June 21, 2009
A few years back, a friend mentioned to me to reach out to others on a particular father’s day because they may have some regrets about their relationship with their father or their father may be gone. Wow, that never even occurred to me!
Now that my father is gone, I can certainly empathize a little better.
Here is the Eulogy that my brother, Bob, gave at my father’s service in 2000, and I found in my email this morning.
What a great father’s day gift. Thanks Bob! –Al
By His Son, Robert L. Morel
Life is full of the unexpected. I guess it’s one of the facets of life that make it so enjoyable. Most of the time, at least. So when I was asked to eulogize my father, I didn’t think twice. I had plenty to say, and I’m not someone who gets tongue tied when writing things down on paper. Or so I thought. After about three or four variations that were aborted when they were nearly done, I realized how difficult this was going to be. After all, I only have about ten minutes to do this. Anyone who has ever heard my brother Mike speak in front of a crowd knows I didn’t get that gene from the pool. So I will approach the subject the way my father would have approached it.
I have always viewed my father as a patriot. He loved his country, and not with the stupid nationalistic fervor that is the stereotype of the military man. He loved his country, and his place in it. He was a competent, thoughtful, measured, compassionate and fair naval officer. It showed in the way his contemporaries and subordinates viewed him, or so I am told. But I can concur with them, on the basis of my own personal experience. And my dad was always a naval officer, even when he was raking the leaves or fixing a faucet, it was clear who he was. Until he passed away last week, that was how he conducted his life. My friends, who knew virtually nothing about him, referred to him as “The Commander”. And they said it with evident respect.
I never remember being treated unfairly by him, ever. I can remember being so angry with him that I almost hated him, but I think every child has felt that way towards their parents at least once in their life. It kind of goes with the territory of being a kid. You just don’t understand why things are done a certain way, and your one-dimensional view of things is always the most important one.
As kids, my dad was not a big talker. When he did talk, it was rarely to make small talk, so like E.F. Hutton, when he talked you listened. And he ALWAYS spoke before he approached us or touched us. My mother used to make us wait until dad came home to administer his discipline. We would wait in our room, and we could hear his muted voice speaking with my mother as soon as he got home. Then, as he mounted the stairs, he would remove his belt (we could hear him remove it…) and he would double up the belt and make a loud snapping sound with it as he ascended the stairs. I recognize this now as psychological warfare. We repented our crimes before he ever had to even speak to us. When he entered the room, the tone of his voice would do all of the work. He rarely swore at us (his favorite insult whenever he was really angry with us, was to call us “Dumb Bunnies”. To this day we have to giggle a little amongst ourselves at this…”Dumb Bunnies…why on earth would he call us Dumb Bunnies, and what the heck is a Dumb Bunny anyway?” His voice always had a timbre to it that demanded our attention. He required that we look him in the face and say “Yes Sir” or “No Sir”. He expected us to respond to our Mother with “Yes Maam” and “No Maam”. Then he might flail at us with his belt while we squealed, but would never really connect with it. It was all show. We didn’t know that though. We really thought he was trying to hit us. The truth be told, we feared my mother much more as a disciplinarian. She had the Mediterranean emotion, and you could never be sure just how far you had pushed her. And we did push her on occasion. Looking back, it was all pretty predictable fare. In this light, I had a memorable encounter with my dad. It speaks volumes to me about my father, but at the time, was most puzzling because of its nature.
When we lived in Virginia, I was about 7 years old, and had walked a couple of miles to a candy store that was in a part of our town that was much poorer, and predominately black. When I came home, my dad asked me where I had been, and I said, “Oh, I just went over to Niggertown to get some candy…”
In a very swift motion, my dad grabbed me, one big adult hand around each skinny seven-year-old bicep, and drew me towards him so that my nose was probably less than a foot away from his nose. The term today for this was “In my face”. This was very close, and VERY unusual. He never dealt with us like this. I will never forget the look on his face, it wasn’t anger, and I didn’t know what it was. And the tone of his voice when he spoke was a tone I had never heard before. There was something else, not anger, but something. I didn’t know what it was at the time. My father looked at me, directly in the eyes, with his eyes the unwavering steely blue that they were, with this very foreign, strange and unusual look in them, a sharpness or brightness that was totally unrecognizable to me at that age. He gave me one shake, not a hard one, a gentle one, and said to me in that odd voice:
“Don’t ever think that you are better than someone else just because you were born with a different color skin.” He released me, stood up to regard me for an instant then walked away without another word. I remember just standing there totally confused about this strange encounter. I had never seen him look at me that way or speak to me that way. I remember it as clearly as if it happened this morning.
Now that I am older, I think of that encounter and I know with certainty what the look he had in his eyes was. I know what the odd tone of his voice was.
It was passion. My dad had passion, and never, ever showed it to us as kids. But just that once, when I was a child, a door had cracked open (I am sure quite by accident) and I had seen the light that escaped. Before I could go and look inside, the door had snapped shut and sealed tight. I never got a chance to see into the room sealed by that door until many years later. By then, I was no longer surprised by what I saw. I had made the transition from viewing my father as a parent to viewing him as a person.
It is no surprise to anyone that I hero-worshipped my dad. I wanted to be him, my whole life. I never aspired after baseball players or presidents. I wanted to be my dad. I wanted to look like him. I would go over to the building across the street where my dad worked, and watch him walk down the halls, his feet sounding like the voice of authority itself. Then, I would try to imitate him so my footsteps would sound the same. I wanted to wear a uniform and serve my country like him. I wanted his values. I wanted to be a patriot like him. To this day, I wish I could emulate his life, and no other.
When I began to write this eulogy, I was going to eulogize my father in the context of the contrast between his generation and my generation. I grew to realize as I wrote, that our generations had more in common than I thought. In the furnaces of the depression and World War II where the character of their generation was tempered, men and women like my father and mother were produced. I was going to discuss “The Generation Gap”, and realized that the gap between the generations is one for my generation to bridge, not the other way around. My father’s generation has been called the “Greatest Generation”, with good reason. With the release of movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and books like “The Flag of Our Fathers”, many men and women of my generation are starting to understand why that description has been given to their parents generation. On first glance, one might think that the subject of “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Flag of Our Fathers” is war.
Their subject is not war, but life. How to live it. How to do what must be done. Doing what is right. Duty. Responsibility. Accountability. When my father was 24, he was the Post Commander for the American Legion, organizing blood drives for veterans hospitals, collecting toys for underprivileged families. In his forties and fifties, he was involved in town politics because he wanted to help. In his sixties and seventies, he was intensely involved in Alcoholics Anonymous. Of all the things in his life that my father accomplished, if there was only one accomplishment he could claim and keep, I would tell him to keep his association with AA. Of all the things he did in his life, it is this that inspires the most pride in me. AA was his second family. Thank God. AA changed my father in ways that totally blew away the whole family. With the alcohol gone, we finally saw the kind of person he really was, and had been all of those years. We saw what a kind, generous, considerate person he was. We discovered he had a very egalitarian view of humanity. We saw his humor, which was rarely revealed to us. And most of all, the door opened to that room I had only caught a glimpse of as a child, and we were all invited to freely look inside, and we saw something my dad never advertised that he possessed.
Passion for his country, Passion for his family, and passion for his fellow man. It had been there all the time and we had rarely recognized it, because above all, my father was a humble, private man. Like many men of his generation, he shunned the limelight and did things that needed to be done without blowing his own horn. I never ever heard him brag. Never. I never saw him complete a task, and look for praise. He just did things, and when they were complete, he went on the next thing without waiting for a pat on the back. That was my dad. A real man. He was, and is, my hero.
A postscript from Al:
Some may be offended by the term “Niggertown” used to describe a black section of town in the scene that Bob describes. I happened to be there when dad grabbed Bob, and I remember thiking “Wow, that’s a bad word?” Amazingly, this was the early pre-civil rights sixties, south of the Mason/Dixon and we really did not know. Ummm, until after that! It certainly made an impression on all of us who were there.