Father’s Day is here again. It is a time I reflect on the memories of the man I knew as my dad. He was my step dad but he was my father in almost every sense of the word. My mom passed 15 years ago. “Pop” passed 4 years later. I miss him a lot. I gave the eulogy at his memorial service. This is that eulogy. I can think of no better way to honor him this day.
Everyday in America, we lose 1500 World War II veterans. On November 14th, another one quietly passed.
Harold B. “Pop” Oldham was 77 years old. He was a remarkable man. He was my Dad. I’ve been told—any man can be a father but it takes someone special to be a daddy. He was special—not only to me but also to everyone who knew him.
It’s still fuzzy to me as to when I first met him but what is still crystal clear to me is what he meant to me. Pop could not have entered my life at a better time. I was 14 or 15—an age when there were just some things a boy cannot talk to his mother about.
My mother loved me. I knew that. But there were gaps in our communication with each other at times. Hal always knew what I needed. I needed a man to take an interest in me—to help me sort out growing up. He was there. The evening dinner in the big gray house on Lincoln Street was always special to me. We would always have candles burning and soft music in the background. It was Pop’s idea—a touch of class. When dinner was over and the table cleared, Pop and I would have long conversations about politics, the stock market, current affairs and the Vietnam War.
He taught me how to think for myself—to believe in myself—to have self-confidence. That was his gift to me. The day after high school, I left for the Navy. He and mom tried to do the same thing for 127 other kids. They turned their home into a refuge for kids who were not as fortunate as me. Over those 30 years I gained brothers and a sister. Mom & Pop never really had the proverbial pot—because they gave everything for the kids. They may have lacked money but they never ran out of love for the kids. It was tough love at times but we’ll all tell you they made a difference in each of our lives.
I recently spent 11 days with him at the Franklin Hospital at the end of September and the first few days of October. The diagnosis was in and it was terminal. Over those 11 days we had some remarkable conversations. We talked a lot about Mom and what she meant to him and how much we both loved her. He would vacillate between reflecting on the past and his limited future. He spoke of the things he never did and knew he would never do. It was surrealistic at times. We laughed. We cried. We made plans.
I cannot tell you how many times he tried to apologize for not being able to do more for me when I was growing up. I told him, “Dad, your job and Mom’s job was to raise me to become a good person. You’ve done that. You owe me no debt. It’s the other way around. Thank you for all that you have done for me.”
Pop loved all the kids and grand kids. He loved Briana. She was Mom and Pop’s great project. As his life was drawing to an end, he remained deeply concerned about her. He said he was sorry that he couldn’t be here to watch her grow up but expressed great hope for her future. To him she was his grand child every bit as much as Whitney & Tyler, Cynthia or Ian.
Dad’s other major concern was for his best friend at the Veteran’s Home, David. Pop called him “Mother” because he was always looking after Pop. At one point, he broke down into tears because he didn’t know what David would do when he died. Here he was facing the end of his own life and yet, he was still concerned about others.
You couldn’t question his work ethic. He worked hard his entire life. He learned how to cook as a young boy. He cooked for the family as he grew up. Through that experience, he became a chef. The places he worked in the Lakes Region reads like a Who’s Who of 4 and 5 star cuisine of the Lakes Region—King’s Grant Inn, Playhouse Inn, St. Pierre’s, 18 years at the Lakes Region General Hospital and finally, Ames Farm. He made a lot of money for other people. Most people in town never knew his name but they certainly enjoyed what he put on their table.
Hal was a patriot. He loved this country. He marched in every Memorial Day parade he could until he lost the use of his legs then he would ride on a Veteran’s float. He was a mover and shaker in both the VFW and American Legion. He believed that his fellow veteran’s deserved a fair shake—a point that often put him at odds with the powers that be at the Veteran’s Home. He just wanted to be sure that his fellow veterans got the respect that they deserved.
Most of you knew Pop. As complicated as he might have seemed at times, he really wasn’t. For Hal the world was black & white—there where no gray areas. He was blunt and to the point. He would call an ace an ace. Often that would hurt some feelings. I don’t think he really intended to do that—it just sort of worked out that way sometimes.
He could be absolutely hard headed. Make no mistake; he was a man of his own mind. He was also genuinely funny. He brought tears of joy and laughter to all of us. Pop and I were always scamming mom. We once busted her. She had severely sprained the ring and little fingers of her left hand. Her wrist was in a cast with two protruding splints that got in her way. So she kept working on them until she was able to pull them out. She would pop them back in just in time for Pop to come home from work. One day she forgot to put them back in. Pop found them on the kitchen counter. He was not a happy camper. He told me to get a hammer and a nail. I had no idea why. Pop climbed up on the chair and nailed the splints to the top of the living room doorframe. They looked like two crossed skis. Before long, Mom realized that she didn’t have the splints in the cast. Now she couldn’t find them. She was trying to be cool but I could tell she was panicking. Pop let her sweat. After some time, Hal pointed to the doorway. Pop and I broke out laughing. Mom didn’t. I can’t say what she said here but I trust you have a good imagination.
When I was growing up, he often said to me, “When I die—bury me in Chicago.”
“Why?”, I asked.
“Because I want to continue to vote.”
I always laughed at that. But a couple of years ago, he told me that when he died he really wanted to be taken out to sea. He entrusted me with that honor. As his son, I am proud to fulfill his request.
It has been a privilege to be his son. He always called me ‘Son #1’. I was proud of that. Still am. A friend asked me to tell him about my Dad. All I could tell him was, “He was always good to me…and he loved my mother. Nothing else matters.”
This night is the last time we will be this close to him. Soon he will be taken aboard the USS Rentz, an active duty naval vessel in San Diego. The ship will take him on one final cruise. He told me several times that he spent some of his happiest days aboard ship. They will escort him to his final resting place in the Pacific where he served a thankful nation in WWII.
Pop, thank you for your service, your friendship, for sharing your life with us. Most of all thank you for all the love. You will be missed.
Everyday in America, we lose 1500 World War II veterans. Tonight, we say farewell to just one.
Harold B. “Pop” Oldham, Chef, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Friend and Patriot–Permission to come aboard. Your orders for your final cruise have been granted.
Carry on sailor. You are dismissed.