Friday, August 21, 2020

Eulogy for my father-in-law

In loving memory of Robert Douglas:

The annual Fourth of July firework show in the backyard at my house was not the most extraordinary show you’ll ever see. It featured two kids: one of them my son and one of them my father-in-law. I always thought the basic goal was to try to set my backyard on fire and at the same time joyfully attempt to see who could be rushed to the emergency room first. Of course, it was really just two pals having a great time together like they always did.

Thank you for coming today to this celebration of the life of Robert Douglas. Today we remember a man who always showed us nothing but love. A man who made up for what he didn’t possess with the gift of being there for us in countless ways. A man who was Always Present.

Always there to be a friend to his kids and especially his grandkids, Tyler, Nicholas, Eva, Max, and Elise. He wanted nothing more than to experience life with them and to be their companion. In spirit he was truly just an overgrown kid in so many good ways. He had a big imagination, playfulness, and a love for toys. So many toys. Boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of toys. If you could think of a unique toy from history, and I mean any time in history, he had one of them. And if he had one of them, he actually had several of them. While some were in mint condition stored away waiting to one day be sold, in most cases they were not perfect. As Max liked to say, “all of papa’s stuff is just a little bit broken.” A pristine, brand-new toy right out of the box is ideal. But that is not reality. Reality is being able to play with the toy you have and use your imagination to fill in for that which is missing. Having the toy that is slightly broken is better than not having a toy at all. Being there matters. Present and imperfect is infinitely better than absent and completely gone. 

Robert was a wise man of few words. But when he spoke, it was meaningful. He had seen a lot of life. He was accomplished, well traveled, scholarly, and street smart. He was a collector of many treasures of an astonishing variety. He had an eye for quality and great instincts for trade—an arbitrageur and bargain hunter extraordinaire. Truly a renaissance man. 

He was a dreamer. His wondering, optimistic mind always hopeful for what might be next. It led him to many dead ends and dreams left unfulfilled. But it also took him on many adventures. Each one starting with little more than a hopeful destination and a willingness to try something new. Such is the life of a wandering writer, which he very literally was. He left behind many journals, poetry, screenplays, and an unfinished novel we hope to publish someday soon. 

As much as he wanted to take that trip around the world completing travels he had begun decades ago and as much as he wanted to do so many, many other things that he was not too proud to ponder aloud, economic reality constrained him. But another inertia kept him moored as well—loyalty to his children and a desire to always be a part of their lives. Always present. 

He was not ever in any way a complainer. His toleration of pain was matched with his toleration of the worst conditions. When he traveled with us on vacation, he happily would volunteer for the worst bed or couch to sleep on, the chore of babysitting at night after a long day on the beach, and any other sacrifice to make sure he was doing his part and never in the way. He had a strong desire to always be needed and helpful. This desire included small kindnesses like driving grandkids to practice and patiently keeping watch. It also included selfless acts of great generosity. When Eva’s father, Brian, was diagnosed with cancer, Robert immediately without hesitation volunteered to do anything April needed including moving to Chicago to be there directly and permanently to help. 

Robert wandered long to find a home. He served honorably in the United States Army. He worked for the U.S. Foreign Service as a translator and codebreaker. For many years he taught at various public and private schools. Entrepreneurially, he tried his hand at professional photography, one of his many skills, owning and operating a studio and engaging in many freelance projects with large clients. There were many other endeavors. All had their moments, but none were the right fit. Some combination of discontent or an itch for something new would send him along a new path.

At the age of 70 he finally found his place at All Saints Catholic School. For the first two years he taught grammar and English. This year finally and for the first time he was embarking on teaching literature, one of his many passions. He was greatly looking forward to it. This was one of his dreams coming true. 

I think he knew that he was in really bad shape this past week. He emailed April early last Friday morning saying that he was going to need help leaving school that day. Later in the emergency room she asked him why he hadn’t just asked her to come get him right away that morning. He said it was because he wanted to see all of his students before going away. We’re not sure if he meant to see them once more expecting to return after a while or one last time forever. 

The limits of life are hard. One papa only has so many chances to be with five grandchildren. Robert did the best job he could to give his time and his love to his kids and grandkids. I’d like to think that now he gets the endless pleasure of being able to be witness, to be silently present with all of his grandkids all of the time not having to make any sacrifices among them but being able to just watch them live life. He will forever be in our hearts and always present.

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