Friday, May 20, 2016

A Good Man, a Complicated Relationship and the Measure of Greatness

Dad and I in 2012
 
(Note: My father, Darrell “Derry” Boyd, died on May 3, 2016 of natural causes at the age of 89. For the last two years of his life he lived happily in a skilled nursing facility in Wayzata, MN, but for the years previous he had lived a full, active and by all accounts enjoyable life. The Memorial Service for my dad was held on May 11, 2016. What follows is an adaptation of the remarks I shared at that service.)

I am so thankful for all the people who took the time in the days following my Dads’ death to write or say how he had touched their lives.  Old friends, friends of my siblings and me, former co-workers, babysitters, church folk, and many more wrote emails, sent cards and contacted us personally to share how he had impacted their lives, and to tell us what a caring, fun-loving and personable man he had been. It was overwhelming in a good way, but also confusing.

Often when I have gone to funerals or memorial services, particularly of the parents or siblings of a friend, that is, a funeral of someone I really did not know personally, I have come away wishing I had gotten to know the deceased better because they sounded like such a great person.

In a way that was my experience in the week following the death of my father because I did not know him in the way that so many people spoke of him; I didn’t even know him in the same way as my own siblings. I am the oldest of eight children and the early years of my life were characterized more by Dad’s absence than his presence.  Because of his job as a salesman he was forced to travel a lot because of his work with 3M Company. He would leave on Monday morning and would not return until Friday. Sometimes he was gone 2-3 weeks at a time. Until I was 12 or 13 he just wasn't around.

Dad and I want I was 2 or 3
By the time he was around, I had moved into that stage of adolescent life where kids believe their parents don’t know anything. Then I went to college and never really lived at home again for an extended period time. That time of his absence in my early youth left a gap, a hole, that Dad and I were never able to bridge.  We didn't have a bad relationship but never had a good relationship, the kind of relationship one wishes they had with their father. We did not understand each other, and did not have that deeper bond that could transcend the space between us. 

Furthermore, we never were able to recover that lost time. Despite some attempts to patch things, up, I don't know that either of us tried hard enough to do so. Yet all the kind words of others helped me see another side of him, and I am thankful for that.

Dad and I did not agree on much. I came of age in the late 60’s in the midst of the anti-Vietnam war movement, the end of the Civil Rights Movement, and the emergence of feminist and environmental movements.  Dad and I had strong disagreements when it came to the Vietnam war, politics, economics, social issues, the role of business, and who ought to be the next president. I remember in high school and during summers when I would come back from college, sitting at the table after dinner with my father debating whatever the current issue of the day was. He clearly thought I was wrong in my view, I knew he was wrong (!). Through those debates and discussions, I learned how to disagree agreeably. Dad never raised his voice, and always backed his points up with evidence. At times my mother would get very emotional and try to jump in to support my father’s views. Dad would turn to her and say “Sis, if you can’t stay calm, you are going to have to go in another room, until you cool down,” which of course only worked her up more. However, I learned from those after dinner debates that I could disagree with someone without disrespecting them. I can’t say I always kept my cool – I am more like my mother in that way - but the lesson has stayed with me and gotten me through many difficult times.
Dad and I in 2009


  
The most impressive thing I think Dad did in my mind was to take care of my mom when she began to develop Alzheimer’s in her late 50’s. When he was 63 he stepped down from his job at 3M, a job that he clearly loved and was good at. He devoted himself to taking care of Mom. What amazed and impressed me was the tenderness and gentleness with which he cared for her. Upon reflection I think that tenderness was there all the time in subtle ways. Despite all the time he spent away from the family when I was young, he always made a point to take Mom out on Saturday night for dinner, a movie, or dancing, and they often took vacations, just two of them, and left us kids under the care of others (from which there are many interesting stories - Parents, do you know what your children are doing when you are away?). I think his care and love and tenderness for Mom was always there, it just took her getting sick for me, perhaps for all of us, to see it.

After she passed, he showed that same tenderness with Junie, a woman he was with for 10 years. Junie was much different than my Dad (and my mom, for that matter). She is an artist and a Democrat (I thought there might yet be hope for Dad!). His tenderness with both Mom and Junie reminded me that there is always more to a person than meets the eye; that was certainly the case with Dad.


With the Grandchildren 
Of all the emails and cards about my Dad, the one that touched me the deepest was something that my daughter Phoebe wrote when she heard about her Poppy’s death. She wrote:

  Thank you Poppy for showing us the way to be great. You               lived a happy, honest, and fun life. You never stopped                     encouraging us to be ourselves, to be great and most of all             to love one another.



The phrase "you taught us to be great" caused me to reflect on what greatness is. Greatness is not measured in the amount of money one has earned, or the accomplishments in one's life, or how much power one has accrued, or the position one has achieved.

These are the ways our culture measures greatness. These are the ways that 3M Company for whom my father worked his whole career, measures greatness. Just take a look at who is listed as Time’s “100 Most Influential People”, that is the criteria they use.

However, that's not true greatness. True greatness is measured in the lives one impacts and hearts one touches. Dad was successful in business and in many areas of his life, but his true greatness is measured in the lives he impacted and the hearts he touched.  Dad's greatness is seen in the way he treated  his 14 grandchildren, my wife and the other spouses in our family, my seven siblings, the people who worked with him and for him, his many friends, Mom, and even me.

I approached the service celebrating my father’s life with great ambivalence. I had a great deal of regret for what he and I did not share with each other, for the gap that always existed between us. However, the testimonies of others, even my own children, speak to a kind of greatness that I can only describe as Grace,  the gift of seeing someone I admired and loved, but with whom I also struggled, through the eyes of others.
His 88th birthday - 2015




2 comments:

Brenda Rich said...

I love how your dad aND you learned to talk about difficult topics together. That was a gift! Thanks for sharing it all, Drick.

Brenda Rich said...

I love how your dad aND you learned to talk about difficult topics together. That was a gift! Thanks for sharing it all, Drick.