The celebration of life event for my dad is tomorrow. This is the eulogy I will be saying for him then. I reworked parts of an essay I wrote about him with the same title before he passed away in April.
Even if you never knew my dad, I hope this piece can give you some perspective today.
It was 1992 in the summer after my freshman year of high school. I was eating a snack in the kitchen when I overheard my dad talking to my aunt Marilyn about playing in a company golf tournament. Their real estate office was hosting a charity tournament a few weeks later. But my dad had barely played any golf in his life and he needed to practice first.
“Can I play?” I asked. To this day, I’m not sure what compelled me to say that.
My random inquiry eventually turned into a family outing for a lesson and a full eighteen-hole round of golf. It turns out that golf is the perfect sport for a tall, lanky, mostly introverted person like myself. I was hooked.
It was a busy Sunday at the golf course with groups stacked up back-to-back. We should have stuck to the driving range. Our family foursome made our way around the course in an excruciatingly slow fashion. My dad spent the majority of the round trying to keep us moving along. He was trying not to anger the group behind us while simultaneously keeping it fun for us. Knowing what I do now, I feel for how stressed he must’ve been.
I would slice the ball into the trees and my dad would say, “Hurry up and hit it again.” My brother Owen would hit a dribbler only a few yards down the fairway and my dad would say, “Hurry up and hit it again.” I’d get frustrated because I wasn’t able to hit the ball like I wanted to and my dad would say, “It’s okay, try it again and have fun.”
And have fun.
Hurry up and have fun.
We gave him a hard time about that phrase ever since.
But when we learned he had cancer, the phrase “hurry up and have fun” hit a whole lot differently.
My dad was always trying to balance working hard and playing hard. Real estate agents tend to work when other people don’t, so he would sometimes miss little league games and other events. But we always ate dinner together and went on many family trips, including week-long houseboat trips at Lake Shasta for something like seven years in a row. Owen and I looked forward to those trips every year.
I remember when I was old enough to drive the rental ski boat on my own, my dad would throw me the keys and say, “No hot doggin’ it.” I have no idea where that saying came from, but I knew exactly what it meant.
And I remember stocking up with supplies at Costco one year and he and my uncle Gary bought thirty thirty-packs of beer. For those counting, that’s a grand total of 900 beers. We had a big group going that year, but not that big. I think they still had 360 beers left by the end of the week.
I’m grateful that he worked so hard to create a comfortable life for our family. We were never worried about where our next meal would come from, or if the electricity would be turned off, or if we’d have a roof over our heads. I remember one Christmas when he pulled Owen and me aside and told us the real estate market hadn’t been kind that year so the presents would be lighter. But we still got presents.
I never felt deprived of anything.
In the back of my head, I always knew he’d be there to help if I needed it. And there were times when I did. Like when I racked up too much credit card debt in college or when my heater stopped working at the first condo I owned and I couldn’t afford to replace it on my own.
He provided an invisible safety net that I didn’t consciously realize was there until much later in life. It freed me up to pursue ambitious things like a career in music or playing professional poker.
That sense of security was a generous gift he provided and one I want to give to my family too. I want my daughter Em and stepdaughter Sara to feel like they can do something bold with their lives.
In November 2017, my parents visited us to celebrate my 40th birthday. At least that’s what they thought was going to happen. The real plan was to tell them Allison was pregnant. Before they arrived, I bet Allison they’d be looking for a house here in Sonoma that same weekend. Sure enough, they fired up Zillow less than an hour after we told them the news, and put in an offer on a place within a week.
It is a privilege I’m thankful they could afford.
With my dad’s frequent doctor visits, it was tough for them to travel here regularly, especially once COVID hit. Yet we talked on the phone or FaceTime more than we ever had in the past. My dad’s illness brought us closer together. It gave me some perspective on what’s important in life and we connected on a deeper level than ever before.
“My dad’s illness brought us closer together.”
Back in March of this year, we were fully vaccinated and felt comfortable traveling to Vegas for a visit.
The plan was for me to drive through the night while everyone else slept. But, of course, the best-laid plans almost never work. Instead, Em would wake up each time we’d hit a pothole, or when we stopped for gas and the white noise of the road faded, which meant Allison and Sara kept waking up too.
We finally made it to Vegas at 5:00 am. A friend of Owen’s had generously lent us his home since he was out of town. I fell asleep the instant my head hit the pillow at 5:30 am. Just one hour later, Owen called me and said, “Dad’s not doing well. You might want to head over there now.”
When I arrived, my dad was lying in bed. He looked pale and would drift off to sleep for a few seconds before suddenly opening his eyes, wincing and groaning in pain. All I saw was terror in his eyes. I braced myself mentally, thinking that it was the end for him. While driving the previous night, I had visions of spending quality time with him and asking him questions about his life. But those plans were dashed too.
We arranged for hospice to come that afternoon and they got him set up with the right meds to make him as comfortable as possible. It was a long day and I didn’t want to leave his side, but I was running on fumes and I had to sleep.
The next day, I was worried and still braced for the worst. Yet, when we arrived at the house, he had made a complete 180 and was back to his normal self—cracking dad jokes, reading me goofy puns he found online, and giving his opinion (whether we wanted it or not) on just about everything.
He was my dad again.
That incredible hospice nurse gave us an extra five weeks with him.
My mom later told me those were the best weeks they had spent together in years.
In the years since he was diagnosed, he fought hard through more types of treatment than I can count. It was difficult to see the toll the often toxic meds had on him, but they gave us more time to be present with him, to learn from him, to hear his stories, and I’m forever grateful.
There’s a quote from the artist Banksy that I can’t stop thinking about.
It goes like this: “They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”
It hit me hard when I first read it a few months before my dad passed. It’s a sad quote. But I also think it’s a call to action.
The people we lose live on in our hearts and minds through the stories we tell about them. These stories get passed down from generation to generation as long as they continue to be told.
As the writer, Chuck Palahniuk once wrote about his father, “May one of his many, many graves be always in my head.”
So please, keep saying my dad’s name and telling his stories.
He lives on when we say things like:
My uncle Pat told me this funny joke.
Or, my manager Pat taught me this lesson about real estate.
Or, my friend Pat shared this cool iPhone trick with me.
Or, my Army buddy Pat, call sign Phoenix 62, was one of the bravest helicopter pilots I flew with in Vietnam.
Or, my brother Pat helped me when I needed it most.
Or, my husband Pat was my best friend for almost forty-nine years.
Or, my dad, Pat McKeany, showed me how to live an honorable, loyal, and generous life and I miss him every single day.
My dad is no longer with us physically. But, if he was, I know what he’d say. He’d tell us to hurry up and have fun.
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