I didn’t really know my dad until his funeral

Posted: September 4, 2012 by emilyclauser in Lessons from dad, Uncategorized
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I “passed” physics my senior year of high school with a D-. For some reason, I just could not wrap my head around the material. I had always been a good student, without putting forth much effort, and never got a grade lower than a B. But, there was just something about physics that I didn’t grasp. So when the teacher asked if anyone knew Newton’s three laws of motion, and my hand shot into the air, she looked suspicious. Despite her misgivings, she called on me, and I proudly recited:

“A body in motion will remain in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force. A body at rest will remain at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

The teacher was surprised.

When I would ride in the car with my dad, he was always teaching me things. And one of the things he drilled into my brain were Newton’s Laws of Physics. He left out the most complicated one (something about force and mass and vectors… I still don’t know it!), probably because it would be hard for a seven-year-old to grasp. But he would spend car rides talking to me about physics, the planets and space, and mechanics. I was, and still am, a total science nerd. He did this so much that I easily remembered Newton’s Laws long after I was “too cool” to listen to my dad’s lessons in the car. He talked to my brother about sports. He talked to my sister about softball. He talked to my other brother about boy scouts and building things. He talked to us about what WE cared about.

Fred Clauser Family Photos

My dad was the typical suburban dad. He coached my soccer team, and my sister’s softball team. He ran the clean-up detail after the carnival for the local Lion’s Club. He sat outside with neighbors and friends while we kids ran around the block and played outside. He went down in the basement and played video games after work until dinnertime, with us kids bugging him for our turn. He had to endure our chaotic dinnertime, crude jokes and bad manners, despite his desire for some peace and quiet when he came home from work. These are my primary memories of him.

I guess what you would call my secondary memories revolve around his professional life. He was a police officer for 32 years, eventually serving as the Chief of Police in Lake Zurich, where I grew up, and then Barrington Hills, a neighboring town. He also traveled to accredit police departments from time to time, and taught a class on community policing at a local college. What I remember most of his professional life, was that we had to wait to open our presents on Christmas morning until my dad returned from the police department, where he dropped off food and treats to each shift of officers who worked on Christmas. As far as I knew, he went to work before I got up in the morning, did his thing, and then came home in time for dinner.

After a long battle with cancer, my dad died in our home, surrounded by his family, at the age of 54.

My family didn’t want to have a funeral. We wanted to have a small gathering at our house, with our family and friends, where we could remember my dad and be with those we loved. Lieutenant Murphy, who worked with my dad, asked us to reconsider, and told us that there were many people he had professional relationships with who would like an opportunity to say goodbye. We agreed, my mom told Lieutenant Murphy who she thought might be able to speak, gave him two songs we wanted played, and the rest was taken care of by extremely kind and generous people.

My dad’s funeral is where I learned that my sister, brothers and I only knew a small part of my dad.

When we arrived at the funeral home, there were over a hundred police cars from all over the state, and some from even further, lining the streets. The processional to the church where the service was held stretched about as far as you could see, with each of those cars flashing their lights. The service ended with bagpipes and a full 21-gun salute. Even though we were obviously all very sad, we had to admit that it was pretty cool.

During the memorial service, the hundreds in attendance listened to the Chief of Police in Wilmette talk about his time with my dad at the FBI Academy, and moving up the ranks with him in Wilmette. I learned that my dad literally wrote the book on police accreditation (we have a copy at our house). We heard the former mayor of Lake Zurich, and the mayor of Barrington Hills both talk about the impact my dad had on their communities, his commitment to his officers, the awards and honors he had earned as the head of their police departments, the deep respect people had for him both professionally and personally. I learned that when my dad was out socially he would order a whiskey in a tall glass with lots of ice, and nurse it throughout the night. He wanted to be part of the fun, but didn’t think it was appropriate for the Police Chief to be drunk, or even tipsy, in public. We heard my uncle talk about my dad as his family and friend, the only part that was familiar to me.

Lieutenant Murphy said, “He acted like our father. He thought of us like his family, and he treated us like a father treats his son or daughter. Whenever you had a problem, you could go to him. He was a mentor and teacher and an all-around great guy.”

That was the most important thing I learned about my dad from his funeral. He truly cared about people, which is what made him so passionate about police work. He was more than a co-worker or boss, neighbor or uncle or friend, he was respected, trusted and endeared by many, many people. He had a way of showing people that they were important to him through his kindness and attention in his extremely busy life. When there so many people who needed his time and energy, he was able to make each one feel important.

I had no idea. All those people would not have been able to attend the modest gathering at our house we had originally planned.

*****

We live in a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to make our families, friends and co-workers feel as if they are important to us.

Our lives seem to be constantly interrupted by our cell phones, social media and computers. At home with family, we feel the need to check emails and text messages from work. While we are at work, we might be checking facebook and twitter, trying to keep in touch with our friends. While out with friends, we might be getting calls or texts from the babysitter or kids at home. We are often made to feel that if we aren’t multitasking, we simply aren’t doing enough.

It is worth it, though, to fully focus on the people that are important, without distraction, and enjoy them.

So, if I don’t answer your phone call, or text you back immediately, I’m not ignoring you. I’m just focusing on another person that is important to me. And when I get back to you, I want to be able to do the same for you.

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