The Eulogy for Robert Lewis McGranahan
(June 19, 1922 – October 12, 2012)
1Corinthians 13:4 – 13; Revelations 21:1 – 5a; Matthew 7:7 – 11
Reflecting upon my father-in-law’s life, his granddaughter Kate described him as a man with an unusual balance between soft and strong. I think that says it well.
Pop Pop was strong and soft. He was soft in the sense of manifesting those qualities that the Apostle Paul said were the essence of love. Pop Pop was “patient”; he was “kind”; not “envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.”
Thad described to me one of his earliest memories of his future father-in-law. He had just recently begun dating Kathy, and one day when he was at the house he came upon Pop sitting at the kitchen table with some kind of electronic device taken apart in front of him. Thad didn’t know anything about what his girlfriend’s Dad did for a living. He figured he was just some regular old dad blindly going hit or miss with a mystifying piece of electronic equipment. Thad fancied himself to be pretty smart about such things, and in an attempt to make a good impression with his girlfriend’s father, began making suggestions to him regarding things he might try to do to get the thing up and running. As he recalls, Pop took his suggestions appreciatively, respectfully.
It was only some time afterwards that Thad came to realize how much patience and humility Pop had manifest that day. Only, as Thad began to learn more about what Pop actually did for a living – how he was – as Thad himself would later describe in his father-in-law’s obituary, an extremely skilled engineer who had designed and installed the extraordinarily complex navigational systems upon which our navy relies – only then did he come to realize how gentle Pop had been with him in receiving his lame suggestions. The teenage Thad had tried to impress Pop, but Pop who had, in fact plenty of stuff he could have boasted about, never did.
Love is patient, love is kind, never envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
There was softness in Pop. In an age where, in contrast to mothers, fathers would often stand aloof in the family, withholding affectionate touch from their children, Pop was extravagantly generous with his expressions of his affection for you.
He had a soft spot for all children and dogs, and in general for all the little ones in this world who need kindness and mercy.
In an age where the cultural stereotype defined the home as the domain of women, Pop was a husband who willingly shared in the household chores and a father who was a full partner in the raising of his children. He took the kids grocery shopping, and, as Sarah says, made it fun. He had an eye for color, whether it be in carpets or fabrics for a seat cover, or for clothes. And he had a nose for fragrances. He was a cultivator of beauty in the home.
On those occasions over the years when Mildred would lose her grip on reality – accusing Pop of imagined betrayals when he was, in fact the most loyal of men – his patience never faltered, and his love never wavered.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
He was a soft-hearted man, for whom being nurturing and forgiving was second nature. No harm, no foul, he would say.
But he was also a strong man, who thrived in traditionally manly settings. As a young man he loved the fierce competition of muscle and will that the football field provided, as well as the whole experience of being a part of a team of men.
He chose the marines, the toughest branch of the armed services when it came time to serve his country in war.
Your dad was a man determined to stand his ground when challenged. At Notre Dame, where he had hoped to play football but was told to his disgust that he was too small, he had a run-in one day with a certain Professor McCarthy who treated Pop both disrespectfully and unjustly in front of all his classmates. Pop waited for the class to be over before confronting the professor – giving him a piece of his mind – calling him out for acting in manner unfitting for a professor. It got him expelled, but your dad stood his ground.
Some time not long after that, he was in training with the marines when he received word from home that his Dad was dying. Family was precious to him. Just a few years before that he’d already lost his sister Katherine.
He asked for permission to go and visit his Dad, but permission was denied. So he went AWOL. Let them go ahead and throw him in the brink afterward if they wanted to, but he damn well sure was going home to see his Dad.
He wasn’t afraid of a fight. In what I suspect was rather hyperbolic – a major piece of exaggeration, Pop once told Sarah that he was “in a fist fight a week until I met your Mom.”
He thrived in the work world with his competency and his dogged determination. He loved the whole process of solving problems – of figuring out how things were put together and then how to build something that would be more effective than what presently existed. Pop found the work itself inherently satisfying – the compensation he received for his work was for him almost an afterthought.
He was strong, and he encouraged his daughters to feel strong and competent as well, and to be every bit the equal of men. Kathy remembers how gratifying it was for her as a child the times her father included her as his assistant when he was doing mechanical things like working on the car, making her feel competent in settings from which girls were often excluded. He took delight and pride in Kathy’s mastery of water skiing and Sarah’s accomplishments as a diver on the swim team.
Pop was comfortable with strength in his daughters, but he was also ahead of his time in being comfortable with softness in his sons. He referred tenderly to his son Bobby as the “sweetest little boy there ever was.” Later on, when Bobby broke out of the conventions in which his parents had been raised, letting his hair grow down past his shoulders, his father didn’t freak out. He just told his son to make sure he kept his long hair clean, and suggested that the day might come when he’d want to cut his hair off. And he was right. Pop didn’t sweat the small stuff.
One of the great gifts of Pop’s with which he blessed his family was what his son Bobby called his “equanimity.” He had this capacity to be calm when things seem to others to be spinning out of control, a capacity that arose from that balance of both strength and softness.
Bobby recalls a time when he was only five and his little baby brother, Jay got very sick with a temperature spiking to 106. With a palpable anxiety arising in the home, Bobby remembers his Dad doing what needed to be done. After talking to the doctor on the phone, Bobby watched as his Dad calmly clipped a clothespin on Jay’s tongue to keep him from swallowing it, and then placed Jay in an ice bath to bring his temperature down low enough so he could be safely taken to the hospital.
When Sarah was four years old she was riding her tricycle on the sidewalk in front of the house, when somehow she managed to get her toe stuck inside the peddle, causing some degree of hysteria on the home front. Her Mom called her Dad at work and then the police, who got there first. Stumped by the situation, the police concluded that they would need to saw the pedal off in order to release the whimpering Sally’s toes, which they were preparing to do when Pop arrived home in his white shirt and tie. Carrying his tool box, he calmly walked up to Sally splayed on the ground, squatted beside her, and quickly proceeded to take the pedal apart with a wrench. Unruffled, he nevertheless muttered under his breath loud enough for only Sally to hear, a couple of choice words regarding the incompetency of the police who did not have sense enough to figure out how to help his little girl.
Sarah remembers another instance from the same era in which she was about to dart between two parked cars out into the usually quiet street they lived on when she was stopped dead in her tracks by a yell from her father the likes of which she had never before heard come out of his mouth. Turning around in astonishment to look at her Dad and find out what it was that had made him scream so, she felt a gust of wind blow by her – caused by a fire truck whipping through the neighborhood. A gust of wind she remembers to this day, for her Daddy – her strong and vigilant protector, saved her life that day.
When Bobby was a precocious fourth grader the Cuban Missile crisis took place. While other children remained oblivious to the threat that was grew hour by hour, Bobby’s inquisitive mind and sensitive, soft heart were focused on nothing but the updates coming out of the television set. Having carefully studied his father’s history book with its vivid photographs of mushroom clouds rising from exploding atomic bombs, Bobby was fully aware of the cataclysmic destruction that was possible if stubborn men refused to back down. These were God-less Commie Russians we were dealing with, for God’s sake! Who knows what they were capable of?
With Bobby’s mind filled with images of atomic bombs raining down on his quiet suburban world, his father calmly talked him down off the precipice of his terror. Pop knew just what to say – reassuring words of wisdom that speak volumes about this man and the clarity he had about what mattered in life – words that would stick with Bobby for the rest of his life.
He explained to Bobby that there was one thing he knew for sure, and that was that it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from in this world – everybody loves their children. That’s the bottom line. When push comes to shove, nobody would willingly choose to bring such horror to their precious, beloved children.
It did the trick. Bobby was able to relax finally, and resume being a little boby. And his dad’s words proved true; the crisis was averted.
Kate experienced the same reassuring quality in her grandfather a generation later, when, at the age of five her parents’ marriage suddenly dissolved as her father moved out of the house. The peaceful and secure world that Kate had known up till that moment seemed obliterated, and it wasn’t at all clear to her that she and her mother would survive the bomb that had just exploded in their lives.
That is, until her grandfather arrived on the scene with his sense of calm, and his quiet confidence that she and her mom would indeed survive this difficult thing. And if Pop Pop believed it, then maybe she could believe it too — that in the end, everything would be okay, after all. And Pop Pop was right about that one, too.
The grandchildren all remember how when you went to Pop Pop and Grammy’s house, you could count on waffles in the morning, and that he welcomed the help of his grandchildren when it would have been a lot easier probably to get breakfast served up without any little hands assisting.
Up until he was five, my son Andrew had no siblings and very little in the way of extended family – no tribe in which to belong. I remember when we came into this family Pop Pop the Patriarch was always so warm and tender towards my son, affectionately calling him Andrew Elijah to distinguish him from the other Andrews — Thaddeus Andrew and Andrew Eric. Pop Pop never let my son feel in anyway less than the other grandchildren. I remember that look of astonishment on my son’s face – like a miner whose pick has just struck gold — at that first Christmas at Pop Pop and Grammy’s house. Oh, to have found himself in the midst of such abundance.
What Andrew experienced that day is but a pale reflection of what Pop found himself in as he took his last breath last week. The abundance of what waits on the far side is beyond our comprehension.
A lyric from a Paul Simon song was playing in my head as Pop was dying. “I have reason to believe we will all be received in Graceland.” All of us. The Russians and the Americans, the wacko fundamentalist Christians and the cynical atheists and everybody in between.
Pop was well loved as he drew to the end of his life. On behalf of the whole family, I want say thanks to Kathy and Thad for being so very attentive to Pop’s needs these last weeks and months of his life.
I chose the Gospel reading for this afternoon because in it Jesus uses the experience of human fathers lovingly responding to his children’s requests – like Pop Pop making waffles for his little ones – as a picture to conjure up something of the graciousness that is at the heart of the universe. The Creator has knit into creation signs of the ultimate loving-kindness that undergirds all things. Bobby’s story from when he was five of the words Pop spoke to soothe him in the midst of his terror referenced one of those signs: that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, everybody loves their children. Another sign is one that Pop appreciated so: the unconditional love that a dog expresses. When ponder such signs, we have reason to believe we will all be received in Graceland.
The troublesome bit of the passage I read is when Jesus says, “If you who are evil…” The thing to keep in mind here is that Jesus, like a McGranahan made frequent use of hyperbole. The point here is that none of us are perfect. We all have our shadow selves. We are all, in various ways, screw-ups, if not in practical matter of the head, then surely of those more mysterious matters of the heart. To use an expression of which Grammy was fond, “We are all sinners saved by grace.” Or to use modern secular language, we are all dysfunctional.
I’ve been describing Pop in a way that might suggest he was perfect. He wasn’t. He had his frailties and his blind spots, just like everybody else. But in the end, Paul reminds us, love is the only thing that never ends. And there was plenty of love expressed through Pop’s life.
The scriptures convey the hope that in the end, grace will win out. The present patterns of dysfunction, which at times can seem so immovably entrenched, will, in fact, give way to a wholeness that at our best moments we can glimpse already. The childish things will be put away. The partial will give way for the complete to take its place. We see in a mirror dimly now, but one day, we will see face to face. All the tears will be wiped away. And all things will be made new.