Shoes That Can’t Be Filled
That’s my dad and me. We lost him on September 13, 2014, after a four-month battle with an aggressive form of stomach cancer. In spite of his cremation, the memorial service, the graveside service, and the many, many tears, it still hasn’t really hit me.
Last night I told a good friend that this is the first time in basically my entire life that if I call the phone number my parents have had forever, no one will answer. Mom is still with us, mostly – her beautiful mind now ravaged by Alzheimer’s. Most days, she doesn’t know our names. And yet, she most certainly wept for Dad.
My sisters and I were each given the opportunity to eulogize our father – a daunting and yet therapeutic task which I nearly made it through without losing it. I have decided to share my eulogy here, in order to share with the world just a few details about this amazing, amazing man.
My full given name is Marcus Edward Rowe. He lives on in me in more than name.
There are many words that described my dad: Selfless. Funny. Tall. Giving. Animated. Sincere. Loving. Forgiving. Humble, and many more. Let me touch on just a few of these.
Selfless. Dad poured everything he had into our family. It was hard at times. Now that I am a husband and father in my early 40’s, it gives me a whole new perspective on Dad at that age. Times were tight, and while my sisters and I lamented the fact that all the other kids had cable TV or an Atari 2600 or Kaepa shoes, Dad never complained. There were no fancy cars in the driveway. The golf clubs stayed in the basement. The only vacations were going somewhere to visit family. Most of the furniture had been there since before I was born. And yet, the kids all got braces. He found a way. In fact, he found a way for all three of us kids to go on trips to Europe with the SMNW Choir. It would be more than 15 years later before he and Mom went to Europe, in 2005. He found a way to send three kids to out-of-state, private colleges, something he would continue to pay for years after graduation. Instead of trips. Instead of cars. Instead of recreation. We were the desires of his heart.
Funny (or Punny), depending on who you ask. I inherited this one, for better or worse. Dad had this stable of jokes or comments that lasted a lifetime, eliciting laugher from those outside of the family and the rolling of eyes from the rest of us. Even in the hospital, in his last truly good days, he was telling people that he only liked three kinds of pie – hot, cold, and a la mode. When the nurse told him that her dad’s name was also Ed, he replied, “Two Ed’s are better than one.” As I stand here now, I’m having trouble remembering very many other examples. I wish I had compiled a list as the years went by. There would have to be at least one or two useable bits in there.
Humble. At times, to a fault. Always giving credit to others. Often, accepting blame that wasn’t his. When I was 14, which was during that period where times were tight, I got caught shoplifting. It’s a long story – something about a Billy Idol cassette and a pair of sunglasses. At any rate, I still remember standing there in our living room, in front of Dad, who was in his brown recliner in the corner, by the picture windows… and hearing him say something like, “I just feel bad because I don’t have any money to give you to buy the things you want, so you have to steal them.” So, I did what any 14-year-old boy who should be in huge trouble but sees a way out would do. I made some tears and nodded my head. I hope, somewhere inside, Dad knew that wasn’t why I did that. It had nothing to do with him.
This was but one example of how Dad’s love imitated God’s love for us. Years later, when my own children were small, I began to feel his pain, so to speak. When you have small children, you may tell them 100 times NOT to do something. Don’t hit. Don’t talk back. Don’t run in the house. Whatever. Still, they will continue to do whatever it is you tell them not to do. It doesn’t make you love them any less. It drives you mad, yes. And so you tell them again… Don’t do that. And they do. And you love them just the same. That was a big lesson for me. Especially, looking back now. In spite of the shoplifting, the mysterious circles of red spray paint I placed around the outside of our house, repeatedly threatening to kill my sisters, the message on the answering machine saying I left the now wrecked car on the side of Johnson Drive and went on to the school dance anyway, and putting my foot through the attic floor directly above Mom and Dad’s bed… Dad just loved me. There was no, “What is wrong with you?” There was only love. There was no, “Why can’t you be more like your sisters?” Only love. Now, my sisters would simply say that I got away with everything. But I hope and pray my own kids get the same message when they screw up – and they will screw up. There will be consequences, for sure, but nothing will change my love for you.
I think my favorite single memory of Dad is this: When I was young, he would lay on his back on the living room floor, put his hands, palms up, on either side of his head, and let me stand on his hands. He would then basically bench press me – until he had lifted me – standing – a full arm’s length into the air. Then, he would gently bring me back down to earth. I couldn’t get enough of it. And I knew without a doubt that he would catch me if I fell. This was my strong dad. My rock.
I will close with some lyrics I wrote – years ago, actually – that sprang to mind just hours before Dad left us last Saturday. They have never been more true.
The lessons that you taught me
Have made me who I am
You showed me by example
What it means to be a man
Though it took me half a lifetime
I finally know the truth
I may follow in your footsteps
But I’ll never fill your shoes
I love you, Dad.