Bernard Marshall 12/24/1931 – 03/02/2011
I couldn’t make up my mind whether to stand up to talk about my Dad or be still and let everyone remember him in their own way as Dad, Grandpa, brother, uncle, friend or neighbor. Then my husband said something to sway me… He said that he didn’t remember the readings at Uncle Pete’s funeral mass last year (my Dad’s brother), but he remembers that my cousin Timmy got up and talked about his Dad in such a beautiful and honest way. So here I am to talk about my Dad. And in the end, you will all remember him in your own way but I just wanted to give you a glimpse of who he was for me:
He was my Dad – I kissed him and hugged him goodnight every night of my childhood and I kissed him and hugged him goodbye every single time I parted from him in my adult life as well. That was nearly daily these past 10 years! And I did it each time because I loved him! As a kid, he taught me how to throw a punch and how to throw a ball NOT like a girl. And he taught me how to fish. For the sake of the first perch I caught in the Pattaconk River, perhaps he should have reversed the order so I might not have thrown that fish clear to the other bank. But when I did, he taught me the subtleties of the toss; when to throw hard and when to toss it gently. He bought me a banana seat bicycle at the same time he bought new bikes for Patti and Loree for their birthdays… because he knew I needed a bicycle even though it wasn’t my birthday. He took me and my siblings to Jones beach, it feels to me like every night after work, and taught me how to body surf (even though he couldn’t swim). And then he taught me how to shake it off when I got tossed and turned and thought I’d drowned with a quarter pound of sand in my bathing suit and half the ocean in my lungs. He taught me how to choke up on a baseball bat and then to wait for my pitch. And he taught me how to work the chains at his football games, keeping track of the forward progress. And I was proud to wear his black and white-striped jacket as I sat on the sideline… even after the FOURTH game of the weekend. Every weekend of every football season of my youth! He preached sportsmanship and referee’d fairly and without bias… always! I was proud to be the ref’s kid! He taught me to paint, only after he taught me how to scrape and Spic N Span the walls in preparation. And he taught me the difference between a flat head and Phillips head screw driver and when to use each. And he taught me how to hang a sheetrock ceiling by myself using a dead-man. He taught me I could do anything I set my mind to and that life was 98% attitude and 2% skill. He taught me mind over matter and that limping doesn’t get you anything but sympathy. He said it was not a sign of weakness but a sign of injury… AND that you still shouldn’t limp because you’d end up throwing something else out of whack. He had a bad knee all his life… and as he struggled never to limp it translated to a happy little hop in his step! I have taken in all these lessons, applied his wisdom and used all of these skills literally and figuratively – throughout my life. Looking back, one might see these as little things that perhaps happened only infrequently, but they were more than that for me. They were lessons in life and love, forever burned into my heart. He was my Dad.
He was my Teacher. He taught by offering both good and bad examples by the way he lived his life. Often teaching me to “do as I say, not as I do”. He taught me how NOT to drink. How NOT to smoke. And how NOT to be a spouse. And in some ways, how NOT to parent as much as how to accept myself as a human and imperfect parent. These have been really important lessons in my life. In his own unique way, he taught me how to love and how to be just who I am. He taught me to think for myself and to keep an open mind, to always listen to the other person’s perspective. He was good at that. He could argue the other guy’s point better than the other guy! Even if he didn’t buy it! And he taught me to never make fun of others but to always laugh at yourself. He taught me that education and learning and knowledge are key in this life and to “look it up” if I didn’t know something (though that might have been a cover up for his inability to spell). He made mistakes. Lots of them. But, he preferred to look forward, as his favorite singer/song writer Willie Nelson said in one of Dad’s favorite songs, “I could cry for the time I’ve wasted, but that’s a waste of time and tears. And I know just what I’d change, if I went back in time somehow, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.” He couldn’t change what he’d done wrong but he did penance in his own way. He stopped drinking for the love of his children! And, I forgive him every drop of alcohol that passed his lips because of the relationship he forged with me and with my children later in his life… and because I knew, I always knew, that he loved me.
He was my Friend – For so many years, while stay-at-home motherhood has occasionally isolated me from the rest of the world, my Dad has been the person who shows up at just the right moment and simply having him here lifted my spirits. The door opened every day and he was there for me, making me laugh, listening to me whine and sharing his thoughts over a plate of cookies or as we worked side-by-side on the next home improvement project. Never complaining and always with a unique perspective, he would share the wisdom of his experience – the good, the bad and the ugly, if not the outright bizarre – in his lighthearted, just shooting the breeze sort of way, always taking me out of myself. In the end, my Dad knew just how to be there for me.
And NO, like all good children, I didn’t always take his advice. And when that happened, he’d stubbornly argue the point until I appropriately defended my position and he gave in… always. Sometimes I was right. Sometimes he was. It never mattered! He abided by my decision. You know, he told me to knock down this old house we bought… In hindsight, he was right. I should have. But I didn’t listen and even though he thought it was an exercise in futility, every single day — me pregnant with Olivia — he worked by my side from early morning to late at night gutting my old house helping to transform it into our home…. All the while telling me to take it easy, to take care of myself, eat right, rest, don’t work too hard. If he couldn’t stop me, at least he could be there to help and make sure I wasn’t going to hurt myself… or the granddaughter I was carrying who would become his closest companion for the next 10 years. He was my siding partner, my sheet-rocking partner, my painting partner. He helped me tear it down to build it back up again… in so many ways. He worked tirelessly, side-by-side with my husband to build our barn and wire our house… A labor of love. Yes, we argued and the wires going into our electrical box are still disorganized and unlabeled but they are all new and safe. He saw to that. My house is a monument to my Dad. That might not be saying much if you’ve seen my house. But it’s huge for me. Everywhere I look I see his handy-work and NO, he didn’t finish pretty much anything he started. FINISHING was not his forte… that might explain his last 3 days of life. Like the 2-minute warning that can drag on forever and never seems to come to an end.
When my boys were born 8 weeks early, it was my Dad who drove me every single day to the hospital. He wasn’t allowed in the NICU so he’d sit in the car and read the paper for 2 hours while I held my babies. I never asked him to do this for me, he was just there… EVERY DAY! When we finally got the boys home, Dad showed up every day asking, “What’s on the docket today?” And proceeded to work on little house projects in between baby naps. They say it’s sometimes hard, for men especially, to accept disabilities in their children or grandchildren, but my Dad never faltered in his love and acceptance of Brian and Michael even for a moment. He embraced them and their Down syndrome without hesitation. He taught them to throw a ball just as he’d taught me. One day, he asked if there were any restrictions prohibiting people with Down syndrome from playing Major League baseball. Then he told me in earnest that Brian had a rocket arm and I should hone that skill because he could make the major leagues some day. He not only accepted them. He believed in them… just as he’d always believed in me.
And when he could no longer fix my house, he found another way to help. He became my daughter Olivia’s after school pick-up pal. From 3-year-old Preschool right up until 3rd grade, just before he went to the nursing home, my Dad picked Olivia up from school every day. He’d wait outside her dismissal door and as soon as they were together the teasing and talking and exploring began. She loved being with him as much as he enjoyed her company. They happily meandered through the neighborhood, collecting 4-leaf clovers and saving earth worms together. They talked about snakes and spiders and owls and creatures of all sorts — and, as Olivia reminded me, Grandpa really listened to her and he talked with her about stuff they both loved. As his memory faltered she teased him playfully, guiding him as much as he did her. Everyone at school knew him and knew his dedication to Olivia. Everyone in my neighborhood knew him and knew his dedication to me. He never failed to show it, to show up, to do something instead of doing nothing and to stop and say a pleasant hello to everyone he met as he walked to and from my house on his way to or from Pathmark for more oatmeal raisin cookies and ice cream.
I have not nearly touched the surface of his ongoing influence on me, my life or my children. And I would never presume to describe the influence he’s had on others – good or bad. But I personally acknowledge and accept both the good and the bad, for I am who I am today at least in part because of him. In his final days, the hospital chaplain asked us if my siblings and I had inherited any of his persistence or will power as he out-survived the doctors’ predictions. And as we acknowledged what we’d always seen as a negative — his stubbornness – in ourselves, as we were still able to laugh about the circumstances we faced… the chaplain admired our ability to maintain our sense of humor, our strength despite adversity, and our relationship with him. These at least in part, attributable to him, his genes, his blood running through our veins, his influence on us, both negative and positive.
Like my children with special needs, like ME, like every one of us here, he was a perfectly imperfect human being. He taught me to forgive him his trespasses as I hope to be forgiven for mine. He did the best he could with the life he was gifted. I strive to do the best I can with mine. He loved me and showed it as best he could. I hope my friends and family feel my love daily as I did his. He kept me company. He made me think and he made me laugh. He did this in his own way. He was my Dad, my teacher, my friend. And I will miss him terribly every single day. But, as his best friend, my daughter Olivia, explained to me after his death, “you can’t be sad for very long because he has 2 good knees and a brain that can remember everything now. And he’s not locked up in that nursing home in Freeport anymore. He’s playing football with his High School friends up in heaven. He’s happy!”
Dad used to say, if I drop dead on the football field, dig a hole in the end zone and roll me in! Well, it’s the 4th down, and you’ve made it to the GREAT end zone in the sky now, Dad. Where you always hoped to be laid to rest. Thank you, Dad, for being you. Keep watch on me as you always have and may the Peace of the Lord be with you, and with us all.
– In loving memory — Your Daughter, Your Student, Your Friend,