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A eulogy: Robert Lee Rogers

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Published on Dec 26, 2010

Below is an abridged version.

Read the full eulogy here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1L...

I want to begin by explaining my curious shirt. I wear it because it belonged to my father for many years. I wear it as a colorful symbol of the profound imprint that his life left on mine.

We have gathered here today to reflect on the life of Robert Lee Rogers, a husband and father, a soldier and a worker, a simple man who deferred gratification and respected others, and did the best he could.
That is about the sum of it, "in a nutshell," as he would say. He need not be idolized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. We must remember him simply and plainly, which is what he would want. My dad was a decent and tolerant man, one who worked hard and loved his wife and his family, and loved his country.
And he was a man who made a difference. Jackie Robinson once said, "a life is only important in proportion to its impact on other lives." I think this is right. My dad may not have impacted the most lives, but those of us who knew him were profoundly touched by the life he lived.
He was one man who did the best he could with what he had. My working class hero.
Like all men who carry a quiet, unassuming dignity and resolve, he was not always fully appreciated in his time, not even by those who loved him most.
When I was a boy, I attended a nice, well-supplied school not far from where we gather here today, a place worlds apart from the long-since demolished buildings in Los Angeles where my dad was schooled in the 1930s. He ran around the track barefoot during PE class because his father couldn't afford to buy him athletic shoes. My only memory of school shoes was about how my friends and I seemed to always be running around the playgrounds in our shiny new Michael Jordan sneakers.
My dad had endured so much, and then had provided so plentifully. Yet, amazingly, there was a time when I was ashamed of him.
Sure, he was a kind and mild man, quietly sacrificing so that I could have the advantages he never had. But he was so much different than the other fathers I saw. He wasn't young or fast-talking or well-connected. He was old and leathery and seemingly incapable of superficial chatter. While my friends dads wore smart clothes and drove late-model cars, my father sputtered about in a lumbering, exhaust-belching truck with rumpled work clothes and unruly gray hair.
I shuddered with embarrassment on the few occasions when he picked me up from school in that rusty ol' work truck.
"Why do you live with your grandpa?" or "why doesn't your grandpa get a new truck?" my childhood buddies would tease.
But that was him. Totally unpretentious and disinterested in the pretty accoutrements so fashionable then and today. He didn't spend what he didn't have, didn't buy what he didn't need, didn't chase what was unimportant. In a culture dazzled by material success and shiny possessions, he was a man out of season, but a man at one with himself. He wasn't driven by greed and envy, but by love and an inner energy. Work wasn't a means to an end -- for my dad work was an end unto itself.
But I couldn't understand this embodiment of sage wisdom and rugged self-reliance then. I do now. I drove my 1995 civic with 200,000 miles to today's services. My dad really liked that car.
I can almost hear my humble father now, as I stand here before you making a big fuss about his life ... I know he is looking down on us, abashedly, from heaven, trying to contain that sheepish smile, his hair forever long and colorless and perfect. He is probably muttering what he said to me so many times, especially in recent years, when he and I would discuss foreign affairs or domestic politics, and my passions would get away from me.
"Don't get carried away, Bob," he would say, chuckling. "Don't get carried away."
Simple. Pragmatic. Practical. Grounded. That was dad.
So I won't get carried away here today. I'll follow the advice from which I too often strayed, dad, while you still lived in our earthly realm, moving in time and space.
By the time of my birth, my father was already well into his fifth decade of life. He had traveled the world, been tested by war, and raised five children. Self-educated and tempered by a childhood of urban poverty amidst the depths of the Great Depression, he had a certain understated gravitas that comes from having walked the hardest of paths. His mother died soon after his birth, an event that informed his humanity, but was too painful to talk about for most of his life.
His spirit of resilience and solemn toughness would see Dad through more pain and hardship, especially in his later years, than most of us will ever know.

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