A Father’s Legacy

My 80-year-old father passed away on November 22nd from aspiration pneumonia due to Alzheimer’s disease. I gave a eulogy at his memorial service as a final tribute to an incredible man. The following are excerpts from my remarks.

Over the past few days, my mom, my siblings and I have been sharing special memories of Dad. Walter “Bud” Hammond was a man of integrity and character who loved us all unconditionally. I treasure the faint aroma reminiscent of his pipe tobacco and the sight of his goofy hats, long pants, and sweatshirts as he mowed the lawn.

He had a wonderful sense of humor; he even had his own language. The newspaper was the “paytone” and magazines were “mazagines.” If something didn’t go our way, it was a “bummerding.” If somebody messed with him, he would say jokingly, “I’m going to waltz one off his snotbox.” Even his pet names for us were “Budisms.” My sister, Julie, was “Tekla Darling Julie Ann” or “Julburger.” My brother, Steve was “Captain Rossburger” in homage to his middle name. I was “Amy Susubella” or “Sueburger.” I’m not sure where the whole “burger” fixation came from, but it was wonderfully endearing.

He loved to play with us kids. He would wrap a dishtowel around his eyes and play blind man’s bluff and I can remember Dad dancing the jig in his underwear with his arms and legs flapping singing:

I Mora so går vi få fulla igjen.

Now if my days at Norwegian camp serve me well, that loosely translates to “Tomorrow we are going to go get drunk again.” I don’t think he even knew what it meant, and we kids certainly didn’t, but it was hysterical all the same.

Dad was always a sports fan. He was a wonderful Little League Coach and a faithful Twins fan, and every year my uncle Donny made the pilgrimage from North Dakota to go to the Vikings training camp in Mankato, MN with Daddy. He was also an enthusiastic boxing buff. When I was a little girl we would stay up late at night and watch Joe Frazier, Wilfred Benitez, Ernie Shavers, and Hector “Macho” Camacho pound bumps on their opponents.

We also loved going to movies together. Now these weren’t Disney movies, mind you. In 1971 we saw Clint Eastwood play Dirty Harry. During an especially violent scene, Dad turned to me to make sure I was okay and noticed I was out of my seat. He found me in the lobby of the Cooper Theater looking a little pale. After that, I think our movie dates were over.

Daddy was always a worry wart. The night before I got married, Daddy asked me if we could have a special talk. Oh no! I thought. He’s going talk about the birds and the bees! Instead, he told me that just because I was getting married that didn’t mean I had to have children. He was deathly afraid that 4’ 10” Amy marrying 6’ 2” Craig meant certain death in child birth.

My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person— he believed in me. It didn’t matter that I was always the littlest kid in my grade or that my classmates ceaselessly teased me, Daddy encouraged me to stand tall because good things come in small packages. I’ve always tried to remember that.

Daddy always told me I could be anything I dreamed of being, that it didn’t matter that I was a girl growing up in an era of chauvinism. Because of his forward-thinking attitude, male and female pallbearers are carrying his casket this morning.

Because he taught me to believe in myself, I took a huge leap of faith and walked away from a successful corporate career to pursue my dreams of writing and speaking. Although he wasn’t much of a reader the last few years, I know he was proud of me. Shortly after we moved him into his memory care unit in mid-October, he asked me to bring him signed copies of all of my books so he could show off his daughter’s accomplishments to the staff.

That’s something Daddy and I always had in common, our love for reading. Over the last few months he loved when I read to him, alternating between detective stories and the Bible. He would close his eyes and drift off to another place, but he would never sleep. If I paused for more than a second or two he would peek at me out of the corner of his eye until I started up again.

I am humbled that I was able to provide care and support for my father at the end of his life. I would have done anything for him. Sometimes the conversations I had with him, the nurses, doctors, social workers, and other caregivers were painful, but I wouldn’t trade the precious time Dad and I had together for anything in the world.

I visited him nearly every day, but on those occasions when I couldn’t we talked on the phone. Some days he called me more than a dozen times, and every time I answered he would say “Hi, this is your Dad” (like I wouldn’t recognize his voice). Usually he just couldn’t find his remote control or he wanted me to stop at the store and get him something. Sometimes he just begged me to come sit with him… he was so lonely. Being an hour away  I couldn’t always fulfill his requests, but I certainly did my best. Now that my caller id no longer says “Bud” I feel lost. I would love to hear him say, “Hi love, this is your dad” just one more time.

During his last stay in the hospital a couple of weeks ago, he called me and asked me to stop and get him some of our “special drink” which I understood to mean vanilla Boost. Although I know Dad is already in heaven, I put a bottle of Boost in his casket today to symbolically take along for the ride.

The things I cherish most about my father are the lessons he can teach us all about generosity; generosity of spirit and of finances. Nobody was a stranger to my dad. He made friends everywhere he went, from the dry cleaners to the drug store, to the coffee shop. His local Caribou Coffee even named a drink after him “Bud’s Cappuccino.” It was four shots of espresso with a cup full of foam. When he got his $4 drink, he would give the barista a $10 spot and tell him or her to keep the change. When the manager at the shop heard of my father’s passing, he hung his head and his knees buckled. That’s how people felt about Bud.

He gave extraordinary sums of money to charity, but it wasn’t just about writing a check and dropping it in the mail. If he heard a heart-wrenching story on the news about someone in need, he would get in the car and personally hand over a check….usually a substantial one. His generosity changed lives. Daddy was always our safety net, too. We knew if life pulled the rug out from underneath us that we could always call him for help. He bailed me out more times than I can count.

In our time together, we talked a lot about heaven and what it would be like when he crossed over. I reassured him that God had prepared an eternal mansion for him and that one day soon there would be no more tears and no more pain. One day he would walk on streets of gold and see old friends and family who had gone before him. He asked me if I really believed that, and I told him that I am certain of it with all of my heart.

With trembling hands we joined together and Dad accepted Christ into his heart. His snivels and tears turned into smiles that reflected a new peace. It was one of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced.

One day I know we will be reunited in heaven, and since neither one of us will need reading glasses there, maybe we can start a book club.

Sir Isaac Newton once said: “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Daddy, thank you for letting me stand upon your shoulders. I miss you terribly.

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