Eulogy for my father, Col. Richard D. Kisling, on Thursday, October 2, 2013
One of my anchoring memories of Dad takes place in a building like this, a Catholic Church, more than 40 years ago. I remember during (what seemed to my young self) an excrutiatingly long sermon (Father, I’m sure you never do that)—I remember sitting next to him, resting my head against his arm, feeling the cloth of his suit, breathing in the ever-present scent of Old Spice, sensing his steadiness, and closing my eyes. I was safe. Everything was taken care of. And he let me do it, without objection. I even think that he enjoyed it, too.
That for me was Dad—he was someone that I—someone that all of us—could lean on, and he wanted to be leaned on. Steady, steadfast, responsible. If he had any kind of fatherly or cautionary advice about what you were proposing, you could count on him to deliver it—kind of like a mixture of Ward Cleaver and General Schwarzkopf. For me, the signal was always, “Well, Buddy…” If I heard “Buddy,” I knew that some kind of paternal course correction was following right behind. (He called me Buddy a lot.)
His country could lean on him, and did so for more than 30 years during his military career. He was a soldier, an aviator, and war hero, who earned medals for putting his life on the line for his nation and his fellow troops. Somewhere among our family papers is the telegram he received during his first tour in Vietnam announcing that I had been born. Whether overseas or stateside, year in and year out, he worked hard, earning the respect of his peers, and then packing up the family and moving to new challenges, new duties to be responsible for.
His Church could lean on him, too. Not just to attend every weekend and send in his envelopes, but to show up and help out as a lector, or volunteer, like offering his tools and carpentry skills to help remodel a home for struggling young mothers. Even in his later years, he sometimes served as an unofficial handyman around this parish and when he was too creaky for that he could be counted on to come every week and fold church bulletins with Terry–always with a sharp military crease.
We could count on him for lots of other things—for instance, serving as quartermaster, coordinator, and chief cook for big meals. When we were young, Kathy and I could count on him to stand outside our door every morning and intone the sacred Kisling “Good Morning to You” song in his gravelly baritone. My brother Rick and I could count on him to faithfully hand down the distinguished Kisling hairline (though Rick clearly is still in some denial about that—please pray for him). His brother Dave could count on him twice a year to make the trek to his beloved Montana, loaded with seafood and warm clothes and moose-themed paraphernalia. Even Robert at El Mesquite on Airline could count on him to be standing outside every morning, waiting for the door to unlock so he could come in and sample Robert’s gourmet taquito offerings and the specialty coffee roast of the day while they solved the world’s problems.
And, perhaps most dear to us, we could always count on the twinkle in his eye. If there was a gag to be made or a joke to be cracked, he would take the shot, no matter how desperate. The rimshot is now hardcoded into our DNA and speech patterns.
He could be counted on. He was responsible. He took care of people. He took care of us, until, finally, it was time for him to let us take care of him, which he permitted only very begrudgingly.
Given his constitutional bent toward responsibility, in his final days, it was surprising (and kind of neat) to hear him speak of an uncharacteristic, “irresponsible” desire. He wanted a motorcycle. He talked for days about meeting up with his younger brother Pete so that they could go riding. (Pete passed away more than a decade ago.) Dad talked about heading West with Pete. He kept trying to sneak out of bed to do just that. In a funny and sometimes exasperating reversal, we all became the responsible parents, trying to keep him corralled.
On Sunday morning, around 11 AM, he eluded our watch and finally got his motorcycle—like a kid who turned 18 at last. What to do? Like any parents whose children are suddenly legally on the lam, we do the only thing we can. We commend him to God’s care. And now, we turn hopefully and fondly toward the West, wave at him and Pete somewhere over the horizon, and say, “Safe travels, Daddy. Have fun.
And, Buddy, you better wear that helmet.”
“Song of Farewell,” Ernest Sands
May the choirs of angels come to greet you
May they speed you to Paradise
May the Lord enfold you in His mercy
May you find eternal life
Presentation of folded US flag by Army Color Guard to my mother, following the playing of “Taps”
“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”