mnmlist: To The Man Who Didn’t Lie

This is a eulogy I gave July 29th for my father, Dan Friedlander. My father was–and, I suppose, still is–a man of convictions and action; an artist, poet, activist, businessman, father. I miss him dearly.

So my dad and I are in the Toronto Airport in 2001 returning from a week biking in Cuba with Ed Groark, Steve Harmon and Lee Greenhouse. US customs are in the Toronto airport and my dad, Lee and I had to sufficiently cover the tracks of our Cuban trip. This was a tricky proposition as we were 3 suntanned men without winter coats in Toronto in February. Our plan was to divide and conquer, believing that it would look far less suspicious if we went through the checkpoint separately.

I went first. The intimidating customs agent started grilling me:

“Have you been any other place besides Toronto”?

It was a tough question. He seemed to have a built in lie detector. Yes, I had. He’d find those 4 cigars and 2 bags of coffee. I was screwed.

“No,” I replied.

“What was the purpose of your trip?”

“Vacation,” I answered nervously.

“Where were you staying?”

“Friends.” I didn’t know a soul in Toronto.

He looked at me, assessing whether it was worth his time to bust my perjury. He decided it was not and waived me on.

A few paces behind me, my father and Lee meet the same customs agent.

“Have you been any other place besides Toronto”?

My father, in his perpetual guilelessness, gave the brilliant answer: “Cuba.”

An hour and a half of interrogation and a threat of a $5K fine later, I met back up with my dad and Lee.

 

My father did not lie. He could not not be himself.  It was a trait held us up in Toronto, that got him fired countless times, that earned your love and admiration.  You could count on him. I counted on him. I never wondered if the weather or popular opinion was going to change his mind. When I sought his counsel, he never pulled punches.  He told me more about myself than I was willing to honestly confess. He did so consistently, compassionately.

I would like to say that he gave me permission to be myself, but I don’t know if that’s true. We both knew the dark side of being yourself; depending on the audience, it can engender respect, scorn, dismissal or trust. It wasn’t until recent year that I observed him finding real ease and approbation stemming from the trait—this crowd is a testament to that.

What he gave me—among many other things—were honest reflexes. As James Baldwin wrote, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” My little fib in Toronto took every bit of willpower to carry off. He gave me a constitution that rejects dishonesty, and I have striven to create a life that is congruent with who I am. In the long run, it’s the only way to go.

Some of you know my wife Jacqueline and I had a son less than 2 weeks ago. His name is Finn Daniel Friedlander.

Fatherhood is a humbling role. I want to be the best father possible, yet there are infinite unknowns. And sometimes I wonder whether parents have any control of who their children become anyway. All they can do is permit their children to be who they already are.

I wish my father were here to help me give my son unlimited access to himself—he was better at it than I am, and most everyone I know for that matter. But seeing as his body is not up to the task any more, his spirit will have to do.

Dad, I love you. I miss you. And I thank you for being yourself. For giving me access to that gift myself. For allowing me to continue to pass this on to my son. And lastly, I thank Diane [my stepmother and dad’s wife of 30 years] and all of you, for really getting who my father was, for loving him just as he was and just as he was not. It is the greatest gift you can give anyone.

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