Monday, 2 December 2013

A Speech For My Dad

--- as given in the late afternoon of Sunday December 1, at Jeffery W. Glendinning Funeral Home in Port Rowan at the funeral service for my father

I don't feel comfortable considering this an eulogy. My dad was born in 1955 and I didn't come around until 1984. I can't really speak to his time in elementary or high school with Clive, or afterwards when he met Mum, Cindy, Jim, and other university friends at Western. Or, his first job in Brantford when he was starting at Sears with Rick, Bear, and Ron – later he hired Kathy and met Bruce and Eve, and there was a big pile of work friends. I'm sure that my dad was a lot of fun in the 70's and early 80's, if the pictures are any indication it was good times. (After the service, we will have all the photos down on the pool table in the basement at the wake.)

It would be hard to summarize the life of George Sweeton anyways, but even harder seeing that I wasn't alive for the first half. Yes, I was born at pretty much the exact halfway point of his life, I'm almost 30 and he would have turned 60 in June. And those numbers, and that ratio just don't add up. It feels to early to have lost my father and my dad was way too young to die. But there is no question that he lived a great life and that is what I would like to speak about today. And when I thought about how to organize this, chronologically, by personality trait, or hobby; and I couldn't really find a good way to do it – so I decided on the George Sweeton conversation style, which just dives head first into everything at once, goes on tangents, changes topic without warning or even finishing the original thought, etc.

So, I would like to start with the mention of Bird Studies Canada as the charity of choice. This is what we decided on when trying to think of a meaningful organization to remember Dad by. He was always connected to the community and he really enjoyed living down here. Bird Studies is an important part of Port Rowan, in fact his grave-site is just down the road in Bayview Cemetery, which is located right next to the Bird Studies Canada head office. As a family we frequently visited the bird banding area which is just a short walk from the cottage. Mike says he hasn't been but this is because we always went too early in the morning. We would take guests there all the time. And it was a great place for Dad, lots of people to ask questions to. It is a gathering place of sorts. Well, it is a gathering place of sorts for birders. I am not going to totally say that my dad was a birder, but almost. He really liked watching birds with Granny and Pa (who are actual birders) and liked seeing interesting ones when traveling. We have two sets of binoculars on the front windows at The Cottage. But I am not sure how much these were for looking at boats on the horizon, checking out girls on the beach, or birds – probably a combo. He also liked watching birds at the feeders in the back part of the cottage. When he first retired I used to get updates with all the drama that was happening around the feeder – "Lots of red wing blackbirds here today, Chris. They scared off all the finches." Luckily Mum retired soon after and I think his life got more interesting.

But not before he started to notice how much Mom was refilling the feeders. He quickly insisted on rationing and limited the number of cups a day – he had to find out how much these birds were costing them. I visited multiple times during this period (I think I was writing my thesis) and he had lots of notes and calculations on this. Calling co-ops and feed stores to get the cost of various seeds and mixes, trying to work out the best deal. It was edging into a type of commodity trading/speculation/investment thing. But this is the type of mind he had. It was amazing. He knew prices, understood money, and was great with numbers in general. It felt as though he could quote the price of almost anything he ever bought. He tended to use these skills to try to get a good deal or obsess over finding the best price, which, while ultimately super beneficial, could be frustrating. But the intellect behind that is incredible.

Now, speaking from myself, Mum, and Mike, we would to thank all of the people who dropped off or brought over food. We never really understood the food and death thing, but we do now. With family and friends visiting it has been great to have meals on hand that can be easily reheated. Thank you for taking care of us.

I want to pause to give my own thank you to Jason for being so supportive and helping my family; with everything from computer issues to being a great reheating chef. My dad really liked you, even though you are kind of the reserved type that he normally would be a bit weary of, he was always comfortable with you. I am very happy that you are a part of this family.

Family was so important to my dad, I think it may have come from the fact that his was so small. His own father died when Dad was 26 and he worked hard to stay in touch with the few second cousins and other relatives he had. My grandma passed away almost 10 years ago, which was very difficult for Dad. So for the past little while, there has only been him and his sister Laura. There is 11 years between them. Aunty Laura always said that when Dad was born it was less like a sibling and more like her own fun little living doll. For as long as I have known she always referred to him as her 'baby brother' and it never felt silly. In fact, I would still occasionally, without irony, ask Mum if I could talk to 'Daddy.' He was such an affectionate man that it made these terms of endearment feel natural.

Dad loved his mother, before she died she would often join the family on trips. Dad helped her around her house and we visited all the time. They would talk on the phone almost every night – since they both stayed up way later than anyone else. Besides traveling with Grandma, Mum and Dad often joined Granny and Pa on a lot of different trips (so many, I am not going to list them.) And I want to thank them, not just for being a helpful and calm presence at The Cottage for us over the past few days, but for welcoming Dad into your big Joynes family, and giving him so much love over the years.

Mum and Dad started dating in university and he met her family soon after. For my Aunty Nicky, who is my mom's much younger sister, it probably felt like Dad had been a part of her life since very early on. He took her to Jaws in the movie theaters before she was really old enough to see it. I want to apologize on his behalf for that. But I can't apologize for later on when he taught her and Uncle Dabo's son to yell out “99 cents” up and down the aisles of Giant Tiger when he was little. Dad is probably still proud of that. Thank you for coming to stay with us, being here for my Mum, and project managing details that we were too upset to handle. You have been a huge help to our family, both in practical and emotional ways.

The whole family owes a massive debt of gratitude to my Uncle Simon. Thank you for meeting my mom at the hospital on Wednesday. Thank you for being with her that morning so she wasn't alone. Thank you for making the difficult phone calls that no one wants to have to make – or receive. Without a doubt, Dad thought of you as a brother. Many of the great elements of his life are in part from you. You and Dan helped him achieve the dream of owning and racing a keelboat (I said racing, not winning.) You were a part of the massive project that was building the cottage. I gather that large renovations like that can really strain a marriage – but my parents had a great time. And, I can't believe that Uncle Simon even wanted to be near the property while it was happening. A few years earlier he had worked with Dad to build the garage. Framing a two story structure with a guy so uncomfortable with heights that he wasn't even keen to get on ladder can't have been easy. Nor was repeatedly discovering the stripped screws he had salvaged to try to save money. I can just picture you saying, “We can buy more screws, George!” You guys treated each other like family, like close family.

The whole group of us does. And we were lucky that in October, Mum, Dad, and I went up to Packenham and Uncle Mark and Emma hosted an amazing Thanksgiving. Thank you and the girls for that great weekend, even Mike was there, Aimee too. I told so many of my friends afterwards that it was the best Thanksgiving I had ever had. And I am sure that Dad really enjoyed it too. It was good to have a few days together, lots of walks, wine, beer. One of the best memories from that weekend is seeing Aimee, a little tipsy (Uncle Mark and Emma can be a bit of a bad influence). She sitting at the table and Mike is trying to leave because they have a long drive to get back to the hotel they were staying at. And Aimee didn't want to go. She sat there, with her arm over my dad's shoulders, and she said, “Micheal, Micheal, hey, what is the most important thing?” and Mike shrugged and said, “I donna know, breakfast?” She replied, “No. Family!” And it is that attitude, and the fact you would never let Mike tell you what to do, that made my dad love you so much. Your family has always been incredible, even before your engagement having us over for Christmas. Dad always looked forward to finding out what colour Mrs. Manipor wanted everyone to wear so we would matched in pictures. Having you join our family is awesome and Dad loved it. I am so glad Mike found you, and I am amazed, but so happy he convinced you to marry him.

I am kidding Mike, you have proven yourself to be a really good husband. Dad was delighted with your guy's relationship and wedding. Dad loved you so much Mike. He was so proud of you. He talked about you all the time. Was so excited with everything you did; from sports to real estate to the army and even just the person you have become. I know all this because of his emails. As you know, Dad had a special relationship with punctuation that was a little different than the rest of us. And nothing he typed out ever got a capital letter, both in emails or comments on my blog. No place names, not when he used 'i,' it would be lower case. My name at the beginning of the email, the 'love dad' at the end, all lower case. But whenever he was telling me something about you, the word 'Mike' would have a capital. Your name was always more important than anything else in any email. Even 'mum' was typed using lower case.

Mum always said she dated Dad because he was the most interesting person she had ever met. She couldn't always figure him out, he was surprising and unique. And I think to a certain extent that has been true for all of their marriage. They would have such a great time together, always having fun. And from Mike and I, thank you for dating him. And, thank you for marring him. You two were the best parents. I was always excited for my friends to met my parents. We all got along so well. Hanging out together, playing games, traveling, we are a close family.

Having kids didn't stop Mom and Dad from acting like newlyweds. Maybe even earlier than that - like when they crashed Cindy and Jim's honeymoon and joined them in Jamaica for their second week. There was no question how much my dad loved her. They were all over each other all the time. Point of embarrassment for me but a demonstration of how close they were. Every New Years Eve, they would party with Kathy, Bruce, Rick, and Eve. If it was a contest, my parents would always win who could kiss the longest at midnight; really they just used it as an excuse to make out on the couch. Which I would use as an excuse to get drunk. So Mum, it is early December, and we are going to have to get through Christmas, and New Years, and it is going to be incredibly difficult this year. But when I look around, there are all these people who are here for us, to show there support, to share how much they loved Dad.

And so I want to thank all of you. For coming today. For showing your sympathy in any number of other ways. Notes of condolences, the emails, social media, calls, everything. Thank you. George Sweeton was a really great guy and he will be missed across this room. When you met him, he was so genuine. This is mainly because he wouldn't know how to be fake, all the actors are on the other side of the family. So even if you were meeting him for the first time or are old friends he would be so talkative and in such a positive way, he really was rarely angry. I don't know if you were on his call list but he phoned everyone. If he was friends with you, he would probably call you, just to talk. About bridge, or Settlers, or a recent sailing race, music, or movies. He hated to be alone. At one point he had a head set so that he could clip the cordless phone to his belt and wander around chatting.

He was so inquisitive, would ask a million question about you. He was a total people person, the life of the party. He had so much energy. And he really wasn't enjoying getting older. Unlike some of my relatives, who I feel are aging into their personalities, it always felt like Dad was aging away. That deep down he was still a guy in his 20's, maybe that wasn't even deep down, it was right at surface level. I am glad he never had to deal with a long suffering illness and that he lived life to the fullest. He died in his sleep, with no pain, and no fear. It is too soon, but it is the exact way he would have wanted to go.

He did anything he wanted to do. Concern about the cost rarely actually stopped him from doing something. He traveled so much, always with an attention to budget; eating homemade sandwiches wrapped in damp paper towel is a key memory from any childhood road trip. So with all his travel, the cottage, boats, cars, hot tubs (after he couldn't mooch from Aimee and Greg any more), his hobbies, and amazing friends and family - I know that he died with no regrets. If there is anything, it would be that he hadn't gotten his money's worth out of the big screen TV, which he waited forever to purchase. But he left nothing unsaid. Dad had no filter; if he thought it, he said.

I want to acknowledge all of his more recent friends, so many sailors and some local friends who aren't sailors. He had gone on long haul pick-ups and races, crewed on so many boats, and I know that these newer friendships were very special to him. Sailing was an amazing sport for him, so many things to think about. He liked the math and physics involve. It suited his ADD. And the keelboats meant people, crews of people to work with. He was a good teacher, really patient. Showing people knots; being excited about the race because he was a bit competitive but not frustrated or angry with people.

And now, in death, he is still teaching us some things. That you can have a massive heart attack that kills you instantly in your sleep, with no real symptoms or warning signs. And, that with identified high cholesterol, even years of medication and changes to your diet (all that skim milk for nothing) arteries can still get clogged and an angiogram would be a good thing to get done. Also, make sure your spouse knows where all the important documents are. My dad has what my mom calls 'squirrel holes' everywhere. Filing systems and logic that only he really understood. He also saved everything; he still has four beta machines, which I don't even think could plug into the big screen TV, one of them only rewinds.

The last person I want to thank is my dad. For believing in the Fix-It-Fairies; keeping broken electronics in the hope that the next time he turned them on they would work. For showing us that a man doesn't really need to know how to change a tire if they have CAA. For being the type of guy who could and would cry repeatedly at the movie Remember the Titans. For giving me the greatest childhood anyone could ever want, and putting up with me in my teen years. Thankfully because afterwards we became very close. I love him so much.

And, Dad, I miss you. I promise to remember how important friends and family are. I will keep Steph and Teri close. And treasure all of my friends and past roommates (who have taken care of me in some really rough times, now it seems to be Jason's turn). I also promise to always do my taxes on time. I know we file on paper because the $15 cost to do it online is too high and I can't promise that I won't switch to the digital system. But I know it bugs you when I do them late. I will try to take care of Mum and stay in touch in Mike, which is pretty hard to do. I promise to keep the cat off the couch and try to stop saying 'like' all the time.

I know my Dad is somewhere special and I hope wherever that is there are 12 km/hr winds and bridge partners that are as good as Aunty Laura, Granny, or the guys you played with weekly. I hope that your hip doesn't hurt and you can play squash. But most of all I hope that you are very happy there, because you were so happy here. I am going to try to keep that in mind - and I am going to try to live like that.


Lindsay Gerus said...

I should not have read this at work, you had me in tears.

Words cannot begin to explain how sorry I am for your loss.
My condolences to you and your family.

Marc Allain said...

Very moving speech Christine. I cannot express how sorry I am for your loss but we are thinking about you and your family and don't hesitate to call on me for anything.


Anonymous said...

Amazing Chris, it was such a beautiful tribute to your dad.

Love T

Anonymous said...

Wow Chris, you had me laughing and crying all in one. Such a beautiful picture you painted of your dad. I am so sorry for your loss.

Love Michelle (Mackay Patel)