn as the rest of us. His calm and steadfastness never waivered when it came to us.
He loved us, and he did his job to raise us with integrity and to enjoy the simple things, a good tennis swing, a medium rare steak or burger, and potatoes on the grill with a beer; the quiet of a paddle out on a lake; a bowl of vanilla bean ice cream; the sun setting over the neighborhood, his gardens, and us.
I miss you, Papa. (It’s a beautiful clear day with a nice breeze.)
Kenneth Raymond Coley, September 13, 1936 - February 8, 2023
Thank you for staying to the end,