For those of you who were able to attend, we thank you for joining us as we honored the life of George Brakhage.

Saturday, September 19, 2009
1:30-4:00, formal presentation starts at 2:00
Guests will be invited to speak after the family's presentation
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Unitarian Universalist Church
2615 Shepard Boulevard
Columbia, Missouri 65201

Eulogy, Peter Brakhage
[Act 2, Scene 7,
William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”
Soliloquy by Jaques (usually pronounced J'kez)]

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

William Shakespeare penned this rather melancholy observation of the cycle of a man’s life about 400 years ago. The work he left as his legacy is still performed on stages around the world to this day. Yet very little is known about him as a person.

My brother has well described my father’s professional legacy and his contributions to the foundations of modern waterfowl biology, which I imagine will also stand the test of time.

I wish to speak to my experience of my father’s character. I feel qualified to do so because I was there when I was born. In our immediate family, aside from my mother, I knew him the longest. While I don’t recall our first introduction, I remember our parting and I essentially spent 55 years observing the best and worst of George Brakhage.

I’m fascinated by the fact that one person can be many persons. People form their opinion of a person through observing and listening to that person through their own personal set of filters, biases, and prejudices.

I like to think of my father as a body of commitments. There was an extraordinary level of integrity between my father’s commitments and his actions, which isn’t to say that he never made mistakes. I’ll speak for myself only; on those rare occasions when he did make a mistake, I encountered a ready willingness to forgive and to move on with our deeply bonded relationship. Both of my parents have loved and supported me unconditionally.

My father’s commitment to be of service is well illustrated by his providing for his family and his service to his country and his profession.

My father’s commitment to his family was demonstrated by his support of the family and by his making time to spend with us. His career provided me the opportunity to have what I consider a dream childhood, wandering through the fields and woods of two wildlife refuges at will.

I often accompanied my father as he performed his professional duties. On one occasion, he was removing the eggs from an abandoned tub nest about 10 feet from the shore. I was standing at the water’s edge as he tossed the eggs over to me. I gingerly caught them and laid them on the ground; until the fourth egg. It broke in my hands and the stench of rotting egg rose to my nostrils as yellowish green goo dripped through my fingers while my father had a good laugh. It was easy enough to wash up in the water, so it wasn’t malicious. I think he was surprised that I caught intact as many as I did before one finally broke. (By the way Mom, afterwards he tossed the remaining eggs, which I was able to catch without breaking.)

Another time I accompanied him on official business to somewhere in southern Missouri in his station wagon. On the way back, we stopped at a Boy Scout camp to collect a rattlesnake that they had captured. It was in a burlap sack tied with string at the top. I’m not sure why Dad was interested in collecting the snake, but he put the bag on the back seat of the station wagon and we drove another couple of hours before we arrived back at Trimble. When my Dad opened the back door, he discovered the bag empty - so much for the knot tying skills of Boy Scouts. I’ll never forget how his face blanched as he picked up the empty bag. As it turned out, the snake was comfortably ensconced in the spare tire well of the car.

My father spent time with me individually and the family collectively. He took me on camping and hunting trips and the family enjoyed many memorable vacation trips, always to a natural area, my maternal grandparents farm(where I found out where food comes from and what is involved in producing it,) or to our paternal grandparents home where it was always a treat to observe the interactions between my father and his.

My father was committed to tolerance and respected others of differing creeds or races. He was not a religious man, but I would argue that he was a deeply spiritual man. He supported my mother’s wish to raise me in the Roman Catholic faith and the fifteen years that I spent as a believer provided many benefits to me for which I am very grateful. His motto was “Different strokes for different folks.”

I admired by father’s ability to conduct intellectual and manual labor equally well. He was observant and meticulous in his work as a scientist and he mastered what I consider the most difficult form of woodworking: carving symmetrical free form three-dimensional objects. My father was committed to forgiveness. I tested him in this area on many occasions. He forgave me for letting his favorite retriever escape from its pen, never to return. He forgave me for the damage I did to the car he used to commute to and from work. While he was on vacation with the rest of the family, I discovered that the engine of the car had to be disconnected from the transmission and lifted from the engine compartment to replace the leaking oil pan seal. He returned home from vacation with my family to find his car without its hood and the engine suspended from the ceiling joists of the garage. I assured him that I was almost done and soon had the car put back together. When he first started it, there was a loud crack and he asked what that was. “Oh, nothing.” I replied. That’s how I learned about torque wrenches. I hadn’t used a torque wrench to tighten the flywheel bolts to equal tension and the noise was the flywheel cracking. He spent over $300 having the transmission repaired, but he never reprimanded me for what I’d done. About 2 weeks after the transmission was repaired, I asked him why he hadn’t gotten mad at me for the damage that I had done to his car. His reply was that he really couldn’t be too angry because he was impressed that I had taken the initiative to take on such a complex project. He forgave me for standing in front of him as he gave me advice that I remembered and implemented in my twenties, though at the time, in my teen-aged arrogance, I worked as hard as I could to compose my face into a mask of boredom and insolence.

I most recently encountered the observation that “every man is either trying to live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes” in Barack Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope.” My father’s gift to me was to allow me to be free to be my own person. After I left home, he was always ready to provide advice, but only on request.

As I’ve aged, I’ve examined my experiences, beliefs, and habits. Honestly, my Dad could be acerbic, judgmental, and condescending at times. The facts of the past are unchangeable, but the past is mutable in the following way. Often, what happened becomes conflated with our interpretation of what happened. I have found it useful to become clear about simply identifying what happened by stripping away the interpretations. At that point it is simple to invent a variety of truthful, valid interpretations that can be attached to the facts and then choose the one that gives me the relationship and future that I am committed to have. I am at peace with my father. He was my father from the moment that I was conceived to the present. He lived a decent and honorable life and when he erred, he steered back to his commitments and principles. I don’t know how you can ask any more of a man. There is no person, past or present, who I respect more than I do my father. He was an exemplary human being.

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