Monday, July 11, 2005

for Dad

BACKGROUND: My dad retired at the end of June, and I blogged about the fact that he was going to be given a retirement party at the church. A couple days after I blogged that entry, my brother David wrote in with an urgent notice for me to erase that information STAT. So I erased the offending sentence, and hoped that Dad hadn't bothered to glance at the blog. What follows is the text (edited for privacy) of the speech I would have given in his honor had I been at his party this past Sunday. David, on three hours' sleep, somehow managed to get up, emcee the event, and read my speech along with doing his other emceeing duties. Hats off to David, and many thanks to the crowd of guests who came to fête my Dadso.

And now, in the spirit of corniness and sentimentality, I offer you, Dear Reader, the speech my brother read.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Honored Guests, Distinguished Academics, Mr. Vice President, and Dignitaries from every land, thank you for attending this gathering in honor of my father’s retirement.

I am unable to attend, so I am relying on someone-- probably a member of the family, and if not, then a paid Shakespearean actor-- to deliver this special message to my father, David E. J. N., faithful employee of Northwest Airlines lo these many years.

Dad belongs to a generation that remembers the notion of “company loyalty.” If you say the words “company loyalty” to someone of my generation, you’re liable to get a blank stare, but Dad’s a living example that such values still exist in American society. I admire and respect his dedication.

Having worked in customer service myself, I understand how difficult such a job can be. My own job in DC sometimes involved sitting at the phones for two or three hours a day, and, like any good Christian, I was often filled with the urge to strangle the moron on the other end of the line.

Dad, however, worked for years at Northwest’s ticket counter. Those were far more stressful conditions than I’ve ever known, but Dad handled the job with pride, humility, and a conscientiousness that even people of his generation would marvel at. More than that: Dad somehow managed to remain cheerful through it all, and almost never brought job-related bitterness home with him. So far as I know, Dad strangled no one.

Dad’s life, especially over the past few years, has been led on a schedule I recognize from my studies in Buddhism. As with Buddhist monks, Dad’s routine would begin at about 3:00AM. Ideally, Dad needed to be asleep somewhere around 9:30PM, but this has rarely been possible, for there are chores to do around the house, or church-related activities in the evening. Dad has spent years operating on 4 to 5 hours’ sleep. Perhaps “Buddhist monk” is the wrong metaphor: I think “college student at exam time” is a more appropriate description of Dad’s schedule.

I’ve emailed back and forth with Dad and know he has post-retirement plans. I’m happy to hear that he aims to keep himself busy, but I’m not surprised. Dad’s not the type to sit still. He’s barely the type to sit: when the family’s watching TV, Dad can usually be found at the back of the room, standing, arms crossed, ready to deploy, almost as if he’s waiting for some siren to go off and summon him to duty.

Duty and constancy are two values that shine through in Dad’s life-- as an employee, as a military man, and as a father. Underlying those two values, though, is something far more important, and that’s Dad’s love. He’s always loved his family, he’s always loved the Church; and his love for his fellow human beings shines through in his everyday dealings with friends, acquaintances, and customers. Over the years, some customers have written letters to Dad’s bosses to that effect, impressed with the humanity he brings to his work.

My father is no saint, however. He has three vices that have put his marriage in danger: chicken, apple pie, and ice cream. Luckily, these three vices haven’t claimed the marriage, but over the years they may have claimed several of his teeth. One can only wonder what will happen, now that Dad will be spending more time at home... closer to the refrigerator than ever.

How do you sum up a career? Well, don’t ask me; I’m Dad’s son, not his co-worker. In the end, though, when we think of Dad, we don’t think of him in his capacity as a Northwest Airlines employee: we think of him as one of the best human beings we know: a man who is patient, kind, and cheerful. A man who has taught values by example-- thoroughness, neatness, dedication, determination. A man whose life is, in the final analysis, marked by love.

Today, we celebrate an ending, but also a beginning. Dad’s not the type to spend time on nostalgia. After this ceremony, there will be things to do, and Dad doubtless has a to-do list in his pocket, right now.

Happy retirement, Dad! I love you!

Your son,



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