Eulogy for my Father

My father, Thomas Frank Haney, passed away April 14, 2010. My brother and I eulogized him at his memorial. As I do, I drafted dad's eulogy, made an outline for when I delivered it, and then converted that outline into essay format. I hope posting it here helps spread dad's memory and convey the kind of positive and gentle person he was. So here it is:

A Eulogy for my Father, Thomas Frank Haney

To start, I want to say how nice it is to see everyone here today, even though we’ve been brought together by these difficult circumstances. I was more than a little shocked when I heard the news last week, but I know my father’s gone to a better place.

My father was the youngest of five children, and each sibling had at least five children of their own, children who in turn birthed more and more children. That makes for a very large family. Unfortunately, this seems to bring us to a lot of funerals along the way. However, I feel so fortunate to be part of such a huge web of support as we share our memories and our grief in these times.

Over the last week, many of my cousins have recalled to me their fondest memories of my father. Each one knew him in a slightly different way, and spent time with him in different parts of the country. For the last month I’ve been living in NorCal, in an area where my father lived in his early thirties with Cousin Terry. Terry has a lot of hilarious stories about that era with my father, stories that you might want to ask him about in a different setting. But when I got there last month, I called dad to check in, of course. I told him where I was staying, and in the typical fashion of my father, he said, “Oh yeah. I lived up there once. I liked it about as much as anywhere else I’ve lived.”

But that’s what you could expect from dad. He never missed an opportunity for an adventure. And he was contented as long as he had a stove to cook on and family nearby.

Cooking opened up many doors for my father. He used to say that you can find work anywhere in the world if you know how to cook—everyone’s got to eat. But cooking provided more than just employment for him. He possessed an almost-legendary passion for the culinary arts. I remember spending Saturday mornings with him watching the cooking shows of Paul Prudhome, Burt Wolf, and, his favorite, Julia Childs. He was always learning about food. Friends would beg to spend the night at my house knowing we’d be eating something good for dinner, and in the morning we’d be treated to dad’s famous French toast, topped with maple syrup, bananas, strawberries, a dusting of powdered sugar, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The perfect breakfast for a 10-year old. Sweet and savory.

We were always eager to eat dad’s cooking, and two Thanksgivings ago we suggested that he use his skills to make the family a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. It didn’t take much cajoling. Of course, he was excited to do it. He mulled it over—or cogitated on it, as he liked to say—planned a menu, and spent two days and who-knows-how-many-hours preparing the meal over at my mom’s house. That Thanksgiving was grand, with tender turkey, scrumptious stuffing, home-made cranberry sauce, mixed vegetables, gravy, mashed potatoes, and all the rest of it. And when we thanked him for all the work he put in, he shrugged it off saying, “For me, it’s a labor of love.”

He must’ve felt very lucky to have used his passion for and gift with food to build a career. He worked at many fine restaurants all throughout the country and excelled at every one, even opening up his own restaurant, Chef Haney’s CafĂ©. But I’ll always remember him best as the Director of Food Service Ministries at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Orlando. As a young boy running around that huge church I always felt so proud, when I saw the way the people there just adored him, to be my daddy’s son. He was generous, even charitable, and treated all the staff and members with the same genuine kindness and respect. The people there raved about the way he managed that kitchen and his pleasant and gracious personality.

And that’s the way he lived his life. Whether at work, with family, or in the community, my father showed that he respected others and cared about their well-being. He jumped at the chance to help a family member in need. Whether it was Uncle Bill in the last stages of his life, my brother Greg when he tore his ACL, or Cousin Kelly when she needed someone to help clear out her attic, dad loved to help his family, to take on a project and make himself useful.

And any time you spoke to him, you had his undivided attention. He would listen intently, look toward the sky a little bit and cogitate for a moment, and when he spoke again, you could expect insight, encouragement, and understanding to come your way. He had a warm, gentle soul; it shone through his eyes. They were placid and compassionate. They called to mind the proverb about still waters, as they were calm and serene, but you could tell they ran very, very deep.

And I know from our conversations that he had very profound ruminations about life. He read the bible, and he believed in Jesus Christ.

He also had an amazing memory, always willing to recall stories about his life and those of our relatives. I would marvel at the way he could explain the dynamics of a political landscape, including characters, dates and events, from any era he lived through.

It’s sad that we won’t be able to build any more memories with dad, but I’ll always cherish the ones I have, like how he loved to bowl and the pointers he gave to me on the lanes. How he introduced me to golf, using a saw to cut down an old set for me when I was little. How he loved to go camping with the family, catching, cleaning, and cooking our dinner there on the coast. He was so fond of those trips that, as he requested, we’ll be scattering his ashes in the Banana River.

I’ll remember his signature mustache, and the one day he shaved it off before we went to the Disney theme park. We thought we had lost him in the crowd before we realized that the non-mustachioed man standing next to us was, in fact, our own father. I’ll remember how he glowed and chuckled when people said he looked like Tom Selleck, and his frequent impersonations of Marlon Brando from On the Waterfront. The time at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. when we couldn’t help but laugh when dad stood in front of a painting and said, “If that’s not a Monet, I don’t know what is.” The way he loved his family and especially loved spending time with his boys.

Now, no one can doubt that my father had some ups and downs in his life. Like anybody, he went through some tumultuous times. But in his final years my father had made a commitment to improve his well-being, in body, mind and soul, a commitment, I believe, born from the sense of a larger purpose, of a profound guidance, of a desire to truly connect with his deepest self. Through our talks, and through the actions he took in his life, I could tell my father had come to a place of great peace and contentment. His life ended on a positive note—he had made peace with the world, and I know that in peace he will rest.

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