As written and spoken at my father’s wake on 4/22/14.
My father was brave.
One of my dad’s favorite sayings was “Shoot for the moon – even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” This is how he lived his life, and how he taught me to live mine. My dad was someone who always pushed himself to try new things, to learn new things, to be better. Sometimes, it didn’t turn out so well. There were times when he probably could have planned better, or thought things through more – but when other people would’ve given up, or worse, not tried at all for fear of what might happen, my father tried, and in doing so, he did things that many people only dream about. He’s started businesses, published a book, traveled the world, and written two full-length plays. He did these things no matter what anyone might say about him.
My father was passionate.
He also liked to argue. A lot. He’d argue with or debate anyone about anything. Growing up, this used to annoy me, and I thought it was a sign that he was “being mean.” But as I got older, I realized that my dad’s arguing was a sign of how deeply he cared about things. About me, about our family, or about the world around him. As much as he wanted to be better himself, he also challenged others to do the same, and if you disagreed with him, you’d have better been able to plead your case. He knew that ideas worth having are worth fighting for, and there were very few things that he didn’t attack with that level of determination. Sometimes, he didn’t know when to stop and give up, the way everyone must from time to time. But one of his biggest flaws was also one of his greatest strengths. He never. Gave. Up.
My father was intelligent.
One of the things he fought with me about the most early on…was bedtime. And the thing he’d say to get me to go to bed on a schoolnight? “How do you expect to be a nuclear physicist if you don’t go to bed?” Never mind that I hated math, and and rolled my eyes at his insistence that my career involve it so much. He also always said that going to college wasn’t about trying to get a job – it’s about getting an education for its own sake. Learning for the sake of learning – knowledge being its own reward – was something that mattered very much to my dad. Something that mattered so much that he attended college, then got his Masters Degree, when he was in his late forties, well after many people would’ve seen it as a pointless endeavor. Because what Dad would’ve seen as pointless is living in a world you know nothing about, and with which you hesitate to engage.
And so, my dad spoke three languages (and knew several phrases in countless more). He read the New York Times every day and was able to speak intelligently about any topic from any section found there – politics, the arts, science, travel – he always had an opinion, and he could always back it up. My dad read voraciously, and forgot more about geography than I’ve ever learned. He knew history and how to connect it to our world today. It broke my heart when his memory started going, because my dad prided himself on his mental ability. Knowledge was his joy, and I hated to see it slowly stripped from him. The writing about which he was so passionate came less and less, and soon his talk about the very-real travels he’s taken became something his caretakers at the nursing home would humor him about until I corrected them.
“No – these are places he’s actually been and cultures he actually knows about. These are memories, not delusions. Do you know how smart this man is?”
So, if there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that he’s now no longer hindered by the limitations of his body. He’s in a place now where he can see everything and know everything, and the possibilities for exploration and enlightenment are endless.
My father was loving.
He also had a huge heart and loved his family and friends deeply. He would always brag about his children to anyone who’d listen. He loved his wife – always being there to take care of her as best he could through good times and bad. When I was little, it would annoy me how much he wanted to hug me, or would call me over to kiss him before I went anywhere. Later, he told me that he’d wanted to make sure to be as affectionate with his children as possible, because – growing up in the 40s and 50s, when families weren’t as demonstrative about love – he wanted to make sure we knew we were loved. He was the kind of man who, rather than repeat patterns he saw in his family, tried to break them. He always talked about how much he loved his brother and sisters and all their children. He bragged about his amazing grandchildren. He made and kept friends everywhere he went, because there didn’t exist a person he didn’t want to get to know. Maybe this was the artist in him, but he was fascinated by people. Those phrases in countless languages that he knew? He’d say “hello” and “have a nice day” in Russian to the Russian waitress at the diner. He’d say “How are you?” to the Korean man behind the deli counter. Once, I even saw him say something to a guy in Swahili. And when I’d get embarrassed watching him do that, he’d say, “Nothing brightens someone’s day like being able to say something to them in their native language.”
But as fascinated as he was by new people, and as much as he loved his amazing and loyal friends, his family always came first. I remember him taking me to visit his mother, my grandmother – who was in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease – just about every week. To be honest, I hated going. I was young, and I got bored, and I didn’t see the point if Grandma couldn’t even remember us. But my dad always said that we had to out of respect, because we loved her. It didn’t matter that it was difficult, or that I was bored, or that he didn’t want to see his mother that way. This is what you do for the people you love. That’s what my dad taught me, and that’s what my brother and sister and I tried to do when the same fate befell him. We went to visit him often – to be there with him even though he started not to know us, even though it was difficult, even though we were bored, even though we didn’t want to see our father that way. Because that’s what you do for the people you love. He taught us that.
I’m definitely my father’s daughter. I’m late a lot, like he was, and I’m super-stubborn when arguing a point. But I also know that many of my best qualities, of which I’m the most proud, I got from him, and I’m so grateful and so proud that he was my dad. He wasn’t perfect – no one is – but he was the best father I could’ve asked for. He understood me in a way that very few people do, and I’m so, so sorry he’s gone.
But as Peter Pan said, “To die would be an awfully big adventure,” and so there’s a part of me that sees this as an exciting send-off on the greatest trip of his life. Because if anyone would see the adventure in all this, it’d be him.
RIP Ramon Jusino Jr. – September 7, 1935-April 19, 2014