On August 20, 1998, my father died with my lips on his forehead. This is the eulogy I delivered at his funeral.
In 1943, Norman Rockwell, did a series of oil paintings, he called the four Freedoms.
The Freedom of Speech, the Freedom from Want, The Freedom to Worship, and the Freedom from Fear.
In the painting he called the Freedom of Speech a young man stands in a room full of seated people, at what might be a town meeting.
He is a young man, not as well dressed as some of the rest of the people in the room. He has thick hands hands that just might have a little dirt underneath the fingernails hands that just might have worked in a cotton mill since he was 13-years-old.
The other people in the room are looking up at the young man, - some with admiration and some with a touch of fear and nervousness. But the young man is oblivious to all of them. He is speaking. And, he is proud, and strong, and confident.
You can see on his face that he considers himself to be no better, but worse than anyone else in the room.
You know that he is speaking up for something right and just. That's my Daddy. The first time I ever saw that painting I said to myself That's my Daddy. My Daddy came from a background that would have destroyed a lot of people, or twisted them and made them greedy and climbing, willing to step over anybody just to get something in the world.
But My Daddy?
For my Daddy, that background forged a fine, independent young man who knew how to fight and who understood the importance of fighting and whose integrity were not and never would be for sale to the highest bidder For my Daddy, that background forged a man who was never ashamed of and never forgot where he came from, nor who he was. Out of that background, he forged his own epic, his own story, and as he grew older, we all listened as he worked on that epic, telling it over and over again, re-writing some parts of it, until he got it right. I think he was happy with the epic he wrote, with the story of his fife. And he was what most people never manage to become - proud and content.
He was proud and content that he had done what he was supposed to do, lived the way he was supposed to live.
He made a good life - for his wife, his son, and his daughter, and he stood beside and cared for his sister, his nieces and nephews, his grandchildren, his son-in-law and his mother.
As far as I am concerned, and I know as far as he was concerned, he and my mother were about the best thing that ever happened to each other.
And together, for over six decades, they struggled and they worked and they laughed and they loved and they shared that love not only with their family, but with anybody who was wise enough to come close and accept it.
They forged in my brother and 1, a core of fierce integrity, and independence of thought.
This core has not always made my life easy, nor made me the best daughter, nor the most compliant employee, but I would not trade it for anything in the world and it is what I consider my most treasured legacy.
At the end of Harper Lee's novel TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Atticus ,the father, has put his heart and his soul and his intellect into fighting an unpopular battle, not for himself, but for a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.
Atticus did not win that battle. In fact, it would take many more years and many more battles to even begin to win a part of that battle.
But, the important thing was that he fought.
That was my Daddy.
In the last scene of the novel Atticus' daughter, Scout, is sitting in the balcony of the courthouse the balcony reserved for blacks.
As Atticus closes his briefcase and walks from the Courtroom they all stand, An elderly black man leans down and says to Scout: "Stand up chile',you Daddy's passing."
I'm so glad that when this ceremony is over, we'll all be standing
Because My Daddy's Passing.