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:
are more important
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.
“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…
Mary Beth Harral
July 26, 2013, St. Bartholomew Church