This October 1 my dad, Don Peschong, will be gone from this earth for 19 long years. In honor of him on this Father’s Day weekend and in honor of all the dads out there, I would like to post parts of the eulogy I gave back then.
“In thinking about my Dad I could say that he was a whole life Walgreen employee, a Korean War veteran, an excellent bowler, who seemed to get better with age (but never tossed the 300 game he so long sought), a good basketball player, who could still shoot a nice jump shot at 60. He was a rabid, if critical Houston sports fan – even last Thursday, as sick as he was, he grumbled as Sosa hit a 3-0 pitch for a homer off Shane Reynolds. He was an apparently excellent dancer though I only saw him do it in public once and as my mom would fully admit he was the only genetic link Dave or I have to any degree of singing talent. Oh – he also was a crummy golfer, which we also share in common.
Those things are all true. But that’s more of what he did rather than who he was.
I tried to put his life in perspective by looking at his contemporaries. Two of the most famous people born in 1931, the same year as Dad were James Dean and Andy Warhol. I’m not sure there are very many characteristics dad would share with those two American pop icons – thank goodness. I prefer to compare him to two famous folks, who died this year – Jack Lemmon and Perry Como. Just like those guys, Dad was kind of an Everyman, not ostentatious in any way. Dad was a decent, good-hearted, maybe a little corny American – the kind of guy you would want to have as a neighbor or a friend or a boss – or a father.
I’d like to share two stories about Dad that mean a lot to me and explain a lot about him.
• When Dad was a young man he was in the Army in boot camp in the South. One day he was riding a very full bus in his full uniform. An elderly black woman got on the bus and he gave her his seat. Later, the driver told him, “Son, we don’t do that around here.” Dad came back with the perfect reply, “I’m not from around here.” I love that. That’s a Clint Eastwood or a John Wayne line – but it was real.
• When my Dad was early in his warehouse career and probably not that secure in his position – he overheard some of the other guys on the loading dock bragging about how they had been stealing from the company. They had a thief ring going. My Mom says that Dad did not hesitate about his decision. He turned them all in.
There are probably a lot of people, who know dad well, who have never heard those stories. I don’t think my brother, David had heard both those stories before. I think that is because Dad was not about words, he was about action. Dad was not a 90’s kind of guy. He did not practice situational morality. He did not stick his finger in the wind or take a survey on what others thought. He looked at his moral compass and “Did the right thing.”
Along with being a man of principle and integrity, Dad was a man of extreme loyalty.
• He was loyal to his family. He walked every step of 46 years of marriage with Mom at his side. Sometimes there were elbow jabbings in the side when they were walking, but being a Peschong guy myself, sometimes we need that. I’m sure they both would agree with the old Gladys Knight song – “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me”. Dad was also great with his sons and was a very special bowling buddy to my very special brother, Tim. He had worked many, many hours a week at Walgreens and one of his joys in retirement was being able to pack Tim and Mom in his pride and joy van and head off to the casinos and spend time with the both of them. My brother David wanted me to relate a story. He said that even though at first he got razzed a bit by his teammates, he was extremely happy that Dad came to all but one of his high school basketball games – no matter where or when. After a while, the other players would be looking out for him – peeking out of the dressing room and looking for him – as he represented all of their parents to them. For me – Dad would walk a few miles to or from work up Bingle when it did not have sidewalks, so I could take the one car we had down to the U of H campus to study engineering.
• Loyalty to his company – Dad’s grandfather worked his whole career for the Heil Company in Milwaukee. Dad’s father worked his whole career for the Heil Company in Milwaukee. Dad – always the rebel, like James Dean, worked his whole career for the Walgreen Company, and he did leave Milwaukee. One of my regrets in life is that I never got to work for my Dad. I feel like he would have been a great person to work for. Not because he would be easy, but because he would be fair; because his expectations would equal your abilities; and because there was probably no job that could be performed at his warehouse that he himself had not performed along the way. It made me cry earlier when Father Fred was talking about how Dad did not mind being his altar server at daily Mass, when he needed it. That was so Dad. Whatever task needed to get done, he would do it. Nothing was below him.
I heard many wonderful stories from the Walgreen’s folks yesterday. One of them that stuck with me was from Mary Jenkins. She worked with my Dad 20 years ago and she is now retired in Austin. She came all the way from Austin and checked into a hotel room in order to attend the visitation and the funeral. That’s how much he meant to her. I don’t think I can even remember, whom I worked for 20 years ago.
• Loyalty to God – The great philosopher Charles Barkley said that we should not make athletes and entertainers – role models – our parents should be. Both my parents have been great role models in loyalty to God and to my faith. Fr. Chacko talked about how they sponsored Fr. Joy through the seminary in India. Dad himself loved the rosary. He would keep a rosary in the car and would pray on the way from Tomball to his work in Spring Branch.
This may make dad sound like some kind of perfect being, who made no mistakes. Well, let me share the following.
• When I was just a little guy, about 4 or 5, we lived in the downstairs of a house in Milwaukee. The house had a cemetery behind it and … at times we had rats. Well, one time my Mom saw a rat in the back yard going through the garbage. She had Dad go after it, while Mom and me stayed inside. I can remember looking out the window as Dad crossed the backyard holding a shovel over his head, kind of like the coyote creeping up on the roadrunner. He got closer and closer with the rat sitting on top of the garbage can lid. Finally, he swung the shovel down full force and…..hit the clothesline and flew back across the yard like a comic book character. Then the rat ran away.
• The other story I want to share is way back when we were moving from Dallas to Houston. We were driving back to Dallas after house hunting and back in those days I-45 was not a superhighway all the way. In central Texas, it was a two-lane highway with ditches on both sides and a pretty difficult drive. We started off in bright sunlight, but by the time we were on the two-lane highway a torrential rain came down. My dad kept saying, “I can’t see anything, I can’t see anything.” Well, none of us could see anything; it was a blinding rainstorm. There was water all over the road. There were cars in the ditches. It was awful. Finally, my Dad once more said he couldn’t see anything and pulled over into a parking lot. He then turned to look at us … and he was still wearing his sunglasses.
Dad would be glad to see you enjoyed those little stories. There is no one I know who enjoyed slapstick humor more than Dad and the goofier the better. He could get a whole room laughing with just his own cracking up at a good Dick Van Dyke show or watching It’s a mad, mad, mad world.
One of the problems when someone becomes so sick – it is hard not to remember them, physically as they were towards the end. Recently we visited our oldest son, Thomas in Austin and were looking at pictures of the family. My favorite of the bunch was one of dad in better times swinging on a little child’s swing set with our youngest son Ryan. That was Dad – having some offbeat goofy fun and not caring what it looked like to others.
We are here to celebrate Dad’s life and the fact that we as believers know that he as a loyal believer, follower, practitioner, and soldier for Christ has eternal life. He will still live on through his sons, David, Tim and me, his grandsons – Adam, Thomas, Peter and Ryan and everyone he has touched in his life. If you know us, you know Dad.
I see Adam and he looks so much like the young pictures of Dad. Thin as a rail, all angles and elbows with a modified flat top hair-do and an infectious smile, who lives for basketball and other sports.
I see Thomas and think of the kindness, the sincerity and his honest ways – just like dad.
I see Ryan and see his fun-loving and all the potential to be like dad.
I see Peter and I see the work ethic and the very devout ways of dad.
One of Peter’s teachers recently told us how much he enjoyed Peter and how he was a throwback to the kind of polite, hard-working, God serving, fun-loving guys he knew back in school. I believe that was a wonderful compliment. We all need to be throwbacks to the kind of person Dad was. Throwbacks to a time when we did the right thing, not the expedient thing; when we stayed the course with loyalty to our families, to our jobs and to God and where we could still have fun doing it.
I know that is Dad’s legacy and that is his challenge to us.”