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It is March 5th. My father would have been 67 today. He died of cancer 10 years ago this month.

Ken McNeill was the Public Affairs Officer for Naval Station Treasure Island for 20 years. When you see a photo of the San Francisco skyline taken with the Bay Bridge in the foreground shot between 1979 and 1999, chances are good he wrote the permit for it. He edited the base newspaper, The Masthead, did the layout in the days before pagemaker, most of the photos and wrote most of the content, too.

He was my dad. After he retired, I'd get a mid-day phone call from time to time: "Oh, nothing's up. I just needed to talk to someone intelligent." I think that may have been one of the greatest compliments I've ever been paid. We'd talk about food, books, music, politics. He always whistled when he cooked, and every recipe started with "first you fry the onions."

You always knew you were in for a long conversation with my dad when he busted out the record player (or the cd player in later years, because he loved his technogadgets) and started playing songs for you. "*pause* Did you hear the lyrics there? Isn't that amazing? Let me play it again." It had a tendency to happen when I really needed to leave to drive home half an hour ago, and I can't say how much I wish I could turn back time just once, and blow off work the next day to spend the night listening to Joan Baez, Harry Chapin, and Hoyt Axton.

He was the king of garage sales and thrift stores, and he could always find the most amazing things. He loved to shop, and loved a bargain, but he also understood, and taught me, the concept of paying for quality, and that 'cheap' and 'good value' are not synonomous.

He was shy and bold at the same time - in social gatherings, you'd find him dodging the masses by being cross-legged on the floor with the dogs, the cats, or the kids. But he would muster the courage to ask for the craziest things - a spot for his kids to be extras in a movie, a chance to camp out in a civil war reenactor's tent, tours of nuclear submarines - and so I got to have experiences that most people never imagine.

He was silly. I remember one time (in the days before cell phones) that I had been sent to the store to get something. After I left, someone realized we needed something else, and he also got sent to the store. He then stood in the produce section and pelted me with pinto beans until I turned around. He climbed on EVERYTHING - rocks, fountains, boulders, fireplaces in 5 star restaurants. No, I am not kidding.

He loved potatoes and rice and bread, could take or leave meat. He adored chocolate and Coca-Cola, and curried tunafish, hated broccoli, lentils and asparagus, loved lima beans, tomatoes, and brussels sprouts. He was a poster child for brand loyalty: Victorinox, Rubbermaid, Toblerone, and Volkswagen.

He took me camping, skiing, canoeing, taught me to grow tomatoes, and how to compose a photo. He taught me how to develop and process photos too, back in the days before digital cameras. He taught me how to communicate effectively in spoken and written English, and he spoke and wrote in French just as well. He loved languge, words, poetry, and literature, but he also had a passion for science, technology and mathematics.

I'm sad. Sad that he never got to meet his granddaughter, sad I lost him so young. I'm sad every time I see a new bit of technology he would have loved, sad he never had the chance to carry a smart-phone with the Encyclopedia Brittanica and the internet in his pocket. I'm sad he's gone, because in a lot of ways, he was the glue that stuck my family together.

I miss him. I miss him Every. Single. Day. I cry sometimes, because I can't remember the tune he whistled when he cooked. I miss the one person that would drag himself out of bed at 2 in the morning to help me find my cats when the obsessive compulsions got to be too much, the person who would take me to the all night bookstore when I couldn't sleep. I miss the late night shopping trips the night before Christmas. I miss his silly out-of-tune piano, and his never-out-of-tune guitar. It's been 10 years, and I still catch myself thinking I should call him.

I miss you, Dad. Happy Birthday. I love you.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 6th, 2012 11:42 am (UTC)
That's a beautiful eulogy, thank you for sharing.
Mar. 12th, 2012 11:56 pm (UTC)
It amazes me how you seem to know more about your Dad, than I think I know about anyone in this world. How special to have had such a close relationship with him, and I'm so sorry for you that your time with him was shorter than it should have been.

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )