I gave his eulogy and kept his photo with me as I read it. It wasn't easy but I really wanted to do it to honor the man I was so fortunate to have as my Dad. I had several people come up to me afterward at his celebration of life and ask for a copy, so I told them I would post it here. Thank You all very much for your love and support and friendship.
Good morning. My family and I thank you for your support and out pouring of love during this difficult time. My dad would be humbled and grateful.
My Dad never complained about the disease that took over his body, and in fact, up until the day he passed away he would say things like, “When I get better I am going to do this or that.” He was always a positive light, always embracing the good in people and life. He inspired everyone he met. That was just who he was. He started writing a book not too long ago about his ventures as an entrepreneur, a guide for others who maintained an entrepreneurial spirit. So, I want to start off speaking about my dad from his own very recent personal words.
He started with a verse from the Bible out of the book of Romans chapter 8 verse 28.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I want to side note here because he explained to me what this verse meant to him. As a boy, my dad had wanted to be a pastor, and at that time and for many years he thought that this verse was about being called to preach the word of God. But he recently told me that his interpretation of the verse is that we are to live a purpose filled life. We are to live our lives to fullest, for our lives are a gift. We are to discover our purpose and live that. My dad knew his purpose was to help horses and also to inspire people. He did this.
He went on to write: I’m not a Bible thumper, I promise. Though beginning with this verse may suggest otherwise. I haven’t graced the pews of God’s house in the past twenty years except for the occasional wedding or funeral. Regardless, I’ve always held this verse to be true. And though my actions may not always reflect it, I’m a man of faith, both in God and myself. Faith carried me through a childhood education riddled with intellectual self-doubt, eventually leading me to drop out of high school, through a series of failed inventions and business endeavors to finally realizing my dream of entrepreneurial success in an industry I love.
Eventually, I realized that my faith was the result of giving credence to my day dreaming. It’s something that I’ve done constantly throughout my life and for a long time completely unaware of its power. It’s a tactic that coaches and psychiatrists call visualization. To me, it’s just day dreaming.
For those looking to find success, the process is as simple as the one alluded in the Biblical verse. Have faith, find your purpose and assume your calling. The key is to dream before determining the details. It’s counter intuitive but an unhindered way of thinking that banishes self doubt before it can kill a great idea. Essentially, it’s learning to put the cart before the horse.
That is just a little bit of what Dad wrote down, but it shows what kind of man he was. He was a dreamer and doer. He chose how to live his life by dreaming how he wanted it to go. He set forth goals and dreamed about them, and then he did everything in his power to achieve them.
Dad wasn’t someone who just talked the talk. My dad was a man of action who showed me and us how life should be lived. I really grasped this as he became sicker over the last two years. What I learned from him is that life is all about choices. We get to choose how we want it to go. Sure things happen to us and sometimes they are not great things, but it is all in the perspective. It is all in how we view it. Dad could have viewed his disease as limiting, but he didn’t. He chose to continue to live his life as fully as he possibly could. He continued to joke and laugh, he continued to want friends and family around, he continued to create ideas and share them with us. He didn’t just allow a disease to take him willingly. That was exactly who my dad was—a chooser of the good things, and a man who focused on the positive, a warrior for the light in this life.
There were some fundamentals that Dad taught me that have helped shape my life, and I am sure there are those of you here who would say that he did the same thing for you as well. I am certain that if he had had the opportunity to finish his book that he would have included these keys to living a life successful and fulfilled.
The first key to living a life fulfilled the way my dad did is to live your passion. Find what you love and delve in with all of you, even if it is scary. A life fulfilled is going to have some fear in it, but if we don’t live our passions and live them passionately what is the point? We know my dad’s passion was finding ways to make the lives of horses more comfortable. He and my mom created an entire industry from his passion. Think about that for a minute. To me, it is completely inspiring. My parents created an industry out of my dad’s passion for the horse. They’ve employed people, they have donated scholarship monies, they have helped thousands of handicapped riders, and they have truly made the lives of hundreds of thousands of equine athletes and their human partners more happy and comfortable. That is a legacy, and a life fulfilled.
The second key my dad taught me in order to live a fulfilled life is to maintain an ethic of persistence. It is true that nothing worthwhile is easy to gain. Hard work, a sound mind, a good attitude and a willingness to strive for your goals is exactly what made up the man who was my father. He would tell me to set a goal, visualize how I wanted that goal to be achieved, see it happening, feel it happening, and then set another one, because the initial goal would occur and be a bit anti-climatic because I had lived it over and over again already in my mind—so his constant message was to go for it—reach for the stars and when you get there, reach even further, reach even higher. I think by the testament of all of the people he loved and who loved him back that he reached for the heavens. That is a life fulfilled.
The third key, dad taught me was to have patience. Not everything happens on our time clock. In fact, it usually doesn’t. And I have learned to trust that there are reasons why things happen when and how they are supposed to. I don’t always have the answers or know the reasons, but I have learned that through the patience my dad suggested to maintain in my family life and in my career that he has always been right. It always does work out the way it is supposed to. Again maybe not in the time desired and maybe not in the ways expected, but with a little patience when the sweetness in life does occur, it is even that much sweeter and memorable.
And finally, Dad taught me that peace in life is a key element. I did not completely understand that one until just two weeks ago, right after he passed away.
Two days before Dad left this world, he said to me. “I have all the answers to life.” I said, “You do?” And he said, “Yep. I do. I know all the answers now.”
I said, “What are they?”
He replied, “Love, family and peace.” I smiled and gave him a kiss on the cheek and said, “Yep, Dad. You got it right.” At the time, I really didn’t think much about it. I thought it was sweet and pretty much an easy answer.
But I have thought about his answers, and you know what I believe he was right. I believe the answers are that simple. We come here to love one another and make certain that we share our love with other people, animals, all life—an appreciation and gratitude is an expression of our love. One of my dad’s favorite things to remind was, “Keep an attitude of gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for, even in our darkest hours. There is always a flower to smell, the whisper of a hummingbirds wings, the mane and tail of a horse flying through the air as it sails across a pasture. Find what makes you thankful and maintain that attitude of gratitude.”
Family. Through the grace of God we are given family. Some of our family is blood related, some we choose such as our friends. My dad had a huge extended family from his friends and employees who he loved to his animals, especially his Ziggy dog. Sharing our love with our family is living your life and Dad did that.
And finally, peace. The one key I never really understood until after Dad passed, and now I believe that I do. If we live a life giving and receiving love from the family we are born into, to the family we extend our hearts to, then we can end our days peacefully. I was with Dad when he passed away and I assure you it was peaceful as my mom held him in her arms. And if you knew my dad you loved him, and I know that you knew he loved you. He let people know exactly what he felt.
To really sum up exactly who my Dad was to so many people, I want t read from an e-mail that was sent to me right after his passing from our good friend Don Trotter. Don wrote: I didn't really ever get to know your dad that well as a dozen or so meetings doesn't really constitute a relationship. Yet I'd like to take this opportunity to use a bit of "license" to express how he touched my life.
The first time I had the privilege of meeting your Pop was last year at that burger joint in Ramona with John. He said something to me that resonated, and will resonate with me for the rest of my days.
"Don, I can die a happy man knowing that I've made millions of horse's lives more comfortable."
That statement of a life mission.... accomplished, was something another man of vision cannot ever forget. I won't ever forget it, of that I am sure. Your father was a heroic figure to me. A man who, despite whatever foibles he may have had, saw his life in terms of his good deeds. That's my definition of a mensch. His death does not signal the end of his life, but the beginning of his legacy. That legacy will live on, in no small part, in me as I attempt to accomplish a life's mission. I'm certain the same is true for many other men whose lives he touched.
The truth of the brief time I knew him is that he was an inspirational figure who left a bit of his wisdom linger with everyone he met. He certainly did that with me. I am grateful to you for introducing him to me and will always remember him as "That Guy", the one who had the rare ability to truly inspire others to be better than they thought they were capable. This is, in fact, a time to mourn, but I see it more as a time for action. For me, his passing signals a moment of remembrance and sorrow and a lifetime of celebration and motivation to be a better human being. Heroes only come around every now and then; he was most certainly one of them.
My dad was a hero. He was someone who inspired, who truly cared about others. And obviously, he was a man of faith. He believed in himself, he believed in others, and he believed in God. And I believe he is with God and us right now. A week before he died, Dad was looking up at the ceiling and holding his arms up and out, a smile on his face, and tears streaming in his eyes. Two days before he passed he looked up again from his chair and was staring. I said, “Dad? What do you see?” He looked at me and said, “Something so pretty.” I asked him what it was and he just smiled and said, “It’s just so beautiful.” I knew right then that Daddy was being called home by the angels.
I keep having this awesome image of my Dad now. He had this little black quarter horse named Smokey while I was growing up. My dad was always a giver, but this horse was his special guy to him. If he let you ride old Smokey, you knew you were special. When his horse died, my Dad was devastated. He adored Smokey and Smokey adored him. I now like to day dream as my dad taught me. I visualize my dad being met by the angels and Smokey. He’s sitting up on that horse, his big smile on his face, his blue eyes twinkling, and he’s waving to us. He’s saying, “Don’t be sad, my friends. I’ve got new adventures ahead. It’s time for me and my boy here to wind on up the mountain to explore. But when you get here, I’ll wind on back down and meet you. It’s been fun and it’s been fulfilling and one heck of a ride, and I will see you again on the other side.”
I will leave you with one last thought. We may have lost a husband, a dad, a grandpa, a friend, a mentor, an animal advocate, and an amazing business man on this earth. But I know in my heart and soul that God just got himself one amazing angel in his Heaven, and that angel, my Dad, is watching over all of us and wanting all of us to live like he did—a life fulfilled.