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A Wonderful Life

My father passed away on June 11th, after a long illness.  He taught music for years, and had jobs from short order cook to auto parts delivery person.  He lived eighty-five good years.  Good-bye, Dad.  You will be missed more than you know.

I delivered this address at his funeral today.

As I was thinking about what I wanted to say today, the thing that seemed most important was that the message be positive.  I know my father would have wanted that.  He would want you to walk away from these services not focusing on the sadness that he died, but instead focusing on the happiness that he lived.

Many people often reference the movie It’s a Wonderful Life when reflecting on the lives of those who’ve left this earth, and I also had a long, healthy think about the story as my dad’s illness worsened.  Dad lived a long time, had his share of triumphs and tragedies, and had many, many close ties to his family and friends. Without a doubt, he had a wonderful life.  But it was only over the past few days that I realized I wasn’t dealing with a George Bailey comparison.  Save a few, we all know the story of George Bailey, the man from Bedford Falls, New York, who was the beloved and respected proprietor of the Building and Loan.  George ran into some serious trouble, was worried that he’d let everyone down, and decided the world would be better off without him.  So on Christmas Eve, he threw himself into a freezing river to end it all.   Because of some clever reverse psychology, George abandoned his attempt and that’s when he met his guardian angel, Clarence.

There were a few reasons I knew I couldn’t compare Dad with George.  First, Dad would never throw himself into a cold river.  He hated the cold and he didn’t like the water.   Second, Dad wouldn’t have gotten himself worked into a frenzy over money.  My father knew (and please forgive the cliché) that money doesn’t buy you happiness and he knew it was a lousy way to keep score. But the biggest reason the comparison failed is because Dad never, ever, would have lost hope like George—not while he had the ability to do something about it.  Instead, my dad would have tried to put a positive spin on the situation; would have sought help from his friends and family and then he would have tried to make things better.  The solution may not have been perfect, but my father wouldn’t have lost hope.

He brought this optimism, this ability to see the good in everything, the willingness to see the good in everyone, to his own life.  And all this is why my dad would never be George.  He would never be George, because he was Clarence, the angel.

If you look at Clarence, the character is all about seeing the good in life.  Oh sure, he was a bit of a bumbler, but the power of his message is timeless.  For him, nothing is hopeless, even when things are the most grave, and his goal was to get George to see how important he was to others. He never doubted his job and he didn’t give up.  He, instead, focused his energy on the positives of the situation, not the negatives.

Dad was very similar.  He wanted all of us to see the glass as half full.  Like Clarence, he believed everyone was important and had the ability to impact others.  As a father and grandfather he never doubted what we could do.  He tolerated our changing hobbies, and passions; he understood that we’re not perfect and that we’re evolving beings.  All he ever expected was that we do our best, focus on being honest and fair, be loyal to those who earned it and understand that above all else, family is most important.  But beyond those obvious examples, Dad was all about a being happy with what he was given.

He wanted all of us to be happy.

He lived his example.  He took care of our mother through a long and torturous illness, took pride in our accomplishments and made time for all the people in his life.  He had the ability to make every person feel like the center of the universe, whether it be one of his guitar students, someone participating in a sing- a-long at one of the many local jobs he played, a customer in his coffee shop, a relative, a friend or someone he just met.  He used his talent as a musician to bring joy to others.  When he was being admitted to the nursing home that was his last residence, he was asked what his hobbies were.  My brother hit the nail on the head.  “People,” he told them.  “My father’s hobby is people.”

He never doubted his own worth or anyone else’s.  He was, quite simply, a good and friendly man, who saw the bright side of things.  All great lessons.  All things to take to heart.

So, as we say goodbye to Dad, I want everyone to know you have your very own Clarence.  If you ever doubt that you matter, ever doubt that you make a difference, think of him.  To quote Clarence’s last message to George, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

This is what my father would want us to remember.  This is what matters most.

This was a wonderful life.