Five or six years ago, my dad told me that he wanted me to write something to say at his funeral–whenever it was that the time came. Since then, we’ve had our scares, and with each scare, the idea of writing my father’s eulogy came into my mind.
And while I haven’t been able to make myself sit down and write the entire piece, I have consistently gone back to the same idea. You see, my dad was a geek. And because he was a geek, I am a geek.
So it’s only fitting that his eulogy be based on something I read in a science-fiction novel. Back in the ‘80s–1986, I think–Orson Scott Card (who also happens to be LDS, by the way, so there’s that) wrote a book called Speaker for the Dead. In it, the main character had killed an entire race of beings without even knowing he had done so–he thought he had been playing a game. He was so devastated by his actions that he spent the rest of his life speaking for the dead, not telling about what people thought their lives were like, but what their lives actually were. Instead of having someone preach a funeral and tell the mourning friends and family about the idea of the person who passed away, this speaker would tell the truth. He would speak for the dead. About their lives. About who they actually were.
When my dad read this book, he loved it. And he loved the idea of a speaker. He also knew I wanted to at least try to capture some of that in whatever I wrote for him.
So I’m not going to tell you what a great guy my dad always was. I’m not going to tell you about Barry Keeton, the perfect father. I’m not going to talk about a man who wasn’t afraid of anything. Because he was.
I’m just going to tell you about Barry, the guy, the geek, the musician.
The man. Not the idea.
When I was a kid, my dad had these books. They had some kind of hokey names like Mysteries of the Infinite or Unsolved Enigmas or something like that. He just kept them on the shelf. And instead of telling me not to touch them–to keep them unspilled-on and perfect–he told me to read them. Then we talked about Atlantis and Martians, about Bigfoot and the Aurora Borealis. He shared his sense of wonder in the world with me, and to this day, I have fonder memories of those books than anything a teacher ever made me read. They’re on my bookshelf at home right now, put aside and saved so that when I have kids I can share that same sense of wonder with them and tell them how it started with their Papa Keeton.
I remember when Fox took the original Star Trek off the air and replaced it with Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was four years old, but I remember like yesterday my dad yelling at the TV, dog-cussing the network for taking off our show. Our show. I remember that.
If I had a guitar in front of me right now, I can play one thing. One thing. I can play the old Batman theme from the ‘60s. Nanananananana…Batman, remember? My dad could pick like the devil, but that musical talent kind of skipped a generation. In the end, though, he taught me the only song that mattered.
I swear to this day that when I was a baby, he dropped me on my head beside that big tree outside of our house. He wouldn’t teach me to mow the grass because he didn’t want to take the time to go behind me and fix it himself after I screwed it up. One time I shot an arrow–like a bow and arrow–through our living room wall, and he didn’t kill me. He and my mom used to play Duck Hunt at night after I went to bed, and I’m pretty sure he cheated to get a higher score than hers after she went to sleep. He made Luke scared of fireworks by throwing cigarette butts at him like they were fire-crackers on the Fourth of July, and recently, he bought me cookies every single week so that I could cheat on my low-glycemic diet.
Dad was easy to annoy–all you had to do was ring a bell or make the same noise over and over and he would get so mad. I mean mad. So I would buy things as presents for him that made lots of noises. When Jennifer and I were at Disney right after we were married, we found the one Tower of Terror bellhop-bell that was the loudest and most obnoxious. We rang every single one in the store until we found it, too. And then I rang it nearly every time I was at his house until he yelled at me to stop.
And God help you if you ask the man to repeat anything he just said. You might as well have slapped him in the face.
Daddy could fix anything. Anything at all. I was a kid and I broke my Batman action figure. You know, the cool one from the Michael Keaton movie? It had a retractable grappling hook on the utility belt and everything. Somehow, I broke the poor little guy’s head off, and the next morning, it was glued back into place, and you couldn’t tell that it was ever decapitated. Whether it was my car’s taillights, Jennifer’s headlights, my mom’s favorite vase, or the million other things that have gone wrong in my life, my dad was there to fix it. I mean, recently, the latch on my briefcase broke. Instead of ordering a replacement part, I just asked dad to fix it. A week and a few epoxy combinations later, its latch is probably stronger than it was out of the factory.
And not only fixing things, he could play anything, too. At Opryland one time, I had never heard of a dulcimer. I didn’t know the instrument existed. My dad hadn’t ever tried playing one, either. But he walked right up to it and started playing at the vendor stand. I had never been so awed. Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an instrument he can’t play. If it has keys, strings, sticks, or valves, that man could make sound come out of it.
He loved people and babies and animals. He tried to put on airs that he was sullen and quiet, but he wasn’t. He loved his Tashie–the cat we had for 23 years–like she was his daughter, and just last week, he snagged one of the strays near our house and said he was going to call it Thrawn, which, if you’re not into geekdom nearly as much as you should be, was the main villain from the most popular trilogy of Star Wars novels.
Barry Keeton was a guy. He was just like you and me, with hopes and dreams and loves and fears. He wasn’t perfect, but who can be? He made the best of what he had, any situation that came along, and he loved his family and placed us all above anything else in his life. Any time I ever needed daddy, he came running, and I know most of you out there can say that, too.
I love you, daddyo.