|These words were spoken by Dan at Dad's funeral, April 12, 2005.|
You only get one Dad. I'm so very glad for the one I got.
Teacher, leader, advocate. Authority figure, role model, expert in all things, mentor, and sometimes adversary, but always a friend.
There are many things to recall as we celebrate his life. I'd like to talk just a couple minutes about things that defined my dad for me... things that, one way or another, he passed along to all of us.
In fact, I'd go farther than that, and say he was absolutely passionate about principles and pointedly ignored putting on appearances.
This combination of traits would have made him a terrible salesman, lawyer, or politician... and, not surprisingly, these were not his favourite people. But this combination of traits made him a great dad.
Dad was born many years before the term "Political Correctness" was coined, and at times, he was a man of his era.
Dad's hero was not a manager or a cult figure, but rather the guy in the back room making it all happen.
He passed on some of these traits to his kids.
He engaged each new task as if the world depended on it. He built two family homes, and in carrying out these tasks he "did it right" -- even in cases where nobody would ever see or be able to tell the difference, he did the right thing under the covers -- once again, principles, not appearances.
Corey tells me that "Don Holle" has become a verb in the English language. To "Don Holle" a task is to totally concentrate on it, do it to the fullest, leave nothing to chance, and do it in a way that will last forever.
This is another trait he passed on to his kids, especially Dean.
He wasn't one to delegate; he was one to do. It didn't particularly matter to him if it was his problem or yours. If he could help, he'd just step in and roll up his sleeves.
Remember when Barb moved into her home in Jacksonville...? We wandered around, seeing the empty rooms and the things that needed work... there were some serious issues with the plumbing. Me? I flew back to Europe and got on with my life.
Dad, however, had a different reaction. The next weekend, Dad showed up in his Chevy Suburban full of copper tubing and tools, and the "crew" set about their task... running pipes, knocking down walls where required, and so forth. The plumbing which took decades to go wrong took a weekend to fix. In some cases he'd identified particular challenges the previous weekend, had taken measurements, had planned a creative solution, and was able to carry out those plans.
Dean and Doug have similar stories... many of them. Dad would just show up with the tools, the parts, the plan... often thought out in considerable detail.
This is another trait that he passed on to his kids.
When I got the news that he was gone, I went for a walk in the woods near our home. Although I was 5000 miles away, it seemed I was in Burlington Woods in Naperville again... the trees and plants that Dad had taught us about were all around me.
Dad was an outdoors guy. He was happy outdoors, in the woods. This, too, he passed on to his kids, especially Doug and I. Dad took us boys on a long trip to the Rockies when we were in our teens... a trip which led to many other road trips out West for us boys, trips which started me on a long love affair with the mountains.
Dad enjoyed science and technology, both as a participant and an observer. He experimented with electronics through his youth, and continued to learn, keeping ahead of us kids in matters of trees, birds, astronomy, and other things.
Dad passed his interest and knowledge of electronics and automotive technology on to his children.
Dad took his love of country to heart. It influenced his politics and personal philosophy, the magazines and books he read, the radio stations he listened to... patriotism was woven into the fabric of his life. When I tried to coax him to visiting us on the far side of the Atlantic, he responded by saying, "Why would I do that when I haven't seen all of the United States yet?".
Much of this patriotic streak... and many things that shaped Dad's world view... could be traced to his years in the Army during World War II. Although Dad had many stories to tell of those years, he didn't tell us very much. Once again, principles triumphed over appearances. Although Dad could have impressed his kids with tales of adventure and heroism, he chose not to. Most of what I know about Dad's war years I heard from his brother, Bob, after I'd been away from home for some years.
Bob told me of a big tent in the Phillipines, where soldiers slept in a long row of cots, side by side. Dad awoke one morning to find that many of his colleagues were dead, throats slit... the last slit throat was not far from Dad, the assassin apparently having been spooked just in time.
Dave told me of a battlefield engagement, where Dad took the wheel of a truck when the driver was shot. While Dad drove, the truck was sprayed with machine gun fire, one bullet striking the steering wheel just in front of him and one bullet buried in the seat just behind him. The shock of the impact stunned his hands so he couldn't grip the wheel. It wasn't Dad's time quite yet... a lucky break for which many people in this room can be grateful.
..but I must say, the best conversation with Dad was one of violent agreement, where you were on the same side of an issue. He had a seemingly-endless repertoire of examples, facts, perspectives, background, and anecdotes... and enjoyed collecting more from you.
Dad would often enthusiastically participate in such conversations for hours on end, going late into the night and into the wee hours of the morning.
Dad's love of life was often expressed through his sense of humor in general, and his practical jokes in particular.
Remember when we were Boy Scouts, and Dad put reflectors on a tree about the size and height you'd expect from the eyes of a large animal? He waited until just before the boys went to bed, then shined his flashlight over there... the boys kept checking late into the night, afraid to go to sleep before IT went away.
More recently, Dad gave Doug a hard time about the leaves and debris that had accumulated in the roof gutters of Doug's house and garage. Doug said yeah, yeah, he'd get around to it. Dad pestered, Doug procrastinated. So when Doug and family went on vacation, and Dad was looking after their animals, Dad planted flowers (Impatiens) along a 40-foot section of Doug's gutters, putting that gutter debris to good use.
Doug didn't notice them at first... you don't typically check your roof for flowers, after all... but when he DID notice them, it didn't take Doug long to call 355-0391. Dad was 75 years old or so, and had climbed a tall ladder to plant about 100 of these flowers.
And there are many more stories of Dad's practical jokes. I guess I am secretly hoping he'll sit up at any moment and reveal his greatest practical joke of all, but I'm afraid it is not to be.
Instead, given Dad's affinity for both humor and political incorrectness, I fully expect he's up there now, telling Polish jokes to the Pope.
I can't help but compare myself with my Dad. It's something that my grandmother was fond of doing, as well.
As I think about the words that I've just said about Dad, and think about my own strengths and weaknesses, it occurs to me that I owe a lot to my dad for my strengths. As for my weaknesses, I didn't get them from Dad. I had to search far and wide to find them myself.
This man... my dad, my friend... has led a long life, full of friends and experiences. You are his friends, and I am proud to be standing up in front of you talking about his life and his experiences, and to join you in saying goodbye to him.