REQUIEM FOR A MENSCH
My father in law passed away last week. Yesterday we had his funeral in Asheville, and I had the honor of sharing my personal reflections of what he meant to me. I wrote it down first to make sure it was clear in my head before I started talking.
Here is what I said:
I am Phil Carson’s son-in-law. I am married to his daughter Marjorie and the father of his three granddaughters, Carson, Genna and Sarah.
Phil taught me many valuable things during our time together, and I am tempted to share all of them with you now but doing so would be inconsistent with one of his most important lessons, which is that brevity is the soul of wit.
So, in honor of that, I am limiting myself to a single anecdote that is emblematic of his life and the impact he had on me as a husband, father, and leader.
I moved to Asheville twenty-three years ago because this is where Marjorie lived, and I was in love with her. When I finally worked up the guts to ask her to marry me, she said, “not so fast—have you spoken to my father yet?”
“Why would I do that?” I asked, sincerely perplexed. Transplanted yankee that I was, I didn’t know that was something I had to do, but Marjorie cleared that up quickly for me.
“Well, what should I say?” I asked her.
“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” she answered. “Don’t overthink it, just speak from the heart.”
I nodded my head at that advice and, immediately deciding to ignore it, sat down instead to write out a sort of closing argument for myself that sounded like a resume for the job of son-in-law. When I was done, I thought it was persuasive, even if was largely untrue, for at that time of my life I was not a good man at all.
Then, with my fraudulent resume in my suit pocket, I went to see Phil in his law office. On the walk over I went through my closing until I had it down pretty well. But when I sat down across from Phil, I found that I couldn’t remember a single word of it. I just sat there looking at him wondering if it would be tacky to pull my notes out my pocket and just read them out loud.
“So, what can I do for you Dave?” Phil finally asked me.
“Uhhh, I want to marry your daughter.” I blurted out, even though that wasn’t written down on my resume anywhere. And then I just sat there with a stupid grin on my face.
“Why?” Phil asked, which stumped me.
You see, I hadn’t planned on Phil asking me any questions. If I had, I would have realized that this would have been an obvious one. Nevertheless, I was stuck. Belatedly, I took Marjorie’s advice and spoke from the heart.
“Because I love her. I want to marry Marjorie because I love her.” I said. Which led to a second question from Phil.
“Are you willing to take care of her for the rest of your life?” He asked me.
“Yes sir,” I promised without hesitation.
“Than you have my blessing,” Phil said. And he stood up and shook my hand.
When I got back out on Patton Avenue, it occurred to me that I had come to ask Phil’s permission to marry his daughter, but he had given me his blessing instead, which is not quite the same thing. And, tongue-tied though I had been, it seemed odd that he had only been interested in two things. First, did I love Marjorie and second, whether I was committed to her. He hadn’t asked anything else of me.
But as the years went by, I came to realize that it wasn’t odd at all because love and commitment were the watchwords of Phil Carson’s life. He was a man who above all things loved his wife, his family, his friends and his community. And because he so loved them, he was absolutely committed to their best interests at the expense of his own. As I had the great good fortune to marry his daughter, that meant I too benefited from Phil’s unconditional love and commitment.
Because I had received his blessing, I have tried hard over the years to be worthy of my promise to him by remaining steadfast in my own love and commitment. In this, I surely would have failed had I not also had the benefit of Phil’s continuing example. For, as I’m sure every person here who knew him can attest, in this he never wavered. Once loved by Phil, you were loved forever. His commitment to you never wained nor wavered. In this, as in many things, I have tried to emulate him and always will.
It has been said that a leader is a man who influences other men when he is in the same room with them, and a good leader is a man whose influence continues after he leaves the room. But a great leader, that is the rare man whose influence continues to resonate even after he has departed this earthly realm. Brothers and sisters, Phil Carson is that rare man.
Now that he is gone, if I have one regret it is that I never told Phil these things before he died. But I have the full and firm belief that he is seated now at the feet of our savior and looking down upon us. So, I’ll say it now. I love you, Phil Carson. I’m a far better man for having received your blessing and the benefit of your example of love and commitment.
And I will do my level best to pass that example on to other men until the day I join you in Heaven.