|Robert A. Brodeur|
First I’d like to thank everyone here with us today, in the flesh and in spirit. I know I speak for our extended family when I say how much we appreciate your comforting presence on this mournful occasion. And we will always be grateful to all the caretakers who not only looked after dad so well in his final days, but also brought him joy and enriched his life in countless little ways.
So, yes, this is a mournful occasion, but the good news is: we are also here to celebrate a life well lived. The life of Robert Alexander Brodeur. And since I’m his first born, and he passed away on my birthday, it is my privilege to speak on behalf of Julie, Carmel Anne, Mark, Jeanne and myself.
There is certainly no shortage of great family anecdotes about Dad, but I am going to exercise some restraint and limit myself to just two stories.
The first one I can date precisely. It takes place at a birthday party for Bob's grandson, my son Alex, who is turning four. (This summer Alex will turn twenty-three.)
Both my family and my wife Judie's family are pretty well represented. Dad and Mom are there. We have family group photos with everyone wearing propeller beanies.
In addition to our family and friends, there is also a sizeable contingent of other four-year-olds and their parents from Alex's preschool. In short order, the museum's multiple exhibition spaces with vintage aircraft on display are turned into one big echo chamber reverberating with little-kid noise.
At one point Dad and I are off to the side by ourselves. We're looking out the window at other vintage aircraft, the ones that still fly, parked on the tarmac right outside the museum. He points to a biplane of the type that first saw combat in World War One. "That's just like the trainer I learned to fly in," he says.
Though Dad never saw combat in World War Two, he trained as a naval aviator and completed his first solo flight not long before the war ended. It was perhaps the second luckiest break of his life. The first, of course, was having our mom by his side for that life to come.
So we're looking at the biplane through the window and he proceeds to tell me a story I cannot recall ever hearing before. It details how he and his fellow pilots in training practiced take offs and landings, a maneuver called the touch and go, where the landing lasts only long enough to get the wheels on the ground before the pilot immediately throttles back and launches into take-off mode. He describes how they would do this in groups of three, three of these biplanes flying abreast, not exactly wing to wing but pretty close, doing these touch and goes on what was basically an oversized football field. His account is detailed enough to paint a vivid picture in my mind of him in the cockpit, a memory I still cherish. It's my little Come Fly With Me moment with Dad.
It's a lasting reminder to me how dad personified those Greatest Generation values. He was a stand-up guy, a hard-working and loyal family man, with a deep faith in God. I always felt like he taught and lead us by example, and always in a strong and loving partnership with mom. Above all he was a genuinely good person, a practical humanitarian at heart who built his career and his life on caring about and helping other people.
My second anecdote might be described as the flipside of the first. I cherish this one because it showcases my father the happy go lucky free spirit. It might also be my earliest childhood memory of dad. I could not have been much more than two. (I know, I'm skeptical myself - but even if this is false memory syndrome on my part, I'm keeping it.)
Picture a small steamy limbo. Dad has probably just stepped out of the shower, now with a towel around his waist, and he is whistling a happy tune. I'm the little rugrat there in the bathroom with him, just the two of us. Hard to believe, but I was technically an only child at the time. He is whistling a happy tune, and not just any tune, because in my memory he is a world-class whistler. The tune is: When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along. My fellow Baby Boomers may remember it from a classic 50's tv show, Your Hit Parade. I won't ask for a show of hands.
But If you do remember it, you know that Red Red Robin is no tune for amateur whistlers. The tempo is tricky, and there are a lot of notes to hit. And Dad is just killing it. Killing it a good way. Not only is he killing it, he's doing it while shaving. It's a virtuoso performance just for me. He's got a facefull of lather and he's going at it with a big scary-looking "safety" razor and whistling Red Red Robin, note for note perfect.
And perhaps for the first time, the realization begins to sink in: this guy is going to be setting the bar pretty high around here.
I won't try to sing Red Red Robin for you because I'll start crying and you'll start crying - killing it but not in a good way. But the lyrics go like this:
When the Red Red Robin comes bob bob bobbin' along
There'll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin' his old sweet song
Wake up, wake up you sleepy head
Get up, get up, get out of bed
Live, love, laugh and be happy…
Live, love, laugh and be happy. Bob bob bobbin' along. Yes he was.
In the lives of parents and children there inevitably occurs a familiar variation on the famous "aha moment". We blurt out a particular expression, or opinion, or some semi-coherent rant directed at our own offspring and suddenly it hits us: OMG, when did I turn into my mother!? OMG, I sound just like the Old Man!
In my case the tell tale utterance is none of the above. But not too long ago I began to notice that when something makes me laugh, I do emit a certain chuckling sound that to my ear is pretty darn close to one hundred percent pure Bob. It's dad's little chuckle coming out of my mouth. Which is yet another great little item in his legacy to me because from now on, every time I hear it it will be like Dad and I are sharing a laugh together.
We love you Dad. You will always be in all our hearts.