The Life of (My) Dad

My Dad unexpectedly passed away last weekend at the young age of 55. Here is the tribute I delivered at the funeral. Thanks to everyone for your love and support—this has been way harder than I ever imagined.

A little story most of you probably don't know about my Dad is that he actually started his own fan club when he was 10 years old. This is 100% true. He put an advertisement in the paper and it read:

To the Editor,
I would like to ask people to join my fan club. I think I should have one because I am so great, kind, handsome, polite, generous, and most of all humble.

Thank you,
Roger Klems

Surprisingly, he got dozens of letters. Some of them very kind, some not so kind. These letters sparked him write a follow up which also got printed:

To the Editor,
Thanks for printing my letter recently about the fan club for me. I am sure you don't realize the great service you have done. Since it appeared, I have chosen my fan club officers and they are as follows… Also, an answer to those who think I'm conceded, they are terribly mistaken. I just think highly of myself.

Everybody's hero,
Roger Klems

My Dad was a warm, loving, passionate, selfless man who cared deeply about his family, his friends and making the world a better place. He was a big guy with a big personality, who loved to smile and loved to laugh and loved to tell stories. He believed everyone he met was not a stranger, but a friend in the making. And given enough time, he'd win you over with his charm and make you think you'd been friends all your lives.

He grew up in Clifton as the youngest of four. His brother and sisters adored him. They'd always tell me stories about how their little brother was one of a kind. "When we were little," my Uncle Clem told me, "Your Dad and I used to share a bed. But every morning I'd wake up with his feet in my hair. It'd drive me crazy. Finally I said, 'Roger, why do you keep doing that?" His response: 'It feels nice on my feet,' as if my Uncle were the crazy one."

My Dad played in the Marching Band at Roger Bacon High School and won two national championships, which were commemorated by a plaque that still hangs on his bedroom wall. Shortly after high school he got a job at Central Trust Bank, which is where he met my Mom. They were so lucky to have found each other.

I'll remember my dad for a lot of things—loving black and white movies, wearing shorts when it's 37 degrees outside, taking me to the early mass on Sunday mornings then cooking me breakfast, carrying around his giant mug, punishing me and my sister for fighting by making us hug for what seemed like hours, running the finances at my school summer festivals, singing Harry Chapin songs around the house all day long, collecting change around the house for Men's Club, heading out to dinner with "The Gang," reading me Dr. Seuss' The Lorax over and over and over again.

I'll remember him for the way he worked so hard to support our family, and the way he loved me and my sister, supporting us in every decision we ever made.

But what I'll remember him most for was the way he took care of my Mom after she had her stroke. He'd do anything she'd ask, run any errand, drive her anywhere she needed to be. He'd put in late hours at work so he could break away during the day when she needed him most. My Mom called him her "Sweety-Petite-y" and she was his. He made her his top priority—always. And he never complained about it. He never said, "This is too hard" or "I can't handle this." He just did it. It was his unrelenting love of her that caused him to do everything in his power to make her life easier. He was her hero for that. He was my hero for that.

While I'll remember him for all those things, I'm 100% sure what he'd want to be remembered for most was being an amazing grandpa. Since he passed away last weekend, I'd received nearly 100 e-mails saying kind words about my Dad—telling us how funny he was or how smart he was or how or how kind he was. One note from Rick Noble really hit home with me. It said:

"Roger possessed qualities that simply drew you into him. I was first attracted to his incredible mind and ability to reduce complex businesses to a few simple elements.  Roger and I butted heads quite frequently, but I never wore out his patience or ability to explain why my analysis was not complete.  He would often make his point with his keen wit, that left you speechless until the moment his point became evident."

But even through all those compliments, there was strictly one common thing mentioned in nearly every e-mail: "Your Dad LOVED being a grandpa." He'd brag about those grandkids any chance he got. He loved spending time with them, reading to Ella while she sat on his lap, chatting with Chris as they folded laundry together, singing to Anna while she rocked on the rocking horse, snuggling with Carson as they napped on the couch. He often called holding one grandkid in each arm "Heaven on Earth" and said he only wished he could grow more arms to hold all of them at once.

And while I'm crushed he won't get to do that anymore, and I'm crushed the kids won't have him to hug, and I'm crushed he won't get to meet his newest grandchild who is due to join this world any day now, I take comfort in knowing that his love, kindness, humor and legacy will live on through them. I take comfort in knowing my sister and mom and aunts and uncles will share stories of him for years to come. And I especially take comfort in knowing that I will try every day to be as amazing of a father to my kids as he was to me.

And if he were here today I'd hug him so tight, tell him how much I love him and how much I'm going to miss him—and let him know that I will always, always be the #1 member of his fanclub.

I love you Dad.

Also, my Dad always told me that this was his favorite post of mine. He said it really embodied being a parent and made him smile every time he read it. That makes me smile knowing that.

Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl
(A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters)

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