My Dad’s Eulogy

My dad went into the hospital in late February for pneumonia. He took a turn for the worse, as he had an existing lung disease and couldn’t fight it off, and I flew out to California on March 17th. He passed away March 19th and his memorial was March 22nd. I thought I would share the eulogy I wrote for him, even though it’s personal, because I want people to know what a weird and wonderful person he was.

dad-and-me
My dad and me in 1992.

 

“I have tried in my way to be free.” – Leonard Cohen

My dad would have wanted me to write a eulogy about him. So I will, though writing about him in the past tense still feels strange and wrong.

My dad was an odd man. And he’d be the first to agree. He had a colourful life and I can share a lot of stories of my dad’s rather interesting past. Others can share plenty more. He had pneumonia at 6 weeks old, so at the beginning and end of his life. Even as a kid was stubborn. He refused to eat anything except cherry turnovers and Coke, so my dad, in Canada in the 1950s, had rickets, and as an adult had a dip in his sternum.

high-school-portrait
My dad’s high school portrait. Note skinny tie, which he was very proud of.

After Canada, he moved to LA. As a teenager, my very white dad very nearly joined an LA Mexican gang which is still around today. He gave himself a gang tattoo on his left arm, which he eventually turned into an R for his last name. To stop him from joining the gang, his family moved to Sacramento, where my dad then promptly got into more trouble. He was the first person at his high school to be kicked out for marijuana. He fathered a child when he was sixteen, my sister Wendy (now 52). At one point, his grades were 2 As—in art and drafting—and Fs in everything else.

My dad became a full-fledged hippie, with 4 foot long hair and customized extra wide bell-bottom jeans. He lived in San Francisco, going to art school, and probably tried most drugs at least once. He smoked pot pretty much every day for four decades. At 20, he fathered another child, my older half-brother Jay (now 48). Because of his new status as a dad, he wasn’t drafted into the Vietnam War. He dated a woman he loved named Nancy. He met my mom in 1983, at her birthday party, which was his birthday as well. They were married in a rose garden. I was born five years later, and my little brother nearly four years after that. My parents divorced when I was 8, and it was a long-drawn out affair with harsh words on both sides. But, eventually, my parents became friends again.

dad-exploratorium
My dad looking a little like a mad scientist at the Exploratorium in SF in 2011.

My dad dabbled in a few potential careers, including doing special effects in Hollywood. He did this and that, always scheming, convinced that his big break was just around the corner, and that eventually he would be really rich. Unfortunately, none of these schemes ever worked out, and sometimes the family bore the cost. He couldn’t work for “the man.”

No one could ever rely on my father financially. He could never afford to give his kids presents, and was always short on child support. Once, he borrowed my student loan money to make rent and paid me back in groceries bought with his food stamps. He was forgetful, and if you wanted him to be somewhere at a certain time, you had to tell him to get there 30 minutes earlier, since he was always late. He was messy–that’s a gross understatement–and lived in an industrial shop full of junk.

My dad could be incredibly annoying, and talked non-stop, usually about his schemes, or math, or politics. Companionable silence was not his forte. Even when he was first in the hospital and he couldn’t speak because of the ventilator, they still couldn’t shut him up, and he wrote reams of notes for his family to read. He’d put hearts in his exclamation marks, like a 12-year-old girl. At the end, seeing him so quiet was one of the hardest things.

He always wanted to learn more, even if certain things didn’t come easily to him. He loved films, taking us to the movies all the time, especially to the super saver cinema where the tickets were $2. We saw The Matrix 13 times in the theatre there. He wanted to write a screenplay one day. He practiced his broken Spanish with people all the time. He taught himself advanced mathematics and programming and memorized Pi to 1000 places. He studied the stock market. All part of his many schemes and a constant desire to understand the world around him.

For a long time, I was angry with him, for not being able to support his family like my friends’ dads. I could be so surly towards him, especially as a teenager. When I moved to Scotland, I didn’t talk to him that much. If I phoned him, he spoke at me incessantly instead of having an actual conversation. But the last time I was out and found out he had interstitial lung disease, I told him I did want to have more contact with him, and he was so happy. He got much better at listening. We emailed back and forth, and now I have those forever.

dad-wedding-6
My dad giving a speech at my wedding.

I always knew my dad loved me and my siblings fiercely. I never had the tiniest doubt about that. He told us he loved us all the time. In one of his last emails to me he said “I love you taller than the billionth Universe in the total web of existence!” He was so proud of all our accomplishments. When Wendy reached out and found him when she was 37, he was delighted. He always wanted to find her but never had the money to hire a detective. He spoke to Jay on the phone all the time about politics and football. He read all my books and told me how proud he was of them. I’m so glad he read False Hearts, and I’m sad that he’ll never read Masquerade. He spent a lot of time with my brother Ian, and they never fought.

My dad was a strange man, full of contradictions. He was curious, he was hopeful, he was infuriating, he was selfish, he was wonderful and kind. My dad died flat broke but rich in love.

I will miss him so much. I love him taller than outer space and longer than time.

dad-goodbye
RIP Gary Lyle Richardson (19 December 1945 – 19 March 2015)

 

 

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