Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Eulogy for Dad February 6, 2010

And so he is gone. Courtlandt Dixon Barnes Bryan.

He wore bow ties, custom shirts, a handkerchief sprouting up from the breast pocket of his tweed jacket. In another time he'd be called a dandy! Fitting because he was his father's son...a man known in some circles as The Duke of Richmond.

At my grandfather's service, Dad gave the eulogy. It wasn't all praise. He called Grandpa Joe "a difficult demanding man ...utterly true to himself and his code of honor".

When, as a teenager, I failed to write a thank you letter to my grandfather within two weeks of receiving a Christmas present, J Bryan 3 wrote Dad a snarler: "You can assure (Saint) from your own experience that I have a very short fuse in the presence of bad behavior, and that the fall-out from the explosion can be lethal".

My dad could snarl as well. Genetics and upbringing are such powerful forces! On those long rides back from boarding school, it seemed as though 14 generations of disappointed Bryans joined us in the car.

"You are just too goddam easy on yourself, buckle too quickly under the slightest pressure. My God, Saint it's tough being a man on this planet and you've got to toughen yourself up...you cannot continue to float".

Every drive was the same. I'd wind up with tears streaming down my cheeks. ..and Dad would always conclude these lectures with "My God, I sound just like my father". That was my cue that the lecture was ending.

There were many lectures growing up. "Anticipate the Consequences" was the one we probably heard the most. It is a sad irony that shortly after he realized how much he sounded like his own father, he would light up a cigarette.

My sisters and I like to remember the soundtracks to our childhood. The Beatles Rubber Soul. Harry Nilsson's The Point. Paul Simon and Carly Simon. Songs in the Key of Life.

But there's another soundtrack: the tap-tap-tapping of Dad's typewriter. We're lucky. When we want to visit with Dad we have his words in Friendly Fire, P.S. Wilkinson, The National Geographic Society book and the Air and Space Museum book. We can find them in articles he wrote for Esquire, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Book Review. I can even hear his voice for three hours on tape reading his alien abduction book, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind.

In his work, Dad sought out the truth. Even in his fiction, he was trying to understand and explain himself and his relationships. Beautiful Women, Ugly Scenes. Despite those scenes, all of his ex-wives were his friends.

And in Mairi he found a soul mate. If love could have saved him, Mairi, he would not have died.

Dad's first battle with cancer was nearly 15 years ago. And it scared the hell out of him. He was moved to tears by everyone's concern.

His writing life soon came to an end.

He was always a gentleman but he became a much more gentle man.

His kids and grandchildren basked in his smile...so full of affection...such a true smile even with false teeth.

Dad became "the dear old man".
And when I finally got married he was my best man.

He was also his toughest critic as a father.
I said he was fine.

The Bryan males are notoriously slow to mature I'd tell him. We all need a swift kick in the pants now and then.

My own son is refusing to turn 5. He says 4 is his favorite number. 5 is the age of big boys who go to Kindergarten. He likes being a medium sized boy.

I can imagine the lectures I'll be giving over the coming years.

Dad loved Guilford,
this church,
movies where things got blown up
or famous beauties disrobed,
pets he named Magoo, Thud, Wretched and of course Odette.
Coffee at first at Hull's and then Cilantro,
watching football with friends,
dinner at The Stone House and The Place,
a good pulp-y thriller,
well-mannered grandchildren in 15 minute increments,
being called a distinguished author,
and of course a vodka martini.
I do believe he's up there right now hunting through God's freezer...and because he's in heaven I'm sure it's packed with Grey Goose.

And he loved you. His family, his friends, his neighbors, his fellow First Congregationalists. He'd be so pleased to see such a fuss!

Until his first bout with cancer-- he wasn't so sure there would be a fuss. And then he felt this wave of affection from so many of you. He wrote an essay for the Yale Class of 58's 40th Reunion. He called it In Praise of Cancer and I want to finish up by reading the last few lines.

My praise for cancer lies in the gift it gave me: the gift of knowing I was loved.

To be loved meant I was forgiven for having done all those things I ought not to have done--and we don't get to be our age without having done plenty of those.

My cancer is not cured. It is , as they say, in remission.

I can live with that.

But I would have hated to die without ever knowing that somewhere, by someone, I would be missed.

Look around Dad. You are missed!

1 comment:

  1. This is absolutely beautiful Saint. You definitely received your dad's ability to tell a story. I am very moved, and so sorry for your loss. and I am happy that i got a chance to meet this father of yours and watch him spew his proses on stage like William Burroughs singing in a punk band. :)

    Hope to see you soon,

    -Kevin (and Cathy-O)