This blog is a place for me to share my thoughts in the process of development. Since I tend to be all over the place in terms of my interests, these thoughts will roam from politics, to philosophy, to theological reflections, to books I am reading. I invite comments questions, challenges and general feedback.
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
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
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.