Tag Archives: dad

Every day is Fathers Day…

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Not long ago, I found a letter that my dad wrote to me in April, 1987. The reason for the letter was my high school senior retreat day at Padua High School. It was a beautiful surprise to see my dad’s handwriting again, all confident, cheerful and scrawly, and to “hear” his voice again in those words. When I saved this letter and put it away, I’m sure I never gave his words another thought. The thing is, though, I didn’t have to remember his words, because every single day, he told me the same things in his actions. It amazes me how much his own words mirror the words I used later in his eulogy to describe him and his life. This is vintage Hap, solid advice! And it reminds me that while we may think the most important thing we can say to someone while they’re here is “I love you,” the greater gift may be to say, “I know that you love me.” The letter is pictured here, but difficult to read, so I will transcribe his words: (spoiler alert!! He spills the “secret of life.”)

Mary Beth,

Time for our Father Daughter talk! (Equal billing)

Mary, the whole world is yours if you shut out the negatives. Don’t think the bad of anything. Enjoy your work–your school, now or ever. Please try & be happy with any situation you’re in. I know it sounds stupid but you can make or train yourself to accept & enjoy all challenges. It’s never too hot, too cold, too far, too anything. Don’t be afraid to reach out. I enjoy you & I love you & I want you to be a doer. Mary, honest, the secret of life is to love man and God, don’t dislike, nothing is worth the emotion of hate. I tease you about your loving me. I know you do. I get a lot of mileage out of teasing you about it. It’s really more important to me to know that I love you. You & your sisters have always thought of me & are nice to me, you all know I loved you. What I really want you to realize is how special Dolores Mae is. None of us can comprehend how much she loves. The nicest thing you can ever do for me is to treat mom as the special person she is. Then treat yourself as the special person you are. Reach out & enjoy. Please care enough about the people you know & live with to be a positive influence on their lives. I truly believe you are special. Take whatever school or job you may & love it & enjoy it until the next one. Try to enjoy everything & every one. I wish I had realized much earlier in life how special the gifts of God are. End of lecture. I love you. I will never not love you. -Hap

 

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Beam Me Up

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Beam Me Up

“Beam me up…

Gimme a minute

I don’t know what I’d say in it…

I’d probably just stare, happy just to be there

Holding your face.

Beam me up…

Let me be lighter, I’m tired of being a fighter

I think…

A minute’s enough

 

Just beam me up.”

She fell in love with the song from Pink’s “The Truth About Love” album as soon as she heard it. The dramatic instrumentation, the tender, heartfelt vocal, the melody soft but strong with those minor keys of angst, building the feeling. She shared Pink’s song and the lyrics with plenty of people, because the song reminded her of profound losses: her sister’s baby, eventually her own father (…in my head I see your baby blues.)

The only detail that didn’t sit well in a song so perfect it always drew a tear and required a replay was the part about a minute being enough. What is that about? How could a minute be enough when you long for and miss someone so desperately, and then you get to be “beamed up” to see them again? A minute could never be enough.

Her dad is in her dreams, sometimes. Fairly regularly, in fact, but never the focus. His presence there is purely incidental: it is a holiday at home, so of course he is in the family room in his chair, or outside with the grandkids. She hears his voice in reply to someone’s question, catches a glimpse of him from the corner of her eye smoothing back his shock of white hair the way he always did. He’s there, as he should be, but in the dreams she is always conscious of the looming dementia. In the dramatic irony of a dream, she knows about the dementia because it has come and gone. She knows everything about it, about what’s coming, but he does not. She awakens troubled and anxious, vestiges of her sleep-self worrying that he is still driving but losing his sense of direction, still talking but sometimes seeing things. She’s afraid he will mention a puppy under the table or a bug skittering in the corner. In the dreams, she’s stressed, holding it all together and not sure what to do. But some part of her consciousness always knows it is a dream, because she knows how all of this ends. She simply can’t stop it this time, any more than she could in real life. The dream isn’t about him, so it doesn’t matter. She’s just dreaming, and he is there. Just like the pets and the kids and the occasional former co-worker or high-school classmate. Like intricate puzzles put together with a few of the wrong pieces, forced in awkwardly, dreams are.

One September night, still warm enough to sleep with the bedroom window open for the sleek purring body of her black cat to somehow relax into the tracks of the frame, she understood what it meant to be beamed up.

She dreamed, and this time it was just her and her dad. There was no context, no preface. They stood outside in the darkness facing each other, as suddenly as if they had both been dropped there like a slide from an old projector. Outside of what or where, she didn’t know, couldn’t tell. A place, a building maybe? They were a mere few strides apart, facing each other in the almost-blackness. In a fraction of a second she understood that this dream was different: he had already died, and he knew it. The dementia had come and gone again, and he knew it. And he knew that she knew it all. Revelation was instantaneous. They rushed to approach each other with arms open, no time to waste. He wore a shirt she didn’t recognize, the only thing that wasn’t familiar to her. They hugged, and her dad was once again the right size; the right height, a bit shorter than his youngest daughter in adulthood (he had introduced her around the dementia ward as “the tall one”) so her face was over his shoulder at the crook of his neck, the right density. His back and shoulders were smooth and strong and bullish, the way their dad had always been. Robust, immovable in a hug. He smelled like dad, the cloud of soap and toothpaste and shaving cream that had always breezed behind him as he rushed down the stairs, the last one to shower in a houseful of females. Somehow she could even see his tan in the darkness, sense rather than see the glossy blue-against-white of his mischievous eyes. They hugged strongly—tightly, but not hard, he was so staunch and she gripped the muscles of his back for emphasis. She knew this would be brief, and she rushed her tearful, joyful words, “oh, we love you and miss you so much!” And because she had always joked with him, added, “we don’t want to, but we do!”

He chuckled, still in the hug, unable to see each other’s faces except in mind’s eye, and said, “I know.”

Then they pulled back, still linking forearms but facing each other in this unnamed night-place. His smile was perfect, lighting up his face in its familiar jocularity, and he said to her, with just a trace of disbelief and humility, “I really love it here.”

Her heart spilled over to hear those words. She had already believed he was in a better place, THE better place, and it was what he had believed too. But to see him, feel him, smell him, and recognize the same wonder in his voice that she had heard him use in the past to describe a mountain, or a golf shot, or a talented child, or a great meal, convinced her down to her soul. She grabbed him again, sliding her arms around his shoulders and squeezing his meaty clavicles with her fingertips.

“I’m so glad,” she choked out near his ear. And she meant it. And she wanted him to know that she meant it. She was so happy for him, and she was desperate to impart the whole remaining family’s love and joy to him in what she inherently knew was a very brief opportunity. She squeezed him tighter, burying her face in him. He squeezed too.

She woke up.

Just like that, she was back in her bed at around three in the morning, her husband asleep next to her, her cat curled up and humming, the sounds of the night falling softly through the screen. The whole thing had taken no time at all. A hug, a few words. But now she could feel her dad in her arms. His voice and scent and warm, living skin lingered. She hadn’t hugged her dad that often when he was alive; she would be more inclined to chuck him on the shoulder, while he would have yanked a piece of her long hair from behind and then dodged her retaliation. She felt, for a moment, what she supposed could be called bliss.

The vestigial flavor of that dream lingers, and she deliberately goes inside her thoughts to enjoy it from time to time. She had her dad back, her real dad, tangible in her arms. And then one day, a couple of weeks later, her earbuds delivered that beloved Pink song while she was walking to one of her sister’s houses, to collect the mail or let out the dog, on a sunny, end-of-summer day. Now, it all made sense, and the lyrics didn’t leave her frustrated any more. A minute was all it took.

A minute was enough.

Hap Harral Eulogy: “People Are More Important Than Things”

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hapcodeHap Harral
Our dad’s name is Hap, and what a wonderful place that is to start. He was nicknamed as a child for being happy…what better one-word description could there be for a person or his life? It makes you consider what you would be called if you were restricted to only one word.
Even as an adult, Hap refused to be anything but happy. He was happy with what God gave him. He was happy to share what God gave him.
He had and made a happy marriage with our mom, Dolores, starting with a blind date for the new year 1959. From nothing, these two created one fabulous-looking family (If I do say so myself!)
They began very deliberately with Coleen, for whom they had prayed so fervently for so many years. Then came Judy, named in gratitude for the intercession of St. Jude with achieving this growing family. And then there was me…and for some reason they stopped praying for more children.
This family grew up at St. Bartholomew Parish and school. We took $2 bets from the nuns to the Kentucky Derby each year, and once when Dolores couldn’t fulfill her playground duty, she sent Hap instead. As I recall, he broke up a fight on the boys’ side of the playground by telling the participants that they fought like girls.
This family, alongside our neighbors, laughed and cried and argued and loved through holidays, vacations, good times and bad…generic beer, CB radios, nicknames (he even nicknamed our Suburban the “yellow looney bin,” and I know one girl who will forever miss hearing herself called “Bag O’Lions.”)
Once we were grown, Hap really enjoyed his sons-in-law and finally having more male companionship. Some of us were generous in that regard, and provided more than one…
But he loved nothing and no one like he loved his grandkids:
Coleen and Neal started us off with Katie. I can still hear my dad’s voice calling out, “it’s a girl!!” at 4:30 that morning. He nicknamed her “Bird,” and carried her around on his shoulders, singing a painful rendition of “Here We Go Loop de Loo.” He taught her to say “Pooooor Happy” and “Albuquerque” and “Carlos Baerrrrrga!”
And Hap was Happy.
And speaking of baseball, Judy and Brian gave us Zack…and he, somehow, came out a whole lot like Hap. He talked incessantly about baseball: statistics, players, scores, and re-enacted exciting plays in the backyard. We pitched so many balls to that child that we put a lawn chair on the imaginary pitcher’s mound. The two of them had more intellectual conversations than the rest of us were equipped to participate in.
And Hap was Happy.
And then, Rachel Lemon was born. Our family was shocked and devastated to learn that she was terribly sick, and God took her back a few days later. And all Hap could say was “it should’ve been me. I would have taken her place.” And the thing is, he really would have. Now, he can see her again, and she can call him Happy. And yes, they will know each other.
So when we most needed to be picked up, Judy and Brian gave us Matthew. If Zack had come out thinking like Hap, Matthew certainly came out looking like him! No one who knows Hap can see Matt – his feet, his hands, his chest, his bulldog strength – and not see Hap. Our dad claimed Matthew as his baby, and was so pleased with this sweet, smiley child that he always said, “I just hope I live long enough to see how that kid turns out.”
And Hap was Happy.
But already he could see and was so proud of how each of you three kids has turned out. You all treat people the way he always did.
Which brings me to a story:
When I was about 14 or so, our dad had a Winnebago camper. And he LOVED it. Not unusual – many people have a Winnebago for summer vacations… Not our dad: he also drove his Winnebago to the office every day.
A friend of our family asked my dad if he could borrow the Winnebago for a day trip. They had company in from out of the country and wanted to visit a water park for the day. I was invited to go along, because it was my good friend’s family. We had a wonderful day.
Until the ride home when, stopping for gas, my friend’s dad plowed into the gas pump, ripping the side panel of the Winnebago.
I was distraught. My dad had very few possessions that mattered to him at all, but this weird vehicle was his baby. I was so scared about what his reaction would be. We rode the rest of the way home in total silence.
When we arrived, my friend’s dad went in first to break the news to Hap. Before I knew it, they were both coming outside to sit and open a beer together.
Later, alone with Hap, I said: “Dad, aren’t you mad”?
He answered, “listen, I knew something like this would happen. I had a feeling about it this morning, and I know how difficult an adjustment it can be to drive that vehicle.”
That irritated me, so I looked at him like he was an idiot, and said, “if you KNEW it would get damaged, WHY would you let anyone borrow it?”
He looked at ME like I was the idiot – and he said:
“Because people
are more important
than things.”
That was my dad’s philosophy of life in a nutshell.
And so, with that in mind, we have spent these past two weeks, and indeed these past two years realizing we have nothing to regret, thanks to our dad, who didn’t ever wait for the money, the time, or the weather to do the important things in life. He made us (and himself) a great life:
He loved our mother
He gave us our faith
He served his country
He traveled the world
He made a hole in one
He prayed at the Vatican
He bowled a 300 game
He golfed St. Andrews in Scotland
He saw his granddaughter graduate from college
How can we be anything but grateful?
I want to applaud our strong, beautiful mother who has literally not left Hap’s side, and my big sisters who have taken care of me, and each other, and their children throughout this challenging time.
My husband Jeff who has done everything my dad could have wanted him to, and more, to step in and be the man of the commune: I know my dad didn’t worry about me because of you.
And Brian…the original. You’ve always been here in our family, since we were the ages that your kids are now. The greatest dad in the world thought you were about the greatest dad in the world.
All of you have raised these kids as gifts to the world, and made dad so proud of you. They are his legacy.
Katie, Zack and Matt – May you someday know the same joy that you gave this man. He was simply never happier than when he was marveling at you.

It would be presumptuous to speak for my dad.

Luckily, I’m not above being presumptuous!
He would tell you all that he really enjoyed you: childhood friends like Al, clients, bowlers, Holy Name society guys, the old office gang, the Florida friends…
He’d tell us all, of course, to “Be Happy” –

To go on vacation; to take the dog with you.
To drive a trailer up the side of a mountain–and take the neighbors with you.
To get the electric blue Subaru or the old yellow Porsche 2-seater, not the beige Buick.
(My apologies to all of you beige Buick owners.)
To take your wife on your business convention trips if you want to, even if no one else does;
When you get there, wear shorts to the meetings!
Drive a gaggle of Catholic school cheerleaders to Florida in that same famous Winnebago, and manage to be passing a church just as Mass is starting.
Go ahead and tip the developmentally disabled girl who picks up your tray at Wendy’s. It will make her day.
Take the “country road,” as John Denver would say. You can get almost anywhere from Pearl Road or the Parkway, right?
Once, our dad was driving us home from somewhere in his used Chrysler LeBaron convertible, with the top down of course, through a REALLY bad neighborhood. We said, “dad, can’t we take the highway like normal people?”
He said, “You think these people who live here don’t love their kids too!?”
He loved veering off the beaten path.
He’d tell you:
To take care of each other
To say your prayers
To remember that God is a baseball fan, so if you want to get to Heaven, you better pay homage to the right sport!
And today, he wouldn’t say goodbye, would he? He never used that word.
He’d say,
“So long! Have fun!”
He approached every new experience with joyful expectation and wonder. If your car broke down, or you had to go to the ER, or your flight was diverted, he’d say something like “but LOOK at the people you got to meet!”
I know that’s how he’d approach this new experience as well. Because as the hymn says, from first Corinthians,

Eye has not seen
Ear has not heard
No human mind has conceived
What God has ready
For those who love him.

So long, dad…
Have fun.

**************************************************************************

Mary Beth Harral
July 26, 2013, St. Bartholomew Church

Hap, Hap, Happy.

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Hap, Hap, Happy.

Today, when I visited my dad (Hap) in his nursing home, I had a bit of an epiphany. For the longest time it was just torture to visit him in such a place, but now while it still makes me cry as I am leaving, it is a more bittersweet feeling and today I think I realized why. Now that he is more “gone,” when he does have a good day (as he did yesterday, a good day being one in which he is sitting upright, his eyes are open, he is speaking intelligibly) I cannot help but smile to see his laugh, his sparkling blue eyes, catch just a glimpse of the man who used to be in there. More specifically, as I delighted in a few of his actions and comments, I realized that the sweet half of the bittersweet is that I now get to see my dad as if he were a toddler. What he does and how I react to it reminds me of how it was to be with the kids as they were first experiencing the world. When a child hears some background conversation not meant for him at all, and then supplies a completely apt response, we as adults laugh and clap and his cleverness. So it is with Hap. When a child gets a particularly bulky forkful of food to his mouth successfully, if laboriously, and then his face clearly shows his triumph, we delight in his accomplishment. So it is with Hap. I could see things dawning on him, or see him coming back to things and slowly registering what they meant – “oh, that’s the spoon…I’m going to try THAT for the fruit instead of the fork.” In children, we watch in rapt appreciation, knowing that the world is opening up for them, that they will learn each of these things one at a time and become smarter, stronger, faster, lose their childlike wonder and amazement. For my dad, he will instead learn and re-learn, but then hang on to less… the world is instead closing up for him. But to see the man whom I only knew as omniscient, omnipotent, full of strength and wit and wisdom as if he were the child-Hap I never knew is still a beautiful opportunity to appreciate his frailty, the frailty which we all share as human beings. Before he was my dad, man of the house, ruler of our little kingdom, he was a tiny, helpless child, an athletic, stocky, stubborn, willful little boy-sponge soaking up all that life had to show him. And, lucky for all of us who knew him in adulthood, he really did soak it all in and celebrate it. So, I celebrate this time with him now, too. He has the attention span of an 18-month old, but that was cute on the kids and so it’s cute on him, too. He wears it well, because even though he spills food on his front and becomes frustrated like those children did, he also erupts into a chuckle when he thinks of something that he thinks is clever. Often he will say something nonsensical, although now it is interspersed with the familiar adult Hap-speak. His first comment to me yesterday was, “typical Florida real estate!” and then he went on to reasonably explain some transaction that he thought went wrong. In the next breath he mentioned the Carolinas, another favorite place of his, and then he pointed to the empty space in front of us and said, “didja see that guy? He almost kicked him in the nose!” and he smiled and shook his head. So, it looked like my smiling, joking daddy, but it was a child as well. That brings tears to my eyes, but they aren’t tears of agony anymore, they are tears of bittersweet joy. It’s bitter, yes, but it is so sweet to see him as this child. I snapped a photo of him with my iPhone and said, “I’m just gonna send this to mom…” he shook his head and chuckled, and said (in a typical Hap move, mocking in his tone, embodying his old philosophy of “old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill”) “wouldn’t it just be easier to take it down the hall and show her?” That comforted me, because it made me feel (right or wrong, I’ll take it) as if when we are not in the room with him, he still feels like we all still live together in this “home” and when we visit, it’s as if we just came into the room again. The television was on in the lunch room with the other residents, and “The Young and Restless” was playing. He thought soaps were ridiculous, of course. I said, referring to his next door neighbor of 45 years, “one of Eleanor’s stories is on.” He said, “I find them interesting.” If that’s not proof that he has lost his mind, I don’t know what is! Of course, I don’t believe he watches the soap, he barely glanced at it – and as I said, his attention span is no longer there for an entire storyline (even one that hasn’t changed in 25 years.) But what’s miraculous is that for a second, my real dad is there, choosing to be/speak/think positively about whatever subject is brought up. Later, in the hallway, his roommate Ed was trying to give us candy. Ed will take his dollar bills to the vending machine and buy gum and candy, walk around with it displayed on the table/seat of his walker, and try to share it. He’s very sweet. He leaves his money sitting there too, though, so it looks as if he is a walking candy counter. As he passed, and I declined his offer of chocolate, my dad reached toward him to get his attention, and out of the side of his mouth asked, “hey, do they sell cigarettes there?” My dad hasn’t smoked in 25 years, but he always said he missed it, and it is so very like his cocky, childish side to try and score smokes. How can that not be funny, sweet, and appreciated by me? Yeah, it sucks to see my brilliant dad this way. He is too young and strong and had way too much more to give to his grandchildren. No doubt about that. But now that I’ve realized how rare and beautiful this glimpse of Hap as a rambunctious child can be, I will drink in the bittersweet and be glad for every last minute of these visits, the worst best hour of my day.

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