A week ago, exactly four months from the day he passed on January 19, we collectively and lovingly offered remembrances and goodbyes to Dad. It was a beautiful memorial service and a wonderful gathering of family and friends to commemorate his life and share stories of how his presence touched our lives. We began at eleven in the morning and didn’t finish until eight the night. Dad always did know how to party.
In the course of going through countless images for making photo boards, I came across one that captured, for me, the essence of Dad’s exuberance. The innocent joy of a five year old barely contained in the elegantly clad body of the eighty plus years man. In a perfectly balanced gesture of both giving and receiving, while shaking the hand of past Hobart & William Smith president Mark Gearan and at the same time accepting an award from his beloved Statesmen Athletic Association, Dad exudes pure joy. It was that joy that we passed around to each other last week.
How does one distill sixty years of a beloved relationship into five minutes?
My contribution to the service follows….
“I loved sharing the start of a day with Dad. He was brilliant in the morning. It was his time. Anyone up at the crack of dawn with him could rest in his orbit of gentleness and powerfully focused energy, as he was preparing to enter the challenges of the day. My summers during high school working for him in his dental office were spent in this orbit with him, driving in the wee hours to greet his first seven am patient. I got to ride in the coveted red Carmen Ghia, feel the chill of morning air as we drove through farmland to get across town, and have breakfast with him in his favorite diner. Two eggs over easy with rye toast. There was little conversation. It was comfortable silence even then. He had trained me and trusted I would do a good job. And I in turn could witness just how much his patients trusted him. And though he never looked the part, no white coat for Dad, his uniform was nice slacks, short sleeved shirt, and his famous white bucks, he had a way of putting everyone to ease by truly listening and letting you know how much he cared.
Because Dad was a caregiver. He embodied the quality of being a supportive presence as surely as the air he breathed.
When I was twenty, he stood on the platform with me waiting for the train that would take me out of his orbit and into the jungle of NYC. I felt loved, his glistening eyes full of tears told me how much he cared, and that he trusted I would be ok.
As I lay on a hospital gurney waiting alone in the hall to be transferred to a room, after complications of giving birth to Molly, he appeared out of nowhere, quietly standing next to me, eventually asking ‘How are you?”, making space for me to say, “I’m so happy!” He had not been able to get the hospital in time for Ben’s birth. But when he heard that Ben had Down syndrome, I was told that he simply said, “What a gift.”
In the years of young children and career all colliding, when he and Mom would come to spend the holidays with us, Dad’s Christmas gift to me was to shop for all the food, and then cook our Christmas meals. He would even help form the crescent shaped kuerbies made from his mother’s own recipe. I think all he ever wanted for Christmas was a pair of socks, these cookies, and to be with family.
I didn’t understand it until recently, that his gift for letting go of just enough expectation in another person, was just enough to let that other person shine.
Taking care of family came naturally to Dad. He was devoted to his siblings Mona, Judy and Ted. We always knew when he was on the phone with one of them. His body language and his tone of voice spoke of his delight and ease with each of them. From both the Fords and the Brodines, I have heard countless recollections of how Dad gave of his time and presence when needed, quietly, without fuss or fanfare or desire for recognition. He was there, fully participating in all the ways that counted growing up, the fun family weekends and outings, the road trips, and holidays that always included aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents galore.
When Dad turned seventy, I treated him to an introductory yoga weekend at Kripalu. I had been going to this wellness center for years, and it was a sacred place of rest and relaxation for me. I was a bit nervous about how Dad would manage the serenity of this type of environment, wondering if I was making a mistake in bringing this highly energetic, action oriented man to such a place, sharing one of the typically small rooms with him, the man I had grown up hearing snoring even from my room at the other end of the house. Well, not only did he not snore, but he seemed to know exactly when I needed alone time and would leave to explore on his own, even asking if I would like a cup of tea when he returned. He would eagerly get up for breakfast in preparation for his yoga classes each day. He loved it. He worked hard, asked questions, and found camaraderie with everyone he met there. After that, he always referred to ‘doing his stretches’ before emerging for the day. I like to think that he had learned yet another way to make space for his generous spirit to flow.
Dad cared for all of us beloved humans in his life, especially for beloved Ginny, for his beloved dogs Misty, Mandy, and Maisey, for his beloved green lawn and vegetable garden, for beloved Hobart College.
And aside from the copious amount of cucumbers he ate each summer, Dad was a master of moderation. It was how he cared for himself. He didn’t eat too much or drink too much, or work too much. But he could play hard, and care deeply. He didn’t proselytize about his way. He just quietly listened to his own body and did what he needed to do to stay healthy. I grew up benefiting from the healing power of hot toddies and warm salt water prepared with his beautiful hands. In this last year of his life, he was challenged to consider how his vision of the healthy Bob Ford he embodied, might need to change. In this last year, he did his best to turn his generous presence to himself.
I have been blessed with sixty years of knowing Bob Ford as my father. I have been lucky enough to share a stream of morning energy with him that will last a lifetime.
Rest in peace Dad. I love you.”