Even as I prepare to say this, I realize the weakness of words when it comes to describing the heroic giant that John O’Dea was. My dad lived a large life. His laugh shook his whole body, lifting the spirits of anyone around. His heart was big enough to care for the whole world.
He was the man I looked up to all my life. After we went to the park, we would go to Baskin Robbins, 31 flavors. I would stand on my tip toes, look through the glass, amazed at all the sugary choices; then I would look up to the man next to me, and see the same childlike amazement mirrored in his big smile. On the tennis court, I would look up to my dad for his approval after a good shot. On our long walks through the neighborhood, I would look up to my dad, lingering in his quiet conversation. While sitting outside, I would look up to my dad as he called cardinals with a perfect whistle. At the movie theatres, I would look up to my dad to see if he wanted more popcorn. In the kitchen, I would look up to him as he made his famous tomato soup with peanut butter sandwiches.
No matter the situation, it was my Dad I looked up to; no man could fill his very large shoes. One of the qualities I looked up to in my dad is his gentleness. Some men in our society feel the need to be loud, aggressive, overbearing, and superior in order to demonstrate their power. Not my dad. He had the art of showing strength through gentleness. And what an art it was. In his subtle yet sure ways, my dad was there for us: driving us to and from, listening and giving advice, spending quality time with us, snuggling, quietly demonstrating his love day to day instead of just talking about it.
However, just because my dad was gentle does not mean he was a push-over. Nowhere was this more shown than in his protective devotion to my mom. Anyone who knows my dad knows that he would not tolerate disrespect or ingratitude toward my mother. When I reflect on times I fought with my mother or hurt my mother, I can hear the echo of his very familiar voice: “now go and apologize to your mother.” I bet all of his children can remember him saying those words.
My dad loved my mom. Loved her from the depths of his soul. And in the end, when my dad didn’t remember his kids’ names or trips or events or past conversations or even his own identity, there was one thing he never forgot: the care of my mother. On every trip to the nursing home I have had for the last several years, this would be what my dad would talk about:
“Dad, what do you want for Christmas?”
“I want for your mom to be healthy”
“Dad, what are you thinking about? Where’s your mind?”
“I’m just worried about your mom?”
“Dad, what can I do for you? What do you need from us?”
“I need you to take care of mom.”
Ok dad, I promise. We all promise.
I hate to end a tribute like this, because I know I will never be able to say enough about the man who was the most loving father, the most devoted husband, and the most giant hero of all time. All I can rest in is knowing we will never forget him; we will remember him in his strength and his glory; we will think of him in the call of the cardinal, the green of a golf course, the classics of Christmas time, and in each bite of sweets; we will watch over his wife like he wanted, and we will live our lives in honor of the high expectations with which he lived every day.