After Dad’s funeral, several people asked for a copy of the eulogy I gave for my father. Perhaps people were being polite, but several stated that I captured exactly who my father was. All I can say is, “Mission Accomplished.” That’s what I set out to do.
The following is a transcript of my eulogy for my father. It’s for those who knew my Dad and wanted to hear it again. It’s for those who weren’t fortunate enough to know him, but will allow you to see why he impacted so many lives. This is how I saw him:
Eulogy for a Father and a Friend
Thank you each and everyone for your presence here today. There is no question Dad was truly loved.
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot! I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
These are the words of American author, Jack London, known as “Jack London’s Credo.” I chose that opening for a few reasons: There were parallels between Dad’s life and Jack London’s — not that Dad was some kind author, but they lived the adventure and were not afraid to explore. London had his struggles with addiction just as my father did. Dad was also a helluva story-teller often including tales of struggle and triumph. And those tales were almost always autobiographical.
“The function of man is to live, not exist.” Dad wasn’t much for existing. He lived. All the way up to the end. One of Dad’s sponsors once proclaimed, “Life is to be enjoyed, not endured.” It became the mantra of the Pekin Serenity Club which Dad helped form, and it was the driving philosophy of Dad’s life.
I wanted to be able to share with you some thoughts about Dad, but candidly I did not know how I could be focused enough to stand up here and talk about the best friend I had lost just a few days ago.
So, I thought the easiest thing for me to do would be to use Dad’s name “DALE” and the letters of his name to talk about Dad and his qualities. And while I know there’s plenty of content, I wouldn’t make you sit through “CHRISTENSEN.”
DAD: He was Dad to Chad and to me. He raised boys and he did the things to raise them into becoming men. He became “Dad” to his stepdaughters, Erin and Becky. And it was especially good for him as it rounded him out. Having two daughters myself I can attest: They make you a better man. He was “Dad” to our wives and to his daughters’ husbands. But he wasn’t just a dad to his biological children or children by marriage. Dale was a father figure to so many others as guys like Paul Tincher can attest.
DETERMINED: A quick show of hands here: Has anyone ever successfully convinced my father to change his mind? (laughter) Dad’s work ethic was unbelievable. As you can see, my little brother isn’t exactly little. I’m not exactly small and weak. But when we would all work together on a project, it was impossible to keep pace with Dad. I think of the time we finished out my basement and we were begging Dad to quit at the end of the day.
ALWAYS: He was always there for you when you needed him. He was always there when you didn’t think you needed anybody or anything. He always had a story….Often for a purpose: To entertain. To teach. To distract. Whatever was necessary at the moment.
His stories occassionally came with a bit of vulgarity. OK, maybe not occassionally, but more often than not. (laughter) He would have these rustic sayings and you could never complain about anything with him. Whenever I’d say something like, “If I only had this…If I only had that. If I had done this. If I had done that….” Dad’s response would often be, “Well, IF my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle!” (laughter) Dad was always ready to impart some element of wisdom — in many different forms.
ALCOHOLIC: For the outsider who didn’t fully know my father, that may sound disparaging. But it’s not. Dad’s alcoholism defined who he was…just as Dad’s sobriety — 26 years worth — defined who he was as well. It’s what made him the caring, compassionate man that he became. He knew all too well what it was like to struggle. He knew what it was like to fall. He knew what was necessary to get yourself up and keep yourself up.
A few years back when I was having a rough go of things, a friend encouraged me to attend an open meeting of AA. Attending those meetings had a great healing effect on me. At one of those meetings a member was celebrating 10 years of sobriety. She lamented her child said, “That’s great. You get a coin and I get years of therapy.” This struck me as a child who needed a lesson in gratitude. I can stand before you all tonight and tell you that I am better equipped for life because of my father’s alcoholism and his sobriety. He taught me how to be tough, how to be tender and when I needed to be either one or both. I am grateful for Dad’s humanity and for human-ness.
LOVE: It really can go without saying. But Dad simply loved. Now, he was a guy which means he was a bit handicapped in expressing it. But, he understood what it meant. A lot of times love is tested in being around the “unlovable.” True love is giving even in times when you don’t want to. True love is surrendering to our pride, to God, even when we don’t want to. It took him a few years, but Dad got it. And he helped others understand it.
LIGHT: Both figuratively and literally. He was a skilled electrician…for the most part. There was a reason we’d call him “Danger Dale” — the one who would work with hot wires not even bothering to turn off the fuse box. (laughter) Many of us here have lights working in our houses because of Dad. But he also gave light through his stories — told by him and about him. He WAS light, giving hope to the seemingly hopeless.
ENTERTAINING: Just yesterday we were sitting in Dad’s garage sharing stories and Paul Tincher shared one that was vintage Dad. Paul went to visit Dad when he was building the house on Allentown Road. Paul saw Dad sitting on the roof with his feet dangling off the side while messing with this nail gun. When asked what he was doing, Dad fessed up to shooting nails at the squirrels. (laughter) Whether it was shooting at squirrels on purpose or shooting himself by accident — Lord knows he did that enough times! — that was Dad. Stories of Dad using a fire extinguisher to lay down foam and run a fast moving forklift through the mess to make the vehicle spin were rather common. Isn’t it amazing we lost Dad to heart attack? (laughter) Dad could easily have held two titles. “Life of the Party” — when he was drinking and when he was sober. But he was also the “Party of Life” — especially during his sober years.
ENTHUSIAST: Dad loved cars. Dad loved hockey. Dad loved “antique-ing.” But most importantly, Dad loved people. If you were family or you were a friend, he was your enthusiast. When you pass by a junkyard, have you ever considered that each and every car in that junkyard began with zero miles on the odometer and they all had that “new-car smell?” I always wished we could look at people that way. Dad did. We all had a mother and a father; we were all brought into this world brand new and innocent. Dad totally got that. As you know, Dad was involved in many car restoration projects. Great care and effort went into those vehicles and the end product was amazing. It was the same with people for him. To those he sponsored and really to anyone that came into relationship with him, Dad was there to fix…if you wanted it. I’m sure there are a many number of us in this room and outside of here whose lives were restored — even street-rodded up — because of Dad.
EVERYMAN: Dad was not a sophisticate. He would’ve hated such a label. But, he was a man. He gave something for which his sons could aspire. A husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother, an uncle, a veteran, a sponsor, a mechanic, an electrician, a hockey fan, a street-rodder, a friend: He did them all well and with enthusiasm.
Dad wasn’t necessarily about things of status. Dad wasn’t necessarily about accomplishments. Don’t get me wrong, he enjoyed the “nice-to-haves.” He’d take satisfaction and he’d offer congratulations on a job well-done: “Nice car!” “Way to go on that promotion!” What Dad was really about was relationships. The material is what it is: Temporary and Fleeting. It’s relationships that are eternal and what Dad valued.
In conclusion: I couldn’t possibly speak for Dad, but I could try…and I say try to convey his feelings that he would likely want to leave with you and they are the lyrics of a song entitled “When All Is Said and Done” by Tyrone Wells:
“When all is said and done and I’m looking back upon this race I’ve run. And when my heart gives in, I know you will be beside me, precious friend. It’s just the same from beginning to end. When all is said and done. If I lose my way and I wander down this open road for days. And if the sun should fall and the dancing we once did becomes a crawl, let the memories move like shadows on the wall. If I lose my way. When I’m coming home and I walk across the bridge of death alone. I will fix my eyes on the One — My Lord — who’s waiting on the other side. It’s my old friend with countless others there beside…when I’m coming home. When all is said and done….”
I’d like to close with two prayers. The first is the Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola which I believe captures Dad’s spirit. The second prayer is one that you all know.
“Lord, teach us to be generous. Teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give without counting the cost; to fight without fear of being wounded; to toil without seeking rest; to labor and not ask for reward, except know that we are doing your will”
Please join me (in unison): “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.”Presented: October 27, 2010 Preston-Hanely Funeral Home Pekin, IL