My dad has been gone five and a half years. While cleaning out some virtual drawers, I happened upon the eulogy I wrote and delivered for him.
My sister and I talked about this moment with dad for years, not because we’re bad people or morbid, but because we had long threatened to put on a show. Well, mostly Charity was going to put on the show, and I was going to help make it happen. For those of you who haven’t seen it - you’re missing out: my sister does a spot-on impression of my dad. But it involves a refrigerator prop, lots of stuff falling out of it, and a lot of colorful language.
Of course, it was never really going to happen. We just talked about it, and laughed about it, because we all loved laughing - and his laughter was really magical. Magic? That was the special talent of both our parents.
My dad gave us so much, because when he was growing up he had so little. He told us he loved us every day, even to the point where we would roll our eyes at “this big secret” he had to whisper, which was always “I love you” (and we always wanted to hear it) and it was the worst kept secret in the family. And he told stories. So many that it’s impossible for me to retell them all. I heard the stories of him stealing watermelons, selling comics to GI’s on the train passing practically through his house, of him guarding nuclear warheads in Germany and flipping all the lights on in the complex at night just to mess with the Bulgarians. Of course, he told my sister that he was a cook as an excuse for never cooking. She didn’t learn about what he actually did until much later. He told us of Christmases where he and his sisters had to take turns getting the one gift a year. And so maybe it looked showy that we had all of the best toys from the 70s and 80s. But he wanted it to be different for us. He never wanted us to go without a Christmas and he never, ever wanted us to doubt that we were loved. And he worked very very hard to make it all happen.
My mom, his Toni, was his life. It was a mad affair, the kind they should make movies about. And they were comic foils for one another - a kind of southern version of William Powell and Myrna Loy. And somewhere right now, my mom is smiling at a Thin Man reference. They set the standard of love for me. It wasn’t perfect - it never is, it’s not supposed to be. It was real love, complete with jokes.
In Charity, his crazy baby, he saw the person most like himself. Her wildness and her sweetness, her enormous heart and quick wit. She doesn’t think these things about herself, especially the part about being quick-witted, but she’s always been too hard on herself. I think anyone who knows her, and who knew my dad, would spot the resemblance right away. My sister is like a toasted marshmallow: hot on the outside, but soft on the inside, and I love her with all of my heart.
In Richard, he saw someone that he had both disappointed and loved, someone that he desperately wanted to be accepted by and prove something to. He admired him and loved him. And it’s easy to hero worship with Richard. I’ve done it all my life. There’s always something vaguely Arthurian quest-y about every conversation. It’s probably how I developed my Lancelot complex.
And how did dad feel about me? I know he loved me. I know he was proud of me. We talked a lot. A lot. After my mom passed away, I started calling him every day. I lived in Portland, Oregon at the time, and I would call him on my walks home across the Hawthorne Bridge. He got to visit Portland before I left and we went to all the places where my mom had gone on her visit: Seaside, Cannon Beach, and The Kennedy School. I even called him from Paris, France as I was walking the city. He felt comfortable telling me stories. Maybe it’s because I like stories and I was a good listener. When I was in college, I met him at sports bars and watched him in his element, I met his friends, and listened to them, and came to love them like they were my own friends. And I got to look at different sides of the man, and I’m so grateful for that time and for friends like Steve Sanders. And for his friends Sonny Mooneyham and his wife, Betty. Dear people that I adored who are also no longer on the planet.
When I spoke at my mother’s funeral 12 years ago, I said that I was her scout. That I would always fly or run ahead and then circle back to tell her what I found. This is how we shopped, but it was also a metaphor for our relationship. I would go on adventures, and I felt it was my job to come back and tell her what I had found.
With my dad, I felt like I needed to understand him. Like he was a cave painting. And it was my job to translate, to explain, and to tell his story. My father’s name is Troy “Sonny” Smith, an almost actor, would-be politician, cool hand Luke, pool shark turned banker, cold war soldier, jokester, prankster, a poet who finally knew it, a comic trader, trendsetter, loose cannon, big-hearted, two-step dancing romantic with a flair for the dramatic, man. And, y’all, he had a great time.
And I love him. And I miss him.