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Eulogy for my dad

By: Mike Gashler

I delivered this Eulogy for my dad, Len Gashler, at his funeral on 2021-10-03.

My dad used to enjoy just observing people, and thinking about the things he saw. I think that rubbed off on me. As I have observed different funerals, I have noticed people often speak about ways of cheating death. Some people appeal to faith that the individual is preserved in a spiritual form. Others speak about how their loved ones live on in their memories. But, these methods don’t really stop death from coming. There is a third method of cheating death that is much less-often talked about at funerals. I fear that, perhaps, many people do not know enough about it. It involves the use of horcruxes to extend one’s life. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the dark arts, a horcrux involves dividing a one’s soul and strategically hiding pieces of it in secret locations, so that he cannot die. My dad planted a piece of himself in each of his children, but most especially in me.

I know this because when I was small and relatives saw me, they seemed compelled to either grab my cheeks or pat my head and exclaim, "Oh! You’re just a little Leonard!" I am told that I sometimes tried to defend my identity by asserting, "No! I’m Michael!". But even the speech patterns I used to defend myself betrayed that I was a small version of my dad. As I grew, I stopped contesting the matter. I started to realize it was actually kind of cool to be like my dad. I made three exceptions: (1) I liked my name better than his. (2) I didn’t think the glasses he wore were cool, and (3) I thought he’d be awesomer if he were shaped like He-man. But of course, I am named Michael, I don’t wear glasses, and as you can see I am shaped like He-man ...but with these few differences, Hi, I’m Len Gashler--uncanny, isn’t it? Even into adulthood, people who knew my dad still point out the strong resemblances in our speech patterns, sense of humor, and the way I present myself.

My dad taught me to ponder things. He did this by taking me on long trips and pondering with me the size of the universe, the speed of light, the nature of God, and so forth. So when I learned in biology class that my body was made of trillions of tiny cells, I naturally found myself pondering what it all meant. Why were all those cells willing to work so hard to sustain the life of the body. Did they all believe in a cell-god, or that they would go to cell-heaven if they spent their whole lives working? And then, I observed my dad, working so very hard, every day. He lived for something greater than himself—something of which he was a part, but something that would -- not -- die -- when his time came to and end—his family. It’s more than just the natural order of things. It’s the great secret to peace and contentment in life, as well as the secret to cheating death. And he taught me this great secret with his example.

I believe most people in this room are probably aware that Len Gashler sold insurance. I believe most of you know he did financial and estate planning. --But did you also know that he was a philosopher? He spent so much time contemplating the nature of the universe with me! Did you know he became a university professor? He loved and cared so much about people. Did you know he became a nurse? Did you know he owned a theater company and wrote a Nordic rock opera? He was a connoisseur of foods. He achieved his dream of becoming an airline pilot. And he had mad guitar skills and also became an EMT and a physician’s assistant? It’s true he didn’t do all of those things with that body you saw in that casket. But if you think that body ever contained my dad, you fail understand the extent to which he planted pieces of himself in his children.

A determined contrarian might argue, “Well I define individual identity to depend on a person’s memories. Perhaps you children have your father’s genetics and teachings and share his values, and many important things in common, but you do not have a complete set of his memories. Therefore you cannot fully assume his identity.” This, I admit is a valid point. Perhaps by this definition I may not genuinely be him. But my dad consistently chose to live for his family. He may have sometimes done that reluctantly. Certainly, his decisions were at times influenced by his wife. And often they were definitely influenced by his religious convictions. But no matter how he ultimately arrived at his decisions, in the end he consistently chose to put the needs of his family over his own interests. And who are any of us to define him differently than he defined himself with his own actions?

Funerals, of course, are not for the dead, but for the living. So I’m going to use this opportunity to teach you one of the most important lessons my dad taught me. It is the secret he taught me both in words and with his example. It is the secret for how to plant a piece of yourself in the people you care about.

There is, of course, genetics. That’s part of the reason I am a “little Leonard”. It’s the part nature gives us for free. There is a lot that can be encoded in DNA. And since we are all related to some extent, we are all--to that same extent--just variations of the same person. We may have different memories and different experiences, but our unique identities don’t really make us all that unique. In one of our moments, as we sat pondering the universe together, my dad observed, “Everyone needs to be loved”. And that is the other part of it: The great secret is love.

I imagine when I speak of love, people hear that you should wrap your arms around your children and say, “I love you so much”. And, yes, that’s a good place to start. You should do that. My dad told me his father rarely did that for him. The first time his father said he loved him and gave him a hug was when he was nineteen years old, leaving for Austria on a proselyting mission. But my good dad did something I will forever respect him for: He made a conscious effort to change that. I had a dad who told me he was proud of me. I had a dad who listened to my ideas like they mattered. And when he said he loved me, I knew it was true because he served me too.

Perhaps, the great method for planting yourself in someone’s heart is best taught by example. So let me offer two more examples:

One day, my dad had assigned me to rake the leaves. After working all morning, I had accomplished very little. I didn’t really want to be there, so I was unmotivated and unfocused. I imagine a lesser dad would have disparaged the effort. Perhaps, a lesser dad might have offered a lot of words describing the correct method for raking leaves. But my dad simply took the rake from my hands and began working. I hadn’t asked him to do my job. In fact, I really didn’t want him to. But now he had the rake and all I could do was watch. I watched a systematic demonstration of focused energy. And when a few leaves survived his strokes, he swiped over them again. In just a couple of minutes he thoroughly cleared more area than I had raked all morning. At that moment, I gave myself every lecture that I would have preferred he give me instead of taking the rake.

So in a sense, it wasn’t his words, but my own that changed me at that moment. And it didn’t just change the way I raked leaves. It changed the way I would worked in general. That day, I learned how to do all sorts of things better. When he handed the rake back to me, I understood what I needed to do. And while I raked the remainder of the lawn, my mind reviewed the lesson and made it part of myself. When I was in seventh grade, I found myself struggling with algebra. My dad helped me get organized. That was a part of what I needed. But it wasn’t enough. I also needed real help, and he recognized that. I didn’t really want to be helped. I would probably rather have failed than have my dad stay up every night ensuring that I studied. And I don’t imagine he enjoyed staying up late into the night helping me with my algebra. Now that I am married, I understand a whole lot better how inviting a warm bed with my waiting wife can be, especially late at night. But my dad didn’t do what he wanted. He did what I needed. He did it night after night, as long as it was needed, until he had set me an a different trajectory. That trajectory he set continued long after he stopped staying up late helping me with my homework. It propelled me through many subsequent classes, and continues to this day.

Now let us make some observations about love. It doesn’t always feel like a nice warm hug. Sometimes, it’s not actually something the giver wants to give or the recipient wants to receive. It’s not just what comes easily when you care a lot about someone. It’s not just trying to impress the importance of your values into your children. It’s what happens when you take the time to understand them and discern what they really need. And it’s when you sacrifice to give it to them, even when they don’t want it, and especially when you don’t want to give it.

I have now attempted to teach you one of the greatest lessons my dad ever taught me—how to love a child. If you want to cheat death, don’t live for yourself. Live for others. It’s not just what he taught me—it’s what he showed me—when he spent time with me, when he listened to me, and when he put his life on hold ...for me. As he did that, I became him. So now, it is my great privilege to be the continuation of, and the next version of Len Gashler.