All of us here today have a Dad. For many of us, our Dads have passed on and for others, they are still with us. But we all have a Dad. My name is Patrick and Charles Schwerdtfeger is my Dad. He’s the only Dad I have and on Tuesday afternoon at 1:45, he passed away.
My Dad died surrounded by his family. As he took his last breath, I was holding his right arm and my mother was holding his right hand. My sister was holding his left arm and my brother was holding his left leg. And Ben, one of the incredible caregivers that have been helping my parents, was holding his right leg.
I have a number of things I’d like to share with you today and am very grateful for the opportunity to do so. But even though I’m the one who’s up here today, I’m speaking on behalf of my whole family.
Let me begin by thanking all of you for being here today. My two sisters, Annette and Denise, are here with their families. My brother, Tom, is here with his wife, Jennifer.
My Dad’s brother, Paul, is here with his wife, Mimi. My Dad’s two sisters, Susan and Louise, are here. For Louise, this was her first trip to the west coast and her first time in Canada. She came here today for my father.
We have been very fortunate to have wonderful caregivers helping my parents for the past two years. Ben is here with his family, Lalie is here and Evelyn, a girl who worked with my parents more than a year ago, is here as well. Evelyn is nine months pregnant and is due any time but she is sharing this day with us.
And there are friends here from MacKenzie Place, the walking group, the church choir, the Physics Department at UBC, Crofton Manor and a variety of other groups my parents participated in. Your presence here today is special for my Mom, it’s special for me, and it’s special for my Dad.
During these past few days, one of the most difficult things for me has been to listen to the different ways people say good-bye to my Dad. All of you had different experiences with my Dad. All of you have different memories of him.
I can never speak to all of your memories. I can only speak to my own. But by listening to all of your good-byes, I see the many ways my Dad touched other people’s lives. And to see all of you sitting here today makes me so proud to call him my Dad.
My Dad never said very much, yet he touched so many people’s lives. He never showed off despite building his career from the ground up and securing a comfortable life for his family. He never complained – not even once – as he struggled with his crippling Parkinson’s disease. And perhaps most amazing of all, he never lost his sense of humor amidst extremely difficult circumstances.
Today, his struggle is over and he can finally rest in peace. It is now up to us to carry his beautiful spirit forward.
My Dad was kind and gentle and even in the hardest times, had more dignity than anyone I have ever known. Even from a distance, people knew quickly that he was a truly good person. For me, my dad is a Quiet Hero.
Since we all shared moments with my Dad at different times of his life, I’d like to share some brief history so you can all get an idea of how his life unfolded.
My Dad is a pretty smart guy and he knew at a young age that his intellect would take him far. He had a vision of the life he wanted and was 100% determined to get it. And he got it. He took jobs in the iron works, among other places, to pay for his education. He never asked for help from anyone.
After completing his PhD in Physics, he went to Switzerland for his post-doc. During the preparations for that trip, he corresponded with the secretary of the head of the Physics Department in Basel; a young woman who later became my Mom.
About a year ago, I asked my Dad about the first time he met my Mom. I asked him what he noticed first about her. He said a few things and tried to make it sound meaningful and significant. But eventually, he just shrugged his shoulders and said simply, “I thought she was really cute.” That’s meaningful enough for me, Dad.
Three days ago, I asked my Mom about the same topic. She told me that my Dad’s first question of her when he arrived was if she knew a Catholic church he could attend while in Switzerland. She responded that she was Catholic herself and that they could go together. And although she didn’t admit it to me, I suspect she thought my Dad was pretty cute too.
My Mom and Dad went to church together often and would take walks through a nearby park afterwards. Dad was fascinated with my mother’s cultured European upbringing and told her about his own life in America. My Mom tells me Dad made it clear he wanted to get closer to her but also described him as the most polite and respectful man she had ever met.
He was soon introduced to my Mom’s parents and impressed my grandfather because – get this – they were standing on a patio on a cloudy evening and there was a small break in the clouds and one star was shining through. As an avid astronomer, my Dad knew exactly which star it was and told my grandfather. He couldn’t believe it. Neither can I.
My Mom told me Dad was exceedingly polite and dignified whenever they spent time together and she was impressed with him from the start. My Mom and Dad got married and soon moved back to the states and then on to Canada. My Dad was a Solid State Physics Professor at UBC.
He never talked much about his work. In fact, he rarely spoke about himself at all. My understanding of his work came when my oldest sister, Annette, took one of his physics courses. She told us many times how clear and patient he was with his students. At the time, it surprised me. Today, I couldn’t imagine him any other way.
Growing up, my Dad was always the voice of reason. He didn’t say much but what he said was important. When there were difficult situations, my Dad was the one who took care of it. When emotions ran high, it was my Dad who brokered the ceasefires. If my Mom got worried or upset, it was my Dad who calmed her down. And if one of us screwed up, it was my Dad who set us straight.
He was a problem solver. He fixed things. He got things done.
One time, after getting his finger caught in a car door and ending up with a painful blood blister under his fingernail, he took me downstairs to the workshop and turned on the big drill press. He put his own finger on the platform and drilled a small hole in his fingernail to relieve the pressure.
It seemed he had no fear. He was always in control over his emotions. I’ve never seen him lose his temper. I’ve never heard him yell and up until his Parkinson’s disease, I had never seen him cry. His patience and steady temperament made him the perfect husband and companion for my Mom.
My Mom and Dad love each other in the truest sense of the word. They are completely devoted to each other and I believe that the successful marriages my brother and two sisters have found for themselves are, at least in part, influenced by the example set by my parents.
I’d like to tell you about a few things my Dad enjoyed in his life. I think he was happiest raking leaves and trimming the dahlias in the yard. He always took great care of our garden and lined each individual area with flowers. My Mom always said our backyard looked like a park.
He enjoyed his miniature trains. He would set them up every year at Christmas time, complete with a miniature town for the trains to run through. Later, with his passion for electronics, he dismantled a Commodore Vic-20 computer and used the processor inside to automate those little trains.
In fact, we kids all remember Herbie, a little robot my Dad built when we were young. He did it for fun. That’s what he called fun. I think it’s when building your own robot is “fun” that you realize you’re dealing with someone special.
And of course, my Dad loved the stars. One of the things my grandfather was most impressed with was that my Dad ground his own mirrors for a telescope he built himself while in high school. In our family, August 6th was always an important day because that’s the peak of the annual meteor shower and we would lie out in the grass on those warm summer nights waiting to see shooting stars.
My Dad loved Star Trek and James Bond movies. All those electronic gadgets, combined with his knowledge of physics and astronomy was an irresistible combination for him and we all knew, as kids, that we could stay up late when 007 was on TV.
And as a graduate of Notre Dame, my Dad was a big Joe Montana fan and I grew up watching American NFL Football on Sunday afternoons. We would sit in the TV room and watch the San Francisco 49ers with a bowl of peanuts and a Coors Light. We would say almost nothing for 3 hours. Those are some of my best memories.
Perhaps most of all, my Dad’s sense of humor lasted until his last days. Despite incredibly difficult circumstances, my Dad always had something clever to say. Even near the end when it was difficult for my Dad to speak, I would struggle to understand his words only to realize he was trying to tell a joke.
In so many ways, my Dad was an incredible man. And now, he is no longer with us. But I assure you he’s gone only in body.
I look at my oldest sister, Annette, and I see his modest and unassuming demeanor. Annette and her husband, Clement, are doing extremely well and are building a beautiful family together, but Annette never shows off. That’s my Dad’s humble confidence shining through.
I look at my second sister, Denise, and I see his methodical and pragmatic approach in life. Denise sets her sights on a target and always follows through. That’s my Dad’s logical and deliberate nature one generation removed.
I look at my brother, Thomas, and I see the complete absence of baseless fears and anxiety. To Tom, all problems are simple problems and he tackles each one without hesitation. My Dad was the exact same way.
And I look at myself and I see my Dad’s stubborn determination to live his own life. Dad, just like you, I am chasing my dream and I promise, Dad, I promise that I’ll create it for myself, just like you did before me.
And there are so many others among us who were inspired by the way he lived his life and his courage as it came to an end, and who now carry his spirit with them.
So my Dad may have passed away earlier this week but I know his legacy will live on. You are a part of us, Dad. You have given us something to live up to. You have set an example of kindness, patience and courage.
Dad, I love you. We all love you. Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for being my Quiet Hero. And thank you for being an amazing Dad.