Thursday, March 7, 2013

*BEST OF DTB #257* A simple kind of man- RIP Dad

As many of you know, my father passed away on February 25th. It was way back in the fall that I asked my mother and brothers for the permission to say the eulogy. Today, my father's memorial funeral mass took place followed by a military burial at Quantico National cemetery. It concluded with a bereavement luncheon where there was a slideshow and many family members spoke on his behalf. The speech I gave went through about a dozen revisions before I was happy with it. I include it below with thanks to all who supported my family during this time.

Today, my father will be honored by the military he so courageously served in and fought for in Korea and Vietnam.  No doubt, you will also hear from members of the Church and the Knights of Columbus who will talk about how much he did to serve the less fortunate. My brothers and other family members will almost assuredly talk about any number of wonderful and treasured memories of football and fishing and Christmas and marching bands.These are all very, very good things that should and will be talked about today.

One that sticks out in my mind is the day I saw my dad save a young boy from drowning. Another is the Christmas when he got me and two of my brothers BB guns. Dad, you gotta know that was a big mistake.

Nevertheless, I wish to honor my Dad today by talking about what he taught us about living.

Many of you know that I had a difficult relationship with my father growing up and you may be thinking that I am the last person who should be giving this speech. It's a fair concern.
Let me just respond with the words of Thorton Wilder that "In the battle of love, only wounded soldiers can serve". I love that quote. It really says it all. The greatest testament of the miracle of my reconciliation with my father was the size of the mountain and the strength of the love that moved it. I am here to testify about my father, the wounded warrior and mountain mover.

Yes, I do believe that pretending our home was always perfect would be an injustice to my Dad and to all of you. Like any home, we had good times and bad times. That is how life is lived-out in a fallen world. A life without struggles is a fantasy.

Yes, by all means today, remember and talk about the good times, the fun, the laughs and the celebrations. We should and do celebrate these things and hold them in our hearts. Yet, to appreciate the man is not to pretend away the bad times because the measure of the man is who he is in good times and bad. My words today are about far more than our triumphs and tragedies, they are about him. My dad met every day with the same grit, the same down home simplicity and the same corny jokes. 

My Dad was a great man and we want each person here to know how to honor him from this day forward. There was a time when I would have been shocked to hear myself say that but I came to understand it by living. One of his favorite expressions was "I've been down that road". Well, Dad, now, so have I and you were right. Experience is a hard task-master.

We are all prodigal sons but the story of the prodigal son is not about the son, it is about the Father. Our earthly Father showed us a model of our heavenly Father- unchanging, real and forgiving. I, and my four prodigal brothers are proud to call this wonderful hard-headed man, Dad.

Another thing about the story of the prodigal son was that when he came to his senses, the family rejoiced and celebrated. We did the same. Our celebrations were usually held in the front yard with soda and bottled water and beer, and crabs or steaks. If it was a really special occasion, we had hot dogs. There was dad, through it all, the same awful jokes, the same antiquated clothes.

The prodigal son had to learn what the father already knew- that life isn't about getting what you want, it's about doing what you must. If you have love but lack things you may despair from time to time. However, if you have things but lack love, that despair will overtake you. Only God and Love can fill the longing in a man's soul. Right now, Dad, my soul longs for you because I love you and that love motivates my will to walk on and live in your footsteps. You are here, right now, today, inside each of us.

God gives us people to love and things to use, not people to use and things to love.
My Dad understood this and that is why his family always came before himself. He always sacrificed for us and for others and gave everything he had. The precious memories and moments of happiness we experience are not because of the places we go and the things we do. They do not live in the pictures or the videos we take. The experiences live in our hearts and in our minds and in our very souls because of the people who animated those experiences. The love of family is the fire that ignites them and brings them to life. The spark of family that you lit, Dad, is a roaring flame living on in all of us.

Fishing and camping and cookouts and volleyball games are our treasured memories......and I have the broken fingers to prove it.

It has been said that "He who dies with the most toys wins". Dad, you taught us that he who lives and dies with the most principles wins. A clear conscience trumps a fat wallet and you won't find a rich man in twenty with a satisfied mind.

I'm certain I heard that somewhere.

To honor you, Dad, is to honor the most real and simple man we ever knew. You despised pretense, you hated fakeness. When it came to Al Benko, what you saw is what you got.  A man that was not changed by the world. Wearied by the world? Yes. Beaten down by the world? Absolutely. Changed by it? No.

Some people develop layers. My Dad did not have any layers. Nobody ever said "I wonder what he is thinking".

In a world full of modern marketing, my dad was a throwback. You might have wondered if he was frozen in 1958 because there he was, as he was, caring not how fast the world was turning as long his tomatoes were ripe, or the Redskins were beating the Cowboys. I find myself hoping very anxiously that someone saved his horseradish recipe.

Was my Dad perfect? No. Raise your hand if you are perfect.  A view of a life has to be the long view and not a snapshot of either a man's best day or his worst day. True, I will think of him every time it is Father's day, every time the Fighting Irish take the field and everytime I see someone wearing untied combat boots with no socks but I will let the rest of you catalog the days of his life, I want to talk about his purpose in life.

There were certain principles he sought to instill in us . Those principles are what live on today, and for the next generation and the next after that. We did not lose my Dad on February 25th, the day we lose those principles will be the day we lose my Dad.

The family is what he always sought above anything else in this world. The good times we had were embodied in the simple things and the bad times we had were borne with patience.  Families go through trials and tribulations and I don't bring that up to dwell on the bad. Far from it. The reason I bring it up is because it was from the tough times that I learned the most valuable lessons from my dad and I think the rest of my family would agree. 

You didn't lie to improve your lot in life and you didn't steal either. Respect, honor and integrity were not optional. There was no discussion to be had on the matter. In the Benko home, right was right and wrong was wrong and that was just all there was to it.

 I never saw my Dad cheat a man out of a penny, not one time. He took up his cross every day, soldiered on and lived by his principles.

He endured more than his fair share of disappointment and family strife. If we want to honor this man, we must acknowledge these things, not to dwell on them but to profit from what he taught us during those times. If we can have the courage to do that, we can at last be able to stand in awe at this mountain of a man.

If I had to give a one word eulogy today, If I had to sum up my Father's entire life in a single word, that word would be perseverance.

The real measure of this man is a man that NEVER gave up, that NEVER quit. I know. I stand with each one of you today, with Joy in my heart! Love and Joy for a man who was all about family. I know my Dad made peace with his family and peace with God before he left this world and those two things- and nothing else- are what truly matter.

I do not know how my Dad would rank in the world's estimation, but that doesn't concern me anymore than it concerned him.  My father taught us that honesty and integrity were the bedrock principles of what life is really about. This, and the faith my mother instilled in me are the two biggest treasures of my life.

These were the simple things that brought simple joy to a simple life. I long for those simpler days. I'm guessing some of you do as well. These were the days before I-Phones and Facebook when my Dad would fire up the old wood stove with 30 people in the house. For those of you who don't know, some people put a log on the fire, my Dad would put the whole tree. His strategy was to make it 72 upstairs by making it 120 downstairs.

What should we take from today? First, to my mom, let me pledge the devotion of all the brothers and the rest of the Benko clan. We pledge to you the same unshakable devotion that Dad gave to you. You are the matriarch of this family and we love you with all our hearts.

To all the rest of you, here is how I think you should honor this man. Be real as he was real. Be honest as he was honest. Act with integrity as he acted with integrity and, most of all...MOST OF ALL forgive, as he forgave. Forgive anyone who needs your forgiveness. That is what he would want.

Learn from his lesson and understand that we are all in this together. We are each imperfect individually but together, we are a legacy.  Forgive. That is how to honor him.

Thanks Dad, for showing us the way (point to the sky).

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