Thank you for coming to my father’s memorial service. Believe me, he would not have wanted to go to yours. He would have loved to share a meal with you before your passing (as long as there weren’t too many people there), but he was not much for funerals.
I learned a lot from listening to my father over the years. When I was 11, my Great Aunt Mannie passed away. Perhaps picking up on my father’s reluctance, I didn't go to Pennsylvania for the funeral. When my father got back, he told me I should have gone -- it was interesting listening to older relatives, particularly the one who ranted about my father’s job, because he confused National Security with Social Security. I learned from my father that it’s meaningful to be at services like this, even if you would rather avoid them.
That’s the thing about my father -- he didn’t say much, but what he said was always worth listening to, and remembering. My father very rarely got angry with me, but I remember one or two times. When L. Ron Hubbard died, I was disappointed to learn that Scientology wasn’t just a big practical joke. He responded strongly and told me that while I might not share someone’s beliefs, those beliefs were sincere and not to be made sport of.
My father had a lot of empathy. One time when I came out here to visit him, he surprised me by mentioning something he had heard on Rush Limbaugh’s show. Those of you who knew my father’s politics know that he did not share a lot of opinions with Rush. I asked my father why he was listening, and he told me, “For the same reason we used to listen to the Russians -- because we need to know what they’re up to.” Some people listen to their political opponents to get worked up, but my father was genuinely curious where the other side was coming from. I could really use some of his empathy this week.
Sometimes I learned from his actions rather than his words. When I was 12, I took math classes on Sunday afternoons at Johns Hopkins. My father was a big football fan and accustomed to spending Sunday afternoons in front of the TV, but taking me to class was not an inconvenience. He simply bought a portable TV.
I am a very different type of father than my dad -- I changed more diapers that first week than he did in a lifetime -- but the lesson I learned was that your children's needs are not inconveniences, but rather joys to be embraced.
I’d like to conclude with part of an e-mail my dad sent after my grandmother -- his mother -- died.
“If you can put up with some "wisdom" from an older person keep reading. The death of someone you know changes your life forever. There are certain things that will never ever be the same. But that's life. My Dad died almost 28 years ago and I still miss him. We'll miss Oma but she had over 80 mostly good years and a lot of good memories...The pain of her loss will recede with the passing of time but we will always miss her. Gary said that she simply "passed away" with no pain and no suffering. That seems to be the way the Nicholsons all go and it doesn't seem like such a bad deal.”