Hi everyone. As many of you know I’m Amanda, Terry’s daughter. Or as he might have called me, “Cakes,” or “his favorite youngest daughter.” While I have been living in California for most of the last decade, I did take three years to come home to shoot a documentary about my father and his pursuit of his dream of having a barn and Christmas tree farm. So I wasn’t just his daughter, I was also his film’s director. What no one will tell you, when filming a documentary about your dad, is how close it will bring you two as you start to see the version of your father that is the man inside his own story, and not just in relation to who he is as the man who raised you to become a strong, independent woman.
As many of you know this event was not at all expected. My father had so much more he wanted to do, and had so many gifts left to give. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? We could all be really angry right now – but I just miss him. It’s clear we all have as the house hasn’t been silent since we came home from hospice; and as much as I’ve been admittedly frustrated that you’ve all been taking my mother away from me with all that ruckus – that is the life my father created, one of friendship and community. And if I were in Los Angeles that is the kind of support I would be getting too, because I was raised to believe that family has hardly anything to do with blood. It is all of us, sitting here right now, in common ground that we all have this man that we lost, and how he’s affected our lives, and in many cases truly profound ways.
I remember when I was probably seven or eight years old, my father had this pink neon sign in the basement that read “Passion” on it. I asked him what it had meant, and to be honest, I don’t remember much about what he said, it was more how he emoted it. I remember him waving his arms, and expressing with reverence about its meaning. Since, that word has driven me to pursue the things in my life that light me up just the way that word did for him. You saw it in everything that he did! When I was about 12 I remember a crane coming down into our backyard to move a giant boulder to build the first iteration of our pond. That first round was gorgeous, right? We were all so proud of how the water moved gracefully down that long stream. But for my dad? Nope, had to be bigger. In fact, every year, it seemed as though the pond was never big enough. And having named the rock sitting on the pond after my mother, well of course it had to be grandiose. Adding larger koi fish, putting in two water falls, and little fountains in the middle. When that was finished, he had to build a greenhouse, out of wine bottles, against the shed; for my mother of course, for her! After that? Well, we all know what came next; the barn. The barn was to service my father’s dream of having his own Christmas tree farm, yes, but it was about more than that – as everything my father did was. Nothing was ever just about the pond, or the shed, or the barn, or the farm. It was about creating an opportunity to connect over projects, to show my mother his love for her, to be outside and get your hands dirty, to stay active and to build friendships. The barn, was to foster MORE of that – and have a roof over his head while doing all those things. Why do you think he kept a fridge stocked with various kinds of beer in it anyways if it was just about the equipment?
It’s just like that saying he always tried to instill upon me: “If it is to be, it is up to me. If it is up to me, it WILL be.”
And yet, one part I can’t seem to get out of my head while filming The Family Tree, is when he’s talking about convergence, and how the barn represented convergence to him. He soon after says “I just want, at 218 days away from my 65th birthday to figure out what it all means after all these years.” Although I think that’s a pretty normal question to ask yourself, it shows us that my dad was always in pursuit of something, even if he didn’t fully understand why. It’s something I saw drive my father to grow emotionally and spiritually even long after most people settle on who they decide they are. Perhaps my fathers dissatisfaction with the current status quo is what kept that growth going. And, you know my dad wasn’t perfect. Sometimes his drive to have what he wanted manifested as stubbornness. He would get so set in his beliefs about things that there sometimes would be no convincing him otherwise – and would sometimes say he would do things just to spite people who tried to stand in his way.
He also never wanted to stop working. Growing up, on a near-daily basis, he’d walk in with blood on his hand, or leg or face… and we’d ask horrified if he was okay and he would just casually “oh this? Yeah I cut myself while working” and leave it at that. In the hospital, he would be moving his arms as if he was organizing his shelves when he was asleep, and was constantly trying to get out of bed, and sometimes he did manage to turn over just enough to have to be lifted back onto his bed. You know at first I was optimistic, I was thinking, finally! He might get comfortable with sitting down! He’ll be forced to use his right brain and he’s left-handed so you know, maybe he’ll take up creative writing! Because you know my father always had a way with writing words, and telling stories.
Now I think he was still contemplating that “meaning of life” question following his heart surgery, as he was still making changes in his life. He had new ideas with what he wanted to do with the Christmas trees. He originally wanted to sell them to whole-salers, but after the heart surgery, he wanted to donate the trees to veterens and those who couldn’t afford to have their own. He was going to come out and see what my life is like in California, and see his granddaughter more in Sydney… Yet it seems to me that the meaning he was seeking was all around him. The meaning of life perhaps is just the word itself. To live.
Now, I know we’ll all miss his gregarious laughs, Santa-like twinkle in his eyes, and the way he would get super excited about his next project and just have to show it to you. We will never be able to replace him, and I sure do miss him more than I’ll ever really feel comfortable showing. But my father always said “life is for the living” and that’s what we have to keep on doing. I want to thank you all for coming, and just close with we can either keep being upset at who we lost, and keep wondering why now, how did this happen, who am I without my father, husband or best friend? Or we can remember that my dad touched us all so deeply, and lived so fully, that if we allow ourselves, we can all be a little bit more like my dad, and in that way, he’s never really gone. Thank you.