What I Said at My Dad’s Funeral

You’re all here today to support us and say goodbye to my dad. You came to know him or us – and by extension, him – over the course of years. The Marty of the last several years isn’t that person you came to know. Dementia took that from him for a time. The Marty you came to know was a macho guy who thrived on being both strong and smart. The disease hit him in a way which made him seem like all which was left was an Alpha who was always right. He had no way of knowing it because of what physically happened to his brain. The result was that all that macho turned hard. It strained relationships he may have had with you and it had an impact on all of us. However, I’ve spent enough time chronicling that. Because, let me tell you, that macho wasn’t hard. It was soft.

I want to take you back to when Suzanne was pregnant with Nate. That’s the time when you pick out your grandparent name. My mom became Baba because she thought Bubbie Barbara was a mouthful for a toddler and it actually means grandmother in some languages. My dad wasn’t able to really pull together what he wanted or didn’t want to commit to something – and that was not typical Martin. This was all new to him. Zayde or Papa or Grandpa never seemed to fit for him. This went on and on past when Nate was actually born. As you know, he would often say things like “You talkin’ to me?”, “Hey, forgetaboutit”, or “Yo! Come over here!”. He did that all the time. So often, that his grandson would shout “Yo!” to get his attention. The name stuck and he loved it. It became a big part of his schtick. I’m pretty confident that no other kids have a Baba and Yo!

He was also an instigator. Some of my cousins’ favorite memories of their uncle are when he’d make them bark like dogs for fudge. Yes, their favorite memories. And there was another time when he and I got in this little war where we’d try to hide a rubber lobster they’d picked up somewhere. It was like a low tech crustacean version of a Rick Roll. This went on for quite a while. Once Suzanne and I sneaked into their house while they were out and put lobster stuff all over his office. Then he sent us a big box addressed to Nate (who hadn’t been born yet) that had an enormous stuffed Sebastian from The Little Mermaid. In case y’all wonder where I get this from…

My dad’s office: Hot Wheels, racing, Corvettes, Rocky, and the lobster.

You also know him as someone who was uber-organized. He believed in investing for retirement every single month. He had strong values and placed family and doing the right thing above all else. He prepared me to be an adult in so many ways. And in the end, he prepared me to be there for him when he needed it.

The dementia stripped away his control and restraint and the schtick. It preyed on what made him lovable and turned that against him. But once that had passed, his desire each and every time I talked with him was to be with his family. He didn’t talk about cars, watches, trips, or investments. All he wanted was to be with us. in the end, he accomplished everything he wanted in life – both for himself and for his family. Probably more than he ever dreamed of. I know he loved us and was so so proud.

This is the audio from the funeral service.

What my mom said is below:

Thank you for coming.

I work with words, and recently I’ve rethought two: love and trust. One word, love, we use so frequently to describe our emotions or to describe something we like a lot, that it loses its value. Like shoes or Publix Chocolate Trinity ice cream. The other, trust, is implied by our response, but not said often. Like when we know we can depend on others.  So many of you have offered us your love and prayers in sincerity, and it means so much to us.

In marriage, love and trust are sometimes taken for granted. How often do we tell our spouse, children, or other relatives that we love them? Or do we not tell them because we think they know, or because we set up defenses to protect ourselves in case we feel that our love and trust won’t be returned?

So I tell my family that I love them. Because I do and I never want them to wonder. When Nate and Andy were little, I’d whisper in their ears that I loved them more than a blue whale.

Marriage? Blink and realize Martin and I were married 50 years this June. Eric once tried to take a picture of us kissing. What he got was a series of us looking at each other and laughing every time we tried.

We went to Cancun on our honeymoon, and got into a conversation with an Australian couple on the bus trip into town.

“Do you know what that guy does?” Martin asked me later.

“No, what?”

“He has a Roo ranch.”

“What’s a Roo ranch?”

“You know, kangaroos. They make golf gloves from roos.” This is the off season so they came here for vacation.”



When we got home, I read a Time magazine article about how Australia was being over run by the increasing number of wild kangaroos.  When I showed it to him, he laughed. It was a gotcha moment, the first of many.

I should have remembered that when he got me to climb Chimney Tops on the Blue Ridge Pkwy. After an hour, we met people coming down. “It’s not too far to the top,” they’d say. I think it took 2 or 3 hours to get there. And then we had to go down.

Or when he took my station wagon to get gas, my station wagon in which I drove 8 kids to the AA for preschool, and he came home with a Corvette, the first of a long line of them.

Not that he should get away with this, one year when he went to New York for Toy Fair, the really big show of new lines, I stuffed tiny fluff ball animals in the toes of his loafers.

“I think I need a larger size shoe,” he said when he came home.

I took a shoe and pulled out the squashed fluff ball. He was stunned. And then he laughed. We could both play that game, and you’ll hear more about that later.

A long-time friend pointed out how different we were. Several times. Well, it was true. He was tall. I am tall for my side of the family. He was strong. I banged bottles on the floor to get the lids off. I liked reading, music, ballet, museums. He liked sports, fast cars, military history, and watching the WWF. I liked fruit and veggies. He hid them under something else on his plate so I’d think he ate them. If we went on a trip and there was a cannon anywhere, I was sitting on it while he took the picture.

But we compromised. Sometimes. I went to TransAm and Formula One races. He came to like chamber music. When I co-chaired the Book Festival, he had fun driving authors and talking to them. Like the famous football coach whom he tried to talk to about golf.

We were wandering Jews before we came here. IBM shuffled their sales force, so Mattel must have thought it would be fun, too. We went from Dallas to Oklahoma City where Eric was born, and we reconnected with my college friends who introduced us to their friends. Then back to Dallas, then to Memphis shortly after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. We connected with Dallas friends there and decided we wanted to stay. Since it was the regional office, we felt safe in buying a house. Three days after we did, Mattel moved us to Atlanta. After that, enough was enough. No, we weren’t going to New York City. No, we weren’t moving to Chicago in December.

“Do you know how we got out the driveway this morning?” my college roommate asked. “I went out and looked around the snowdrift to make sure no cars were coming. We’d love to have you here, but you’ll never adapt.”

And no, we weren’t moving to LA. So we stayed here, Martin was made Mattel’s southeast manager, we made lots of friends, bought a house, Hal was born, life went fairly well with bar mitzvahs, graduations, weddings and grandchildren. We traveled the West, Israel, Europe, South America.

But in that time, an invader, a sneak thief, skulked into our house. As the words to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” go, “Where it began, I can’t begin to knowin’”. Frontotemporal dementia, the strongest opponent Martin had ever met, chose him, and it was a battle he couldn’t win. The fix was in, as they say in boxing.

Over 10 years, maybe more, he changed into a tough guy who had to be right. He repeated his history stories like an authority. Drove fast. Too fast. Little things upset him. Computers and cell phones, things that became part of everyday life, frustrated him. And guns, which he kept locked away from the grandchildren, became an obsession, a part of the new image he created. He was no longer Martin, he was Marty.

In the last two years in the assisted living facility, we danced a little at activity time. Shared cookies. Went for walks holding hands. Watched movies. As his world closed in and his memory diminished, it became easier for both of us to say, “I love you.” So many times. Like we had saved it up.

And so we are here to remember him. And to talk about love and trust, fun and games, what he meant to us. I hope you, too, will think about those two words and make them part of your lives.

There’s no time like the present.



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