Delivered September 12, 2013
On behalf of our family, I welcome you and thank you all for coming today.
I think if my dad were here, he’d be thinking that this was all a bit much. He never wanted people to make a fuss about him. But today is about him, as we say farewell and celebrate my dad’s life.
It was a good life, with shares of triumphs and tragedies. He was the second child of my Grandma Mae and my Grandpa Tom, and he had an older sister, Frances. They were raised during the Great Depression, and both my grandparents worked hard, in many different jobs, to keep the family afloat. Frances died in 1938 of strep throat, something that would be unthinkable today. But penicillin was still a few years away.
Dad enlisted in the Navy in 1943, right after high school, and was lucky enough to fall in with a group of guys in training that stuck together and looked out for one another. They went to engineering school together, and my dad told me that the old man of the group, who had been in the Merchant Marine and was probably all of 25, set him straight when Dad wanted to volunteer to drive the amphibious landing craft onto the beaches. His friend patiently explained that Dad would be the only person with his head sticking up over the armor, and did he really think that was a good idea?
Dad and his buddies began their Navy deployment in the South Pacific, landing on islands that were then called the New Hebrides. Their ship was on its way to get them when it was involved in a collision just south of Hawaii, and had to turn around to be repaired in Washington State. So Joe and his friends were stuck on the islands with sealed orders, no pay, and nowhere official to live. They got by doing odd jobs, bunking where they could, and always kept one step ahead of the hungry Marine recruiters, who were snatching idle Navy guys off the beach and sending them to the front. Dad told me that his basic training in 1943 was so hurried, his firearms training was firing one shot from a .22, so he didn’t think becoming an instant Marine was a good idea.
Instead, Dad ended up as a fireman and water tender on the battleship USS Washington, working with the giant steam boilers in the engine room, sometimes even sleeping on top of them. He had to make sure the fuel and air mixture was right, so the ship’s exhaust smoke was neither white nor black, either of which could give away the ship’s position to the enemy. It was hard, sweaty work, but he quickly got good at it. After the war’s end, he continued with the Washington as it ferried troops home from England, finally mustering out of the Navy in Boston. There, in a club, he asked a young lady to dance. That fateful Lindy Hop led to a 40 year marriage to Dorothy, the love of his life, four children (Marie, Pattie, myself, and Robert), and a move from New York to California for an accounting job at Northrop.
After moving to Westminster, he became tired of commuting and wanted to be his own boss, so he began his tax preparation business, where he met so many of you. He and my mom ran the business together until her passing in 1989. After that, he continued alone until my brother Robert joined the practice.
Dad was a private man, and he wasn’t big on emotional displays. But he was kind and generous, always ready to help out a family member or friend who needed a hand. He understood that a little cash at just the right time could work miracles in someone’s life. I know that many people here today have been helped in ways that only they and my Dad know about.
More than anything else, my father worked to take care of his family. During the years he was building the tax business, that meant different jobs and business ventures. Personally, I especially liked the summer he spent driving an ice cream truck. When his mother could no longer live on her own, she came to live with him, and Dad took care of Grandma Mae until her passing at the age of 98. If any of you knew my grandmother, you understand that being her primary caregiver for more than two years was just about enough to qualify Dad for sainthood.
My dad loved fishing. When I was scanning our big box of family photos, I found so many pictures of him as a young man holding up fish he had caught that I asked if he always kept some fish in the trunk of his car as a prop, just in case someone wanted to take a picture of him. I think that’s one reason he had a special bond with my brother Robert, because he’s the only one of us kids who has the fishing bug.
In later years, I’m happy to say that my dad found companionship and a return to the friskiness of his youth with the help of some lady friends. I’m so glad they came into his life, because he must have been lonely after my mother’s passing.
My dad taught me so very much, just by being the person he was. I was born with a disability, and once I asked him what went through his mind when he found out. Did he have doubts? Did he have regrets? And he told me no. That he and my mom knew it would be harder with me than with my older sisters, but that things were what they were, and you just had to deal with them. That what matters was how you work through problems. He wasn’t given to complaint or self-pity, even when his illness began to ride him hard.
And just last night, at his memorial service, Dad gave me another gift. I discovered that he’s been bragging to friends and clients for years about my book writing career. I’d never really known he took such pride in my work. And I heard similar stories about how proud he was of the life’s work of my siblings, and his grandchildren.
Earlier this year, when we discovered the extent of my dad’s illness, all of us in the family did what we could to help out. But I have to especially express my profound thanks and gratitude to Marie and my brother-in-law Phil for their extraordinary, loving care of our dad in the last days of his life. They did all they could to prevent his suffering and make sure his life ended with dignity.
About two weeks ago, I spoke to my dad on the phone, and told him that the next day, I’d be driving from my home in Northern California to come see him in Las Vegas, where he was in hospice care at Marie and Phil’s home. He said, “I think that’s a good idea.” He knew his time was coming to an end. When I got there, I went in to see him, and we talked for just a few minutes. He was awfully weak, and I didn’t want to wear him out. Besides, what mattered to us both was that I was there. And the next day I was privileged to be holding his hand as he passed away.
Today is a sad day; it’s very hard for me to say goodbye to my father. But I’m happy to have known him. I’m proud to be his son. And I know we will all remember him.