Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Bigger Picture: Farewell, daddy

I wrote my father's eulogy as a final gift to him because he was very pleased I love writing so much. I hope he knew that his encouragement really inspired me; and I hope this would have made him smile.

We're born as babies, small, beautiful bundles of love and hope. Hope of who we'll become, what we'll accomplish, how we'll love, what we'll give to the world.
We start as the center of our parents' world, and they marvel about who we resemble our temperaments, our emerging personalities. They wonder who we'll become -- what kind of mark we'll make on the world. We grow. We become so much more, so much to so many people. We become siblings, friends, classmates, uncles, spouses, coworkers, parents, grandparents.

And so it was for my dad, just one of the many names he answered to during his life. Brian Wayne Filippi was born November 28, 1953 to Mary and Guilio Filippi, and he was the son my grandparents adored. He joined one sister, Roberta, and later found himself completely outnumbered by two other sisters, Renee and Karen. Though my grandmother described him a sweet-natured boy, he was also quite spirited. So spirited that he once almost set the garage and Highland School ablaze as a boy while exploring the science of fire. My grandparents later would remark that they never thought years later he'd be the one rushing to the scene to put out those fires.

But as he grew older, he made choices that began to shape how he'd make his mark on the world. Because I'm one person in a room packed full of loved ones, I cannot say how my dad's life influenced everyone here today. I just know that his life has made a difference or else this room wouldn't be so full; his hospital room wouldn't have had a steady stream of visitors during the last week had he not made a mark on our hearts. I can only tell you what my dad meant to me. I can only relay how the choices he made, however small or large, along the way both have directly or indirectly grown and shaped me into the woman I am today. His legacy through my sister and me began long before we ever were conceived.

My dad started a love affair with bands and artists like Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Neil Young when he was in high school, never knowing that he'd play his old vinyl albums for his girls decades later as they sat entranced by the movement of the music flowing through his living room. We're both music junkies who have been shaped by the melodious classic rock of the late 60s, 70s and 80s thanks to our dad. Just like our father, we feel the melody and harmony of songs course through our veins, a gift I know I've already passed to my oldest who rocks out to both Hey Jude and The Wheels on the Bus. I'll never forget the look on my dad's face -- my family calls it his fotch; if you don't know what I'm talking about, find my oldest son and ask him to make the Papa Brian face

-- when I chose the song Layla by Eric Clapton as our daddy-daughter dance at my wedding. "I would have named you Layla if your mother would have let me," he'd said. "I'm lucky I got Hyacynth." I assured him I knew and that's why I picked the song, but shared that I was really happy with the name he gifted me. He beamed for a moment at that thought, and then he went back to making the fotch.

My father enlisted in Navy while the Vietnam War was raging, but he was discharged for medical reasons. He told me more than once that his birth year was one of the next to be called in the draft but thankfully the war ended. He'd confided that he thankful he was never sent to the war. As a little girl I had always assumed it was because fighting in Vietnam was dangerous. But as I aged, I realized his career as a firefighter was dangerous, too. So what was the difference? I didn't realize until I became an adult and found my calling, that he, indeed, knew the dangers of his job, but because being a firefighter was so suited to him, he never let it stop him, he never regretted his choice. His career as a firefighter so perfectly suited him. It was an excellent choice for a compassionate, strong, intelligent, patriotic Italian man from Chicago Heights. Being a firefighter challenged his strength and gave him room to grow. I remember him holing up for weeks to study for his Captain test, and luckily it paid off because he was promoted to captain a few years ago. His career also suited him because he felt so much compassion to help those who were unable to rescue themselves, which also explains the most recent addition to his family. Smokey the cat was rescued from the fire department after my dad found him abandoned and hungry. And that cat has never forgotten his rescuer; at the sound of my dad's voice, Smokey, who normally hides from anyone but my dad and Judy, would come running like a little dog to his master. My father's voice would soften upon seeing his "little doggie" and invited his rescued buddy into his recliner even though he was always a self-proclaimed dog person who really didn't like cats.

Being a firefighter meant my dad was a part of a brotherhood. And if you understand the emphasis placed of family in Italian culture, you know that my dad considered his fellow firefighters, his brothers and sisters, an important part of his life. In fact, he was so comfortable with his fire buddies, he had no problem pulling a Tom Sawyer on his good friend Paul. Paul shared with us that my dad called out of the blue once and invited him over for a beer. Paul said he was happy to go over and relax while sipping a brew. When he arrived, though, he found relaxation wasn't actually part of my dad's plan because dad was painting the back staircase. "Here's your beer;" my dad said to Paul, "grab a brush."

There was no denying his calling as firefighter, so he embraced it. His response to his career taught me so much about life -- I learned the importance of service, dedication and loyalty. I learned the need for risk and the value of everyday, unsung heroes.

Even through his hobbies, my dad taught me patience as he gave a girl of just eight fishing lessons; I often remember our fishing sessions when I find myself becoming impatient with my oldest son, recalling fondly his calm, deep reassuring voice that if I just cast my line back out into the water and waited, something would bite. That advice has been applicable in so many situations beyond parenting. I find myself casting lines out and waiting patiently often when life demands I fish.

My dad taught me to value family by taking me to visit my grandparents for dinner weekly while I was growing up and ensuring we spent time with his sisters and cousins. Of course, even though he valued family and was so intent on me respecting my elders, his softer daddy side often complicated the lessons he was trying to instill. When I was five, Punky Brewster was all the rage -- at least she was inside my head. And my dad fed into my love for good old Punky. He used to record episodes on his trusty camcorder so I could watch them whenever I pleased, which made my mom a little batty because she then had to struggle to get my long, thick Italian hair into two pigtails ala Punky. I wanted everything Punky Brewester from hairstyles to my clothes. My mom sent my dad and I out to buy shoes one afternoon. She had one requirement: no high-top Punky Brewster rainbow colored shoes! Anything but that, she'd told my dad. She should have known better than to entrust my dad with the task of buying his little girl shoes, because as soon as we entered the store, I zeroed in on the most perfect pair of high-top, rainbow streaked Punky Brewster sneakers. My eyes lit up and my dad folded like a deck of cards. I returned home that night with those very shoes because as much as he wanted to respect my mom, he just couldn't stop himself from helping his little girl feel beautiful.

My father taught me to value education; it wasn't "if" I was going to attend college -- the question was where. I never even thought about not going to college because my dad had so ingrained into my head that I was made for education that I began my college search without so much ever considering any other path. When I chose Bradley and decided to major in journalism, his heart swelled with pride. He shared with me that he used to write, too, and when he was younger he had been intrigued with the idea of being a journalist as well. I've rarely seen my dad cry, but the day I graduated from Bradley, he couldn't help but let the tears fall. My father began at a young age preparing me for that day -- he helped instill a love of reading in my heart by collecting a small library for my room at his house and ordering every Encyclopedia Britannica ever made during the mid to late eighties.

Though I'm sure it's hard for many to imagine a big, tough guy sharing his feelings, my father never was shy about telling my step mom, my sister, his grand kids or me how much he loved all of us. My dad often would find the biggest, longest, most ornate birthday, Christmas or anniversary card and proudly present it to one of us. His cards were always filled with his own markings. He would underline words and phrases of the card he particularly wanted to emphasis. Some words were often underlined twice. And we knew he really wanted us to know something specific if the word or phrase was underlined three times. I recall words like proud, love and joy being the ones that were often underlined three times. I'm so glad I'll always have those cards to remind me of how my father felt about me.

I'm also forever grateful that my dad really took to heart my son's excitement about receiving mail. My father sent Gabe at least seven hand-written post cards from two of his hunting trips this past year. Not only will my little guy be to learn about how much my dad valued the outdoors from those postcards, but he'll also know that he was on his Papa Brian's mind. And as he grows, when he looks at those postcards, my dad's message of valuing family will also reach my son.

This room is packed because he took hold of his life, he made choices and decisions to enter into community and relationships. He chose to serve others, embrace others, come alongside others, love others, mentor others, father others.
If my dad were here, I'm not sure what he would say -- he was a complicated mix of serious and funny, so I won't even try to put words in his mouth. But I will ask you for one thing: please keep sharing his memories, what you learned from him indirectly or directly. And when you think for a moment about my Dad, let it be a reminder for you to remember the kind of effect you have on those around you whether they be your children, spouse, coworkers, grand kids. You leave a legacy. And he's left his in my values as well as tattooed on my heart.

I love you, daddy. Thank you for all your years of service in the line of duty and in the line of fatherhood and beyond. This is for you.


  1. Beautiful, Hyacynth. Just beautiful.

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your father. took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing your father with us. I continue to pray for your healing and for strength as you walk this hard road ahead. I love you, dear friend.

  3. This is an amazing show of your love for him, Hyacynth! I'm positive that he felt your love and admiration of him during his days here and I'm sure he's bragging about you up in heaven as well! I only wish that I was there to hug you in person...

  4. So beautiful Hyacynth. I appreciate your sharing your feelings for your dad with us. A truly wonderful man. I giggled to think of you as a little Punky Brewster :)

    Sending you hugs my friend...

  5. Love the Pink Floyd song. We played Frank Sinatra's "I Did It My Way" at my dad's funeral.

    Very beautiful eulogy Hyacynth. You paid a great tribute to your dad, I'm sure he was very proud of you.

    Be strong in these coming days. Cry when you need to cry, sleep when you need to sleep, and if you need to be angry that's OK too.

    Take care my friend.

  6. An amazing eulogy for what was without a doubt, an amazing man. I just finished reading your latest post about the funeral. I couldn't help but let a tear fall for your Dad. May he rest in peace and may you always know he is with you. My brother just passed his firefighting course and is now a fully qualified firefighter, likely to start next year when a position opens up at his local firehouse. I will send him your post so that he can read and understand and appreciate the brotherhood he is about to enter. The days and weeks ahead will no doubt be the toughest. We tend to move through on cruise control during the initial mourning period up until the funeral is over. Keep your faith my friend. He will hold you through this. Lots of love and sympathy being sent your way.

  7. Oh, Hyacinth. This is so heartbreakingly beautiful. Thank you for trusting us with such an intensely personal, intimate look into your heart and the life of your family. My heart and prayers are with you.


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