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Farewell Dad

I haven't really known how to blog about this, so I'm kind of late in putting this out there:  My dad passed away in Panama on March 31st.  He was 85 and he'd been diagnosed with Parkinson's many years ago.  The past couple of years were pretty hard on him, so when he got pneumonia it was just too much to handle.  I managed to get to Panama in time to be with him at the very end, and I can say that he died with a smile on his face.  A really big one. 

My dad spent most of his life smiling.  Merely being in his presence caused other people to smile too. 

He was born right before the Great Depression, and fought in World War II.  His father was a Lutheran minister and had 5 kids, of which my father was the oldest.  Actually, he had an 'older brother' George, who was actually a cousin that was taken in because his parents both died during an Influenza epidemic.

My dad taught me and my brother many things, but the main thing he taught us was that pettiness and excuses are a waste of time.  My father was never sick, and certainly never missed work or anything else because he didn't feel well.  He believed that it was more important to 'believe in things' than to try to make money.  He made money, but that was simply the natural by-product of hard work. And the thing he worked hardest at was helping people.

My dad was a psychiatrist, which was tough for me to deal with as a kid.  First, because I couldn't pronounce the word and, second, because I couldn't understand it, much less explain it to my friends.  One day my friend Gary asked me if it was true my dad could read minds.  I told him 'no,' but I wasn't really sure. Somehow my dad seemed to know a lot about what people were thinking, even when they didn't tell them.

It's a Hollywood cliché that shrinks are weird and creepy, but in some cases it's true. My dad was the opposite of that cliché.  He was a whirling dervish of enthusiasm and curiosity.  He'd hop out on the dance floor at the drop of a hat, and his charm was boundless.  Even after they'd divorced, my mother reminded me often of how enthralled she was by my father.  She wasn't the only one.

My dad was open and extremely friendly, and yet very mysterious.  But there was one thing that absolutely fascinated him: the power of the human unconscious.  He became a psychoanalyst and spent most of his professional life in a dark room listening to people plumb the depths of their unconscious.  My father didn't talk very much about what he did, but I know he was exceptionally good at it.  I know this because countless people have come up to me at various times and told me how grateful they were for his help.  If they hadn't told me I wouldn't have even known that he'd treated them.  

My dad's illness was was cruel.  The last few years were particularly hard.  He never complained much; usually he just made light of his situation.  I wish that he had not suffered so much, but I learned as much watching him deal with death as I did watching him in the prime of life.  We all face struggles, and there isn't much point in complaining about them. 

My dad is in a better place now.  I really believe that.  His smile at the end of his life is proof, for me at least, that life is not all flesh and bones.  My dad was right: what you believe in matters, and matters more than anything.  You can decide what to believe in, and you can choose the intensity of your belief.  If you smile you can change your life, and the lives of those around you.

So, if you want to help me remember my dad, just smile.  

Thanks.

The final services for my dad will be on Monday, April 27th at noon at Lakelawn Funeral Home (i.e. Metairie cemetary).  The visitation will start at 11:00 am.  The Times Picayune will carry the notice on Friday before the service.

P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.

21 Comments

  • Rich Cassidy says:

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Jim says:

    Ernie,

    I’ve read your advice on the paperless office for a couple of years, but obviously not followed your blog. This morning I opened my “Augustana Today” alumni newspaper to see the news about your father. He was an incredible man loved by many.

    Jim

  • Oswald Sobrino says:

    Ernie,

    My prayers and condolences on your loss. The more the years pass, the more I value smiles. Thanks for the insights.

    Oswald Sobrino

  • Edward Still says:

    Ernie,

    I am very sorry to hear of your loss.

    Ed

  • Miguel Baez says:

    A great tribute to a great man, who contributed so much to the wonderful Ernie we have gotten to know over the years of reading this blog. My heartfelt sympathies to you and your family.

    May he rest in peace and your life continue to be enlightened by your kind memories of him.

    Gracias Ernie.

  • Steve Copley says:

    Ernie,

    I think your comments really captured the richness of your Dad’s life. Thanks for letting us share your thoughts.

    I will also remember your Dad’s smile. Maybe hosting a table at Galatoire’s, hanging at the Funky Butt or discussing life over a bottle of good brandy. He was a unique individual of the first order, unfailingly kind and a great friend.

    His was a life to celebrate. See you Monday.

    Steve

  • Tom O'Keefe says:

    Ernie: Sorry that I just now learned of your loss. Having been there, I can truly empathize with your pain. That was a beautiful tribute/eulogy and shows that your father raised his children right. I will do my best to be there on Monday. tok

  • Phil Radecker says:

    FROM THE SUTRA “Given to the Dying” in the Anguttara Nikaya

    This body is not me; I am not caught in this body,I am life without boundaries,I have never been born and I have never died.Over there the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxiesAll manifests from the basis of consciousness.Since beginningless time I have always been free.Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out.Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek.So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye.Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before.We shall always be meeting again at the true source,always meet again on the myriad paths of life.

    Ernie:This was one of the pieces I put on my blog when my dad left on August 10. I send it to you with affection.Phil

  • Nerino Petro says:

    Ernie,

    What a wonderful tribute to your father. It’s obvious that you loved him and are very proud of him.I think that he would be proud of the man his son became.

  • Damien says:

    What a perfect tribute 🙂

  • Robin Capper says:

    Thanks for sharing, the last line made me smile.

  • kim privor says:

    Ernie,What a great tribute to your dad! How wonderful that you were able to be with him…I am sorry for your loss.Hope to see you when we’re down for JF. kp

  • Mary Moses says:

    Ernie,I never met your dad, but considering how you turned out I am not suprised to learn that he was an extraordinary human being.You have written a beautiful piece in his honor. And it sounds like you will be celebrating his life in living yours.

  • A really lovely tribute to your father. My condolences.

  • Clancy DuBos says:

    Ernie,I just heard the other day that your dad had passed, and I knew that you’d be posting something wonderful about him — and you did. I had the great pleasure not only of meeting your dad, but also of seeing him through your eyes via our friendship. One of my favorite memories of your dad was his love of jazz and how he selflessly sponsored jazz concerts at UNO. Then there were our great plans for a weekend of poetry and good wine, which we still have to do someday. And yes, I remember his smile. I also remember his humor, which was as boundless and as free as his smile.Thanks for sharing “Big Ernie” with the rest of us. He was a jewel, and you both have made me smile many, many times.

  • Toby Brown says:

    Thanks for sharing the smile. It’s always enjoyable to hear of people celebrating a life like your father’s.

    Best to you and your family.

  • Dave! says:

    My condolences on your loss, and I’m definitely going to smile: for your dad, for my dad and for my daughter. Smiles make the world a better place and so do people who smile like your father.

  • Robert says:

    Thank you for sharing that Ernie.

  • Evan says:

    Ernie this is such a terrific piece you’ve written about your dad.

  • Ray says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss, but I’m glad to hear about the life your dad led. I share your faith that your dad is in a better place. I also have this weird belief that “the last shall be first” is literally true, meaning that when he arrives, you are already there waiting for him. (Time is just a restriction on our point of view.)

    Interesting coincidence: Both my maternal grandparents were psychologists. My grandfather (Carney Landis) was more of a researcher, while my grandmother (Agnes) was more of a clinical therapist.

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