The last thing any parent thinks about is what to say at their child’s eulogy. However, when the time came, I felt we owed it to Patrick to at least make an attempt to provide a glimpse into his life and how he became the incredible, unique person he was. I will try to recreate Patrick’s eulogy as I told it at his funeral on 10 Sept 2016. In certain areas I have taken the liberty of adding or subtracting bits of information for clarity but will leave the bulk of the speech intact to the best of my recollection. Plus, I never let small details ruin a good story. I will also do my best to convey the emotion of standing in a church in front of so many people that loved Patrick and I will try to do his amazing life justice.
My wife was aware that I wanted to do this eulogy but questioned the fact that I had nothing written down in the way of notes. I did not want to read a prepared speech as the written word is often short on heart, especially when read by a dad struggling to keep it together. I wanted to convey the raw emotion I felt…the hurt, the love, the respect, the overwhelming sadness I had from losing my son. Also, I wanted to work without a net as a tribute to Patrick whose entire life was lived without a net. I am not good at many things in life, but I am a good storyteller so I decided to try and explain Patrick’s choices with two stories from his life.
I hope to get through this eulogy and fully expect it to be the hardest thing I have ever done. As a former Air Force officer, I know eye contact is crucial to a good speech. However, y’all will have to forgive me because if I make eye contact with all of you who love Patrick so much, I will never make it through this.
Patrick was born at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota while I was stationed there flying tankers. He was always an active child, into everything and questioning anything put in front of him, especially rules. Patrick was our first child, and from day one we didn’t know what hit us. He didn’t come with a manual or a checklist, and without any family members living near us, we were often at a loss on how to handle this different kind of critter. In his first year he provided us with many highs and lows and also a glimpse into the person he would become.
One such glimpse is my first story, and it occurred when I returned from a night flight late one morning. Patrick was just over a year at this time, and when I entered the house my wife was sitting on the kitchen floor with that look all men know so well. My first thought was, “I hope she isn’t mad at me,” but upon entering the kitchen, I soon realized it was Patrick sitting across from her who was in her crosshairs. I said “Hey, what’s up?” and was soon briefed that Patrick had taken his breakfast of dry Cheerios and dumped them onto the kitchen floor on purpose. Patrick was never a sit down and eat your breakfast type of child, so we usually gave him a cup of dry cereal to eat as he scurried about getting into everything. This morning he not only decided to dump the Cheerios on the floor, but refused to pick them up. So, I had walked into a standoff that had been going on for awhile. Cindy was firm but caring and had sat with him, even guiding his hand to each Cheerio as Patrick slowly put them into the garbage. When I arrived, Cindy used this opportunity as leverage to break the standoff. “When you finish picking up the cheerios you can go play with your dad.” she said to Patrick. This seemed to have the desired effect and he began to move bit faster as I slid down next to Cindy to referee this contest of wills. Patrick was soon down to the last Cheerio and held it in his hand. “Put that last one in the trash, and you can go play with your dad” Cindy told him. Patrick looked at each of us, the Cheerio, the trash can, and back at us. Then with a gleam in his eye we learned to fear, he ate the Cheerio. My wife and I looked at each other and realized we had just been schooled by a one-year old.
For the next story, fast-forward with me to the Amazon Basin. Patrick had been vagabonding around for the past 4 years and had finally settled down in Brazil working as a fishing guide in Barcelos, Amazonia. He asked me to come down and stay with him awhile, and since I had the time, I agreed to meet him for a few weeks. The young man I met in this remote jungle outpost was much different than the boy who left home at 19. He had become fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese. I am told by his Spanish-speaking friends that his Spanish had no American accent and sounded as if he were a native speaker. The same could be said for his Portuguese. He moved around Barcelos with the ease of a native, going from store to store and shop to shop conversing with the locals as we purchased what we would need for our jungle adventure. I speak no Portuguese, so when I inquired about certain terms, he would ask a local about the correct way to pronounce a word in the regional dialect. I asked him why he took such care to be sure and pronounce each word as the locals did. He told me it was a matter of respect…respect for their culture and their country. It was the least he could do to repay all they had given him was to speak their language correctly. This from a boy who flunked Spanish in high school.
Within minutes of paddling away from Barcelos in his boat, we were swallowed up by the vast Amazonian landscape. The first evening, I watched Patrick disappear beneath the dark water to retrieve a net that was lodged under some brush while large black caiman alligators watched from a nearby sandbank. I asked God that if he had to take Patrick, please don’t take him now as I had no idea where we were. I would just have to curl up next to Patrick and die myself because finding my way out of this maze of waterways and jungle seemed impossible. Patrick navigated without a compass and claimed his greatest asset in navigation was time. He was never really lost as he rarely had a specific destination or time to be at any given place.
The trip to the jungle was everything I thought it would be and more. I expected the incredible flora and fauna the Amazonian basin is known for. What I didn’t realize was the thing I would come to cherish the most was spending time together to reconnect as father and son. We talked all day, but the nights we lay in our hammocks smoking cigars and talking about anything and everything were my favorite times of the trip. It was during one such talk that Patrick confided in me an interesting viewpoint on some comments that he received on his ongoing blog hitchtheworld.com. If you haven’t heard or read about this site and would like to further understand Patrick, it is an excellent source of information and also well-written and entertaining. The comments he spoke about concerned the numerous readers who insisted that he was brave to hitchhike through all those countries, build a raft and go down the Amazon from its source to the sea and then sail back upriver and spend so much time alone paddling through uncharted territory. Patrick seemed confused as to why they would call him brave. He viewed bravery as doing something even though you were afraid to do it. He said, “Policemen are brave. Firemen are brave. When you were in the military, you said you and your friends were afraid yet you still accomplished your mission. What people don’t understand is that I have never been afraid. I was never afraid when I hitchhiked, never afraid about who would pick me up, never afraid of what would happen if my boat flipped over in the middle of nowhere, never afraid of where or when I would get my next meal or where I would sleep that night.” He paused and said nothing for a long while. For once as a parent, I did something that I recommend to all parents, and it is something that I am not very good at. I said nothing at all. I let him work out on his own what he was feeling until eventually he spoke again. “What really scared me was going to college, getting a job, settling down, and being all the things that you and Mom expected me to be because I felt I owed it to you. That scared me. So for me to be brave, I would have never left.”
One of the readings today was the familiar story of the Prodigal Son. This reading and all of today’s readings were carefully chosen for this occasion by my other incredible son David. None of these readings, as Father Vincent pointed out in his homily, are traditional readings for a funeral. The music was also chosen by David and it is also not traditional mass material. Patrick’s life was not traditional but still managed to touch people mainly due to its unique and personal message. For those who know her, my daughter is also anything but a conformist. She is currently an instructor pilot and will be participating in tomorrow’s memorial flyby formation as my wingman. David and Ellen can relate, I know, to the story of the Prodigal Son. I told Patrick when he left that he was welcome back anytime. We had money for his college saved and we agreed that the money would be there for him when he returned if he chose to go to school. However, I did put an age limit on the use of these funds. The funds would be available until Patrick turned 25, after which we agreed the money would go into an airplane fund and that any plane we bought would be named after him. Patrick agreed to this with no argument, and I felt sure that he thought he would never return to claim this money or continue any formal education.
However, just before Patrick’s 25th birthday, we received a message from him stating he had a plan and wanted to know if he had to go to college in order to receive his education money. The words of my mother came back to me as she would always say, “Any education is no load to bear.” So I asked Patrick what sort of education he was contemplating. He said he wanted to return to the States and get his flight ratings, from private pilot to commercial pilot. This would enable him to get a flying job as a crop duster. He had recently learned he was to be a father so I believe this turn of events had something to do with his plans. He had done the research on just what he needed to get his ratings, and had all of my questions answered before I could even ask them. If you know Patrick, when he decides to do something, he puts his whole heart and soul into it. He did return, just as he planned, and moved quickly through his flying qualifications, logging over 400 hours the first year while working as a waiter at Pappa’s Seafood five days a week. He was within a month of achieving his final flight rating. He had met the love of his life, Isa, and they were planning a future together. I don’t know why he was taken now while performing, for him, such a routine flight. I guess I am not supposed to understand why, but I do know if he had to pick how to go and with whom to go, it would be flying with his lifelong friend Zach Esters. My wife and I used to say privately to each other that Patrick would never grow old and die in a nursing home. I just wish we could have had a little more time with him.
Thank you all for coming and God bless.