At 12:47 pm on Thursday, January 24, 2019, my father peacefully took his last breath. He was surrounded by family and he knew that he was loved.
I had the great honor to eulogize my dad. It went something like this.
Donald Eugene Gladfelter, Sr.
Husband. Father. Grandfather. Great Grandfather. Brother. Uncle. Cousin. Colleague. Mentor. Sensei. My dad served in many roles throughout his life. You are here today because he was important to you.
In 1990, after my mother’s death, I spent a lot of time with my brother Don, Jr. I would pick Boomer up from school every day, we would go to karate together and he would spend many days and nights at my home. He would talk incessantly about “My Dad”.
“My Dad, this. My Dad, that. My Dad said. My Dad did”.
I would listen patiently and when he had finished speaking, I would give him a gentle nudge with my elbow or shoulder and say, “He is My Dad, too”.
As I speak to you today about Don Gladfelter, Sr, I will refer to him as “My Dad”. I welcome you to replace those words in your mind with the role that he played in your life.
My original plan for this eulogy was to share a timeline of My Dad’s life, peppering his history with humorous anecdotes and stories . If he was physically here with us today, I am certain that he would interject witty comments from his seat, enjoying the opportunity to laugh with you.
However, as I reflected on his life, I realized that my father would have preferred a different type of eulogy. My father was first and foremost, a teacher. He was a mentor. He was Sensei. I believe that he would have wanted me to use this time as a teachable moment, an opportunity to share some life lessons.
On Thursday morning, I visited my father for the last time. I knelt beside his bed and held his hand. I thanked him for the many lessons that he taught. I summarized those that had influenced my life the most. He closed his fingers around mine and I take that gesture to mean that I learned well.
Lesson 1 – Love
Love God. Love others. Love deeply. Love completely. Love even when it hurts. Tell others that you love them. My Dad has always said the words “I love you” to his family. I didn’t realize how unique he was until I was a teenager, my friends shared their surprise as to how open my father was with his words and actions. He loved his family so much. When I say “family”, I mean all of you.
Over the past couple of years, as his memory began to fade, it seemed that his ability to share his love got stronger. Maybe not remembering minutia like the day, time and year, allowed his mind to focus on what is much more important, showing love to others. A typical conversation with My Dad generally ended like this.
“I am so happy that you are happy! I am very proud of your children. They are great people. I love you very much! And I really, really mean it!”
I know that many of you have heard similar comments.
Lesson 2 – Have the courage of your convictions
When I was 12, our family moved from the Baltimore area back to York County. I was in middle school, and my sister and I joined the school system after the year had already begun. Being a tween is difficult enough, without having to adapt to a new school, new rules and finding new friends. I didn’t have difficulty finding friends, but I was confused about where I felt that I belonged. One evening I had a long conversation with My Dad. He said to me,
“Honey girl. Only you can decide who you are. You need to determine your beliefs and stick by them. Be brave. Don’t waffle and don’t be influenced by others who try to sway you. Have the courage of your convictions!”
Lesson 3 – Be the tiger
The symbol of Shotokan Karate is the tiger. The tiger is outwardly humble and inwardly fierce. My father was a humble man. I cannot think of a single moment when he bragged or boasted about his knowledge, his skill or his success.
He was inwardly fierce. He was fiercely proud of you and all of your accomplishments. He was fiercely dedicated to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. For those of you who were on the receiving end of a side kick or reverse punch or a take down, you know that he was fiercely skilled in the martial arts. He demonstrated the attributes of the Shotokan Tiger in all elements of his life.
Lesson 4 – Laugh often and inspire others to laugh
My dad was extremely witty. Sometimes he was silly. Other times clever. His eyes twinkled as he delivered his quips. His humor put everyone at ease and made us feel included. As I sorted through thousands of photos of My Dad, I couldn’t help but smile at how many of them captured his big huge laugh! I hope that you will remember his funny stories and will pass them on to others. Laugh every day in his honor.
Continue his lessons
I know that he taught each of us many more life lessons: discipline, respect, responsibility, dedication, honor and so forth. I ask that you take a few moments this evening to write down the lessons from My Dad. Post them on your refrigerator or a whiteboard. Add the lessons randomly to your outlook calendar so that throughout the year you get reminders from him. Take his lessons and pass them onto others. Keep his memory and his teachings alive.
Thank you for being here today to honor My Dad. Donald Eugene Gladfelter, Sr, was and will forever be a great, great man.
And I really, really mean it.
My Dad is still with us
Following the funeral mass and burial ceremony, friends and family gathered for a reception. It was a great time to share stories and tears. His legend will live on through the people whom he loved.
The bar was stocked with Yuengling and Johnny Walker, favorites of my dad. My daughters joined me at the bar to drink a toast. The bartender smiled at me and said, “What can I get for you, Honey Girl?” Both of my daughters’ mouths dropped open in surprise. The bartender did not attend the funeral and could not have known that my dad called me “Honey Girl” as a child.
All that I could do is smile. Thanks, Daddy-o for your message. I love you, too.