On this Father’s Day, I thought it would be fitting to share the eulogy I gave for the man who treated me like a son.
Any redeeming qualities I have—as a man, a husband, a dad—I owe to my grandfather, Robert H. Benson.
Understand that I’ve experienced the death of two fathers.
The first was 25 years ago when a tragic accident robbed him from me. No seven-year-old boy should be without a father; a man who will guide him, teach him, love him. Lucky nature abhors a vacuum, and it was my grandfather who stepped in to fill the void.
The second was Sunday, Father’s Day, when he lost his battle with ALS. Grandpa’s death on my first and his last Father’s Day could not be more symbolic as it forced me to reflect on the lives of both my young son and grandfather’s.
On that day, I was reminded of this quote from Superman, “You will travel far, my little Kal-El, but we will never leave you—even in the face of our deaths. You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father. And the father, the son.”
Today, I honor your memory, grandpa. For starters, I’m wearing a white belt just like yours.
Grandpa was famous for his white belt with no occasion being too formal or informal for that matter to sport one.
Grandpa has filled me catch phrases. My favorite being, “Holy Ding Dong!” Holy ding dong is perfect for almost any circumstance whether you strike your thumb with a hammer or receive some amazing news. I use it so much that my wife, Maribeth, has adopted the phrase. I look forward to my son learning to say it.
My grandfather was also filled with words of encouragement.
Periodically, Ty and I would help grandpa split firewood. I was never very good at it. One time, Ty and I were trying to one up each other by seeing who could split a log in the fewest blows.
After several wild and crazy swings, Grandpa announced, “You chop wood like lightning.”
“Really!?!” I excitedly replied.
“Yep! You never hit the same spot twice.” He said.
We all had a good laugh.
Grandpa was also filled with wisdom, and, as I matured, learning to listen rather than talk, I came to appreciate and understand the life lessons he had to teach. Not lectures. But rather stories and living life by example.
Grandpa once told me that the best way to get people to work was to be the first to do the work.
He explained that one time while working construction a truck had broken down in the middle of a muddy mess. The men stood around debating who was going under the vehicle to make the repairs. Instead of ordering someone down into the muck, the boss slid down into the filth himself
It wasn’t long until every man there joined him. Many hands made for light work, the truck was soon repaired, and the boss didn’t have to tell anyone to get dirty.
Grandpa was the same way. He was always the first to jump in and get dirty. His hard work make those around him work equally hard.
I remember one summer we decided to dig a drainage ditch around my parent’s house. Being a teenager, digging a ditch isn’t your idea of a good time. I’m not sure if it’s high on my list at age 32. My wife might disagree though.
But when your 60-plus-year-old grandfather starts digging, you grab a shovel and start digging too.
You see living life by example.
It was grandpa who introduced me to Johnny Cash. I even remember the first song he played for me, “One Piece at a Time.” I love that song and have been big fan ever since.
In fact, we’ve been listening to Johnny Cash since Sunday almost any time we’re in the car. However, I think Johnny Cash’s “Further on up the Road” is more appropriate for today.
“One sunny mornin’ we’ll rise I know
And I’ll meet you further on up the road.”
My grandfather was a Mason, as was his father before him. It seemed only right for me to join when I came of age.
The night I joined, I learned my grandfather had joined 50 years ago that same week. This is just part of the strong fraternal bond we share, that has connected us, and that can never be broken. I now wonder, where will I be in 50 years? Will I ever be half the man my grandfather was?
My grandfather has come to embody everything I want to be. Through him I have come to know who I am.
Ultimately, grandpa returned to me was taken away those 25 years ago through his kindness, patience, and love. He was the father I lost being there my entire life and treating me not as a grandson but as a son.
So today I mourn not the death of a grandfather but of a father.
You will be missed.
“And I’ll meet you further on up the road.”
The eulogy I read for Robert H. Benson at North Jackson Methodist Church on Thursday, June 24 2010. You can read his autobiography here.