On Father’s Day 1996, I gave my dad a leather chair and ottoman to replace the one he had worn the leather off of – especially the arm and head rests – from hours spent reading, talking on the phone, chatting with whomever was sitting across from him having a cocktail. Yes, probably even dozing. It was meant to be the ultimate gift for his years of love, guidance, nurturing, advice, mentoring, tennis, discipline and devotion.
Two weeks later, he died very suddenly in his sleep. He was only 73 and seemingly in great health, but clearly something made his heart stop dead. We buried his ashes with tennis balls, a Hershey bar, a bottle of Dewar’s – all his favorite things. But the truth was told on the headstone, just as he specified in his will:
Susie, Wendy and Mike
My proudest accomplishment
I don’t know why this surprised me so at the time except that it was during an era when parenting and children were not as celebrated as they are now. Not that being a mother or father wasn’t important or highly regarded and, generally, gratifying. But it didn’t seem to be the all-consuming, glorified pursuit it is now with children and parents bonding as friends, not just relatives, on trips, at parties and joint endeavors.
“I love you” wasn’t tossed around as freely as it is now – “love you!” casually ending so many phone conversations and outings with friends – even though privately, there was much affection and deep feeling. And, it was not common then to openly place children above careers, civic successes, accomplishments, skills and victories of all kinds.
These days, parents are more public about their displays of affection – even worship, in some cases – and children feelmore like proud accomplishments (perhaps because of the emphasis on self-esteem in recent years?).
For whatever reasons, I have seen more and more obituaries in recent years that go beyond just listing children as survivors, including in specific detail a favorite aspect of the relationship with a child:
More often than not, children are still just listed as survivors – often “devoted” or “loving” – but it does add to the personality and the legacy of the deceased to be more specific in what made the deceased a living, loving dad.
I was reminded of this reading a recent notice in the Richmond Times-Dispatch– an obit written by the man before he died.
"A life without love is not worth living."
There is no second, third or fourth place. By far the most important thing in my life was my family. Both the one that brought me here and raised me at Stafford-On-Alley and the one that Ev and I created together in our long marriage… I am also proud of my children and of theirs. I was fortunate to have many close long-term friends. Other credits are minor by comparison…
Closer to home, I learned much about a former Atlanta Journal-Constitutioncolleague, Ron Taylor, from his obituary, and discovered a touching side of him I didn’t know about from our office relationship.
He especially cherished time with his son, Alex Brooke Taylor, whether camping, going to movies or taking him and his friends to a punk rock concert.
So in memory of George Soper and so many other fathers who are equally devoted to and proud of their children as he was – but maybe not able to articulate it in granite for the ages – this is a day to honor the fathers and father figures – brothers, cousins, uncles, friends, bosses – who consider us “children” worthy of their pride.
Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.
Top Image: stock.xchng/ba1969
Second Image: Susan Soper