There are those who seek fame and fortune in life. My father was not one of those people.
There are those who put their own interests first. My father was not one of those people.
There are those who seek admiration, adoration, respect, sympathy, compassion, and a host of other responses from those around them. My father was not one of those people.
My father was a teacher.
It was more than his vocation, more than a job, a profession, or a career. It was who he was and it was what he loved. He constantly sought knowledge and wisdom, even in the most unlikely of places – not for his own edification, but so that he could pass it along to others – human and canine.
The truth mattered to Dad. The hopes, desires, and emotions of others mattered to Dad. In nearly every conversation he ever had, he would tell a story from his life. It might be a story of one of his many successes. It might be a story of one of his many failures. It might just be a story of everyday life. But it was always a story that he felt would provide something useful to the listener. It was never about him, but about how he could be of service to somebody else.
Dad smiled often. A big, giant, authentic smile – because he found great joy in life. Joy in his surroundings, joy in the growth and accomplishments of others, joy in the bounce of a dog’s step, joy in living life.
I was truly blessed in life to be the recipient of so much of his joy. When ever I was down, when ever I faced a difficult decision, when ever I was not sure how to go on – I talked with Dad. He would listen, as he was a great listener. And then he would share a story. As a child I was often frustrated with these stories – I just wanted him to tell me straight out what I thought I needed to hear. As I grew and matured, I realized that he had provided the information, the knowledge, and the wisdom I needed to come to my own conclusions – to make the decisions that were right for me. Not what he wanted me to do, not what would work out best for him, but he always gave me what I needed to advance my own way down my own path – and live my own life.
He gave this gift not only to my brother John and I, but to every one he conversed with, every student in his classroom, and every athlete he coached. He was indeed a very generous man.
One of the things that both John and I gained from him was a love for the written word. And it would not be a eulogy for an English teacher without a poem. Dad taught me to enjoy the simple way of the poet Edgar Guest – the poet laureate of Michigan. This is Guest’s “A Boy and His Dad.”
A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip— There is a glorious fellowship! Father and son and the open sky And the white clouds lazily drifting by, And the laughing stream as it runs along With the clicking reel like a martial song, And the father teaching the youngster gay How to land a fish in the sportsman's way. I fancy I hear them talking there In an open boat, and the speech is fair. And the boy is learning the ways of men From the finest man in his youthful ken. Kings, to the youngster, cannot compare With the gentle father who's with him there. And the greatest mind of the human race Not for one minute could take his place. Which is happier, man or boy? The soul of the father is steeped in joy, For he's finding out, to his heart's delight, That his son is fit for the future fight. He is learning the glorious depths of him, And the thoughts he thinks and his every whim; And he shall discover, when night comes on, How close he has grown to his little son. A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip— Builders of life's companionship! Oh, I envy them, as I see them there Under the sky in the open air, For out of the old, old long-ago Come the summer days that I used to know, When I learned life's truths from my father's lips As I shared the joy of his fishing-trips.
I would like to close by sharing a story of Mel – and the power of the Dum Dum sucker. For every athlete who went out for track, he would make a sheet listing all of the possible events in a track and field meet. On this sheet he would note the athlete’s best performance in every and any event. Each time the athlete would post a new “best” performance in any event, that student’s name would go on the “Sucker List.” And each week Coach Hall would read off the names on the “Sucker List” and award a Dum Dum sucker for each personal best.
Of course it wasn’t the actual Dum Dum sucker that inspired 18-year old boys to push themselves to a new achievement. It was the public recognition, the acknowledgement that Coach noticed their efforts and wanted to celebrate their achievements with the team.
This led shot-putters to form their own “Fat Man” 440-Relay team – so that they could earn that sucker and that recognition. The fact that the sprint work also improved their ability to turn a circle and put the shot farther was never discussed. It was simply enough that they tried something new, or improved on a previous best.
As you leave the Sanctuary today, you will find bowls of Dum Dum suckers waiting. Please take a sucker, on credit from Mel, and as you go through the day – do something new or better than you have ever done before. That will be Mel’s legacy.