Thank you all who made it to the memorial service for Brooke. I really have too many people to thank who ensured that Brooke's day of remembrance went off so well, but I will single out Margaret McDermott, who planned the entire affair, for her tireless efforts to make the day run smoothly. Thank you so much Mrs. McD! We love you.
To everyone else, it was so wonderful to meet many of you for the first time either ever, or at least in a very long time. Brooke clearly surrounded himself with quality friends and people.
I have taken a week off from the blog to go on vacation, and am now back. Hilary sent in her eulogy for those who have asked by email. Here it is, unedited:
Brooke Stauffer's eulogy from September 29, 2007.
The last memory I have of me and my father doing something together is of us going to the DMV. I was home, in May, for a friend’s wedding, and since Dad had shifted his homebase to Capitol Hill, I was changing myself into a D.C. resident. Every time I came home from Switzerland, Dad would take off a day from work and we would “do something” together. Just the two of us, Dad and Hil, the Two Musketeers. Normally we tried to do something cultural, or barring that, at least fun…you know, going to a museum or the movies or just walking around a botanical garden somewhere. Often, we ended up at the National Gallery of Art, and would wander the West Wing looking at the impressionists while Dad repeated stories about the artists that he had told me 100 times before. He had a quirky habit of not remembering conversations he’d already had. It didn’t matter, though, because I loved hearing him tell them, and loved just being around him.
On this particular day, however, we got a late start, and I needed to get to the DMV before it closed to change my driver’s license over. And so that’s what we spent our afternoon doing, and it was about as annoying and mundane an activity as you are imagining it to be. We drove over to the DMV facility in Southeast, and then had to return again 20 minutes later, since of course I had forgotten a necessary piece of paper back at the house.
But it didn’t matter. Because even before this awful, tragic accident happened…even before I knew that that would be one of my last memories of my Dad, it was still one of my favorite memories ever. Because I was never happier than when I was with Dad, and it didn’t matter what we were doing. He managed to make a trip to the DMV both cultural and fun. As we drove through the streets of Southeast, he told me stories of when he and my mom were young, poor 20-somethings in love, living in DC with dreams of becoming artists and professional musicians. While I waited in line at the DMV, he contentedly read a book, and afterwards gave me a good synopsis of what it was about. Then, we went to our usual haunt for lunch--McDonald’s--where we shared the exact same meal I must have eaten with him 500 times in my life: two small cheeseburgers and a medium fries. Dad always ordered a chocolate shake, and I got a Diet Coke. Per usual, he let me indulge my passion for salt, not caring that I made the fries nearly inedible in the process.
On the way home he said, like he always did when we got in the car together, “Why don’t you find some cheerful country music for us, dollface?” This was a great sacrifice from a man whose own personal tastes ran to NPR, classical music, or the odd jazz station. But I can’t once remember being in the car with my Dad and having him impose his music on me…and that was Dad in a nutshell. Loving and generous and laidback. In Dad’s mind, the fact that he got to listen to what he wanted on the radio the 355 days a year when I wasn’t in DC meant that it wasn’t such a hardship to let me choose the station when I was home.
But it wasn’t just a sense of relaxed rationality that guided him. Rather, he just so loved being a “Daddy” that any accompanying personal sacrifice was totally worth it. His generosity ran much deeper than ceding control of the radio in the car. Sometimes, he ceded the entire car! When I turned 16, Dad bought me a used car, which I promptly banged up and ran into the ground within a year. (Of course, anyone who knows the Stauffer kids knows this is pretty much par for the course.) He then bought me another used car which died within three months, and so I tragically lived without a vehicle for my first two years of college. By the time I reached my junior year, I thought there was nothing so unjust in the whole world as the fact that I was without a car. (20 is a very self-indulgent age.) So for one semester, my father gave me his beloved Isuzu Trooper to bring to school with me, and took the Metro to work for six months. That’s right--my father was paying for my college education and living expenses, and to reward me for these inequitable circumstances, he gave me use of his car while he took public transportation. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized just how ridiculous this was.
After I graduated college, and became a young adult learning to pay my own way in the world, I would often complain to Dad that life was so expensive, and I could barely afford myself--how would I ever afford to have kids? And during these moments, Dad would look at me and agree that life was expensive but remind me that “everybody gets what they need.” And then he would gently explain that he didn’t have kids because he could “afford to” – in fact, it was just the opposite. Rather, he had kids because he was ready at a very young age to be a “Daddy,” and to have kids whom he could go out and play with.
And he did so love being a Daddy. Whether it was going to the beach and digging a huge hole in the sand as a makeshift playpen for Greg while teaching Chris and me to body surf, or taking me shopping for Prom dresses, or driving up to Scranton Pennsylvania to watch one of the plays that Christian worked on during college or attending Greg’s rugby games during high school, he was there for all of it. And there was nowhere he’d rather be.
One story of my father’s that sticks out very much in my mind is that of the job he took after he and my Mom got married, and had two babies within four years. The job was as a draftsman at a local architecture firm, and it paid $6000 a year, which wasn’t very much money even back in the 1970s. But it only had a four-day work week, which meant he had every Friday off to stay home and help Mom with the babies. To hear him tell it, this shortened work week was worth far more than a bigger paycheck would be, because it allowed him a extra day with the kids--and he would strap Christian in the stroller and me in the backpack, and go out exploring the world.
This may actually be my Dad’s greatest legacy – his firm belief that one should not sit around being bored but go out and “do something.” It didn’t matter what it was…hiking on Sugarloaf Mountain with the Boy Scouts, seeing the new contemporary art exhibit at the Hirshorn Gallery, or driving out to rural Virginia to watch a simulation of firemen rescuing people from a burning building because he had read about it in the Washington Post that day. It is this instinct that I think has made me so willing to try new adventures in my own life. Of course, Dad and I have had many adventures together. We drove cross-country together three times, and saw sights as varied as Graceland to Mount Rushmore, sleeping in uncountable cheap motels along the way.
But now I’m having adventures of my own. I live in Switzerland and have been lucky enough to have the means to travel extensively within Europe. I can tell you that many if not all of my trips have been motivated in some small part by my father’s voice inside my head reminding me not to just sit around…but to go try something new. Sometimes this trip manifests itself as a glamorous trip to Paris for the weekend…sometimes its as mundane as taking a Saturday afternoon to walk down to the local flea market and see their collection of used books. Whatever it is--or was--it was always made more fun by knowing I would get to call my Dad up and talk to him about it afterwards.
And that’s the hardest part. I just miss talking to him. He was my best friend, a source of endless support and good advice. It was my Dad’s encouragement that gave me the wherewithal to chase my dream and move to Europe when I was promised nothing more than a three-month internship making $5/hr. It was my Dad who insisted I go to law school after my Mom died, and made sure I had the means--both emotionally and financially--to do it. It was my Dad who bought me no less than four cameras of increasing sophistication over the years to encourage my photography hobby, and my Dad who would stand patiently beside me for hours while I set up the perfect shot. I just don’t know how to succeed in this world without him.
I guess all I can do is try, although it won’t be easy. All my carefully laid plans are now in shambles. I had grand schemes of continuing to lead the jet-setting life, adopting babies from various African countries and dropping them off with Dad and Karen for extended periods of time while I gallivanted around, saving the world, knowing my kids would be entertained and well-cared for in my absence. I guess I need to re-think these plans now, although I still haven’t really wrapped my head around this whole “parenthood” thing.
But I know that my Dad gave me all the tools I need to succeed, whether in parenthood, career, or life in general. So long as I follow his example, I think I’ll be OK.
- Hilary B. Stauffer (daughter)