My dad, Fred Lowenschuss, died in the very early morning of April 11, 2017. The following is a eulogy that I wrote but did not read at dad’s funeral on April 12th (I chose to speak more extemporaneously). The eulogy is based around a passage from A Course in Miracles that speaks of the “prodigal son,” which I used in the song “Come Home,” the last track of the Heart ‘n’ Hands album. I didn’t realize when the song was coming through this past year that it was for my dad, and my somewhat estranged relationship with him, though the song is also for and about all of us. It speaks of the “simplicity of salvation” – how simple it is to accept that “nothing…can change eternal Love,” which is what God is and what we are and will always be. As always, thank you for listening!
“Listen to the story of the prodigal son and learn what God’s treasure is, and yours…”
I’m taking a certain angle in this eulogy of dad because I think it’s not only personally very meaningful, but also universally applicable to children and parents and how children often become estranged from parents, for one reason or another.
In my own case, I and my brothers had one of the happiest childhoods imaginable, and because this is dad’s eulogy, I will speak mainly about what he did for us, though my mom and her mother (grandma), as well as some very loving and fun baby sitters, played an equally important role.
As the eldest of us four sons, Laurance, has said, our father’s life was dedicated to his family, and he really did everything for us. Not only did we grow up in a beautiful home in one of the most well-to-do and cozy neighborhoods in ‘70s suburban Philadelphia, but we were afforded every opportunity for a magical fairytale upbringing, due in large part to dad’s efforts.
The things that stand out most are all the great trips we took together (including Atlantic City almost every weekend), and also all of the sports we played together as a family – basketball, tennis, baseball, football, etc – and the college and professional games we attended. So many countless times dad came home and rounded us all up to go out to play baseball in the park, or tennis, or what have you. And when we went out in the Cadillac with the top down and playing the radio, we were in kiddie heaven.
There’s so many details I could add of how dad cared for us and took care of us, but I’ll just say that at that point we really didn’t know how good we had it. Or at least I didn’t, though I feel it’s generally true that, as that old Joni Mitchell song goes, “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?” It’s hard to step outside of what you know and have experienced when you’ve never experienced anything different (in our case, deprivation of any kind).
My personal experience was of a great disillusionment that occurred when, basically at the tail end of our childhoods, our parents separated, and in a rather ugly and tragic way. It was like the fairytale was over, and I know I speak for all of us when I say that the trauma incurred for all of us, but especially the children, was perhaps no different than what happens to soldiers in a war zone. And the PTSD was there for years, and possibly still lingers on, though I can also say that it’s but a shadow of what it was, if it is really there at all now – it really feels like we’ve all finally moved on.
But before I go into all that a little, I want to mention one little thing that is very telling: There were a few times when I gave dad cards on a special occasion or made something for him at school and I could tell how much they meant to him. He kept them and cherished them. And because I was the youngest of all, I think he took special care to make sure I was treated well by my brothers, instituting special rules that applied only to me (like that I could get a ball hit “on the roll”). He also early on started calling me “Pal-sy” – a play on “Al the Pal,” which he also called me – and which he called me for years.
“This son of a loving father left his home and thought he squandered everything for nothing of any value whatsoever, although he did not know its worthlessness at the time…”
But, to make a long somewhat tortured story short, after mom and dad separated, I really became estranged from dad. The truth is that on some level I was quite intimidated and even scared by dad growing up, and this was now just accentuated exponentially by what was happening. I would even go so far as to hide under the covers when he called over to mom’s new house, and I realize now that it was due in large part to the feeling that I had run away from him and made him into an unloving father. The truth was that nothing had really changed, it was just that I no longer could see things as I had, and I felt guilty about my whole role in it all.
As I got older, I rebelled even more – against both my parents. I actually consciously tried to be unlike them. The height of this was travelling abroad after college to physically distance myself from them and the rest of the family. I really wanted nothing to do with any of it. I felt, and correctly, that the children were being unfairly blamed for “abandoning” either one or the other parent, when it was much more the case that we were being asked to choose sides and finding ourselves caught in the middle of an epic war that was unfolding before all of our unbelieving eyes.
During that period I wrote a series of letters to Dad, essentially accusing him of not being a good father for this and that reason, and asking him to change, asking him to make peace with our mother, etc. As the saying goes, the pen is mightier than the sword, and I didn’t realize at that time how much Dad was affected by what I wrote, just as he had been so positively affected by those early birthday and Father’s Day messages I wrote for him. In fact, he kept all of my letters and would without fail read them to me sometimes in later years to prove how I had hurt him. At the same time, I really felt judged by him, not fully seen or appreciated for my unique interests and journey, so it was really difficult to in turn see him and appreciate him for the beautiful soul that he truly is and will always be. It was a vicious cycle that actually all of us get caught in when we judge the other, rather than accepting them.
One thing that made it especially difficult: Dad for many years was not an outwardly sensitive or emotive person, he just didn’t express his inward feelings all that much, and sometimes put down such expressions from others. I recall one time I told him that I loved him and he called me on it, saying that no one really loves another, there is no one who is truly altruistic, we all have ulterior motives.
Well, needless to say, his saying that made it really difficult for me to tell him that I loved him later, though actually I’m sure he would have really welcomed that. And the truth is that he did express his love in his actions and care for us. I don’t know how many times he told me that he would always take care of me. He also told me on at least several occasions that children never know how much their parents truly love them. Sometimes I had a hard time accepting or believing that, but now I simply know that he loved me the best he could (just as we are all doing the best we know how).
“He was ashamed to return to his Father because he thought he had hurt him, yet when he returned, the Father welcomed him with joy, because only the son himself was his Father’s treasure. He wanted nothing else.”
Anyway, while books could be written about all of this, in brief here’s what I’m getting at here, and please forgive my use of the “f-word,” you know: Forgiveness. I’ll never forget driving in the car with Laurance and Dad one day when Laurance played me that great Don Henley song, Heart of the Matter, and saying to me that, as the song says, it’s all about forgiveness. Yes, indeed, yet the only problem is that even though we all know that, we consistently seem to fail to demonstrate that in our thoughts, words and actions. We hold on to unforgiveness in our minds and hearts and it really doesn’t do us or anyone else any good. As a friend, Caio, who also just recently died would say, “You know all of this, I’m just reminding you.” Yes, we all know what the right thing is – we all know that forgiveness is the key to health and happiness — we just fail to implement it. I know that Dad always Knew and that he always loved me and loved all of us. But I held on to my grievances, which he felt and took to heart and which made it hard for him to let go of his grievances, too. Yet by the end, I really did feel that we had been able to give that to each other, so I do feel at peace and I know that he is at peace, too.
And just as an additional note of interest: Towards the end of his life, dad started to regularly say two things: “You can make yourself happy, or you can make yourself sad” (which do you want?). And: “Would you rather be right, or happy?” Both sentiments are principles in A Course in Miracles, especially the latter, which is more or less a direct quote. In other words, I really feel that Dad really got it — I really felt that he was able to truly forgive me and appreciate me for who I am, just as I was able to do the same for him.
Dad, welcome home.
You are always with us, and we with you.
Love is eternal, and we are all there with you,
always & forever.
SHALOM, Dear Friend