The Boy With the Million-Dollar Smile
His mother and two older brothers entered from the side entrance taking their seats for the funeral service. My daughter, Jackie, and I did a double take as the middle brother filed in. The resemblance between him and the deceased – my Dad, Maurice – was uncanny.
Many of the floral arrangements close to the podium were donned in orange and blue representing Maurice’s beloved Florida Gators. The eldest brother played football for the University of Florida on the 1939 team. It was a family tradition. His good friend, the presiding minister, wore a dark suit and red tie in honor of his esteemed Georgia Bulldogs. It was a sweet, humorous gesture. They had an ongoing, amiable (if that’s possible) dialogue about which team was the best.
I handed Brother Ray my written short tribute that he read after delivering the eulogy. Dad’s transition came on July 4, 1988. He was 66, less than one year older than I am today. Dad worked hard and played hard. He was a man’s man and a ladies’ man; the latter would eventually be his Achilles Heel.
In his youth, you may have taken him for a young Warren Beatty: handsome, charismatic, charming, HS star athlete, known by his peers as “the boy with the million-dollar smile”.
Leaving my sister and me a legacy of friendship, he was a people person, loving and caring for others especially loyal to his friends, the kind that would give you the shirt off his back. While attending a high school reunion with my mother, one of Dad’s fellow teammates approached me. He began to tell me how great he thought my Dad was, how much he loved him and would do anything for him. He was his best friend. I heard similar accolades for Dad from his other friends as well.
Maurice and Jackie, my mother, were high school sweethearts, marrying young as so many did in those days. I was named after him, with no middle name, because he didn’t have one. Mother said he called me Junior when I was in the womb, probably hoping for a boy that he could teach to throw the football.
Mother and Dad had seemed like the perfect couple, beautiful and popular with friends and family. Many were surprised when they divorced. I was 10 years old at the time. Divorce was a rare event back in the 1950’s. I was devastated and felt that he abandoned my mother and me. I judged him for what I thought was ruining my life.
Later in mid-life I would walk a similar path and the description I had given him as “restless, irritable and discontented,” I would have to call my own. Resentment would eventually lead to forgiveness as all roads do. Rather than a pardon, forgiveness is letting go of the judgment we have for others and ourselves. Practicing forgiveness is our freedom.
Sitting in the pew at Dad’s funeral, I could not have imagined how my life would turn toward a new beginning of transformation triggered by his passing to a Greater Reality beyond the veil. Though our relationship was one of my greatest challenges, when he crossed over, letting go of the limitations of his life in this dimension, my life took off. First, reunited with my children, then a year to the date of his passing I entered a program of recovery for my addictive nature. Preceded by a bottom, it would eventually become the start of my authentic life.
I wrote and read Maurice a letter of forgiveness after he died. A few years later while sitting in church listening to a female vocalist sing her version of Mariah Carey’s “Hero”, tears of joy not sadness, filled my eyes. At that moment I felt the love between my Dad and me.