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Eulogy for Charles Templeton

Eulogy for Charles Templeton

(From Charles Templeton Memorial Page)

All children worry about living up to their parents, and trying to surpass them. You can imagine what that was like with the parents we had. Nonetheless we each did it in a different way and made our father immeasurably proud.

People ask if I built an electronic newspaper as a way of getting into the family business, but frankly you must excuse me if I was confused as to exactly what the family business was. The doctors didn't know the disease back then, but it's clear my father had Career Attention Deficit Disorder. Good thing they didn't just give him Ritalin and divert his entire life.

On Memory: His disease took away his memories, bit by bit, and curiously took him on a backwards trip through time, remembering the distant past but little of the modern world. Still, those of us who work with computers know that it's vital to make a "backup" copy of your computer's memory. While his mind is extinguished, that backup exists today, in me and in all the other people in this room who knew him. His memories reside within us, and I hope you will share them amongst themselves at this reception.

Of course, I don't remember most of his life. Today, I turn 41, less than half the 85 2/3 years my father lived. My father had me after living a life longer than my own at this time. His entire religious career took place before I was born, including an 18 year marriage to his first wife, Connie. What he did before I was born was enough to more than fill an ordinary lifetime. He seemed able to tackle an avocation and get as far as one can go in it without devoting one's entire life, and then jump ship to start a new life. Sometimes when I read about that earlier version of my father, he seems like an entirely different man, though when I listen to him on tape, I know he is the same.

With dad's recently proclaimed agnosticism, and my mother's teenage departure from Catholicism, I was raised without religion. That was unusual, and somewhat scandalous in the 60s, but I was prepared for it through the best teacher. Even though he had given up the faith, religion remained his obsession for the rest of his life, as can be seen in his novels, and even in "Farewell to God." To his dying day, he expressed his admiration for Jesus the philosopher, whom he regularly declared to be, though not god, the greatest man who ever lived. Gandhi was his second favourite.

He liked to be an architect, using his old drawing skills on the drafting board. He built a log cabin on Balm Beach with his hands and then two homes on Pentang bay where we spent childhood summers. When the local inn down the road burnt to the ground, he bought it and built a grand home on its stone walls, with railroad trestle parts for the beams. He populated the houses with boats, snowmobiles and all the cottage toys teenage boys could want. He loved these homes and soon spent more time in them than in his much smaller places in town.

When I was a boy, dad got the job doing CKEY's morning newscast. He had enough leverage to insist he get to do the newscast from home. I helped him build a studio in the back room of our garage. The station installed one of the earliest fax machines, and later a teletype, to send him the copy in advance. Each morning, he would get up early, and go into the room to edit the copy for the morning's news, then do it over a special higher-fidelity leased line to the station. We would usually be listening to him do the news in the kitchen, the signal going from our house to the station, then over the air to our kitchen. I hope I don't break too many illusions by revealing that most mornings, he was doing the news not wearing any pants.

One morning everybody knew where he was. As we sat listening to the news, eating breakfast, a distinct sound kept coming in the background. Mrrrrreeeow. Mrrrrreeeow. One of the siamese cats that he has almost never been without had snuck into the room. I had to run out back quickly to extract the cat.

The teletype was also fun, allowing me to convince my friends that we had an artificially intelligent computer in our garage in 1970.

My dad was always encouraging of us not simply to think and debate but to invent. When he was patenting his child-proof cap, I designed one as well. In hindsight, I know my design wasn't workable, but he still shopped it around to the same companies, or at least let me believe this was so.

While my father's sense of humour may not have been quite up the level of his other skills, he did know how to use his connections to pull a good prank. When I was of the age where one comes to doubt Santa Claus, I got very analytical. I put up tripwires in the fireplace and other traps to no avail. (At least I was cleverer than I was many years earlier, when Santa had visited and I asked him why he was wearing Daddy's watch.)

I decided to write a letter to Santa from a fake boy at our address, asking for a different gift list. I guarded it dilligently, then took it to the mailbox all the way on the next block to mail it myself. A week later, a letter arrived claiming to be from the north pole. It asked about my letter, saying there as no record of the boy I had named living at our address. I was flabbergasted, and figured that somehow they had intercepted my letter in the postal system. In fact they had just tricked a young boy when he wasn't looking. My father got on the phone with me and called the Postmaster General of Canada. He got the postmaster to assure me that the post office would never deliver a letter to anywhere but the specified address.

I will get more serious and curse Alzheimer's disease. While there are many dreadful ways to depart life, this ranks among the most cruel. When my father wrote "Farewell to God" - a book he remarkably was able to complete even though the first symptoms of the disease were affecting him - one of his key motives for rejecting the god of the bible was not simply the cruelty and evil in the world, but the needless cruelty. Had he known more about Alzheimer's he would surely have made it a capstone to his list. To watch your mind, your very self, being inexorably destroyed is a dreadful thing. Though to counter the evil of having to tell the victim again and again of bad news, you do get the opportunity to tell good news again and again as though it is for the first time. Each time my father would ask how I was doing, and I would tell him of my success in business, he would shine with pride and run to tell Madeleine the good news. It does improve as you lose the ability to comprehend the disease itself, and enter a childlike state, living entirely in the present, with the cares of the world far away. This state doesn't last for long.

I discuss this wretched topic because my father's strength showed most clearly in his battle with the disease. Research has shown that those who exercise their minds suffer less from it, and exercise his mind he did, all through his life and into his old age. As the disease progressed, each day he would do mind exercises, picking words and spelling them backwards to sharpen his mind. He kept his vocabulary until the very end, and was able to hold a meaningful, if repetitive conversation with you until just months ago. But then, he liked to retell his favourite stories many times even when he was healthy. Other victims, including Ronald Reagan, lose all ability to speak years before the end.

He was sometimes more aware than we knew of his condition. Living in California as I do, I could not visit very frequently, so each time his condition was considerably worse. After he had to go into the home, I realized that there might not be much of him left the next time I came. As such, I prepared myself for a final goodbye with his working mind, and had that emotional experience.

As confused as he was, when the visit was over and I hugged him and said, "goodbye," he responded with a plaintive "Goodbye for now you mean." He had seen through me.

Woody Allen reportedly joked that while some people want to achieve immortality through their works or their children, he would rather achieve immortality by not dying. That option is not yet available, but my father's works live on, and we his children and grandchildren contain him within us.

Much of his life is documented in his book "An Anecdotal Memoir" which is out of print, but which I will try to get scanned and put on the web. At the end of the book, he wrote that he sometimes felt that his whole life had been an attempt to impress his aloof and never-present father. He considered titling the memoir, "Hey Dad, look at me."

He can be proud of the life he led, and the legacy he left, and the we, who turned out to be - well, mostly turned out to be - just what he wanted.

Hey Dad, look at me.