Be Like Frank

Eulogy for Frank Colgan, Delivered March 17, 2018

Anyone who’s bought a diamond knows that we don’t evaluate it one dimension. To appreciate a diamond, we assess its cut, color, clarity and carat weight. The same is true for most anything: To fully appreciate it, we look at it from multiple perspectives. That’s true, for example, in the Christian faith tradition. One of the great mysteries is the Doctrine of the Trinity – the belief that God exists as three persons: the father, the son, and the holy spirit. God the Father is the creator of all that is seen and unseen; the fount of unconditional love. I think of him as the grantor of our unlimited potential. God the Son is the word made flesh; a perfect mirroring of the Father. And finally, the Holy Spirit is the love that flows between them; the energy that proceeds from the Father and Son; the relationship between Father and Son. It’s a lot to get your head around. In fact, it’s something that we can only appreciate intuitively, from within.

As I was considering how to honor Frank Colgan’s life, how to fully understand his impact on my life and how he changed the word, I reflected on him as a father, then on myself as his son, and then on our relationship. When I looked at his life from all three perspectives, distinct yet at once, I began to find clarity and peace now that he’s moved on. Perhaps it will help you, too.

As a father, dad was an incredible example of what realizing your potential looks like. He knew that potential is born in our hearts. In his heart, he was a healer and a teacher and a celebrant of life itself. It showed up in his career as a professor of medicine and anesthesiologist (although, with a twinkle in his eye, he preferred to call himself a gas-passer!). It appeared in his love of music. The clarinet and sax helped put him through college and ultimately catapulted him to fame as a member of the Home Acres Memorial Day Picnic Marching Band. I saw it in his ability to read the wind and his mastery of sailboat racing. He was an engineer at heart, too, and whether it was changing the carburetor, installing solar hot water on the house, or pioneering the heart/lung machines that enable open heart surgery today, he loved challenges that begged for mechanical solutions. It seemed to me that he had the potential to accomplish whatever he set out to do.

I remember when he left medicine, he felt forced out, caught in a political game I didn’t understand. He told me that he felt that he had so much more potential to offer the field. But that’s when his even greater potential really began to manifest. He turned his amazing energy to being an ever-better brother to Jack, Dick and Dave, a devoted husband to Meg, a wiser, more accepting father to us, Papa to his grandchildren, and a friend to all who were open to friendship. Although he’d called himself Uncle Frank for years, he really started to live that persona then. Everyone needs an uncle, right? He knew that and was happy to be that.

I am my father’s son. As I’m sure this is true for all of us, Dad helped me see who I am, what I’m capable of, and how I fit in to the world. He showed me how to accept others for who they are. I remember how he loved and respected the custodians at Strong. He knew their names, and they knew his. He could see humor and find joy in the simplest things. He enjoyed farting in the woods. He enjoyed a good practical joke – best exemplified for me by the fake Geiger counter thing he developed. He would offer to scan people, and after a few tense, quiet moments while the lights were flashing, it would buzz loudly and freak out his victims.  

I helped dad remember to persevere in the face of challenge. My brother Steve and I raced with him most Sunday’s on our Thistle. He was always teased on windy days about his “heavy weather crew.” We didn’t weigh enough to really make a huge difference in keeping the boat flat, and he had to spill air and lose speed to keep us from capsizing. But we stuck together, never winning, but always learning and enjoying being out together. By the time we’d left for college, he was a master strategist, knowing where the wind was predictable and when to bet on a header and tack early. He enjoyed many years after that at the top of the Sunfish fleet.

I also helped dad remember that each of us is a work in progress, growing at our own pace. I dropped the family’s first f-bomb during a now-famous dinner while home for freshman year Thanksgiving break. I was the son who caused him to ask “Where have I failed as a parent?” when he discovered the paraphernalia I’d hid in the closet. Each of us kids did our fair share of helping Dad learn to play the long game. I think we’re all grateful he didn’t give up on us. I know he’s smiling now at how each of us reflects a little bit of who and how he was.

It’s in my relationship with Dad, though, and how it evolved, where the real gist of what I’ve learned from him lives. Our relationship was based on acceptance, equality and love (although we didn’t acknowledge this until near the end). He allowed me to feel confident in who I am, but also reminded me to leave my ego at the door. He treated me as an equal. Dad was humble, a servant leader. His humility empowered him and all of us by eliminating the barriers that differences in education, status, race, religion, politics and even parent-child relationships so often allow us to create. Without those barriers, we’re all the same. Banging nails for Habitat for Humanity, being a devoted spouse to our mother Meg, driving people to their dialysis treatments and striving to make his Canoe Club a welcoming place for everyone were just the second-nature results of his view that we’re all in this together. We live in relationship to each other and everything. We’re nothing special, because each of us is a miracle.

If you look at something from multiple perspectives, you’ll come to know it more completely. Seeing Frank as my father, understanding how my being his son also helped shaped him, and coming to appreciate the foundation of our relationship and his relationship with the world brought me some clarity about how to be now, without him, and yet carrying him forward.

So what would Frank the father, Uncle Frank, Papa Frank, Frank the gas-passer, Frank the teacher,  Frank the good neighbor, Frank the skipper, Frank the tinkerer, Frank the jokester, Frank the humble servant -- have us do now that he’s gone? I think it’s this: Know that we all share the same spark of divinity. Cherish our relationships. Stop worrying, because everything works out, but fix things that are broken. Whether in dead air or heavy weather, enjoy the sail. Share love, because love comes back to you. Be humble, and gentle, and kind. Oh -- and leave your ego at the door.

In short, be like Frank.