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Eulogy to Another Great Dad

boys1979About five years ago, one of the earliest readers of this blog was generous enough to share the life story of his beloved father, who had recently died before his time. I called the post Eulogy to a Great Dad. It was one of my favorite stories, because it was apparent through his son’s words that this man had really devoted his life to being a good father and a good person in general.

Dad stories are also particularly meaningful to me because it’s my own primary mission in life right now. My main motivation for retiring early was a desire to put that role as the top thing in my life. At age 30, I set aside 20 years for this project with a goal of being cool, understanding and infinitely supportive to any kids I might have, with anything else coming a distant second. Now eleven years into that project, it remains the one thing in my current life that I manage to stick to without any compromise, and thus without any regret.

Lots of this was inspired by warm memories from my own upbringing. Our entire family, while not the glamorous and self-actualized group of perfect humans they used to make TV shows about, was still way up there on the happy outcomes scale. My Dad was a big part of that, always thoughtful and non-judgemental, encouraging learning and healthy behavior and frugal living through his presence in the household. Although my parents ended up separating in the early 1990s, they finished most of the hard work of raising us four kids first, and I know how much work that must have been.

The highlights of this father-and-son relationship revolve around music, writing, learning and travel. My Dad had been a musical semi-genius since birth, and as a result our childhood came with free impromptu concerts every day. He was always disappearing to play some badass jazz piano on the glossy black 1974 Yamaha upright, or picking effortlessly on the acoustic guitar, occasionally throwing in formal or silly lyrics with his fine tenor voice. In the 1980s, he let me move the family stereo system permanently into my bedroom to nurture my own budding love of Music All The Time. All four of his kids now place music at the top of their list of favorite things in life.

In 1983 he reached the age of 40, and bought a red and black Kawasaki motorcycle, joking it was a frugal way to address a midlife crisis. I was 9 years old at the time, and that summer we embarked on a long roadtrip down to Kentucky – just the two of us, with just some saddle bags full of clothes and picnic supplies. I still remember every detail of that trip – the thrill of highway travel with the asphalt rushing just below your feet, the novelty of crossing the US border and the stern nature of the officer who questioned us, the steep winding road to the Best Western hotel on a panoramic hilltop, and a week of spelunking and guided tours in the wild underground world of Mammoth Cave National park. Decades later, we would both still cite that Father and Son Adventure of Questionable Safety as one of the highlights of both of our lives.

Eventually all of us kids grew up, and our relationships remained loving and open. We’re oddballs in the sense that we don’t tend to remember each other’s birthdays, or remember to make the right phone calls or send the right greeting cards, but once reunited we resume the deepest and most interesting conversations as if we had never left the room a year earlier.

Starting this blog in 2011 brought an unexpected boost in my friendship with my dad, as he was one of the first subscribers and continued to read every article as they came out. He would often send me his thoughts on posts he enjoyed – searching my email reveals at least 50 such emails, with titles like “Latest MMM” or “Current Column.” He even participated occasionally in the writing, once sharing this post about frugal shaving, and another time interacting playfully in the comments section with my sister as if they were not related. Like me, he connected more deeply with people through writing and his own career was as a writer of advertising, editorials, books, and articles.

I learned a lot from Dad, and he claimed to learn a few things as he watched me grow into adulthood as well. Noticing the heavy emotional burden that negative thoughts would place on my life as early as high school, I deliberately became an optimist instead, reading self-development books and experimentally applying their principles to the world. The stuff actually worked, and he noted the ongoing benefits of what I called Outrageous Optimism, as he watched things happen in my life that he had formerly assumed were not possible. He decided he should work a bit more on optimism as well.

During university, he let me move into the spare bedroom in his apartment which was near the campus, and I enjoyed teaching him weight training and physical fitness while he taught me about stock investing and jazz piano chords. Those two years of being adult roommates were a valuable finish to my time of growing up as his son.

It was a good thing that all these good things happened during our lives together, because in October of 2016, he started having some difficulties with certain words, prompting his caring wife to start keeping track of unusual occurrences in a dated journal. His appetite shrank a little, and he lost a few pounds from his already-slim frame.

One day, in a slow-motion piece of cinematic tragedy, his wedding ring slid off of a narrowing ring finger as he walked through a parking lot, and it turned out to be lost forever, like the growing number of words he could no longer quite bring to mind.

He checked into a hospital, where they scanned his head and found that a dark mass had formed within.

When I went back to Canada to visit him in that hospital, I could hardly believe he was sick. He looked just fine – same alert eyes set in friendly wrinkles, the same compact and upright body, and the same familiar voice. But he was also significantly different – focused oddly on the present and with very little concept of the future.  He was able to understand advanced conversations and free from worry, but with quite a bit of difficulty expressing concepts or figuring out how to find his place in a book.

The problem was a rare but incredibly tough form of brain tumor called Glioblastoma. Affecting people seemingly at random, this type of cancer builds itself into a lump in your head that grows very rapidly, crowding out the blood circulation that allows your normal thought processes to take place. Patients of this form of cancer live only a few months to a couple of years, depending on whether or not you can slow it down with surgery and radiation.

These last few months were tough, as this brilliant, witty man faded quickly to become a confused, sleepy person with limited speech and recognition, who then faded purely to sleep. His last systems finally shut down on the evening of January 13th, thankfully in an extremely peaceful hospice with loved ones nearby.

We’re all sad, of course, but also much more grateful than I would have imagined. Although cut short by a decade or two, our Dad’s life overall was one of a lucky person. Like the first Great Dad at the start of this article, Dad’s four children and the loving wife that survives him have great respect for the way he lived, and his six grandchildren will have only fond memories of a man of readily offered kindness.

For my part, his sudden passing has shaken up my life. Originally shocked and depressed to hear what was happening to him, I eventually passed on to accept reality, and also become much more aware of what mortality really means. I’ve lived a long time already, and it has been quite an experience. But it really could end at any moment, and even if I evade disaster, the odds say I’ve used up a full 50% of my lifespan.

Perhaps even more notably, I’m suddenly on the tipping point between the labels “young guy” and “middle-aged man.” I’ve been a young adult forever, and this is the first time in life I’ve realized that stage can actually end. This means that it would be foolish for me to waste any of it, and I am suddenly much more hesitant to let any days go to waste.

If you found out this evening that you only had one month to live, imagine how deeply you would crave that warm carefree phase of your life that came just before – when the supply of healthy days seemed unlimited and you could do anything. That unlimited supply of life, which you took for granted and wasted on unnecessary arguments and commuting and television, would suddenly seem like the most precious and unattainable luxury in the world.

I realized that for now, I am still in that happy, carefree summer of unlimited life. I still have the luxury that my Dad lost so suddenly, and holy shit do I feel lucky to have it now. So I’m going to get up and enjoy a lot more good times while this sun shines.

Grandpa MM with son baby MMM, circa 1975.

Grandpa MM with son baby MMM, circa 1975.

Afterword:

Beyond the living descendants and many memories in everyone he knew, my Dad left behind plenty of written words and even some music. We found his little digital studio recorder sitting on top of that same black Yamaha piano, which still sits in the house where his wife now lives, newly alone. The memory card contained five beautiful little songs he had been working on recently, and they captured his memory for me above all other mementos.

I can hear his soul perfectly in the timing of every one of these notes, and see his hands, still infinitely nimble after 73 years, hitting the black and white keys as they flew across the piano, powered by a mind that had thought in terms of music since 1943.

I have uploaded a copy here just in case you want to put on some headphones and play it for yourself. These songs didn’t have names, but my sister decided this one can be called “Stars”

Rest in peace, Dad – we will all do our best to live on and live well, in your honor.

  • Eli January 18, 2017, 9:37 am

    I’m sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing, and best of luck with the healing

  • GW January 18, 2017, 9:39 am

    I’m nearly 60 and have a three year old son. This was a useful reminder of what is important in life. Lovely music. God bless.

  • Robert January 18, 2017, 9:42 am

    MMM- I’m sorry for your loss.

  • Ty January 18, 2017, 9:42 am

    A beautifully written tribute for what I’m sure was an equally beautiful person. Our condolences to the Adeney family.

  • Andrew` January 18, 2017, 9:44 am

    Sorry for you loss MMM. I have very similar memories with my father, going to the Mammoth National Park in KY is one of my fondest memories with my father as well.

  • Jordan Read January 18, 2017, 9:44 am

    It sucks that he’s gone, but I’m happy you’ve been able to focus on the awesomeness you experienced.

    Let me know if you’d need or like anything. You’ve got my info.

  • Thomas January 18, 2017, 9:45 am

    After the birth of my niece this weekend, January 14th, I’ve started becoming increasingly aware of my father mortality in particular. I’m very sorry for your loss and dread the day that I also cross that bridge. This post was beautifully written.

  • Mr Crazy Kicks January 18, 2017, 9:47 am

    I’m sorry for your loss. You are lucky to have had a great father who shared lots of great knowledge and music with you.

    Part of what drove me to FIRE was the loss of two friends at work, both to cancer. They were both in their 40s. We are only on this planet for a flash in time. I’m grateful to have my freedom and hope to make the best of my time here as well.

    I listened to your dads piece, it was touching, he must have been a great musician :)

  • Rob January 18, 2017, 9:47 am

    So sorry for your loss. This writing is a beautiful tribute to him. And so is the way you’ve lived your whole life.

  • EL January 18, 2017, 9:48 am

    The song was very peaceful to listen too. I am sorry for your loss. I recently lost my mother so I know how it feels and what you’re going through. Good luck and great way to honor him by sharing his work.

  • John January 18, 2017, 9:49 am

    Having lost my dad to cancer about a year ago, your story feels very real to me. Like your Dad, mine lost his fight with cancer shortly after diagnosis. I take comfort that he was not in pain long and that his passing has given me a new sense of the fleeting nature of our lives. We only truly matter in the lessons we leave behind for our loved ones and children. His passing served as a great reminder of this and I hope it will bring you some peace in journey. Prayers for your family.

  • ZeroGBuff January 18, 2017, 9:52 am

    My sympathies for your loss. I went through something similar about eight years ago. It’s never easy to lose someone you love, and you’re lucky to have so much support from your family.

    Take care of yourself during this time, whatever that means for you.

  • Abandoned Cubicle January 18, 2017, 9:53 am

    My sincere condolences, Pete. A fine eulogy for a great dad. Thanks for giving us pause to think about our own situations in life. Never too soon to make the most of the little time we get.

  • Lady Fordragon January 18, 2017, 9:55 am

    My condolences to you and your family, MMM. Your Dad sounded like a wonderful person who most definitely shaped your views on life. Thanks for sharing one of his songs!

  • John H. January 18, 2017, 9:55 am

    A Beautiful Song. A beautiful article in tribute of a man who must have been a beautiful father. We all should be so lucky to be influenced in the way you to describe, by our parents.

    May memories of your father lift you and your family’s relationships to heights you hadn’t dreamed – to the stars he plays of in his song.

    God Bless.

  • Moonwaves January 18, 2017, 9:56 am

    I’m very sorry for your loss but it’s lovely to hear that you have such great memories. He sounds like a very special guy.

  • firepaddle January 18, 2017, 9:57 am

    So sorry for your loss MMM. That is one beautiful song.

  • Mrs. Mad Money Monster January 18, 2017, 9:58 am

    I am so sorry to hear about the untimely death of your father. It’s never easy, and it’s especially difficult when it’s unexpected – not that I need to tell you that.

    My father was fortunate to live a long, rather healthy 90 years. Having me at the ripe old age of 57 kept him young, in my opinion. I, too, am on the cusp of not being young anymore and facing the reality of having sucked up half of my life and I tend to think about it too often. Even though I still need to work every day until I can finally hand in my early resignation, I now know how important it is to spend time with my family and friends. I now take vacation days to spend them with my daughter when she has the day off school. I appreciate the little things we do, like baking cupcakes and riding bikes in front of our house. I realize time is finite. I never realized that before. It’s both good and bad.

    I also learned that my father lives on. He lives on in the things he taught me and the memories I have of him and us. He lives on in the hammer he used for all his little projects around the house that I now have hanging on the wall in our living room. I try to focus on celebrating his life instead of mourning his loss. Thank you for sharing your father’s music. He, too, lives on.

  • Jwheeland January 18, 2017, 9:59 am

    Thank you for sharing, Pete. A beautiful post, to a beautiful man. As a new dad and a son with a not-so-young father, thank you.

  • yasleva January 18, 2017, 9:59 am

    Dear MMM, so sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing. Sounds like you dad was quite a unique character (aren’t we all?) Wishing you strength and courage to keep your head up and keep sharing your truth. We all need more people like you. Hugs.

  • PoF January 18, 2017, 10:02 am

    So Sorry, Pete and family. You’ve shared a touching eulogy.

    I was born right around the same time as you, to a father who is now a septuagenarian who can do anything and everything. When I realized our furnace was out this morging, the first person I called wasn’t the cooling and heating company. I called Dad.

    I can’t imagine life without him, but I realize it’s a concept I’ll have to accept someday. My deepest sympathies that it’s now your reality.

    Best,
    -PoF

  • F1LT3R January 18, 2017, 10:03 am

    I’m so sorry for the loss of a wonderful Dad. His music is absolutely beautiful.

  • Laura January 18, 2017, 10:04 am

    My deepest sympathy for the loss of your father. Sounds like you were lucky to have him.
    Peace to you and your family.

  • Zheffafa January 18, 2017, 10:15 am

    R.I.P. MM-dad. I’m sorry for your loss, and I appreciate your sharing his story.

  • bellatrix211 January 18, 2017, 10:17 am

    Sorry for your loss. He sounds like a person who prioritized well, and lived a good life. I enjoyed his piano piece … beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Dee January 18, 2017, 10:17 am

    My sincere condolences on the loss of your father. Thank you for sharing this tribute to him with your readers.

  • Myles January 18, 2017, 10:20 am

    I had no idea I liked jazz piano until now. Thanks for that.
    Sorry to hear about your loss – although I’m not surprised you are able to deal with it so pragmatically, honestly and altogether thoughtfully. I have been fortunate to not have had to deal with loss in over 30 years of living – when the time comes I will certainly try to emulate this approach. Finally, to tie this comment to the general blog mission, I found your comments near the end about not wasting our remaining days a good reminder. I drew a connection to Tim Urban’s (waitbutwhy) ‘Life in Weeks’ blog post- essentially about not wasting our valuable time.

  • chris vitello January 18, 2017, 10:24 am

    I am sorry for your loss.

  • Thomas January 18, 2017, 10:26 am

    Thank you for sharing this intimate portrayal of your father. You have touched out hearts and reminded us to put first things first. You are also an excellent writer, a gift you also got, in part, from your dad.

  • Trip January 18, 2017, 10:33 am

    This made me cry for you. For your loss, but also for all the beautiful times and experiences you shared together with your father. Your child is so lucky to have a parent who was so prepared financially allowing you to maximize that bond as well.

    My youngest brother asked me a decade ago why I was saving so aggressively. I wasn’t married at the time or in a relationship. I answered for my child(ren). I will reach FI before my daughter turns 3, but reading your writing makes me feel just how important every single day is. The sooner the better.

    • Trip January 20, 2017, 5:42 pm

      That is a beautifully tranquil song that becomes playful in the middle section.

      “On the smallest scale, all the universe plays the same song” — Unknown
      “Without music, life would be a mistake.” — Nietzsche

  • Mr. Grumby January 18, 2017, 10:33 am

    Wow, what a touching tribute. You painted a vivid portrait of your dad, and I’m sure he would be proud. Your optimism and reminder to enjoy life is inspiring. Sorry for your loss.

  • Michelle January 18, 2017, 10:35 am

    So sorry for your loss MMM. May your dad rest in peace.

  • Longride January 18, 2017, 10:36 am

    Wow. A lovely tribute. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

  • Mustard Seed Money January 18, 2017, 10:36 am

    I am so sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful tribute to what an amazing man your father was. I love hearing how you two connected over music and writing. As a new dad myself, I hope to impact my son as much as your dad impacted you. Saying a prayer of comfort for you and your family.

  • Michelle January 18, 2017, 10:36 am

    “Stars” is beautiful! What an amazing musician…

  • astro January 18, 2017, 10:40 am

    Very sorry for your loss. Let me know if you’re ever in the Littleton, CO area, and I’ll buy you some sympathy beer and you can borrow my amateur therapy dog.

  • Neema January 18, 2017, 10:45 am

    I am so sorry for your loss, MMM and family. Your father must have been extremely proud of you for changing the lives of thousands of people in such a positive way. You have certainly changed mine.

    Best wishes,

    -Neema.

  • Southerner January 18, 2017, 10:45 am

    I am sorry for your loss, Pete.

  • 4TheBi$cuit January 18, 2017, 10:47 am

    I’m sorry to hear the bad news. Your dad sounds like a great guy I’m glad to hear your optimism staying strong through this. Your story is a good reminder of how quickly things can change and how important it is to spend time with my dad while I can (he is currently doing chemo for a grade III oligodendroglioma.)

  • Zoe January 18, 2017, 10:49 am

    What a moving tribute to what sounds like a truly remarkable man.
    Sincerest condolences, MMM.

  • Alicia January 18, 2017, 10:51 am

    I’m sorry for your loss. My grandfather died of a glioblastoma when my mother was young. Tragic.

  • ChooseBetterLife January 18, 2017, 10:55 am

    Pete, I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope these lovely memories bring you comfort and peace.

  • Gwen January 18, 2017, 10:57 am

    I’d wish I’d known this weekend! I would’ve given you an extra big hug, but I’m sure being with friends helped lessen the burden a bit. Hopefully we helped distract you. I am so sorry to hear about your dad – he sounds like he was a wonderful man to know. Lots of hugs to you and your family.

  • CommutingCPA January 18, 2017, 10:57 am

    So, so sorry to hear of your loss…no words that any of us write would be sufficient to soothe the hurt but it may help to know so many people whose lives you’ve touched are thinking of you and your family.

  • Scott January 18, 2017, 11:03 am

    That was a beautiful eulogy, MMM.

  • Mixed Money Arts January 18, 2017, 11:06 am

    I’m so sorry for your loss and at the same time much inspired by this post. There are many reasons to achieve financial independence but the desire to become a great father like you and your Dad is one that’s not mentioned often enough. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful story.

  • Hailey F January 18, 2017, 11:10 am

    Pete,

    I’m so sorry for your loss. That was really beautifully written and thank you for sharing the story of your father’s impact on your life. I’ve also had the fortune/misfortune of realizing how fleeting life can be, and I can tell you from experience that that understanding is a blessing in disguise. You have to make sure you wake up and do what you love every single day- and it sounds like you’re ahead of the game.

    My condolences,
    Hailey

  • Liesbet January 18, 2017, 11:15 am

    So sorry for your sudden loss! Friday the 13th… I guess bad things do happen on these superstitious days. I congratulate you with writing this difficult, yet beautiful piece and I respect your acceptance of this fateful event. Chapeau for dealing with it so graciously and maturely. Each time I have lost loved ones – or when my husband was diagnosed with cancer – I had a hard time accepting it and moving on with life. You and I are the same age and we both know how to live frugally and alternatively and realize what is important to us, and, just like you, I have realized our mortality when these devastating moments happened in my life. “Don’t dream, do” is my motto, as we continue to live our life less ordinary the way we see most fit. Life is precious and every day counts. We make it count and we hope others will as well.

  • Fred Atwater January 18, 2017, 11:15 am

    Your dad was a lucky man to have such a loving son. Godspeed.

    R
    Fred

  • The Roamer January 18, 2017, 11:17 am

    Pete my sympathies on your loss. I have also experienced the sudden loss of someone very close to me. It is such a difficult experience and I feel for you and your family.

    However I do want to thank you for sharing. Parenting is challenging for me but it is inspiring to hear of people who do it so well. Your reference to a 20 year timeline really made me think. Parenting in this sense really doesn’t last forever. So working hard to do ones best during the time of the “project” is really something to strive for.

    None of us are musical genius but music is a important part of our lives and we enjoyed your father’s son. Thank you for sharing that as well.

    • pw January 18, 2017, 7:37 pm

      Your dad’s music danced thru my ears and surrounded me with warmth, my mom’s birthday was Jan. 13, she has been deceased for a few years. I celebrate all the good times we shared and all my mom and dad’s sacrifices to raise and nourish us. You will carry on with a lot of what he gave you and the memories will always be with you. Sorry for your loss. It is never easy.

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