A Eulogy for My Father
In a letter my father wrote to my brother’s he said “I have rarely felt sad about myself as a person. Somewhere in my past, probably as a result of not having anything, or feeling that good at anything, I said to myself when I was pretty young what’s really important in life? The answer I came up with was the kind of person you are – not what you accomplish. This is the psychological base from which I have operated on.” Now my father actually had a lot of outward success, he was elected to the Illinois State High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, he won city championships, many tennis trophies, had a column in the newspaper, was athletic director of flagship Chicago public high school, but by far his greatest accomplishment was the kind of person he was.
My father was the kind of person who was never bitter, despite the fact that he was born the day after the stock market crashed, was in an orphanage for 5 years during the great depression, lived in the projects in Chicago and got picked on for being Jewish, put himself through college, and was drafted into the Korean war. In fact he thought he had the best life ever. Perhaps it was because he had so little, he was exceedingly grateful for everything he had. He couldn’t believe his great fortune in life. He married the love of his life, had beautiful children, daughters in law, grandchildren, and even success in his career. He always said he got more than he ever wanted.
My father was the kind of person who stood up against cruelty, injustice, and all the school bullies. He was tough. And although he wasn’t big he won every fight. I never knew he stood up against bullies until just recently. He was always quiet, kind, and sweet, so it surprised me how tough he was. But I admired him so much for his courage and his certainty in right and wrong.
My father was the kind of person that despite the fact he realized he was on his own at 8 years old he took it upon himself to take care of others.
My father was the kind of person who saved a boy’s life whose leg was run over by a train and who never mentioned it once even though he was honored and praised for it by the principal of his school and the superintendent of the whole Chicago public school system.
My father was the kind of person who could have been an officer in the army because he was a college graduate, but turned it down because he didn’t want to be responsible for sending other people into danger.
My father was the kind of person who despite the fact that he was competitive and wanted to win, winning wasn’t his goal. He cared much more about the young men whose lives he was shaping and made sure every single player on his team played in every game, no matter their ability.
My father was the kind of person who was generous to a fault, gave everything away, would pick you up anywhere, anytime and never felt inconvenienced. He would do anything for you, not out of obligation, but out of his truly kind and generous spirit.
My father was the kind of person who despite his illness would wake up everyday and say “tomorrow I’ll be better”. He always had a positive attitude, never took life too seriously, and found every reason to laugh.
My father was the kind of person who never complained. No matter how much pain he was in, what challenges he faced, and what obstacles came his way he always had a positive outlook and focused on what was good in his life.
My father was the kind of man who never lost his smile or sense of humor, even when his life slowly deteriorated and his Alzheimer’s/Parkinson’s progressed. His constant sweetness and cheer buoyed me up, and everyone around him. He became a true channel for joy and light so much so that I called him little Buddha.
But most of all, my father was the kind of person who really knew how to unconditionally love, never let you say an unkind word about yourself, and genuinely would do anything to bring you happiness and joy.
So I say to you my father, if the measure of your life was what kind of man you were, you were an astounding success. You will be dearly missed. Like in the W.S Merwin quote “Your absence has gone through us like a thread through a needle, everything we do is stitched with its color.”
I will end this eulogy in my father’s own words “We are all going to die. The question is not when or how we are going to die but what we do with our lives when we are alive. I have never understood the physics of time, but my goal at this moment is to say and do what feels right in the present. This is probably one of the hardest things to do in life. As we get older, it seems to get a little easier because the past increases and the future shrinks and some of us have fewer worlds to conquer.”
Harvey Hartenstein November 1, 1929 – April 4, 2013