Adapted from the eulogy I delivered for my father last Thursday.
I've been putting together a video project of friends and family talking about my dad so I can one day show it to my sons so they can have a better sense of who their grandfather was. As part of this project, one of my friends spoke about how much he always loved coming over to my house and talking with my dad. He also mentioned that in college he had to write a paper about his heroes. And the two people he chose to wrote about were Jackie Robinson and ... Matt Raphael.
The last time I stood at this podium, I gave one of the eulogies at my grandfather's funeral. I referred to him on that day as my hero. I'd like to say that my dad was my hero. But he wasn't. How could he be my hero? I'm too similar to him for him to be my hero.
My dad wasn't my hero ... but he was the best man at my wedding. Anyone who knew my dad in the past 25 years knew how easily he cried. I didn't see him cry for the first time until he was giving a speech at my bar mitzvah. I thought he was laughing. But over the years, he increasingly became more and more emotional. It was cute.
The night before the wedding, I told him that he had to give a toast the next day. He was the best man and that was his role. He said that he was afraid that he'd cry. I told him that he should simply tell an embarrassing story about me since he loved doing that. He said he'd try.
The next day, he tried his best. He stood in front of everyone. He started by mentioning the conversation we had had the previous night. He got to the point where he said that he had agreed to tell an embarrassing story about me. But then his voice began to quiver. He barely got out the words, "But what Daniel doesn't understand is that even the embarrassing stories make me cry." And that was all he could get out. He started crying, handed the microphone off, and walked out of the limelight. Oh Dad.
As you've already heard today, my dad was a troublemaker. He was a prankster. Most of all, it was the deadpan humor that stood out for me. It was sometimes very difficult to tell if he was serious or not. But other times, he would crack himself up or you would catch a glimpse of the twinkle in his eye and he'd give away the game.
He was always very sarcastic. But the good kind. The funny kind. Not the biting kind. A friend of my sister's commented in her video segment that she learned about sarcasm from him. She said that to this day, she'll come across portions of books and not be sure if the author meant the words sarcastically or not. Her solution? To re-read the part in question in a Matt Raphael voice to figure it out. This method has always proved foolproof for her.
My dad wasn't my hero but he was a great grandfather. Sujan wrote an e-mail to my friends letting them know about my father's death. She wrote about his "momentary look of terror that melted into joy when he held his grandsons for the first time."
The past couple of years (right to the very end), the first thing he'd ask was how the boys were doing. And more importantly, he wanted to know what new tricks they were doing. He loved his grandsons.
Some of you might not know that my dad had a great nickname over the past ten years. In 2001, a friend with a knack for giving nicknames that stick met my dad for the first time. The discussion turned to Huey Lewis's new LP, Plan B. I mentioned that I was less than impressed with it. My dad was annoyed and proclaimed, "It's good. It's a stone groove!" And a nickname was born.
Recently, we told the boys that they could call Grandpa by the name Grandpa Stone Groove. They instantly started calling him Grandpa Groove. And when I met Huey Lewis himself, he was impressed that his music had led to such a great nickname.
My dad often spoke about having good memories of feeding the ducks as a young child with his dad at Prospect Park. We live a few blocks from Prospect Park. Over the coming years, I plan on taking the boys to Prospect Park to feed the ducks and to share stories about their Grandpa Groove.
One other thing about my dad -- if something was funny once, it had to be funny 500 more times. He loved to beat jokes into the ground to the point where the whole original idea of the joke had morphed into something different and even more funny. And he was practicing this brand of repetitive humor years before Letterman was doing it.
I remember one trip to the beach where he kept repeating a supposed Chuck Thompson saying over and over. "You hate to see that kind of thing," he said dozens of times during the drive. The more he said it (about a bad driver, about too many McDonald's, etc), the more my mom got annoyed. But the more he said it, the more it made me laugh from the back seat, fueling his fire.
Chuck's most famous phrase was "Ain't the beer cold?" which he'd say to revel in the glory of a great Orioles moment. My dad didn't really like beer too much but he did love Dr. Pepper. I know that "Ain't the Dr. Pepper cold?" doesn't quite have the same ring to it. But I know as the years pass, I plan on toasting my dad with a cold glass of Dr. Pepper and toasting him in a celebration of a life well led and say those very words.
My dad wasn't my hero. He was who I tried to be.
He wasn't my hero but he was something more than that. He was my dad. And he was a great one.
I'll miss you Dad.
4/11/44 - 8/22/11