Happy birthday to the other Henry in my life

Today – one day after my son Henry’s birthday – would have been my dad, Hank Allison’s birthday. Henry was named after his grandfather, my father, Henry Roger Allison, III, who died very suddenly in September of 2008. It was a great shock to all of us.

Losing my youngest cousin in 2005, my grandfather in 2006, my father in 2008 and then my own son in 2010 has been very difficult, as you might imagine – a lengthy season of loss for our family. Before 2005, however, I had only been to two or three funerals or memorial services in my life. I was very lucky for very many years; death was something very foreign to me. Now it’s something all too familiar.


Hank and toddler Henry checking out the new firetruck in Bell Buckle

birthday 2

Here is the beautiful eulogy that my brother Robert delivered at my father’s memorial service. As you may notice, he and his namesake, Henry Granju, had some things in common.

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Eulogy for Hank Allison

September 11, 2008

My Dad’s death was sudden and unexpected. Many of us here are in shock. We are all in mourning. His life had not been perfect lately and there is a lot I could talk about given all of that. But I don’t want to. Instead, I want to tell you about an idealist in a flawed world. Most of all, I want to tell you about a great father.

Hank Allison was a real man living in a world where there were not many real men left. My Dad was a writer, a farmer, a scholar, a lawyer and a 21st century hands on father. He could castrate a bull, change a diaper, write a legal brief, break a horse, interview a politician, grow organic squash, swap out an alternator, broadcast live television, teach his children algebra, navigate by the stars, patch a roof and cut down huge trees with a woefully inadequate chainsaw.

He liked to drive fast and listen to loud music. He loved the excitement of politics. He loved to eat. He loved good parties – sometimes too much. He loved guns and knives and camping and fishing and hunting.

And he loved his children. My dad was my role model. I wanted to be like him because he could do anything and he knew everything. I wanted to be like him because life was always exciting to him and he was never cynical.

My dad was a loving, hands-on father. He tucked us in. He helped me stretch out my legs when I pulled muscles in soccer games. He thawed me out when I fell through the ice in the neighbor’s pond. He would hold us and comfort us when we were sad. When we were sick he would let us sleep in bed with him.

Once when I was 12, he took some of my friends and me camping at Savage Gulf. It was really cold and half way through the night I couldn’t take it anymore. He pulled me into his sleeping bag and held me and kept me warm until morning. He didn’t sleep but I did. He even woke me up and got me back into my bag before my friends woke up to make fun of me.

My father was always teaching and preaching and explaining. He repeated the same themes over and over to my sisters and me. All of our lives it seemed like he was preparing us for the day when he would no longer be there to guide us.

Among these themes – these lessons – the one that he emphasized the most was: that it is easier to work than to worry; that it is more liberating to take a hand in the game than to sit down on your hands, and that nothing was ever accomplished or changed with whining and complaining.

Essentially, he taught us that if you want something to happen, you have to make it happen. And if you don’t care enough about something to take action, then it probably is not worth complaining or worrying about. These lessons were a great gift – gifts that I am trying to pass on to my children.

But the greatest gift my father ever gave me was the gift of idealism and a hope for something better. My father was a complex man who spent his whole life trying to make sense out of a senseless world. He tried his hand at being a military man, a company man, an anti-materialist, hippie farmer, a family man, a shameless materialist consumer and an artist.

Along the way, he touched a lot of people who loved and still love him. But he was never able to realize that his search for meaning sometimes obscured just how good he already had it. I guess none of us really appreciate how good we have it.

My father suffered from depression. Some people say that depression is anger directed inward. I think that in my father’s case, it was disappointment directed inward – disappointment at not being able to find or create the just, sensitive, loving world that he was so sure was out there somewhere.

But he never stopped trying. And that made life for his children exciting and meaningful. For that, I am forever thankful.

My Dad died too young. I feel cheated. I can’t pick his brain anymore and my children will never have a chance to truly know him.

But I also feel honored – honored to have been raised by someone who actually tried to be human. Someone who was not content just going through the motions. Someone who actually felt like there were answers to be had if only you looked harder.

And who knows – maybe there are answers. I suppose one day we will all find out.

My dad found out last Saturday. I am sure he was thrilled to finally grasp the object of his lifelong search.

I only wish he were here to tell me what he learned.

Goodbye Dad. I love you.
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Hank Allison
A Tall Man Among Men

Hank Video
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