On Friday we gathered for a memorial service for dad. It was simply amazing. A slice of heaven. I have spent the past two days hearing people tell me what kind of man he was. How he helped their marriage or their wayward son, or even how he saved their life. Young and old, the broken, the whole, drug addicts, “tax collectors” and sinners all lined up for hours, in a queue that snaked through the sanctuary to the lobby and out the doors. And I stood there under the immensity of being called his son—honored beyond belief to call him dad. Below are two pieces I wrote for the day. The first, a tribute printed in the bulletin. The second was what I shared for five minutes in front of a packed house. I barely got it out, but felt proud that I did. I could not possibly honor my dad enough—yesterday, and for the rest of my life.
(In the bulletin)
We don’t really need a memorial service to remember Matt. He is, and always will be, unforgettable. His bounding stride and boundless wisdom. His smile, laughter, and love… all dished out in limitless amounts—just like the way he would fill a plate at the Chinese buffet. His legendary stories will stay with us. As well as his antics. And of course his joy. These things defined him. These and thousands more: The very-red sports car. The collection of rubberized puke and other unmentionable pranks. His love for food and beach-front sunsets. The way he treasured Carina. The way he treasured our children. In our memories Matt is a comforting arm over our shoulder or a loving slap on the back. He’s the face of one who was there on our best and worst day. One who never let go. He’s the face of a shepherd forever in search of a single lost sheep. He’s a hand stretched out to rescue, and feet made beautiful as they bring the Good News. Matt’s unconventional ways sometimes raised eyebrows, but they also opened doors. His unconditional love for young people made him a magnet for those who thought themselves worthless. His understanding made him an ambassador for their worth. Matt had more deep and meaningful relationships than seems reasonable for one man. He crammed more hours into a day than seems possible. His life on earth was fuller than a mere sixty-six years. Each of us will remember him for some of the lighthearted and heartwarming things that made Matt who he was. But some of us will remember him for far more—for some special time when he turned our life around. Or for the day he spoke courage to our heart. He once wrote to me saying that he liked to think of himself as an encourager; “because at its center,” he said, “is found the word courage.” We will not see Matt on this earth anymore. But neither will we be able to forget him. And as we laugh or offer up thanks at the random memories when they come, he would wish for us to be encouraged—to take courage. And perhaps, if we can, go after some of those lost sheep he didn’t have enough time to reach—the ones who could rightly be called forgotten, but to Matt were unforgettable.
(My words to the congregation… and to dad)
When I was a boy I remember spending time at my fathers hair-cutting salon. I would have my haircut and then try not to be bored for the rest of the day. I’d spin around in the barber chairs until I saw dad’s look of warning from across the shop. I would help sweep up the hair. Or wander into the break-room and look for leftover coffee cake.
My dad’s clients, ever faithful, were friends and confidants to him. He would often take an opportunity to introduce me to some of them—often, older ladies with a poof of hair atop their colorful faces—the kind of ladies who loved to squeeze the cheeks of little boys like me. Dad would call me over to say hello. And he and I would play this game.
“This is your son!” they would say. “What a darling! He’s gorgeous!”
And then dad would ask them, “who does he look like? Me or his mother?” He would always ask that question. At his station was proudly displayed a beautiful picture of my young mom. And the client would glance over there, then to me, to dad, to me….
“Oh! He looks like his mother,” they would say.
And I would pretend to be relieved. Roll my eyes. Thank you! I would say. Dad would laugh.
We did this a thousand times. Always my “mother” they would say. I was always relieved.
I grew up with a cautious distance set between my dad and I. He was not yet the man we know him to be today. And I think I always worried that I might become like him when I grew up. That I might look like him.
A lot of time has gone by since those days. Dad left the hair business to follow this crazy calling to work with kids. And in the process God did something amazing with him. What was once a calling became a passion; and his passion became what we see here today.
Dad and I grew closer together over those years—the distance between us closed in by a common heart for ministry; a common and deep understanding of this thing we both called a “privilege.”
And we both grew older. Dad, wiser and grayer. Me, less like a boy, more like a man. And I delighted to see myself grow more and more like him.
We will see Matt again someday, but not here in this world. And days may come when we wonder why he’s gone from us, and we may look for him—if not from habit, then from the empty place in our hearts. But if we look closely we will still see him… In the legacy of the countless people he touched. People were the treasure he left here on earth. And the treasure he took with him.
And if you look and still can’t see him, take a glance and look over here. Into these kind brown eyes he gave me.
Because the happy truth is that I do look like him.
Dad, I want to be just like you when I grow up.