My father passed away June 22nd after a long battle with Parkinson's. He was 78. Here's a written version of what I said at his visitation.
Losing someone to Parkinson’s is a very long goodbye. So when the end finally came I felt relief as much as sorrow. I think many of us did. And I think that’s ok, I know that’s what my Dad would say. He would want us to be relieved, to be happy, to celebrate his great escape! He never wanted to be a burden on anyone, most of all my mom. But accepting that reality was the hardest thing he ever did. Jim Banner was a proud, independent, active and strong man. To be robbed of that in his prime was devastating to him and to everyone that knew and loved him. It was devastating to me. But in the end, Parkinson’s was a gift in many ways to my father. He became a better man because of it. He was proud and it taught him humility. He was a leader who learned to follow. He lead conversations and then had to learn how to listen. The transformation wasn’t easy on the physical body but it did wonders for his soul. Parkinson’s made my father a better person.
I share this with you because I know my Dad would not want me to get up here and spout any watered down BS. He was, on the whole, a very honest person. His email signature for years was “truth over harmony”. Although the tone might have been off I can’t deny the logic. If we value harmony over truth we whitewash reality and eventually reality always comes to back to bite us. My father once said something to me after he caught me in a lie, he said “you can lie to me, but don’t lie to yourself, once you start lying to yourself there is no-one left and you lose touch with reality”. That really stuck with me and I am challenged by it daily. Telling yourself the truth might be the hardest thing to do. But dad was great at calling BS when he saw it, even when he had to call it on himself.
Dad had a temper, especially when he was younger. That was another unexpected gift that Parkinson’s gave him, and us. It mellowed him out. But when he was younger, during my time at home, he could really unload on us kids. It could be scary. This was something handed down from his father who had a horrible temper. Dad battled that all his life and shared with me that he struggled with that more than anything else as a parent.
One time he really gave me a tongue lashing for something dumb I’d done. Probably left his tools in a state of disarray after working on a go kart or something. But he knew he’d gone too far. After I’d slunk away to my room I saw a piece of paper slide under the door. He wrote me a sweet note apologizing for his outbreak and asking for forgiveness. He did that, in different forms, a few times.
One of the things I will miss most about my dad is our long conversations. They really started in high school. I have memories of sitting in his home office, talking well past bed time. He would talk about anything- girls, marriage, school, politics, etc. Once he told me that he was still processing experiences he had as a child. That really stuck with me. Most of all he made it safe to open up and talk about myself. He showed a genuine interest in my life. I didn’t feel talked down to or judged. He wanted to know what I was doing, what I found interesting. I felt understood, accepted and loved.
As some of you know, I’ve played music since I was about 12. My dad didn’t really understand my music making in high school, and who can blame him, we were terrible, but he always encouraged me. If I wanted a new guitar or amplifier he would match me on funding it. If it cost $200, I had to come up with $100. This taught me the value of work and saving money but didn’t put things too far out of reach.
I can still see him walking down into the basement of our house with a decibel meter during one of my high school band practices. He would point at the needle shouting “120 decibels!”. But my parents would let me throw parties with hoards of high schoolers running amok all over the house and yard. Mom and Dad would lock themselves in their rooms praying for daylight. Later he gave me a space at his business to play and record music. Now that I look back I can see that maybe he’d just finally had enough of the 120 decibel rock and roll. But at the time I thought it was pretty awesome to have my own “studio”. He was, on the whole, a pretty cool dad.
He was always supportive. When I started my first business he gave me a $20,000 loan that I paid back over many, many years. He was always willing to help if he could. He had a soft heart even if he sometimes fronted like a tough business man.
When I was in my teens and 20s I was often told by friends and family “you are looking so much like your father”. And I hated it. Like most people at that age, I didn’t want to look like anyone but myself. But as I got older those comments became less offensive to me. Now I am honored to remind people of my father. I hope that I am honoring him in how I live my life. How I love my wife- remembering how he loved his wife, his “lovey”, grabbing her rear in the kitchen while she cooked. How I love my kids- remembering whoop de dos (essentially throwing a young child waaay up into the air and catching them right before they crash to certain death), fireworks and wrestling “strongest boy in the world” where he would pretend I was incredibly strong and could throw him across the room. How I run my business- seeing how he treated his employees with care and respect. How I treat others- remembering a constant stream of foreign exchange students, homeless dinner guests, foster children, international students, friends, family, etc etc.
Jim Banner was a powerful example of someone committed to living a meaningful life. It was an example that affected me deeply. I know that example impacted many more than just me and my siblings. I am sometimes surprised by how many lives he touched. But I shouldn’t be. That was just his nature. He truly cared about other people and lived that every day. He always pushed me to consider someone else’s perspective. To not assume. To challenge my biases. To walk in someone else’s shoes. In that area I continue to strive to honor my father’s example. I love you dad.