Monday, January 16, 2012

About my dad...

I know it's a little lengthy for a blog, but my brother, Steve gave the Eulogy at Dad's memorial this weekend and my nephew Tony conducted.  It was a beautiful memorial and I wanted to share it with those family members and friends who couldn't make it.

As background, Steve and Dad have been involved in mental health all their lives.  That's one of the reasons Steve was the right choice for speaker.

What I learned from my father - Steve

Dad gave me somewhat of a legacy, though maybe not on purpose, which I will carry for my entire life. Like all children I grew up idolizing my father.  
Some of my earliest memories are of Dad coming home in his white uniform from Agnews State Hospital. White shirt – white belt – white socks - white shoes. This was a place where my father and grandfather worked and earned their living.  They would tell wild and bold, and no doubt embellished, stories. To me it was a place of adventure.  I thought of it almost like a sanctuary.  

I learned from Dad that caring for others less fortunate than I is an honorable thing to do, and that people with mental illness need not be feared.  I remember him telling me that some of the patients probably thought I was a bird. This really confused me – not that they might think I was something I was not.  Mostly I wondered “why a bird?” I would much rather be a cat or a dog.

When I was a young teenager Dad started to have my sister Ruth and I do volunteer work at Agnews. We spent our summers volunteering on some of Dads units, usually doing menial tasks and playing cards with the patients. I think it was good for them to see people from the community and it was good for Ruth and I to be exposed to them. This is something that affected both of us.  I became a Psych Nurse – Ruth became a Social Worker.  I found out later that the unit I worked on was full of patients with criminal backgrounds – I suppose I should have been afraid, but they just seemed like people to me.

At that point Dad was an Area Supervisor.  He would make his rounds and meet with the person in charge of each unit to see that they had the supplies that they needed and address whatever concerns that might have developed that day. When I started doing volunteer work the staff on the unit always had good things to say about Dad. The common reprise was “oh your Dale’s son”. I believe it was meant with respect….maybe it was meant as a warning – I will never know.

To me the state hospitals were a community and a place of order – a place of asylum - in a good sense. Everything happened the same way every day. Meals- medication – down time – bed time.

One summer Ruth and I worked on a museum project which was really just a collection of junk that Dad found in warehouse on the grounds. Ruth did a lot of work on this special project.  Some of the exhibits included the old books that our parents kept.  

By the way, pilfering state stuff was not considered a problem. In fact, it took me years to figure out why my boots were labeled left and right……they were state issues.

Dad’s title was Occupational Therapist. This was a new concept – that many patients could be taught occupations and could move and work in the community. This was in the early 1960s and his work was well before its time. He set up a silk screening shop and got contracts with the community to create work on the grounds. As patients learned the skills they were able to transition into the community.  This was well before Medi-Cal, Regional Centers, etc.

When Dad transferred to Patton State Hospital, and we did our time in San Bernardino, he ran a very progressive program helping to place patients in community residential facilities. This was part of the deinstitutionalization movement of the 60’s started by the Kennedy administration.  It was the honorable attempt to move patients from state hospitals into the community.  Today, much of Dad’s work has been completely dismantled – but that is a story for another time.

The representation of the employees and the development of the Psychiatric Technician was something very dear to Dad and something he and Grandpa would talk about endlessly. I remember when Dad first became president of the local CSEA.  I attended a couple of meetings with him and the fact that his peers seemed to have to do what he said really impressed me. It was very important to Dad to be a leader – and I believe he truly cared about the issues. 

Dad loved being treated as important.  There was always some event or issue of great importance that Dad would be working on, well beyond my comprehension at the time, but clearly I could pick up that his opinion and backing was much sought after.  When he went away on conventions, he would come back charged up.

Now for you young ones out there, there was this archaic process that families used to have called “dinner at the table.” This was when families were lucky to have one TV set with 3 TV channels. So the entire family would sit at the table – almost every night – honest to God.  Parents would discuss the events of the day and children would sit and have to listen to their parents talk.  I remember what Dad told Mom after work every evening.  I heard his ideas and it made a big impression.

He also worked on licensure of the psych nurse – the concept that caregivers were more than minions – and that this sort of work was a worthy profession. Psych nursing evolved, and many people believe devolved, into a medical model. Hospitals were managing patients more with medications and for a dark period by committing surgeries that attempted to cut mental illness from the flesh of the patients. I know that when I became a Psych Tech that Dad was very proud.  This took going to college.  Something my Dad didn’t get to do.  I was in one of the first classes that took the licensing exam. When I got my student positions and eventually became a licensed Psychiatric Technician I began to hear the reprise again ….. “that’s Dales son.”

What else did I learn from Dad? I learned to value of storytelling, and that strict adherence to the truth is not a requisite for a good story.  In my workshops I often illustrate concepts based on stories about family. Dad once got to hear one of my lectures. Before I began, I was a bit concerned that he might be offended.  Oh no – I should never have been concerned.  Dad loved it, in fact, from that point on he adopted my ‘illustration’ as his own, as if it really had happened.

To this day when we talk about deeming of assets my clients often will interrupt me and say “I know – it’s just like your father…” referring to the story from my presentation.  I shared that funny fact with Dad.  He was very proud – even though there is only a grain of truth in the story.
I also learned that a parent is human and can also make stunningly bad decisions. While I certainly don’t want to dwell on this, we can learn that parents are human.  Sometimes we as parents need our children to understand that we are just people with frailties like anyone else.

After my parents divorced in the 70s, Dad came and visited me in Napa.  This visit was not under the best of circumstances. I had also just divorced.  My brother and I were living a fairly freewheeling life.  Dad indicated that he wanted to move in with us.  Not only was the timing bad, it could arguably be categorized as in bad taste. Being of a Methodist background, we certainly couldn’t tell him we didn’t want him around so we came up with a very clever idea.  We would throw a party and try to include every offensive act we could think of to drive him away.  Welllll – it didn’t quite work out that way.  We learned that Dad was very adaptable.  Everyone had a good time at the party --- except for my brother and me.  

Dad was a caring individual. He wasn’t demonstrative about it. In fact, I don’t ever remember him telling me he loved me, but I never questioned his love. Maybe this also comes from our Methodist upbringing. Being a loving individual was good enough, while outwardly demonstrating it was awkward. Quite honestly, I prefer acts of love over words, though words are nice.

Lastly, this last decade with Dad’s declining health has been quite an experience. It always seemed to me that a former psych nurse should be spared mental illness. It’s only fair. 

Unfortunately it was not to be. These last 10 years have been a sobering experience. Dad’s dementia slowly caused him to behave in ways I never imagined. It caused a lot of problems.  I remember once begging the social worker from the nursing home he was living in “please don’t discharge my father. I will do anything.”
We never could have weathered this were it not for Roz (my Dad’s wonderful wife) and her devotion. Our father made some good decisions and some bad decisions, but one of the best decisions he made was his choice of companion and wife. We all owe her for she has weathered abuse and heartache stemming from Dad’s dementia. The real test of true love isn’t what you do when all is well – it’s what you do in the face of adversity.

So – our father was a good man, a dutiful man, and he did a lot of good in the world.  He wasn’t perfect and he certainly wasn’t a saint.  I know he loved all of us and enjoyed hearing about our lives. He always asked me “where are you traveling to?” This always impressed him.  I think in many ways I am doing what he always wanted to.

I hope he has found peace – he certainly deserves it.

This is Tony's talk:

I was thinking of where I wanted to focus on in giving the eulogy for my grandfather.  How do you come up with some sort of semi-comprehensive speech about the life of a man so complex and rich in personality without writing books or spending days in conversation with those who love him best? 

Looking through yearbooks and old pictures of him, it is safe to say that he marched to his own rhythm.  He played trombone. He loved a good joke.   

He was a great writer. He loved silly hats.  He loved to make those around him laugh. He looked snazzy in a bow tie.  He loved bingo, dancing and football.

He loved to talk with anyone who would give him the time of day and even those who wouldn’t.  

If we look back on his life, you can see what was important to him by where he invested his life.  Grandpa was quite the investor.

He invested in the enjoyment of others.  His silly hats and his jokes are legendary.   Grandpa always was ready with a smile and a story, sometime true.  Grandpa would say the way to remember a joke was to tell it to everyone you met that day.  He not only said it, he lived it.  If you spent a day with him, you would know the joke too.

I was talking to my kids about my grandfather and they remembered being able to go into his hat room and play.  It was a great time for them. 

While he collected the hats, they never lost their original intent.  The enjoyment was more important than the items.  He lived his life in that simple joy of watching others enjoy life.

He invested in people who could not invest in themselves.  The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, “Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 

Grandpa worked 35 years for Mental Health system.  He worked as a psych tech, taking care of people in their greatest time of need.  This job took him from San Jose to San Bernardino, then to Sierra County where he was the entire Mental Health Department.  The story goes that he was once reported to Patient’s Rights because he made one patient laugh so hard from his jokes that she busted a stitch from a recent surgery.  Not only did he make them laugh, he took good care of them to where they would trust him before anyone else.

He invested in his co-workers.  Grandpa made sure that his people were taken care of, being instrumental in the formation of the union to take care of Psych Techs throughout the state.  He served as the first president of the union, then as the steward for years.  His nature of talking served him well in this investment – when management saw Earl Dale coming, wearing his derby, they knew something was wrong and that he was there to fix it.

He invested in his family.  Early in his family life, Grandpa was known to work three jobs to make ends meet – having 5 kids with bottomless stomachs.  But all this time on the job did not stop him from knowing his family.  On trips to sell Fuller Brushes, he would often take one of the kids with him, traveling from house to house.  The kid would spend the day in the car as Grandpa went door to door selling brushes.  It was time fondly remembered.

When he learned that he was going to be a great-grandfather, he put together a complete family history spanning generations, to make sure that the future generations would remember those who came before.  He passed on his qualities to his children and grandchildren.  I stand before you today an example of what he passed on – not just his receding hairline, his tastes in bad jokes and an ungodly amount of body hair in places that it doesn’t belong, but in his love for life, his love for people, and his love for his family.  Earl Dale’s life on this Earth ended too soon but is a life well-lived.  

I can imagine Grandpa walking the streets of gold today with Jesus chuckling, saying, “tell me that one about Andy again.  That one never gets old.”  May he rest in peace.

One of Dad's favorite joke (yes, there were millions of em')

So Garth Brooks (or whoever's name filled his fancy at the time) died and went to heaven. 

St Peter greeted him and said "You have done well during your life, but you must answer 3 questions before I can let you in. 
"Ok", answered Garth -
How many Ts are in a week?" St. Peter asked
"2", Garth answered.
"2" exclaimed St. Peter? Name them"
"Today and tomorrow, of course"
"OK, I'll accept that. Tell me then how many seconds there are in a year?"
Garth thought for a minute. "I'm thinking there are 12", he said.
St Peter scratched his head.  "How did you get 12?"
"Well, there's January 2nd, February 2nd...."
"Well, I can't argue with that", St. Peter replied.  "You've got one question left. I want you to tell me, what is God's first name?"
"Well, that's easy," he answered.  "His name is Andy"
St. Peter threw his hands in the air.  "Andy?  Where did you hear the name Andy?"
"From church, of course.  Even you should know that. (Singing) And he walks with me, and he talks with me."
An Irish Prayer  - from the program

May those who love us, love us;
and those who don't love us,
may God turn their hearts;
and if He doesn't turn their hearts,
may he turn their ankles
so we'll know them by their limping.

An Irish Funeral Prayer - read by Kenneth Dale
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Everything remains as it was.
The old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no sorrow in your tone.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without  effort
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting,  when we meet again.


Earlston E. Dale, born Sept. 25, 1931, in Sugarette, N.M., passed away Friday, Dec. 23, 2011. He was 80.

Earlston worked for 35 years in the California State Mental Health System. He was a founding member of the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians (CAPT), serving as their first union president. His hobbies included gardening and bingo. Earl was funny, gregarious and full of joy. He owned more than 350 crazy hats and had a joke for everyone.

Earl is survived by his loving wife, Roz, whom he married on March 17, 1992; his sister, Marceline Lockhart, his children, Stephen W. Dale, Concord, Calif., Kenneth D. Dale, Reno, Nev., Audrey L. Escarzaga, Hemet, Calif., and Nina S. Jones, Sequim, Wash.; 10 grandchildren; and 19 great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his daughter, Ruthmarie Dale, and parents, Walter and Lita Dale.

Napa Valley Register

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