-Campbell family motto
Readers of Laissez Faire, I’m saddened to say, have recently lost a fellow patron — my father, Stan Campbell.
He passed a couple of weeks back without warning in his sleep at the incredibly too-soon age of 55. At the moment, we’re still trying to figure out why.
Since I took over Laissez Faire Today, he’s been there, in the background, quietly keeping up with his son and all of his crazy opinions and even crazier adventures.
Sometimes, because I know he’d be there on the other end, I’d imagine I was just writing to him. One of the “golden rules” of writing, any (mostly useless) book on “how to write” will tell you, is to imagine you’re writing to one person. Write like you would write a letter.
Reading, after all, is a solitary act. Individuals read. A human reads. Not collectives or hives or The New York Times or “societies.”
So, sometimes, following this particularly useful mental model, I just wrote to my dad. And there’s little more that’ll help you punch up your prose than the impending hypercritical eye of your procreator.
I’ll still imagine writing to him sometimes, I suppose. I’ll still work to keep his memory alive. I’ll still imagine him chuckling at one or two of my stupid jokes a year, and him sitting there, in his chair after a long day’s work, wondering when I’m going to settle down somewhere near home and find a woman brave (or crazy) enough to pop out some grandbaby Campbells.
And I’ll certainly make sure I tell everyone I can the truth… the open secret… that my dad’s not really dead.
Today, in his honor — and maybe even, I hope, to help give comfort to those currently caught in a similar situation (nothing’s more ubiquitous to life than the end of it) — I’ll share with you the eulogy I delivered just this past Saturday afternoon.
News of my father’s death has been greatly exaggerated.
He’s not dead. He lives on.
A Eulogy For My Father
Stan Campbell is my dad.
And he’s not dead. He lives on.
The poet Thoreau once said that “The gun gives you the body, not the bird.”
Which is another way of saying no matter how hard the hunter tries, the bird doesn’t die.
That thing which makes the bird a bird. That which gives the bird beauty, that which gives it breath and makes it sing, that which makes it fly and soar through the sky, that which gives it its essence, its “aliveness”…
That part is impossible to kill.
The hunter, then, cannot capture the bird with a weapon and death cannot even capture it with old(ish) age or with hard living — not even while it sleeps.
By the time Death swoops down and grabs it, the bird has already made its escape. All that remains is an empty shell.
So, this here in this coffin… is not my dad.
It’s not the man who raised me.
My dad is something else.
When it came down to it, my dad would do anything for those he cared about. And would sometimes beat himself senseless inside if he felt like he couldn’t. And, although he often had trouble expressing it explicitly, he cared. Probably far more than most. Possibly too much. Especially about those things completely outside of his control.
My dad was hilarious, too. He had an incredibly unique sense of humor and a biting wit, which he would unleash often and sometimes without mercy on anybody he thought deserving of his verbal lashings. In those cases, you had to have thick skin. Because if he ever put you in his crosshairs, you wouldn’t think he was all that entertaining.
That is my dad.
But what’s in the coffin is not him. My dad is not dead.
This is symbolic of him, maybe. But it’s not him. This was his body. And there’s a difference.
To the hopelessly untrained eye, my dad might’ve seemed like just some simpleton. He was anything but. He was a very sharp, very smart and complex and wise man. Thing is, unlike most, he had little to prove.
He made no apologies for who he was.
He was the hardest worker I’ve ever met.
And he was stupendously allergic to bullshit.
My dad could’ve been and done a whole lot of different things in his life.
But, I think he chose and wanted to be a father, and not just to those twinkles in his eye, but to all of those who considered him one. He chose and wanted to be a husband. He chose and wanted to be a grandfather. And he chose to and did those things well.
And, yes, he made mistakes, and sometimes they were mistakes I definitely did not understand, he was certainly not a perfect man, if such a man even exists.
But those other times, the times when it really counted, he brought life into this world. And he brought a lot of good people together and created an amazing family around him. And he changed a lot of lives for the better and made people feel loved and made them feel like they belong here and offered a helping hand.
And, yes, he broke some things, but he built far more things than he ever shattered. Yes, he flew off the rails sometimes, but he created far more beautiful moments than any he crashed and crushed and pulled apart.
And I think that’s really the best any of us can hope for as our legacy — that we create more than we destroy. That we leave the world a better place than it would’ve been without us.
And, because of him, all of us kids had a lot of opportunities to celebrate life and see that it was good and worth living.
He and Kathi, we all know, threw the best Halloween parties in the county. As kids, we had our own haunted trail in the woods and disco ball dance club in the garage. We were allowed to be wild and let loose sometimes. And that was important. And he took pride in everything he helped to build. And in his own way he showed us that we were all important to him, too.
And he took us on trips to far off places and took us fishing and camping and he showed us the corners of the world he grew up to appreciate. And, because of him, we grew up to appreciate those corners, too.
That is my dad. This is not him. My dad is not dead.
Death, as we all know, is incredibly unsympathetic. It strikes hard and fast and ruthlessly and often without warning.
But just like that old hunter will never catch the bird, that old bastard called Death will never catch my dad.
All he will get is what’s in the coffin. A smelly bag of bones. That’s his pound of flesh.
He doesn’t get my dad. My dad is still very much alive.
He’s here in this room. In all of us. He’s in the hearts of everyone who loves him — his mark exists in every single person’s life he has touched.
And my heart tells me he’s now somewhere beyond, beyond this world, sorry that he had to go, regretful that his time was up, but incredibly relieved for all of us still here that Death ain’t really what it seems to be.
What’s in this coffin, though, is not my dad.
Stan Campbell is my dad. And my dad’s a lot of things.
My dad is great.
And, God as my witness, he’s not dead.
He lives on.