Three days after I completed my cycling trip across Canada, my dear father, Neil G. Hawley, Jr. died after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was eighty-seven.
He is survived by my mother, his seven children, twenty-two grandchildren and one great grandchild. In place of me spending time catching up on my blog, I spent ten days with my family doing what I could to help my mother prepare to be without her life partner.
As I do not know who happens upon this blog, should anyone be interested in a eulogy I read and sang at a funeral mass in honour of my father, it appears at the end of this blog.
I was fortunate to get to participate in two Pearson College alumni reunions, a thirty-year and a ten-year reunion, during the three days between finishing the continental crossing and my father’s death. The energy from them was inspiring.
Presently I am in the Caledonian Sleeper on Monday evening 3 September heading north from London to Inverness, Scotland. I will wake up tomorrow morning with a four hour train journey ahead of me from Inverness to Thurso, the closest one can get by train to the northernmost town of John O’ Groats.
After flying to London, I spent Sunday catching up on jet lag and assembling my bicycle. It has been living inside a box for sixteen days. It has crossed Canada three times. Once on land and twice in the air and it just flew over the north Atlantic and landed without a scratch. The only change I made was to put on a new back tire, another 40 mm Schwalbe Marathon Supreme.
Today, I puzzle over how light to pack. I decide to leave my tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad behind. This leaves me needing just two small panniers and one rack top bag. I think I am now carrying under twenty pounds. There are so many hostels and Bed & Breakfast places on the route that a tent and camping gear make no sense for the upcoming 1,500 kilometers.
I am well cared for in London by my mother-in-law, Ellie Weld, and her partner, David London. And here is my slimmed down bicycle on the train platform near their home heading to London.
And inside the train.
I cycle from Waterloo to Euston Station impressed by a city full of bicycles. And the city bike rental scheme is hugely popular. The first thirty minutes are free and you can ride for a long time for just one Pound.
Neil G. Hawley Jr
30 November 1924 – 19 August 2012
(to be read out loud and, in two places, sung)
We are here today to do something unusual: To make my father, Neil G. Hawley Jr, the center of attention.
My Dad lived his life in such a way that it was never about him or his needs. He was always living his life for us and for our needs. And he made sure that our needs, or in the case of my mother, her commands, always came first. I am convinced he willed his own life to end at a time that was convenient for others, allowing us to do what we had planned first, like Bryan and Kristen getting married, his first grandson, Ryan, having his birthday, and me finishing my cross-country bicycle trip. Indeed, all of us were busy doing our own things when he took his last breath. Just, I think, as he would want it to be. He slipped away quietly not drawing attention to himself. Fitting for a man who never raised his voice, never had an unkind thing to say about anyone and who never judged others harshly. Like the gentleman he was, he left us gently.
Dad never complained and he floated through life peacefully, like the way he treaded water in his white t-shirt and baggy swim trunks wearing a beat up Red Sox baseball cap on his head at New Silver Beach in Falmouth, following the tide and current of those around him. He was a devoutly religious man, leading not with sermon or scripture but by something more powerful: by example. For many years, he left quietly early each morning during lent to attend mass while we slept. He prayed each night before he went to bed. I am sure, not for himself but for each one of us. When Sister Lorenza was knocked over by a student running during recess at St Catherine of Sienna school causing the nun, in full habit, to fall and break her arm, my Dad dutifully filled his wood paneled station wagon with paper from Hollingsworth & Vose Company until the bottom of the car was scraping on the ground and delivered it to the school so that all the students could be punished by writing: “I will not run in the playground” until their fingers were calloused and bleeding. I remember our family pilgrimages to have mass outdoors at the Cathedral of the Pines in New Hampshire. And I remember learning to use rosary beads as we kneeled in front of a burning red votive candle in our living room. As a driver, he had a horrible sense of direction and was forever getting lost. As a Catholic however, he never lost his direction and today I am confident he has reached his desired destination.
And did he ever work hard. Again without complaint or apparent burden. When we were all growing up at 32 East Cross Street, Dad often held multiple jobs at once. During the day an accountant at the mill, in the evening stripping and cleaning floors in office buildings, on weekends doing the bookkeeping for Norwood Arena, preparing tax returns for friends and extended family, counting votes on election nights for the Town of Norwood, and sometimes driving a taxi. He did all of this work while finding time to have seven children and while earning his second university degree. Every workday for 44 years he came home from the office to have lunch with my mother. And after lunch he would return to the office with a McIntosh apple in his hand, always remembering to kiss my mother goodbye as he left through the porch door. He modeled a work life balance that eludes most of us today.
In addition to serving his family, he also served his nation during World War II as a paratrooper. Yet another contribution he made that he hardly spoke about and something he never sought special praise for doing. Like most things in his life, he just did what needed to be done.
Every one of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren enjoyed his playful attention. He took us all for rides on his knee singing silly songs as we bounced up and down: “To the Dump, To the Dump, to the Dump, Dump Dump.” He put us to sleep with bedtime stories, not ones he would read from a book but stories he made up just for us, often featuring other members of the family. Pretty creative stuff for an accountant. He knew who was struggling and who needed special attention. My Dad was fond of hiding Necco Wafers all around the house for us to find when we came home from school. If I could not do my paper route on foot when a rain or snowstorm was raging, guess who would drive me around? He was a liberated man in the way he comfortably did such chores as the laundry, the dishes and the grocery shopping, years before that was something men were actually expected share with their wives. Weekends he made us eggs just the way we wanted and woke us up with the smell of bacon frying in the kitchen. He taught us the virtues of voting Democratic but never asked us to reveal how we actually voted. Maybe that was best knowing my siblings. I loved climbing trees and when I got my arm or leg caught between the branches, my Dad would climb up and get me unstuck. No matter how busy or how tight the family budget, he would find ways to take us all on summer vacations. Some of these were ambitious, like drives to the New York World’s Fair or to the beaches of Atlantic Canada but mostly they were to the Cape Cod seashore and usually involved at least one mechanical mishap like a broken radiator hose. Something that he was clueless about but it didn’t matter because we always got there.
And he gave us all the love of reading and the joy of a good mystery novel. And he taught us too, to be ready to talk about the weather at all times. Whenever I called him, from wherever I was living in the world, he would always know what the weather was like there. He absorbed the Weather Channel.
His greatest love, for a man whose love and devotion was endless, was for his dear wife, Peggy. I still don’t feel grown up enough to call my mother Peggy but work with me here. As I have been in schools for over three decades, I have seen the play “Oliver” and heard the song “I’ll do Anything for You” many times.
You remember the song:
I’ll do anything for you, my dear, anything,
for you mean everything to me
I’d go anywhere for you dear, anywhere…
Well, my father probably did not sing that song but he sure lived it. With my mother he danced, he went on cruises, he had seven children, he drove everywhere, and he lived as long as he could.
Each one of us will have our own stories about my father and I will conclude with one of mine.
When I was just twenty years old, I decided to go to Guatemala for my first teaching job. Early in the morning when I was leaving and putting my luggage into my Dad’s car he said to me:
“David – you know your mother and I do not want you to be going to Guatemala. It’s a bad idea. But we both want you to know one thing: We still love you.”
I cried much of the way to Central America because I had never heard him say something like that before. I have thought about that day often ever since and I realize that he never really had to say the words. We all knew how much he loved each of us unconditionally. It gave us all so much freedom to know that his love and support was always there whatever we chose to do or wherever we chose to go.
And although he is now gone from us in body, his spirit and his love will never leave us as long we live.
May my Dad tread water as often as he wishes and occasionally take time to rest. In Peace.
I love you too Dad.
Stats for Monday 3 September 2012
Finish: London (really just some errands and a bit of riding in London)
Distance: 20 km
Time on Bike: 1 hour 57 minutes
Average Speed: 10 km/hr
Distance to Date: 8,066 km