The Speech I Gave At My Dad’s Funeral

Annie Altman

Read at Central Reform Congregation on May 28, 2018:

My dad trusted my intuition more than I ever have. He often reminded me of the strength of my mind-body connection, a concept I am both extremely passionate about and skilled at underestimating. He created and held space for all of my feelings, and those of you who have talked to me ever know that I have more than a few of those all of the time.

Sam said we could each talk for about five minutes, less if possible to not make you lovely people sit here all day, and Jack correctly pointed out how I will definitely be using all five of my minutes. I’ll apparently even spend some sharing this backstory with you.

You may know that I come from a family that loves to rank things in order to make meaning of them. I love that too, and I also love talking about feelings, as someone who has so many of them. This led me to make a list about a year ago ranking my immediate family in terms of emotional expressivity, from most to least. Obviously I take “first place” on this list, which is probably part of why I wanted to make it. Next comes my dad, then Max, then Jack, and then Sam and mom alternate what would be first place if this list went from minimal to Annie levels of emotional expression. As I typed this out last night, Jack immediately questioned my list and checked in with Julia, his wife, for her opinion. (She agreed with my list, for the record.) It led to an interesting discussion on how different people express different emotions, which my dad knows is, along with family movie night, pretty much all I’ve ever wanted from my family. Also Jack last night, “I can just keep talking if you want me to write your speech, just keep it really meta, you can have my five minutes, it’ll be great.” Sam, I may really need Jack’s minutes here as when I read this out loud it was about 8 minutes — I’ll do my best to talk a little faster.

My dad and I were always very close, talking about all the feels, all the music, and all the athletic activities. I fondly remember us sharing boxes of chocolates when I was little, and by share I mean I would bite each chocolate in half, happily devour it if its insides were cream or more chocolate, and promptly stick it back together and give it my dad if its insides were fruity or coconut. My dad’s memory of this story was that he was the one getting the “good” deal — he honestly believed he was the luckier one, sitting there eating spit-covered chocolate.

We grew even closer in the past few years, as he was my #1 supporter and confidant in all my choices and adventures, most recently in moving to the Big Island of Hawaii, teaching yoga knowing full well it is not a “career” one can “support themselves” with, and even choosing to live in a car for a few months (re: there is little money in yoga and also Annie goes into extreme minimal hippie phase). He was characteristically 1000% supportive of my current creative endeavor of writing a book called “The Humanual,” about how no one knows how to human and also there are reoccurring themes in the humaning thing. He even began to say things like I did along the lines of, “this would be perfect for this part of The Humanual.”

My dad came out to visit me in February, when I finally moved into a non-mobile home. He was one month into “Seaganism,” as he brilliantly termed the concept of eating a vegan diet with the addition of seafood. He made the shift with the new year, after patiently sitting with me through my angry vegan phase, welcoming in my phase of being anti-factory farming rather than anti-animal consumption, and listening as I did my best to clumsily describe how the people I was the most annoying towards about eating a more plant based diet were the ones I loved the most. During his visit I pointed out several places friends of mine like with local seafood, and instead he decided to just share food with me the whole time. We made smoothie bowls, tofu scramble, and pancakes, we went out for Thai food, veggie sandwiches, and chili and we split everything. He was so excited to learn to prepare new foods and when he got back to St. Louis I received almost daily texts with pictures of the meals he was making for himself. From his visit onwards he was eating fully plant based, with the exception of consuming whey powder and other forms of dairy accidentally. My brothers are convinced that he changed his diet to be closer to me, much like his interest in rowing and involvement with the St. Louis Rowing Club, and I know they are right.

I FaceTimed with my dad on Thursday, pausing in the middle to call grandma and wish her the happy birthday I had forgotten and my dad reminded me of, both laughing about me avoiding grandma’s black list just in time. When we said goodbye he held up a horizontal peace sign to the camera and I laughed saying something about what a perfect sign off that was.

Of all the things my dad taught me, the lessons I have been drawing most on, in addition to trusting my intuition, are the importance of focusing on the positive, of seeing the silver lining, and of finding the beauty in everything.

Tragedy comes with some truly beautiful components: one out of every four Jews in St. Louis has brought food to our house, I’ve been surrounded by loved ones for the past 48 hours, and I’ve received messages of love and support from people from all sorts of chapters of my life, including ones that I have not revisited for quite some time.

Grief shows how much love there was to lose, reminding me of the quote that, “You can never love someone as much as you can miss them.” He is no longer physically here and I miss him already. I do not get another in person conversation with him, a video chat or phone call, a deep talk about life while we stretch with our legs up the wall. There is no one I want to dissect which part of The Humanual this whole situation is supposed to be, along with all my feelings about it, more than my dad.

Which reminds me of how much he loved to remind all of his kids that, “comparisons are odious” and together with my mom echo the chorus of, “it’s not better or worse, it’s just different.” Rather than receiving love and support directly from my father, I’ve been receiving it spread out between so many different people. Still I feel it all coming from him. Of the innumerable lessons I am only beginning to face, most apparent has been how to sit back and actually RECEIVE love and support rather than just being the one to give it.

The Thoreau quote in the program was one we saw together at the Hawaii Botanical Garden, ironically on a plaque in dedication to someone’s dad who had died. To me, “the only remedy to love” references the deep love that becomes clearly apparent with loss. To me, my dad was the embodiment of “loving more,” in any and every situation.

In January my dad sent me a text, part of which read, “And just for clarification, I don’t just support your lifestyle now or your physical and emotional endeavors now; I support your life. I will always support your life. These are aspects of your life, so I support those too. And there is not a “now”, as Yoda might say. There is only life, for as long as that may be.”

My dad was active, with people, and doing what he loved, I had said up until his last day before my mom correctly clarified it as “his last hour.”

While there were many movies we loved to quote together, “The Sandlot” was an extra favorite. There’s a scene where one of the characters dreams about Babe Ruth and the Babe says to him, “Remember kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends: Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Follow your heart kid, and you can never go wrong.”

I will keep him alive through me, through the genes and memories of his I am lucky enough to hold on to. I will do my best to see the good in people and give them the benefit of the doubt, to remember that my only “job” in life is to be happy, and to works towards trusting myself and my intuition half as much as you believed in me. I will allow myself to express all my emotions as openly as I choose, especially the ones that involve hugging our loved ones often and reminding them how much they are loved. I love you more than all the words I’ve ever said, will say, and could say. Thank you for being my dad; a true legend by the Babe standards, a testament to the power of love and community, and the only person who would have genuinely encouraged this speech to be even longer if that was what I wanted. I will always be a daddy’s girl and specifically yours.