This time, one year ago, I was sitting at my father’s house in shock. It was two days after Thanksgiving, and I had just sat with my father’s body- something no one expected to do for many years. Even saying this now, it feels just as impossible. The pain and the sickness I felt has not changed much at all. Flashes from that Saturday are just as brutal. I have never lost the sensation that some time soon, my dad will call. I am still waiting for someone to explain to me how or why my father died what seemed like just a moment after we had reached an understanding of each other for the first time in my life.
We visited my dad’s grave today for the first time since his funeral. The bare hills of the veteran’s cemetery took in every bit of the cold, each gust of wind. We walked around with our heads down, hands buried in pockets, searching the endless flat stones for the right name. I was looking by date and it wasn’t until I came to the end of all of the graves that I realized that my father had died in 2012. A year had passed. So many things had happened. My dad wasn’t alive to see the news of the marathon bombings. He missed some really horrible things. I was thankful for that, knowing that he would carry such events heavily in his heart. But there were joys, small victories, good stories that I should have been able to share. I think so often how much my father would like my boyfriend and how pissed off I am that they never met. That my boyfriend met me at the very worst time of my life, that he has stood by me, and how happy that would’ve made my dad. That here I am, so often thinking of what my father would say about the world, my life, everything. And that in the end, I’m just making my best guess.
This could go on endlessly-me talking to myself in circles, trying to make sense of my dad’s death. I’m far from done. But right now I’m worn out and I just want to, for a little while, pretend that this whole miserable year never happened (except for the good parts.) I’ve been wanting to share my dad’s eulogy, which really isn’t all that well written now that I give it another look. I sure as hell don’t agree with my desperate attempts to make sense of it at the time, but here it is…
One of the last conversations I had with my father, as he was driving me to one of many many doctor’s appointments that he escorted me to, we were talking about the string of unfortunate events that had made up my life for the last couple of years.
“Would you say that you have a bad life?” he asked.
“Absolutely not,” I told him. “I think that the support that I’ve gotten from the people around me has been amazing.”
“That’s good” he said, pausing for a moment. “Would you say that you’ve had some bad luck?”
“Yes,” I said.
He nodded. “I think that’s a fair assessment.”
This was something I always knew from my father- that life could be hard, inexplicably so, but we all have to do our best, to keep moving and not feel sorry for ourselves. What my father and I did not know, is that all of this had a purpose, like the old adage says “everything happens for a reason.” People would tell me this all the time and I would nod politely, wishing they’d keep their wisdom to themselves. What I know now, is that every sorrow I encountered was just another way for my father and I to become closer, for us to understand each other in a better way, and for me to know unequivocally how much my father loved me.
Paul Arthur was born in Boston on May 15, 1943, the 7th child of Esther and Ralph J. Two younger brothers and one younger sister followed him to make a full house of ten children. While life was not always easy with so many children, my father would recount his childhood in Boston with more positive memories than anything else. To listen to his stories, you’d think that his boyhood was one great adventure after another. He talked about sneaking out of the house with his brothers and not being able to get back in, the story of how one of his brothers was stuck overnight in a cemetery crypt on an adventure gone wrong, and how he and his siblings would muddy their winter jackets as soon as they were bought home from the store. And while he spoke of times that were hard, his overwhelming message was the importance of family and looking out for the people you loved.
Paul also believed in doing for others. He started by serving his country in the United States Army fresh out of high school. He spoke fondly about the time spent in Germany as a solider and seeing President Kennedy speak to the troops. He felt that this time taught him about honor and discipline as a young man. He returned home to the United States, narrowly escaping duty in the Vietnam War, to begin his life as a young husband and father. He also began another kind of service, as an officer for the Boston Police Department. He served all over the city of Boston, in various departments, for over 30 years, retiring in 2004. Though he spent time on the SWAT team and in ballistics, to name a few, perhaps his most valuable time was spent as a community service officer in Dorchester. Again, he believed strongly in the importance of looking out for the people around you. He believed in individual responsibility and hard work. He was popular in the community for his every day involvement as well as his weekly input into the local newspaper, The Dorchester Reporter. Always eager to see the fun in things, he would search through arrest sheets from the week to find stories of interesting, outlandish, and downright imbecile crimes. He would then craft a few simple arrest descriptions into colorful tales full of dark humor, valuable lessons and bad puns. Occasionally, something would strike a chord with him, leading him to compose a serious piece about an issue he found important. And this was very much how my father was as a man, goofy and playful until something hit him in a way that made him feel the need to speak with only the parts of him that were eloquent and wise.
When he wasn’t policing and writing, Paul was working on his house, his neighbor’s house, the friend of a friend’s uncle’s house, and so on. My father never gave a second thought to helping people he hardly knew and some he didn’t know at all. He looked at the world and tried to fix it in whatever way he could, and a lot of times, that meant fixing a hole in a wall. He told me once that he solved problems in his mind doing the most slow repetitive tasks. But he didn’t just work on his own worries, he was a man who gave calm and sensible advice to many. He was a man who could talk to anyone and usually win them over, though he was often a man of few words. Paul believed that at the end of the day, words meant very little- actions were everything. There are few people that he cared for who didn’t benefit from this philosophy. My father didn’t freely give out affection and praise, but was abundantly generous with his time and himself. He didn’t understand the notion of shoddy workmanship or half hearted effort. When he committed himself to something, he committed himself 100%, no matter how difficult and painful that something may be.
My father lived simply as often as possible. He devoted his time first and foremost to family and friends. He took great pleasure in bringing people out on his boat, where he would immediately show you how to drive and put you in charge so that he could entertain everyone else with stories and terrible terrible jokes. He always loved musicals and raised 5 children on the songs and did his best to pass it on to the next generation of the family. My father had a special way of making children feel important and getting them to use their imaginations whenever possible. He taught us to think for ourselves but to respect our elders. He taught us to love animals and getting our hands dirty. He taught us to to always be kind and to always try our hardest. Nobody has ever believed in me the way my father has, and I know that I am far from alone. He believed that everyone is essentially redeemable, that no one is beyond hope. His heart never ran out of room to love one more person or to forgive people who had wronged him. He taught me and so many others that there are few things in this world that can’t be overcome with time, hard work, and a strong and ready spirit.
In the end, my father touched more people than he ever really understood. He knew he was charming, but never knew just how much or just how memorable he was. When my nieces were very small he told me that they would remember the silly things we did, the playfulness, and many adventures together. My father was all of these things to his grandchildren, he had these abilities in droves. And so I know that as a husband, a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a friend, and a man, my father will always be remembered.