A Tribute to My Dad


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A tribute to my dad, Bill Lanphear, given as a eulogy at his memorial service on December 18, 2001.

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A Tribute to My Dad

  1. 1. A Tribute To My Father – Bill Lanphear By Lauren Lanphear December 18, 2001 In December of 1966, I sat right here as a 10 yr old boy in a front pew of this Sanctuary for my Grandpa Lanphear’s memorial service. Christmas that year was very difficult for our family. Thirty-five years later, our family gathers again at Christmas time to honor the memory of a loved one, my father, and grandpa to my children, niece, and nephews. Coming only six weeks after the sudden passing of my mom, this is even more so difficult for us all. Finding the energy needed to put together yesterday’s visitation and today’s memorial service, has been a real painful challenge for all of our family. To be quite honest, we might have preferred to put this off to a later date, when our emotional and spiritual resources might have been more fully “re-charged” and adequate for the task. But, alas, we all came to the conclusion, despite strong inclinations otherwise, that we would proceed and do our best to celebrate the life of our father and grandpa. Having made the decision to go forward, the thought of garnering the desire to “celebrate” Christmas so soon afterwards seems so very hard. Christmas without Mom and Dad, without Grandma and Grandpa will be very tough and surely come with a great deal of sadness. So many vivid memories of Christmas’ past, images of brightly decorated Christmas trees, beneath & around which sit festively wrapped packages stacked one upon another. How very different it is going to be this year. And yet it is this image of gifts around the Christmas tree, which has helped me crystallize what I knew I wanted to share with you today. I began to realize that this year’s gifts would not be the traditional gifts we might have only a few months ago expected to be opening and sharing this Christmas. But then I should not be all that surprised to receive non-traditional or unexpected gifts. Etched forever in my memory is the Christmas my brother, Warren and I received doors for Christmas. That’s right, doors, – bedroom doors. We had each destroyed each other’s bedroom doors in our non-ending boyhood battles. I’ll spare you the details. Bedroom doors, – maybe not unexpected as my brother and I had been forewarned by Santa, but certainly non- traditional. The gifts with which I’ll celebrate Christmas this year are the gifts I celebrate today at my dad’s memorial service. Gifts which perhaps really are traditional and which should really be expected, but which the hustle and bustle most years, and the pain and sorrow this year could easily cloud. These are the gifts of blessings, the many, many ways in which God has blessed my life and the lives of my family through our dad, our mom, our family, our friends, and our faith. And, as with my Page 1
  2. 2. mom, some very special gifts from my dad, his gifts of lessons, his sharing the lessons of life and in so doing, touching the lives of so many. We celebrate today gifts my father gave us, gifts that came in his many lessons of life, taught us by his word and by his deeds; his gift of faith, his gift of self-confidence, his gift of patience and self- control, his gift of friendship and support, his gift of determination and his gift of leadership. So many of us have shared experiences where my dad, by his words or his actions, instilled self- confidence in us, confidence that remained with us and upon which we could call upon later in life. Wally DePasquale was the most feared hitter in the South Euclid Boys Baseball League’s 11 & 12 year old division. Wally was very big and strong for his age, and presented a very menacing image at the plate – think of Albert Belle glaring out toward the pitcher’s mound. And there I stood on the mound, pitching for Seattle, the team coached by my dad. The previous at bat, Wally had walloped the ball over the fence for a home run. There was no way I wanted to go through that again. I paused, called time- out, and signaled for my dad to come take me out of the game. He remained there on the sidelines, encouraging me to stay in there. But we Lanphear’s are a headstrong bunch. I marched myself right off the mound, off the field and out of the game. Despite his best attempts, my dad couldn’t convince me to hang in there and face Wally again. He had confidence in me, but I sure didn’t! In preparation for the next time we played Wally’s team, my dad told me I would be pitching again, and that he knew I could get Wally out. There wouldn’t be any need for me to plan on exiting the game as before. He told me that I was a good enough pitcher to get Wally out, and that with my good control, if I just kept the ball on the outside corner, Wally would never be able to reach it from his batting stance several feet away from home plate. In that league, the home team provided the umpire. A father would call balls and strikes from a vantage point behind the pitching mound. Mr. Rinella was going to umpire that night. My dad made a point of telling him prior to the game to keep a close eye on the outside corner of the plate, especially when Wally DePasquale was at bat. That was where I was going to be targeting my pitches. At times, I’ve wondered if Mr. Rinella misunderstood and believed he was supposed to call all outside pitches to Wally as strikes! Albert Belle was not a happy camper when he struck out. Well, neither was Wally DePasquale. During two at bats, not once did his swings come close to connecting with my pitches on the outside corner of the plate. There might not have been any “joy in Mudville” that night, but there sure was a lot of it on my dad’s Seattle team, and especially in this 12-year-old boy. My dad had very simple words of praise for me, saying, “I knew you could do it!” after each inning that I struck Wally out and after the game. Yes, he “knew I could do it” and his confidence in me helped me to believe I could do it. Page 2
  3. 3. My sister, Mary Clare fondly remembers the time in 1970 when she was asked to participate on a panel discussion for Mom and Dad’s Wesley Fellowship adult Sunday school class. The panel, made up of college-age children of Wesley Class members, was asked to speak about the impact on their lives of the Kent State shootings. As Mary Clare recalls, the views of the other panel members seemed to more closely reflect the views held by most of the Wesley Class members. A view that perhaps can best be described as more Nixon-like in nature than McGovern. Naturally, the viewpoint expressed by my sister was far more dove than hawk. At the conclusion of the panel discussion, Wesley class members flocked up to the other panel members to express their delight with what they had expressed. Up to my sister came my Dad. “I thought you did really well” he expressed without any hesitation. Knowing full well he probably didn’t find agreement with much of what she had shared made his remark even that much more meaningful. My Dad’s knack for instilling self-confidence in others touched a great many lives, including a vast number of teenage boys and young men that spent time working for him at Forest City Tree Protection. Perhaps none more touching than the experience of my cousin, Ken, about which he shared five years ago at dad’s 80th birthday celebration. It was about a time in Ken’s life when he was virtually immobilized with depression. He literally could not get himself out of his house to do anything, remaining trapped in his bedroom most of the time. My Dad called Ken up one day and told him that he had some things he needed Ken to do and that he would pick up Ken and bring him over to work. The simple act of my Dad’s caring enough about Ken to reach out to him and to have the confidence in Ken to entrust him with some work was a life-changing experience for Ken. Another day, my Dad told Ken he would like him to accompany my dad on a trip up to Albion, Michigan to visit my brother, Bill at college. Half an hour in to the drive, my father pulled to the side of the road and told Ken to take over the driving while my dad slept. Ken replied in astonishment that he didn’t have any idea how to get where they were going and wasn’t sure about driving my dad’s car. My dad told Ken, “No, problem. I know you can do it. Just keep driving straight on this road and pull over and wake me up when we get to Michigan.” The mentoring relationship between my dad and Ken continued as Ken pulled himself out of the depression. It was a wonderful and touching story for Ken to share at my dad’s 80th birthday celebration. As might be expected from my dad, after hearing the story, he said, “That’s a wonderful story, but I don’t really remember doing anything like that.’ How typical of my dad that something he probably never thought twice about doing, something that was just the “natural thing” for him to do, had made such a profound and lasting impact on the life of the other person. My father demonstrated a great deal of patience and self-control. Something he tried with modest success to instill in me. On the wall of his office at work he had a bit of wisdom posted: “The measure of a man is how much it takes to get his goat.” Even with my dad’s best explanations, for Page 3
  4. 4. the longest time I couldn’t figure out what goats had to do with anything. Some might say I still don’t quite understand its meaning. On one of those rare occasions when my brother, Warren and I were arguing and fighting, Warren expressed his strong displeasure with the fact that I had been given “his” bed when our parents switched our bedrooms, me moving up to Warren’s old attic bedroom and Warren down into my old tower bedroom. Well, if he wanted his old bed, he could have it. I marched promptly up to the attic bedroom and with much vigor, pulled the mattress off the bed and began to shove it down the attic stairs. “Here, take your old mattress” I shouted. That’s when my dad stepped in. Showing a great deal of restraint, he took me aside, arm around my shoulder, and as I calmed down, suggested that I needed other avenues to vent my anger. He offered taking a walk as a possible alternative to mattress throwing. I’ve continued to take many walks over the course of my life. Working with my dad I received his gift of leadership and saw through his active involvement in state, national and international organizations his dedication to improving the industry that provided us a vocation. And in his own quiet and humble way, my dad shared his faith with me. His dedication to church for many years set a great example. As kids, we would marvel at how he never missed a beat getting himself off to church to usher. Of course, my mom might have preferred sometimes that he stayed around home long enough to assist her in the never-ending challenge of getting us kids up, dressed and off to church with her. I have vivid memories of my Dad coming into my bedroom one night. I suspect his visit was prompted by some rambunctious behavior on my part, of course, no doubt instigated by my brother, Warren who slept in the lower bunk. Rather than focusing on chastising me for my behavior, my dad suggested it was time I learned the Lord’s Prayer and that it would be a good habit to get into saying while settling down to sleep for the night. I remember also that I wasn’t the best-behaved student. He persevered in his lesson despite several interruptions of laughter on my part. And I will not forget my dad telling me this past year that he prayed for me and for each one of my family members every night. In my dad’s final hours, those of us gathered around his bedside, grasped each other’s hands, and spoke the Lord’s Prayer together. What an incredible gift of faith my dad gave me. Yes, I have been very blessed. My family has all been very blessed. As much as we are heart-broken by the loss of our mom, and now are dad, we are very much heartened by the strength & support of our faith, our family, and our friends. Without these blessings, we would not make it through this time of such intense sorrow and grief. What a wonderful blessing, a gift for which we are immensely thankful. Page 4
  5. 5. My siblings and I have been blessed with parents that lived long and fruitful lives. And at the end of their earthly stay, with the knowledge that we each had close and loving relationships with them, we bid farewell without regrets, but with many fond and treasured memories. For 42 of my 45 years I’ve lived either with or on the same property as my parents, our lives intertwined in so many ways, at home, at work, and at church. My wife, Susan, has been blessed for 23+ years with not in-laws, but friends. Friends who loved and cared for her deeply and friends for whom she loved and cared for deeply in return, and friends, the loss of whom she now deeply grieves. And my two children, my son, Will, and daughter, Clare know no other life than that which included their Grandpa and Grandma Lanphear. Susan, Will, Clare & I have been truly blessed in such a unique way. What an incredible gift! Almost two years ago now, I was given a very special gift. One that was very much unexpected and one, which came wrapped very deceptively. This gift came from God in the form of the news that my dad had multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow. Packaged as such, this gift was received with devastation. But I soon came to realize and believe that the doctor’s prognosis for my dad of 2- 5 years more of life was not a sentence, but a gift, a reminder that each of our lives here on Earth is limited, and to make the most out of each and every day. And boy did my dad and I make the most out of these past two years and how much joy we shared in our times together. As a young boy I loved going to Indians’ baseball games with my dad. These outings were often very cold, as during my childhood, the Indians’ season ended somewhere in June or early July. Oh yes, they still played 162 games then, going into the fall. But their season definitely was over with by early summer. So you went to games in the spring months of April and May, when dreams of Tribe victory were alive and when frequently, Cleveland’s old lakefront stadium could be bone- chilling cold. But I was never cold, with one of my dad’s arms wrapped tightly around my shoulder and his other hand rubbing and warming my legs as we cheered on our Tribe. Four decades later, we still loved to go to Indians games together, learning that games could be far more exciting in September and October that we’d ever imagined possible, but they still could be just as bone-chilling cold. Only now our roles were reversed, with my arm around Dad’s shoulder and my other hand warming his legs. Page 5
  6. 6. Perhaps my best memory will be a special Father’s Day celebration last year. Our group of fourteen fathers and sons started our day with a golf outing. My dad got to play the game he loved with two of his sons and four of his grandsons. We followed that with dinner at my friend, Jeff Apisdorf’s house, who, together with is son and father were also part of our group. The evening finished with us watching the movie, “October Sky,” a wonderful and touching story of father and son. Most, if not all of us were in tears at the end, including my dad. I was not as impressed by his tears as I was by his acknowledging them to my mom upon his return home. That evening Dad sent me one of his short, succinct emails: “Thanks Lauren for the greatest Father's day I could have. I love, you, Dad.” What a gift to be celebrated! Six weeks ago our lives changed forever. As I’ve shared with many people, it was a bittersweet day to celebrate my dad’s 85th birthday only to be followed later that night with the passing of my mom. With the loss of his soul mate of 60 years, my dad’s daily life became so much a part of all of us. Not a day went by where he didn’t get calls and/or emails from my brothers and sister checking in to find out how he was doing, hear about his activities, and offer support and counsel. My dad had definitely NOT given up. He was lonely without a doubt, but determined to manage the best that he could. Not surprisingly, my life and that of Susan’s, and Will’s and Clare’s became even more intensely intertwined with that of my dad. Calls to Susan for advise on what would go best with tomato soup or to come help him change a bandage. Chores for Clare to do, carrying one thing, or another up and/or down his home’s endless stairs. Going together with his pal, Will, to church bowling and even to his 70 & over softball league banquet. For me, I’m reminded of Mitch Albom’s book, “Tuesdays With Morrie.” A book I thoroughly enjoyed discovering three years ago and copies of which I shared with my parents and siblings and friends. But Mitch only had one day a week with his friend, Morrie. If I wrote a book about these last weeks with my dad, I would call it “Breakfasts with Dad.” Dad would call me when he had dressed and gotten downstairs. I would walk down to his house from my home or office, and arrive to find him cooking Bob Evans’ sausage patties on the stove and bowls set out for Raisin Bran with sliced bananas. Often I would make us some scrambled eggs, my dad always curious as to how I knew how much milk to add to the eggs. No doubt the most regular and least nutritionally healthy breakfasts I’ve eaten in a long, long time! But oh, how emotionally and spiritually nurturing were these breakfasts together with my dad. We’d discuss how he was doing, how well he had slept, and what he had on that day’s agenda. The combined effects of my mother are passing and the steroid treatments for his cancer could give him an emotional edge at times. I will never forget one of those mornings where he let me have it for something or another and then fighting back tears, apologized, saying that he just couldn’t help it. That was something I think I needed to hear more than he needed to say. Page 6
  7. 7. One morning he fretted over what he would do with the homemaker services person who was being sent out that day by South Euclid’s aging office. “What could I possibly give her to do?” he asked. I suggested that maybe any one of the dozen or so things he seemed to need done on a daily basis and about which he would call several times a day. After some debate, in exasperation he exclaimed, “What I really need some help with is holding up my pants.” I offered that the homemaker services person might even be able to re-adjust his suspenders if needed. “Breakfasts with Dad,” what a gift, what a blessing! And even in his passing, we were blessed with his being spared the ravages and pain that could have come with the later stages of his multiple myeloma. And how very much we were blessed that when he first passed out a week ago Monday night, that he was not at home alone, but was bowling with his church friends, and his grandson and pal, Will at his side. And what a gift that in those hours Will spent with his grandpa at the hospital, until 3:00 a.m. in the morning, his grandpa was alert and doing quite well, all things considered. And what a gift that Will could call upon his sister, Clare for support. You can imagine how difficult it was to be out of town when my Dad suffered his initial stroke and to know that our two kids were left to deal with it by themselves. But what an incredible blessing to know how well they managed and to see so much love and caring demonstrated in their actions. And as Dad passed peacefully from this life to his next, I could hold his hand, surrounded by family. A gift to be celebrated indeed! My pain and sorrow is very real today. Bidding farewell to my father is very hard. Losing the companionship of a life-long friend, my pal, is perhaps even harder. Facing it and knowing that I will make it though it, and that my family will make it through it would be unimaginable if it were not for all the blessings bestowed upon us, all the gifts that our Dad gave us which today serve as tools to help heal and soothe, and especially for his gift of faith which gives us the strength to endure. It is for these gifts which we celebrate the life of my father today. God Bless you Dad! I love you. Give Mom a big hug for us! Page 7