I have little to say about the funeral, except for a couple of things that made me happy. First, I was happy that my dad’s brother, my uncle Maurice, got up to speak at the service. He is now the only surviving member of that group of siblings, and it was good and right that he got up to speak, even though he doesn’t get around too quickly and most of his hearing is gone.
The other thing that made me happy was that every one of the eight of us siblings went up to the podium and spoke at the service. This wasn’t planned; it just worked out that way. Some of us are accustomed to public speaking and some of us aren’t, so it was great to have that happen. The substance of any of our speeches doesn’t bear repeating here. Suffice it to say that some personal and appropriate remarks were made, but the symbolic value of all of us making the effort to go up there is the important and lasting fact.
I’ve puzzled for a long time over the question of what I might have inherited from my father in terms of personal traits. In the end, I cannot claim to know the answer, but I can look at my father and identify a few traits I might wish to possess. I might wish to possess his bullshit detector. Whether listening to politicians, businessmen, engineers, entertainers, or family members, he had a great instinct for B.S. Most of the time, he kept this knowledge to himself; he usually only voiced it if there were some constructive reason for doing so. In this way, he also demonstrated an admirable level of restraint; I, by comparison, am often unable to resist calling out a B.S.er even when doing so is counterproductive. But I suppose the words ego and restraint describe a large part of the difference between my father and me.
It is unfortunate, but perhaps unavoidable, that my father’s last weeks were unpleasant and painful in many ways. It’s true that he felt blessed to have survived for as long as he had; he often referred to the “bonus time” he found himself enjoying, far beyond anything he’d ever expected. It’s also true that his health problems of recent years had given him a clear view of his impending demise. But it’s equally true that he had no wish to die, so while one part of him accepted the inevitability of death, another part most certainly did not welcome it.
Just yesterday, I received news that my dad’s house in Roseville, Michigan has found a buyer. An investor actually bid over our asking price and the sale should be closed in June. I’ve been asked how I feel about that; saying goodbye to a place that’s been such a center of family activity. My answer is that I’m fine with it. When I stayed there in March to attend the funeral, I looked around and told myself I’d probably never set foot in the place again. And really, we didn’t move there until 1984, so it isn’t the house I grew up in.
But there is a larger issue that the divestment of the Roseville house brings up. It has to do with our identity as a family. There are eight of us. We cover a wide variety of lifestyles, tastes, political views and philosophical viewpoints. For many years, we’ve been kept in touch by the presence of our parents. With them gone, we no longer have that external factor keeping us together. It’s entirely up to us now.
Please understand, I’m not saying we have to stay in contact. Heck, I’m the guy who left Detroit for Chicago almost 20 years ago, so that would be an odd role for me to play. And frankly, it doesn’t matter what anyone says about that – it’s going to sort itself out. I just want everyone to know about it so they can be aware of it unfolding. Before you realize it, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself thinking, “Gee, I haven’t seen [Sibling X] in years!” This doesn’t have to be a good thing, or a bad thing, but with a family as large and spread out as ours, it may be inevitable.
So how would my dad feel about that? I suspect he’d shrug and say it’s up to us – and he’d be right. It reminds me of a conversation I had with him once about what his hopes and dreams for his children were. I wondered whether he’d hoped that one of his children might have followed in his footsteps in the automotive industry, or perhaps been a chiropractor like his friend Doctor John, or perhaps gone into a religious order. His answer went something like this:
“Every one of you had your own personality from the first day I laid eyes on you. I never wanted to tell any of you what to do with your lives. I wanted all of you to be individuals and make your own choices.”
When I look at the diversity in our family, I can see that he got his wish. And even if he never told us what to do with our lives, he left us countless examples of his own integrity and common sense as stars to steer by.