Eulogy for our Father
My sister and I worked on this together, and we are so grateful that you are here today. Dad always loved a good funeral. He would come home from a funeral, call one of us, and proceed to give the funeral a review. So Kathy and I are really feeling the pressure to make this funeral a memorable one.
We’ve been truly overwhelmed by the incredible postings on his blog and the emails and phone calls. Many people have focused on Dad’s impressive accomplishments as a journalist. But just as many people have commented on what a proud father he was. Today I want to talk about our Dad as Kathy and I knew him.
Dad was, at heart, a great idealist, even a champion for social justice. In high school in the 1950’s, he would insist on having his Latino, African American, and Native American friends over to dinner, even when some of my grandparents’ friends were appalled.
Dad was in Birmingham on the day of the church bombings, and in Los Angeles the night that Bobby Kennedy was shot. These events shaped his thinking for the rest of his life. Maybe this explains why, in later years, he became passionate about helping disadvantaged youth—helping kids from around the country prepare for college, supporting college scholarships for kids at my alma mater, Grant High School, and helping young MetPro reporters succeed at the Times. I think Dad’s belief in social justice also explains why he, a Republican for most of his life, became so excited in the last months of his life about supporting Barack Obama for President.
Late in his career, when he approached his consumer column with such zeal, it was because he believed that someone had to stand up for common people contending with corrupt or inept companies. And it made a great impact on us when Dad waged spirited and courageous defenses of his fellow reporters and their trade while men with no knowledge of print journalism tried to run the Los Angeles Times like it was a cereal company.
Many of you have written that Dad could be cantankerous, irascible, and contentious. Let me add short tempered and choleric. But all of you have noted Dad’s other sides. As his son I received a fair share of groundings and other common punishments. But one of the things I liked is that they nearly never lasted long. Dad just didn’t have the heart for it. Although he could say mean things, Dad was not mean.
Dad knew he wasn’t the easiest person in the world to deal with, and as a result, he was unbelievably loyal and generous to his friends and family. As the oldest member of his generation in our large extended family, he was a major influence—not always for good—on his many cousins. He liked to tell us how he and his cousin Marilyn once spiked the Passover wine with vodka.
Dad collected friends throughout his life, in Palm Springs, at Dartmouth, at the Times, in his travels. In March he celebrated his 70th birthday in Palm Springs, and more than a dozen of his high school teachers and classmates attended the party. In 1968, on an around-the-world trip, he looked up a friend’s old pen pal in Bombay, and became close friends with him. In fact, the last email he sent was to this friend, A.S. Abraham. Once you were Dad’s friend, you were his friend for life. I think it’s an amazing testament to our dad that many of you here today knew and loved him longer than we did. The love and attention of his family and friends, especially his sister Carolyn and brother-in-law Lowell, truly sustained him over the last couple of years as his health was deteriorating.
But, as many of you noted, we always came first. Dad adored us from the start, but in our earliest years he wasn’t around as much. He was traveling for work, especially during the 1976 presidential campaign. But when my parents divorced a couple of years later, Dad insisted on joint custody, and he suddenly had us three nights a week and started taking us on his reporting trips.
He didn’t always know what he was doing as a father. He wasn’t a great cook, and he was terrible with doing things like assembling toys. My sister remembers some of those early days at Dad’s house. He got it into his head that good fathers read their children a bedtime story every night. The first story he read to Kathy was a horrific tale of an African farmer being tormented by a colony of killer ants. My sister had nightmares for weeks. Dad suggested that the best way to rid her mind of the killer ants was to read another book. He suggested Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
But the key thing with Dad was the unceasing effort and the obvious devotion and joy behind his parenting. Dad’s and Mom’s agreeing to joint custody was not common; most parents would not have done that. Dad’s habit of giving me ½ birthday cakes for my half birthday wasn’t normal either, but I really loved getting them.
Dad did some typical Dad things but he did them even better, like taking me to 25 Dodger Baseball Games a year, including the first game of the 1988 World Series when Kirk Gibson hit his historic walk off home run.
And Dad did some other atypical things to help raise us. Thanks to Dad, we grew up thinking that all children meet Presidents and dine with political leaders. He viewed the Olympic assignment as the greatest accomplishment of his career, and he made it a formative experience for us as well. Thanks to Dad, we had insider access to the Sarajevo and Los Angeles Olympics, and went on trips chasing the international Olympic committee around the world to India, Switzerland, Monaco, and Holland. And because he was a consummate newsman, we were always sure to be advised of the latest important headlines or the early exit polling in an election.
Dad always had our moral development in mind, instilling in us a sense of social responsibility. He stressed the importance of not just accepting the status quo. He taught us about civil rights and the political process even before we could read. My sister and I have both made commitments to public service in our lives, and Dad’s influence is one reason for that.
Finally, Dad was as obsessive about his grandchildren Abigail and Jonathan as he was about us. When Abby was barely a month old, he tried to convince Kathy that Abby was extraordinarily intelligent, constantly giving her elders what he called “an appraising look.” Last night, as Kathy and I were writing this eulogy, Abby, who is now almost 5, chimed in with a suggestion: “How about if you say, Papa Ken was a very, very good man.”
I’d like to conclude with one of Dad’s most important traits. He was always an optimist. His last published words were, “This is a bad time in the newspaper business, as it is, economically for the country in so many ways. But, I fully believe, brighter days will come, and we must do what we can to ensure that they do.” Dad, thanks to what you have given us, we and many of those you have touched will continue to do what we can to work for brighter days. We love you and we will miss you.