I’d like to start by saying that I’ve never really been “Daddy’s Girl,” but I am every inch my father’s daughter.
My dad and I have always shared a bond, been simpatico. He’s always “gotten” me, always understood, was willing to be under fire when other people felt that children should be seen and not heard. I am thankful to know that we didn’t have any baggage when he died. My dad was a straight shooter and we talked about stuff when it came up. We were good. He was good, happier than I can ever remember him being. I’m going to miss sharing the every day stuff with him. My dad was one of my best friends.
Those of you gathered here today knew my dad in many ways, with many names and titles. He was Merle, Mr. Rider, Mr. Meaner, Dad, Papa, Coyote… and a few that I probably shouldn’t share in mixed company. He was a son, a brother, a husband, a father, an uncle, a grandfather, a cousin. He was a friend, companion, conspirator, instigator and savior. He was a co-worker, employee, supervisor… the list goes on and on. But you and I both know none of these words really captures my dad. He was, truly, an icon. When he walked into the room, people knew he was there.
I’ve had the opportunity in the past few days to have stories and memories of my dad shared with me. The stories? Well, maybe we should save most of those for the gathering after this service. But the memories of who he was, well, I think that’s what most of us came here to honor. I’ll do my best to capture who he was without keeping you here for the rest of the month.
Dad worked here in this dome for the past twenty five years, give or take a few. He took pride in his work. He absolutely loved the kids. I had the privilege of working with him here. At his suggestion, I would tell the sixth graders I work with that Mr. Rider was my dad. The gasps, always, were deafening. “You’re Mr. Rider’s daughter?” “He has a daughter?” “What?!” It was like I said Mr. Rider was really a unicorn. Or that really, the sky was green. And then they’d rush in at lunch time to report to him that some crazy lady was claiming to be his daughter. He told one student that I wasn’t allowed to be on the same campus as him. Of course, he said it in all seriousness, so she told him that she’d come tell me I had to leave. No one wanted to make Mr. Rider mad. More importantly, no one wanted to get on the “no cookie” list. (For those of you who don’t know, Dad kept a container of cookies that he awarded to the lucky few chosen to for the “privilege” of washing tables. It’s funny, I know, but in reality, what Dad was doing was rewarding hard work.
When I first started here, students would ask if Mr. Rider “yelled like that” at home. At first I was truly puzzled. “No,” I said. “My dad rarely yells at home. In fact,” I continued, “he’s really kind of a softie.” When I shared this with my dad, he was horrified. “You’re going to ruin my reputation!” he said. Seriously. Anyone who paid any attention at all could see he was all heart beneath the bluster. He cared a lot about his kids. He worried about them. And he was touched by their kindness and their love. He proudly displayed their pictures and gifts in his office. He even more proudly shared stories about them on a daily basis. I saw a side of my dad at work that I didn’t really know before. I am glad that so many kids had the opportunity to be influenced by my dad over the years. He was a great man, wise, with many things to share.
When I shared the news of his passing with Jay Sandusky, a former assistant principal at Wallace, he said this about my dad, “He was a character. Behind that gruff exterior was a man that loved doing what he was doing. He not only did a great job of physically taking care of that school, but he also made an impact on a lot of little kids who are now better off because they had Merle Rider in their lives.”
To my aunts, uncles and cousins, my dad was many things. Perhaps this is where conspirator, instigator, companion, sometimes savior and occasional SOB fit in. There are so many great stories… but really, I’d rather you hear them from the source, so again, I’ll leave those to the celebration of Dad’s life we’re having after this. My Aunt Jamie said this about him, “He was such a one of a kind person. You always knew where he stood. I find myself wishing for the people like your Dad who said what they meant, and meant what they said. What a lost art. You didn’t have to weave your way through nuance, and dissect between what was said and what wasn’t said.”
Dad could also be a joker. My friends loved him because he could always make them laugh, always make them think. When I showed my friend Deb my first draft of this, she said I had to bring up his humor, saying he was “wry, insightful, drawled out, and freaking hilarious. He cut through the bullshit beautifully while still having great compassion for the bullshitter. No one does that like he did.” Indeed.
As a father and Papa, my dad was unwavering. I never, not even for a minute, doubted his love, his support or his pride in who I am and what I do. I know this is true for each of us, for my brother, for my sister-in-law, for my nieces and nephew, for my husband and for my daughters. My friend Lisa recently said, of losing her father, that it was as if someone pulled half the foundation from beneath her. She said, “You have to learn to stand on one foot very quickly.” When I told my friend Stew of Dad’s passing, he shared that he hoped to be the same kind of father, when it’s all said and done, that my dad was. He said, “I have a lot of respect in my heart for your dad and will always be fond of him. He experienced a lot of adversity and a lot of blessings, and through it all, he was a genuine man, with his own style of integrity. I hope when my days are up I can say the same.”
My recent experiences working with young people has brought home what I already knew – my dad stood head and shoulders above other dads. I don’t mean to make a contest out of it, but really, my dad is better than yours. Sorry, it’s just true. He was far from perfect, but he really taught me how to love a person completely, perfectly imperfect.
Dad and Mom were coming up on their 40th anniversary. Mom shared a note with me last night that she had written to Dad, a note I think sums up their relationship better than anything I could say. The note reads: Dear Merle, I love you more than I could ever say or show. I love and appreciate all the big and little things you do for me. Thank you for being you. Love always, Linda Dad loved Mom the same way. He credited her with making him the man he was, for daring him to be better than he was. Mom and Dad taught Waylon and I so much about being real in relationships, about sticking together through the tough times and about loving wholly, body and soul.
I’ve done my best, here, to sum up someone who really was larger than life. I know I haven’t come close. I know I’ve left out so many things. Some of them are edited for the audience. Some are edited for time. Some are things I simply don’t know because each of you had your own experience of my dad. I sure would love to hear them.
What I do know is this. My dad was a lion. Oh, I know he had “Coyote” tattooed on his bicep. I know he taught us all to howl at the moon. I know he danced a little with the Trickster. But my dad was a lion – lion-hearted, full of pride, strong, courageous, generous and fiercely loyal to friends and family. He was a Leo – and not just a Leo, but a triple Leo. A lion, in every way.
Man’s wants remain unsatisfied
Then, when his soul is naked,
Is he one
With the man in the wind,
And the west moon,
With the harmonious thunder of the sun.