This Father’s Day is quite poignant for me, as I lost my father two weeks ago now. The last words he said to me just a few days before that were, “Happy Birthday,” and then he drifted off to sleep for a few days. While his passing was expected given the 7 months he spent in hospice care, the loss did not hurt any less. So today, Father’s Day, I will spend quietly mourning the loss of my dad, remembering all the great times we had, and celebrating my husband for the father he is to our two kids.
Dad didn’t want a funeral or a fuss. We had a small memorial to honor him, and so the family could come together and share stories. My oldest brother gave the service and led us in songs. My older brother put together a slide show of a lifetime of memories. And I gave the eulogy. Afterwards we had a wonderful meal and there I was, taking dad’s place, and giving a toast.
Dad’s eulogy was the hardest thing I have ever sat down to write. It was even harder to give. But today, I want to share it.
The last time I gave a speech about my father was at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, fourteen years ago, as we celebrated their love. And it was shortly thereafter that my dad revealed his first cancer diagnosis. And as was typical for my father, he didn’t want to break the news with the family until after all of the festivities and celebrations were over because he was always looking out for everyone else.
In the words of Will Rogers, Jr., “His heritage to his children wasn’t words or possessions, but an unspoken treasure, the treasure of his example as a man and a father.”
Dr. Curtis Ray Cooper was many things to many people. He was a husband to the love of his life, my mother Patricia. He was a father to my brothers Curtis and Chuck and me. He was a grandfather to my two nephews and my two children. He was a brother, a son, an uncle, a cousin. He was a teacher, an army veteran, a gifted linguist, a baseball enthusiast, and a friend to many. He was a three time cancer survivor. But to me he was just daddy and he was my hero.
Frank Tyger said, “The most precious thing a parent can give a child is a lifetime of happy memories.” And that is just what my father did. I can remember as a little girl I used to dance with my father – with my feet on top of his. That dance led to years of ballet lessons, dancing with my father’s Mexican dance group, and of course a sweet father-daughter dance at my wedding to the song “My Girl.”
Dad came from humble beginnings in Tennessee and grew up on the South Side of Chicago, where they nicknamed him “Rebel” because he came from the south. But he had big goals and dreams far beyond those Chicago neighborhoods. He dreamed of being an astronaut and the first man on the moon. He loved history and playing chess. He joined the army after high school and learned foreign languages, earning him a position with the Army Security Agency. This job took him, my mother, and my oldest brother to Japan and Mexico in those early years as a family, and fostered my father’s love for foreign lands.
As kids we spent summers driving across the country in a station wagon or motor home, stopping at national parks on our way to visit family. Later in life he traded that motor home for various cruise ship, traveling all over the world, seeing the sights and taking in the history. From the Grand Canyon and the Grand Cayman Islands to the Great Wall of China, my father loved to see the world and experience different cultures. And he loved to share those adventures with his family. One such cruise from Montreal to Boston a few years ago, we combined as many of his favorite things as possible. We saw the sights and history of Canada. We had a big family reunion with 16 family members on the ship. When we got to Boston we went to a Red Sox game, and walked the Freedom Trail, and at one point a stranger on the street stopped us to ask directions, and there was my father speaking with her in Mandarin. That was daddy, always willing to lend a hand and help someone in need.
Strength and Ambition
As a young girl my father used to instill in me the same ambitions and goals he had, telling me I could be anything I wanted to be, including the first woman president. I credit my work ethic and drive, and my self-confidence to my father. As a teacher, my father impacted the lives of many students over the years, but his most impactful role was as a husband, a father, and a grandfather.
My father told me he admired his father who was strong and could hit a baseball “a country mile.” And I admired my father for a different kind of strength he had. Always a fighter, a teacher, and a motivator. He used to swim or run with me on his back when I was a little girl. Prior to his first treatment for lung cancer, he was playing basketball with my husband, and told he was trying to get in his best shape ever. And in these last few months, he worked out once or twice a day to stay alive as long as he could, despite his terminal diagnosis. On one recent visit, he proudly flexed his arm and told me to “feel my muscle!”
His goal and drive these last few months was to stay alive to help my mother through her recovery from a stroke, and her transition to her new community. He encouraged my mother to get involved and meet the neighbors and glowed about her progress every chance he could. Dad made friends, playing bridge and working out. Daddy was an optimist to the very end.
Over the last several months, I have spent time with my parents reliving our most precious memories, telling stories, and asking my father about his life. And for all of his accomplishments, he kept coming back to marrying my mother, raising three kids, and having a family as his greatest achievements. My father loved his wife, children, and grandchildren with all of his heart and always took the opportunity to tell them how proud he was. He shared with us all his love of science fiction, baseball, and travel. But mostly he shared his love of family.
My father was truly his happiest with his children or grandchildren around him or when he was holding my mother’s hand. My father once told me that he started dating my mother in 1954, and never stopped.
Daddy, your love, your understanding, your wisdom, and your sense of humor will live within all of us. These gifts that you have given your family are more precious than anything.
In our grief let us smile remembering my father sitting at a baseball game and eating a hot dog, playing bridge or a game with his grandchildren, traveling the world on his next great adventure, or quietly holding his wife’s hand.
One final story as I think about that father-daughter dance at my wedding and the joy and laughs we shared over the years. When we were planning my wedding I remember watching the Steve Martin movie “Father of the Bride” and I kept telling my dad he needed to watch if before the wedding. Sure enough, he did. So the big day comes, and daddy proudly walks me down the aisle. When asked who gives this woman away, daddy proudly said “HIS mother and I” instead of “HER mother” (just like Steve Martin did in the movie). And in the video, you can see him just shaking his head and hands as he walked to his seat, for the mistake he made. But we have certainly had a story to tell for years!
I may have outgrown my father’s lap long ago, or dancing on his feet, but I have always been and will always be his little girl.
My father taught me many things, except how to live without him.
I love you, Daddy. ❤
P.S. My father’s one big regret was that he didn’t get to finish his baseball bucket list of visiting all of the Major League ball parks. Hopefully one day my brothers and I can accomplish that for him.
Cancer is a terrible thing that has impacted my family’s lives many times.
- In 2004, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer, the first of four different cancer diagnoses he would receive.
- In 2009, I walked the Breast Cancer 3-Day in honor of my grandmother.
- In 2010, I walked the Relay for Life in honor of my father and a dear co-worker.
- In 2014, my mother was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer.
- In 2016, my father was diagnosed and treated for Gastro-Intestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST). Two years later it metastasized to his liver.
Please visit the American Cancer Society to get information and resources, and to donate if you’re so inclined.