|My father-in-law surrounded by my three oldest sons--summer 1988.|
Dad was one of those men who was born to be a father. He and my mother-in-law raised eight children--four sons and four daughters--who all grew up to be intelligent, educated, hard-working, decent, moral people. Eight people who never stopped practicing the Catholic Faith that their parents instilled in them. Eight people with a love for life, for family, for sports, for Notre Dame, and for laughter. Eight people who are a joy to be around. He had a lot to be proud of, and he was.
Dad was an extraordinary man--a man who doted on and delighted in his own offspring, but was a father figure to many other young people as well. I was privileged to spend a lot of time with Dad as a young girl, because I started dating my husband when we were both only fifteen. Before my husband got his license, Dad would drive me back home whenever I spent an evening at the Pearl homestead (which was quite often), and although I was the shyest person on the planet, I enjoyed talking with him during those fifteen minute rides. I left for my freshman year of college about a week after my husband (who'd had to go out to Notre Dame early for a Navy ROTC orientation), and the night before I was to leave, I had dinner out at my husband's house. When Dad drove me back home, he launched into one of the fatherly "Well, you're about to start a whole new chapter in your life" speeches for which he was well known. Just recalling that speech today when I was on the phone with my husband brought tears to my eyes. It is hard to put into words what that man meant to me. And I'm not even one of his actual children!
It's tough to imagine a role that would make Dad even happier than that of father; but I believe that when the grandchildren arrived, the role of "Papa" became the crowning achievement of his life. He was never more delighted than when his house was filled with little ones--even if all the babies were crying at once!--and his grandchildren returned his affection in spades. They couldn't wait to get to "Papa's house" in the summer, to swim in "Papa's lake," and to ride in "Papa's boat." He was almost larger than life, with a booming voice and a deep, pleasing laugh that you could hear all the way down the block. The kids adored him.
When Dad died, he had 26 grandchildren already, two of whom were tiny infants he hadn't had a chance to meet yet. Six more came along after his death. How incredibly thrilled he would have been to meet these grandchildren. I can only imagine the reunion in Heaven someday!
Here's to you, Dad: you have been the most perfect example of what a father and a grandfather should be. You were an excellent role model for the man I married, a wonderful father like you who has now become a doting "Papa," too. You are missed, Dad; but certainly not forgotten.