"Are we true to ourselves, or do we live for the expectations of others? And if we are open and honest…can we ever truly be loved? Can we find the courage to release our deepest secrets…or in the end, are we all unknowable? Even to ourselves."
Believe it or not, that's a quote from a TV show. It gives voice to one of the great philosophical questions of all time: can we really know someone? Even ourselves? It's an argument that Augustine the famous third century Roman theologian took up. He proposed that only God can know us completely and I suppose that's true. But I knew my father - at least I knew him from the facets that I could see. Because like all of us my father was a precious stone fashioned by God and God's world into a many faceted jewel. A jewel of great complexity and beauty. I could see him only from my perspective - as a son and perhaps a friend. I could not see him as a husband, or a brother, or a colleague although I believe that in the way light shines into one facet of a diamond and refracts out the others I could get a glimpse of my father through your eyes and you of him through mine.
So today I am going to tell you about my father as I saw him, through the facets he presented to me. I hope that my memories shine through him and illuminate your memories of my "pop" Hugh Warren Reeves.
First and foremost my father was True. I have never and suppose I never will meet a truer man. He was honest when it mattered and honest when it was hard - I know there were times in his career where his unwillingness to shade or obscure the truth cost him professionally. Sometimes his truth could be irritating, even in my estimation petty but at crucial times he served me brutal honesty when I needed it so very much, I recall a time when I was in college and described to him a 'prank' that some of my friends had committed and that I thought was so very clever. We were walking together at the time and he stopped, looked me straight in the eye and said "anyone who does that is a blank" stating a certain word which I won't repeat. I had never heard my father use that word before. But it was the right word and I needed to hear it. He was true to his standards and true to me. I have never and could never live up to his.
My father was indega, indegaft, indefatigable - well, I really can't pronounce that word - he was relentless, he never gave up or gave in. Never gave up on himself and he never gave up on us. He had setbacks and frustrations like we all do but they never appeared to affect his efforts on behalf of those he had made commitments to - he just kept on plugging away. When we moved to Singapore my brother and I signed up for little league. We were without a doubt, the worst baseball players on our respective teams. So rather than let us languish on the bench between short stints in Right Field my dad got up before dawn to go to work so he could come home early and practice with us before it got dark which in equatorial Singapore was at six PM sharp, every day of the year. In all the months he did that I can't recall seeing any other parent doing the same for their children. Pop didn't give up.
I could give you many more examples of his relentlessness but I would be remiss if I didn't tell you about the one, single, solitary time that I am aware of that pop did throw in the towel. My father was a great golfer and he wanted his sons to enjoy the game he loved so much that he paid for years of golf lessons for us at the Island Club in Singapore and took us 'golfing' in the same way that he helped us with baseball. Many years later when my brother and I were home for Thanksgiving he took us out for a round here in Houston at Quail Valley. After I had shanked, topped, sliced or plopped my seventh in a row into a pond or someone's yard he turned to me and said "You know, you're never going to be any good at this game". It turns out that pop could also be a realist.
My father was loyal - to us and to the rest of both sides of our family. Pop was the go to guy when people ran into trouble, when they needed help. Once in a while back when I was making a lot of money I would get a call from him giving my 'subscribed' amount to help out another member of our extended family. Despite the fact that I made more than him back then I always knew his number was bigger. And in the fullness of time when things got hard for me, he stood there to help us too. Sometimes his loyalty got the best of him. In particular he did not respond well when he thought someone was failing to show appropriate respect to us. One time on our way home from Jakarta we laid over for the night at a Hong Kong hotel. It was rather late when we arrived and the desk clerk apologized and said that there were no rooms left but not to worry if we would just follow him and the porters they would walk us to another hotel nearby. My father was having none of that. He could sense that his family was being treated without the respect that we deserved. So despite the clerk's protestations and assurances he demanded that they call a cab to drive us to the new venue. When we got in the cab, the bellman gave directions in Cantonese. The cabbie turned and looked at us quizzically and then shrugged his shoulders and put the car into gear. If you've ever been to Victoria or the Hong Kong Island side of Hong Kong you know that it is very hilly, crowded and back then constantly under construction with many one way roads. So long story short, we spent about fifteen minutes driving in dense traffic up, around, back and then down to other side of the city block where we had started where the porter was waiting with our bags.
But my father always fought for us. He was always on our side.
My father loved his family deeply. He didn't show it much in public but among us, at certain times his love blazed through. When my son - who was his first grandchild - was born he and my mother were with my wife's parents at the hospital waiting for the blessed event. It was quite the scene with the grandmothers unable to abide by hospital rules and constantly making unauthorized forays to the birthing room for a peek and being thrown back with increasing stridency by the staff. But eventually Sam came - he's the large bearded one up front - and after all the post birth details were resolved he was plopped into my arms to carry out to meet his grandparents. I knew my Father so I gave Sam to him first and almost immediately his tears began and didn't stop for quite some time. It was very characteristic of him to love so openly. And so very beautiful. And when he was sick, particularly when he was suffering the indignity of one of the many painful procedure he endured, he would always tell me just how much he loved us and how grateful he was to us for what we were doing for him.
One other important thing about his love: he and my mother had their 'moments' of conflict - we all did with him - and sometimes the insensitivity of his truthfulness could wound. But I will say this with absolute certainty: my father never, ever said a disparaging word to me about my mother. He invariably praised her and told me how grateful he was that she had married him. As he proudly told anyone who would listen, she was the love of his life.
My father didn't talk of faith much but later in life I know that he reflected upon it a great deal and that he was a Christian in the traditional, orthodox sense that he placed his faith wholly in Jesus' substitutionary atonement for his salvation. He said that he most felt God's presence when singing with the choir. That one: behind me and I can believe that for my father experienced things of the heart so very deeply.
So that's the man I knew and grew up loving. He wasn't always easy but he was always true. His relentlessness often irritated me but he would not let me give up. His stiff backed Anglo Scottish loyalty to kith and kin sometimes embarrassed me but he showed me how important family is and in his tears and in his life he showed me what it is for a man to love.
To end I'd like to do something that I think my father would have done had he had my literary bent. You see, I write poetry. There I said it. Not only that but from time to time I write love poetry. I know, I know but still (at this point my kids are probably rolling their eyes in the same way that I used to roll mine at my father. And all I can say is be patient, you'll get there). My love poems aren't usually targeted at any particular person, and I used to think that was odd. Yet after quite a bit of reflection I have concluded that what I'm really doing when I write about love is reflecting on all of the love that I have experienced up to that point in my life. And without a doubt one of the great loves of my life has been my father.
So I have a poem. Now most of this poem is irrelevant to Pop, simply the sort of stuff you would expect from a third rate hack like me, but as I reread the last stanza of it yesterday, my father's love suddenly shined through. So if you'll indulge me, I'll recite the last few lines that contain so much of my father's love as my last formal tribute to this great man that I loved so very much. The poem is entitled "To Know You"
And when our time is done
in death, despair or ruin.
I am more for knowing you
and you for knowing me.
And in the end when life
has no more time to run,
You are more for knowing me
and I for knowing you.
To understand you,
To live so that at the end of days,
when all this world is done.
All of time cannot deny
that I knew you.
And was found,
And that was my father, my pop. Thank you so very much for coming.