Friday, September 16, 2011

Eulogy to my father

Since I was about 15 years old, I knew this day would come. As his oldest son, I knew I would have to stand up in front of a church full of people and tell them about my father.

I had a dream last night about my father. And in it, he told me some things he wanted me to tell you. I'll get to that in just a few minutes.

The fact that so many people are here today and that so many of you have come so far to celebrate the life of my father is a far better testimony to his remarkable life than anything I could find in my heart to say. It is obvious by the size of this crowd how much my father meant to his friends and family. He embraced life with a passion that few people ever match. Your presence here today is not just a testimony to him but to a way of living that he espoused.

He set an example that resonated in your heart. You loved the fact that he made you enjoy life to the fullest because he lived life to the fullest and you did too when you were around him. He made life better. Isn’t that what we are all called to do? You are here because you want to make life better too, for your friends and family. You came to comfort us. We all thank you very much for coming. We all are people who wish to make a difference in the world, in some small way because of people like my father. He was one of the best. And we are all part of his legacy.

Many of you know my father as the life of the party, the man with the quip. He had a great laugh and a constant smile on his face. He made people feel comfortable. And as much as he loved life and enjoyed being the center of attention at any family gathering or social event he attended, he was a man of great probity and moderation when he was having fun. His was a life of wine, song and woman. He only had one and he was faithful to her for all of his days. Some of his older friends might have seen him tie one on some night a long, long time ago, but I never did. I never knew my father to have more than two drinks. I never saw him place a bet; he was not a gambler.

He used to delight his children by blowing smoke rings up at a lighted chandelier above the mahagony dining room table in Kidzaplenty Place, the 7-bedroom home they purchased in Ambler in 1963. He’d blow one big smoke ring and use it as a target to fire off six or seven smaller rings that would burst through the outer ring. It was like watching fireworks every night after dessert. My mother convinced him at some point he was setting a bad example by smoking in front of the children, so he immediately stopped.

He didn’t indulge in any vice at all, unless you think of fishing as a vice or a waste of time. If that’s the case, he lived a very decadent life indeed, because (after his family) fishing was his life’s great pleasure and pursuit. My father once told me that “God doesn’t count the days of your life when you are fishing.” So maybe we can take some stock in that today because he would have turned 85 next month. If he hadn’t spent so many glorious days of his life on Moose Pond in Maine or on lakes, ponds and streams in Pennsylvania and New Jersey with a rod in his hand, we’d have had this ceremony for him back in 1995.

Those who know him best – that would be his children and their spouses -- know my dad was one of the world’s biggest narcissists. Let’s face it, you can’t have 11 children and not have at least a little streak of narcissism in you. It worked out pretty well for him. Halloween provides a telling example. I, along with Paul, Lisa, Marianna and whoever else went traipsing through the neighborhood for treats, would come back after two hours of candy grabbing and be told by my father to display our goodies on the dining room table. Without a hint of remorse, telling us he was rescuing our health and saving hundreds of dollars on dental bills, my father would let us keep about half of our loot and take the rest, keeping the biggest chocolate bars for himself, the Snickers, Milky Ways and Three Musketeers. He’d place them in a large 2-gallon potato chip tin and hide them in his office. This private stash of candy bars would usually last him until the Easter candy arrived. Sometimes Paul could manage to suss out his hiding spot and – about a month after this discovery when he’d picked over the best stuff – he’d tell me where I could find it. I always found it somewhat amusing and ironic when my dad would suspect someone had their hands in the candy jar and would accuse us of pilfering his candy!

Here’s another one that my siblings all know and will appreciate. The day after I settled on my home….THE DAY AFTER! …… I got a letter from my dad in the mail. He sent it from Wisconsin and planned on me getting it the very day after I took possession of my home. He was kindly asking me if he could he please use my new, empty garage to store his stuff in. He’d already asked Lisa and Joe and Trudy and Scott and they’d (smartly!) turned him down. I knew my dad was spending about $250 a month renting a storage shed near their condo in East Falls, so I reluctantly agreed to this request, telling him I’d like to keep half of the garage for my own stuff…. The lawnmower, my bikes, golf clubs, etc.

A month later, my stuff was squeezed into a corner of my garage and all the rest of it was filled with a fishing museum full of rods, reels, creels, tackle boxes, beach umbrellas, spare tires for his boat trailer, fly-tying odds and ends, saws, hammers, shovels, rakes, pick-axes, dozens of boxes of nails, boxes of blankets and winter clothes, fishing magazines dating back to 1978, and boxes of bird feathers he’d picked up in city parks or off sidewalks. Bird feathers! I am not kidding you. Bird feathers. When I asked him about the feathers he told me he “wanted to learn” how to make a certain kind of fishing lure that would attract a certain species of trout and that bird feathers were required.

Whenever my brother-in-laws start to discuss the idea of starting a TV series based on the lives of our family, they always revert to a clever nickname for the proposed show: The Borderlines!

I am particularly happy we are holding his funeral service today in this church. Because my father became a much more loving and caring father in the second half of his child rearing days and a better Christian, too. I think his affiliation with people in the peace movement gave him a much better perspective on his Roman Catholicism. They made him see the underlying pacifistic philosophy of Jesus and helped him see how this represented a paradigm shift from the old standards of morality, an eye for an eye.

After they sold the house in Ambler in 1988, and moved to a wonderful home in Mt. Airy, they found St. Vincent’s and it became a wonderful experience for them to go to church here. This parish, and Sacred Heart in Camden, both supported their peace work. Both parishes made very strong efforts to reach out to their local communities and do the kind of service that Jesus himself had done, feeding the hungry and providing shelter to the homeless.

My mother’s acts of civil disobedience were hard initially for my father to comprehend and approve of. It meant he had to do all of the housework, in addition to being the breadwinner. He learned to cook and do wash. He learned to help with homework. He began to understand what it took for my mother to be a homemaker and he began to understand how hard the job was and how many sacrifices she had made for the family for the first 30 years of their marriage. He also had a clearer appreciation for my married sisters, who were starting their own families around this time.

In 1991, my father had come to support my mother’s acts of civil disobedience. And when she decided she wanted to join a group of 75 international peace activists and go to a small Bedouin camp in the middle of the Iraqi desert to provide a peaceful presence between the armies of Saddam Hussein and the armies of George Bush, Dad was her biggest supporter. He became something of a minor celebrity in the days leading up to the start of the war, explaining to local TV reporters on numerous occasions what Agnes was doing and why she was doing it. He was the point person for the local peace community and many of them always remembered my father for being such a strong advocate of such a very unpopular position.

At the time, even I was aghast at what mom was doing. I thought for sure I would never see her again alive and that, once she was there, she’d be taken captive and marched through the streets of Baghdad with a sack over her head.

Not dad. He believed in her.

And he softened my objections to her peace crusade by telling me: “if she dies over there, she will have sacrificed her life for a priniciple.” I never forgot that message and have long wished I had the strength to do the same. Few of us ever risk death to live by our principles. Mom did. And she could do it because Dad had her back. Some of her own siblings called her a traitor. Dad never lost patience with them because he believed in her mission and he had learned to take the peacemaker’s approach to conflict resolution, and even practiced it with his own family.

Mom was in the Baghdad Hotel with international reporters and the other activists the night the war started and the bombs fell. Their attempt to prevent the two sides from fighting went for naught and got very little publicity in the national media. Just like today, the media didn’t want to tell the story of pacifists and protestors who resist the government’s bloodletting. The most remarkable thing I heard from her about the entire affair was how happy the Iraqi people were to see her; how many of them thanked her for coming and trying to stop the war; how many hugs she received from complete strangers. Even Iraqi soldiers came up to the peacemakers and hugged them and thanked them for being there. She told me afterwards she never felt threatened while she was in Iraq, except when the American bombs were falling in the city all around the hotel.

When she came home, my mother was regaled as a heroine of the peace movement in this very church and my father was never prouder of her. And he, too, was lauded for his support of her and his willingness to take care of things back home while she was risking her life and doing the hard work of peace. They grew rich love after that and their marriage became an enduring example to all of us of what a marriage could be.

On Wednesday, my sister Annie sent a narrative to her siblings describing my father’s last hours. She and my sisters Marianna, Lisa and Gretchen were at his side when he passed, stroking his head and offering him encouragement as he stepped into the profound light of God’s love and left this world behind.

I got to see him earlier in the day. I made my peace with him and asked him for his forgiveness for all the times I hurt him with unkind things I said. There were hundreds and some were fresh on my mind. I told him I forgave him for things he did to me and that I was sorry for holding on to those things for so long; things I should have forgotten and let go of years ago. I told him he was a great father, that he had carried a heavy load for decades raising 11 children and that his care for my mother these last five or six years was a remarkable effort that made him a hero in my eyes.

Now I come to the part about my dream. I saw Dad him sitting at a table in a heavenly tavern owned by the Archangel Gabriel. It was called The Seventh Trumpet Taps Room. That's right: Taps Room. He was having a Guinness with Uncle Tom and Uncle Jack. Louie Armstrong was blowing his horn over in the corner, making a glorious sound. But I could see a disturbance in the back of the room and I saw Dad and Uncle Jack go over and break up a fight.

I asked him what was going on. He said, "Oh, it's nothing. Joe DiMaggio and Robin Roberts were having some disagreement about the seventh game of the World Series. Some dramatic, controversial play is gonna happen in the ninth inning. Phils versus Yanks."

"Can you please tell me who won?" I asked him.

"No," he said. "The baseball god's don't tell us who wins."

"Doesn't Jesus know? Can't he tell you?"

"No. He doesn't want to know. He says the games are more fun when he doesn't know who wins them."

"You know, Dad. If you can find out who won and let me know, we could pay for the party after the service."

He said he really didn't know. Then he said he already formed a prayer group in heaven. They sit around telling stories and singing songs and praying for all of you down here. He said he calls them 'Charlie's Angels.' Aunt Biz is there and Aunt Delores and Aunt Natalie and Grandmom.

And then he told me what he wanted me to tell you. He said to tell you "Don't be sad. I am in a better place. REJOICE! I am in heaven! And I am here for you! You have an advocate in heaven now! Soon, I will see you all and you can be in Charlie's Angel's, too. When it is your turn to reach for the stars, to go to the light of eternal love, I will be there waiting for you. Rejoice! Welcome to the family of man!"

You are Dad's legacy. All of us here today: we are Dad's legacy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Inquirer's obit of my father

Sally Downey of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a wonderful obituary of my father in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. You can read it here:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A sacred moment

At the moment of my father's passing, he was surrounded by my sisters, Annie, Lisa and Gretchen.

The picture above was taken just moments before my father, Charles Robert Bauerlein, Sr., passed on to another life shortly after 6 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 12th. He succumbed to a form of lymphoma, Burkett's disease, after a three-month battle.

This past Saturday morning he told my sister Gretchen he wanted to stop chemotherapy treatment and that he wanted his life to come to an end. His doctors were reluctant to allow my father to enter hospice care until they had seen him. They told my sister the pain he was in might be something easy to mend.

My father told her he didn't wish to go see any more doctors, that he wanted to die at home, in his own bed. My sister promised him she would not allow the doctors to keep him overnight, that she would bring him home afterwards.

When he arrived at the emergency room of Chester County Hospital, the doctor asked him why he was there. He pointed an accusing finger at my sister Gretchen and told him, "it's because of her!" He was dehydrated. It was an easy fix, but they wanted to keep him overnight for observations. My father had had enough. He wanted release from his suffering. We took him home to my sister Lisa's house in New Holland.

I was fortunate enough to be with him at the hospital on Saturday with Gretchen and a handful of other relatives, including my daughter Lili and my sister Trudy. My dad was lucid, though his voice was soft and hard to hear. He asked Lili how school was and he asked my nephew Karl how his recent move from Colorado had gone. He was fully in the moment.

By the early hours of Sunday morning, he was more than ready for the end to come. He asked my brother-in-law Joe (a physician) to give him enough pain relievers to end his life. He told him, "I'm sure if we sign the papers, the church and the state will be okay with that." He got angry at my brother in law when he didn't comply with this request.

I was going to visit him on Sunday but I called before I left home and Joe told me he didn't want to see anyone, he just wanted to be left alone to die. The hospice nurse told us he would only last a few more days, possible even hours and that if we came, we should not stay longer than 15 minutes and we should be ready to say five things to him.

"I love you, dad."
"I forgive you for any harm you did to me."
"Please forgive me for any harm I did to you."
"You were a good father."

I decided to let some of my other siblings go see him on Sunday because I live closer than the rest of them. I went yesterday morning to see him for about an hour and a half. I was glad I did.

By Monday morning, without any nourishment and with the cancer ravaging his body, he was emaciated and very weak. His eyes glazed over and his breathing was labored. I sat at his side and held his hand and squeezed his fingers, but I did not receive any sign from him that he knew I was there. The bed sheets and a thin red blanket that covered him moved perceptibly from the force of his lungs trying to draw breath.

A stack of unopened cards from relatives and friends were on a small table near the bed and one of my sisters suggested I read them to him and told me he could hear me, so I did. Nearly all of them told my father he was the object of their thoughts and prayers and suggested he could beat the disease that had brought him to death's door. They urged him to carry on the fight. Some friends told him they would "see him soon" and to "please get well." Some said they knew he would be better soon and would be able to join my mother, Agnes, at the retirement home in Wisconsin where she now resides as an Alzheimer's patient.

It was hard reading them to him, knowing how close he was to the end and that he would never see my mother and most of these well-wishers again.

I made my peace with him and asked him for his forgiveness for all the times I hurt him with unkind things I said. There were hundreds and some were fresh on my mind. I told him I forgave him for things he did to me and that I was sorry for holding on to those things for so long; things I should have forgotten and let go of years ago. I told him he was a great father, that he had carried a heavy load for decades raising 11 children and that his care for my mother these last five or six years was a remarkable effort that made him a hero in my eyes.

Nothing I said to him seemed to register. His life had been reduced to a short race to the other side and involuntary gasps of breath. He was unable to close his mouth and I used a small sponge on a short piece of plastic to swab his mouth and lips with cool water.

About 15 minutes before I had to leave to get to my Monday classes, my sister Annie came from her home in Bucks County. She carried her guitar with her and immediately opened it and started to sing hymns to him. She started with "Amazing Grace" and then searched for another song to sing to him from a church hymnal. I asked her to sing "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," a song I first heard when I was 17, on a visit with my father to Preservation Hall in New Orleans when I was a senior in high school visiting the city to see Loyola University.

I hadn't heard the lyrics of the song in many decades, but I was familiar with the tune because I had heard it played many times at jazz funerals in New Orleans and on my Preservation Hall Jazz Band CDs. I glanced her over shoulder and sang the words with her and was struck by how much comfort they gave me. I hoped my father could hear them. I wondered if they comforted him as much as they did me.

I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.


Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.


When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more;
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore.


We followed that up with Paul Simon's song of inspiration, "Bridge Over Trouble Water." I kissed my father's head and said my goodbyes to my sisters. Then I went back to my father's bedside and kissed him again and told him I would "see you tomorrow." I was pretty sure that even if that were true, he would not see me.

About ten minutes after I got home from my classes, my sister Lisa called me in tears to mention my father had passed just five minutes ago. The scene of his passing, with my sisters at his side stroking his head and telling him it was okay to leave and that they loved him and singing "Amazing Grace" to him filled me with peace.

I was sad my mother could not be there too, to be with him as he passed to the other side. But it seemed to me to be a most perfect way to leave this world. We should all be so lucky. I immediately called my own children to tell them the news and then started calling friends.

I drove out to New Holland and spent the next three hours in my father's presence with my siblings and some of my nieces and nephews while we all laughed and cried and told stories and anecdotes about the man who raised us.

There will be hundreds more stories to tell and retell in the next few days. His viewing will be held at 9:30 a.m. St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church in Germantown, Pa. on Friday, Sept. 16th. The funeral service will start at 11 a.m. We expect the church to be filled to near capacity with his family and friends. He leaves one brother, 11 children, 27 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. He was more than a patriarch of our family. He was the rock.

He lived a great life. We will honor it with a service that no one who goes to it will ever forget.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What has America learned since 9/11?

At the risk of subjecting myself to the ridicule of dozens of people who will say my post here is "anti-American" or suggest I am "using the hallowed anniversary of an attack on our soil for political purposes", I feel the need to say this upfront: I am very proud to be an American.

I am a dying breed of patriot, one who still believes in the power of democracy and who believes the American people are strong enough to rise from the stupor of this long national nightmare and reclaim the power that was vested in them by our Constitution. We are a hard working people with core values of honesty, goodness and decency that will sustain us.

I humbly suggest it is the responsibility of all citizens to question the authority of our leaders and of reporters to hold people in power accountable for the things they say and do. That's what I am trying to do here.

I love my country, in no small part because I am free to criticize it when I feel criticism is warranted. Criticism has been warranted for a very long time. The thoughts expressed here are not just mine, but they are thoughts rarely seen or heard by the public.

The media will not allow these kind of ideas to be heard on the airwaves or read on its pages because they're too "radical" or "liberal" to be granted airspace or ink. These opinions run contrary to the prevailing wisdom of our time. They might provoke some Americans to think for their own about the events of 9/11.

The mainstream media, which has morphed into an overbearing Ministry of Propaganda in the last 10 years, would never countenance the position I am advocating.

Without an ounce of cynicism, I believe we have not learned much in the 10 years since that fateful day. We remain as scared of terrorism as we ever were, despite spending untold, unaccountable billions of dollars chasing rumors and phantoms.

I believe a large majority of Americans are fed-up with fighting a never-ending war but that their voices are never acknowledged in the media because the media has become part of the national problem. The media no longer serves the public or the search for truth. It placates the masses with pablum and serves only the needs of its corporate masters, who care only about the bottom line.

The media are now linked, thanks to the decision by President Reagan to allow large corporations to own media outlets, to larger corporations that are part and parcel of the military industrial complex. The nation was warned about the increasing power of such corporations by a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, more than 50 years ago. But the mainstream media has done such an effective job of scaring the people about terrorists that Eisenhower's warnings have fallen on deaf ears.

I believe the war on terror was drummed up by the Bush administration because it knew such a war would be highly profitable to some of the administration's most important "clients", the same arms manufacturers, weapons developers and armed forces service companies who make meals and sew uniforms for men and women in the armed forces. They are the same corporate entities who contribute millions of dollars into Republican campaign coffers to keep them in office and who also work hard to manipulate the mainstream media to spin the war on terror in a way that keeps their profits rolling in.

Never-ending war is good for business, but bad for the people who have to fight it. When will Americans finally learn our corporate masters don't care about people? They care not about the people who are defending American economic interests overseas nor the tens of thousands of foreign peoples who are killed in our never ending wars. They care only about profit.

Americans still don't know the reasons behind 9/11. We have been told on numerous occasions by both the terrorists themselves and by some of our own policy makers who risked telling the truth after 9/11. Our military presence around the world is offensive to many foreign people, especially those who live in the Middle East. They don't trust us; they don't trust our desire for and our reliance on a non-renewable energy source that is becoming increasingly rare, oil.

But their voices were ignored. They were ignored because their opinions didn't serve the purposes of the corporate mainstream media or of the arms manufacturers and multi-national corporations that own the media. Their opinions were stilled, kept quiet, so as not to rock the boat or distract listeners from the drumbeat of war. George Orwell predicted this would happen in his classic novel of totalitarianism, 1984. We have ignominiously achieved his vision.

How many Americans know our defense budget is more than six times larger than what the Chinese spend defending their nation?

How many Americans know that the nation has more than 700 military bases around the world? That the bases located in Saudi Arabia were the primary reason why Osama bin Laden, who is a Saudi, planned the 9/11 attacks on America in the first place?

What percentage of Americans know that 15 of the 19 terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade center and the Pentagon were citizens of our closest allie, Saudi Arabia? Why are Americans unable to connect the dots and understand those Arabian youth were easily manipulated and drawn to the message of jihad hatred because of the oppressive American military presence on their homeland?

How many Americans know that many people around the world -- even many of our own allies -- regard the imperial power of the United States as a very dangerous threat to world peace or that they fear us because of the way we have acted since 9/11?

Why don't Americans know these things? When have you read anything even remotely "liberal" that raises these issues in a newspaper, or on television or heard them on a radio talk show? We are forced into a lockstep of patriotism by our media. We are not encouraged to question the prevaling wisdom espoused by our media.

It is time to ask ourselves why and to do something about it.

What have we learned in the 10 years since 9/11?

You tell me.

But before you answer that question ask yourself another one: How would you feel if the Arabs had military bases in America? What would you do to an imperial power who was occupying your homeland?

Answer that question and then tell me: what have we learned?

For more information on this subject, watch this George Pappas documentary, "Orwell Rolls In His Grave" here:
1984. .