It has been a month now since dad died. Some folks had asked if Id share the euology I delivered at his funeral so here it is…
What can I possibly say about a man who has always been larger than life? Just his name alone is enough to bring with it a sense of pride and honor. Of course he’d be the first to tell you he comes from good stock. And my brothers and I come from the same good old Johnson stock.
My dad was a great man. His joys in life were simple. His family was his life. My dad was a provider, a gentlemen, a stoic giant, a fierce fighter, a devoted husband, and a hard worker. He loved the Redskins, beach music, the ocean, and cold beer. My dad was a no nonsense and get the job done type of man. But he also had a love of practical jokes, messing around with his coworkers on their many business trips, and could deliver a joke with a poker face like no other.
Dad married the love of his life in 1980. My mom, Mary and my dad dated since high school. You’d never find a more devoted, loyal husband. He fondly told stories of visiting her in college and scraping together gas money on the weekends to see his love. Maybe I am partial, but they had three beautiful children, Paul #3, Stephen, and me. Dad was the most dedicated husband you’d ever find. Early in their marriage, he drove mom to church on Sundays, drove her anywhere really because she didn’t drive. He would do anything on Earth to make his bride happy. He recently told me a story of the early days of their dream dating, two pitchers of beer and a trip afterwards to Burger King to fetch his bride a whopper junior with cheese and extra everything. Even when dad was nearing the end of his fight with cancer, he still opened the doors for mom and never let her walk behind him anywhere they went. Ladies first. Dad always said he never got a chance to talk much, because there was no time to get a word in between his two girls. Apparently mom and I never shut up. But in reality, like his own father, dad didn’t speak unless he was right. When he opened his mouth, you knew you’d better listen.
My dad instilled a work ethic in me like no other. He worked since he was fourteen years old, as a paperboy, a cook, and ultimately for the army space program office in the self-described role of budget weenie. I am not exactly certain what his work entailed. He couldn’t tell me for 80 years or until he died and if he did tell me, he’d have to shoot me. But, I am pretty sure his official position was HMFIC. You might have to google that one. He frequently echoed the sentiment, the only excuse for nonperformance is death. One that all of his children, as well as himself took to heart. You don’t call in sick unless you are dead. And even when you are dead, you had better just be late. Dad expected no less from us. He wasn’t a lover of education or school, but he was so proud that all of his kids had at least bachelor’s degrees all the way up to Paul #3s most recent doctorate degree.
Dad loved music, especially Linda Ronstadt in roller skates. He played the trumpet in the marching band in high school. He sat through the obvious thrill of his kids learning to play trumpets, clarinets, and oboes. We spent so many nights in the basement listening to his records. He had a stereo the size of a dinosaur with his records, his cassette tapes, and enormous brown speakers. We listened and sang to Jimmy Buffett, Warren Zevon, Led Zeppelin, the Who. He pointed out the flute in Jethro Tull albums and the obvious genius of Frank Zappa. Learning the lessons of yellow snow was something every kid should know. I sang back up to Cheeseburger in paradise and belted out Youre no Good and Stairway to Heaven while he hummed along. Later in life, dad’s iPod was always on at the pool filled with classic rock and beach tunes.
My dad helped to raise three awesome kids. He always loved to brag to anyone who would listen about how great his kids were. He raised a nurse, an engineer and a computer guy. Nothing brought him more satisfaction as did talking about his kids and their accomplishments. Well, that may not be entirely true, the only thing he loved more than his kids were his six grandkids. He always said that Johnsons love babies and love his babies he did. His grandchildren lit up his world.
Dad knew the answer to almost any question I could think up. He was the one to call when you needed to learn about timing belts or variable valve shifters. He could answer anything about mechanics, or household woes, or money quandaries, directions, and just about anything else a dramatic daughter might conjure up. Dad fixed so many smoke alarms, cars in ditches, broken toilets, garbage disposals, gave me advice about taxes and jobs and being a grown up. It makes me sad to know I won’t have dad on speed dial any more to give me a healthy dose of common sense.
A few months ago, I made a little list of some of the things that I learned from my father. In no particular order, I’d like to share a few of them with you.
The game is over at 6:00. There is no good reason to be in the neighborhood street after 6 pm.
As kids, we got home from school and played outside. But the game was over at six, no matter where you were or what you were doing, when dad whistled out the front door for the 6:00 warning, you had better get home. After that was time for family dinner and homework and bed.
When cooking, it’s all about the pork fat. Isn’t that self-explanatory? There are not many proper dinners you can cook up without bacon grease.
Use the right tool, knife, utensil, etc. for the job. My dad would cringe if he saw you using a serrated knife for the wrong purpose. Forget about using salad tongs for the ice and you’d really be in for it if you tried to eat dinner on a paper plate.
No respectable person makes phone calls after 9:00 pm or before 9:00 am. Let the phone ring at the Johnson house at 9:01 and just see what happens.
Work harder and longer hours than everyone else and you will get further. My dad was such a hard worker. He got so much joy in being the provider for his family. He worked so hard and took great pride in his work.
Respect is earned. My dad treated everyone he met with respect, but after first impressions, respect had to be deserved.
A household is not a democracy. He ran a tight ship. We had a wooden spoon over a shelf in the kitchen to keep us in line. When dad spoke, we listened. When dad spoke, everyone listened. He was the boss for sure.
As I mentioned previously, the only excuse for nonperformance is death. Exactly. My dad gave 100 percent until he died. Give it your all or don’t do it at all.
If you break something, you buy it, and you put it back together, and you apologize.
I remember driving to high school one morning. I lazily skipped clearing off my windshield of ice and ran smack into the neighbor’s mailbox. My dad sent me over to the neighbor’s house and made me tell him what I did and apologize. Then I promptly took my small paycheck from Sears to purchase some cement and a new mailbox. Beth had a date with a post hole digger.
You can’t really drive a car unless you can do it barefoot and with your knees and no hands on the wheel. Dad was an excellent driver. He had to be, because both of his girls put together only made up about half a decent driver. And even though he never could manage to teach me how to drive a stick shift, he made sure I could drive barefoot and with my knees on the wheel. After all, no self-respecting Virginian should be wearing shoes from Memorial Day to Labor Day anyway.
Women should act like ladies and be treated that way. Dad was a true gentleman. He made sure my brothers knew that girls should never pay for a date. He opened doors for mom. Dad made it quite clear that anyone who wanted to date his daughter would be in for an inquisition and an introduction to a 12 gauge.
The most important thing a man can do in life is provide for his family. The most important thing a woman can do is be an amazing mother. Dad was the ultimate provider. We never wanted or needed anything we didn’t have. He worked hard and made sure my mom had everything she needed to be an awesome mom to her three kids.
A stopped clock is right twice a day. This one is a maxim from his own dad, Paul Johnson #1. Even the dimmest bulb in the bunch can get it right sometimes.
Only speak when you know you are right. Dad had no use for useless gab or guesses. Speak with authority, be decisive and never open your mouth unless what is coming out is important and correct.
Don’t settle. Dad taught us to be the best. Not to settle for anything less than what we worked hard for and deserved. And definitely don’t waste your money on products that are no good. Mom never really learned that one. Purchase quality things and they will last you and not disappoint.
Don’t apologize unless you have something to be sorry for. There is no shame in apologizing for something you’ve done wrong. But never apologize for your feelings or your thoughts or your decisions.
Always share your carrots with the horses. Dad loved animals. One of my favorite memories of him was feeding the horses next door apples or sugar cubes or carrots. You can find out a lot about people when you see how they treat their animals.
Pain can be ignored. I have never in all my life encountered a man as able to power through pain than my dad. Before cancer, he suffered from gout and arthritis. And even when his knees and feet hurt him so badly that even a bedsheet lightly over them tormented him, he still commuted to work, walked without a cane or a walker or wheelchair, and took care of everything that needed taking care of. After cancer took a fierce hold on his body, and invaded his liver and lungs, even after he had colossal surgeries at Johns Hopkins that had never even been done before, he never wanted to take pain medicine. He could always “be a man” and get through it. He fought so hard till the very end. When lesser men would have long given in, dad was a fighter. Even though tumors had invaded his body, his organs were quickly failing, dad drove to see the Christmas lights on Christmas Eve, and he carved the turkey on Christmas only five days before he died. Just two short days before his death, through immense pain he summoned the will to walk and eat breakfast. There was nothing in life he couldn’t overcome.
My dad was a great man, maybe even a legend. These few words don’t do his life justice. But anyone who met him would tell you that he was a gentle giant. Through the tough exterior, dad was kind and loving and devoted to his family, his job, and his country. I guess it’s best to leave you with the words to one of his favorite Buffett tunes…
Writing his memoirs
Losin’ his hearin’
But he don’t care what most people say
Through eighty-six years of perpetual motion
If he likes you he’ll smile, and he’ll say,
“Jimmy, some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic
But I had a good life all of the way.”