Remembering Dad on the 21st Anniversary of His Passing

Lighting a candle, and sharing parts of the eulogy I wrote and delivered at his funeral so many years ago.

Dmytro Cipywnyk — Eulogy

By Paul Cipywnyk

Всечесні Отці, Пане Присіднику, Шановні Гості, Дорогі Друзі, Пані і Панове! Мені припала честь віддати останню прислугу нашому батькові, попращати його, в імені родини, з чемністю і повагою… висловити прилюдно нашу вдячність, нашу любов, і наш смуток… і згадати його осягнення — не як працівник на громадські ниві — але як двайливий батько, брат, дідо, і вуйко.

My father’s accomplishments in the service of his community, his church, his profession, and his country are a matter of record.

Doctor, Member of the Order of Canada, president of numerous organizations, chair of many committees and groups, tireless worker for just causes  — while these may define his career and achievements, they do not adequately describe the special place he occupied in the hearts of his family, and the role he played in their lives. It is to this more private part of his life that I wish to devote my remarks.

Dad’s life was working with people. Sure he’d get frustrated by some committee or bored with a particular meeting, but accomplishing goals with others was the driving force in his life. He knew people could make a difference if they all pulled together. He would place his trust in others, and they returned it in spades. Dad knew that placing trust and high expectations upon someone would more than likely result in a job well done.

I’ll share the following illustration, though I hope the statute of limitations on driving infractions doesn’t exceed 25 years. Dad was a busy man, and he often traveled on business. I was always a big kid for my age, and I was fascinated with cars. Once when I was about 14 and on a school break, he took me to Regina for a meeting. He was behind on paperwork, and muttered about catching up as he drove, so I laughingly said, “Hey, Dad, why don’t I drive, and you can work?” He gave me a long sideways look, measured me up and down, and to my mixed horror and excitement said: “Do you think you can handle it?” He pulled over, we switched places, and he got the safest, smoothest, and slowest ride of his life from Saskatoon to Regina. His only tip: “Don’t drive too slowly or you’ll make the police suspicious.”

Throughout his life, even as his career advanced and he took on responsibilities up to the international level, Dad retained an unpretentious, childlike wonder about life, society and the world. He would gleefully recount events at ceremonies, laughing at all the pomp and circumstance. “Whoo-weee! You should have seen the food, the decorations, the clothes!” Yet he was always, shall we say, modest, about his personal appearance.

Raissa remembers meeting Dad in Victoria when she was living on the West Coast and he was out for a conference. He took time out of his schedule to take a long walk with her through Victoria’s Uplands area of mansions and Mercedes-Benzes. Dad was wearing his customary navy suit and tie, and navy trench coat, as they walked through a light rain having a deep father-daughter talk. Raissa recalls turning toward him to make an important point, only to stop mid-sentence and stare in wonder, for unbeknownst to her, he’d placed a hotel shower cap on his head to keep his hair dry. She realized then that cars had been slowing down not to stare at the immense estates, but to ogle the strange apparition walking beside her. However, as a good daughter, she bit her tongue. Maura and several other people can confirm this behavior. Dad never passed up a free shower cap.

Dad perfected the power nap. He was admired for his ability to snooze any time, anywhere. Likely developed during days of getting up before dawn to feed the livestock and going to sleep well after sunset as he was growing up on the farm, and then reinforced during the long, chaotic hours of medical school and internship, he could drop off for 20 minutes and arise completely rejuvenated.

This behaviour had the occasional drawback, however. He came home from the office one day chortling about scaring the wits out of his secretary. Feeling the need to recharge, he had dropped onto the floor in front of his desk for a few winks, only to have his secretary walk in and scream, thinking he’d had a heart attack. I also recall helping out at the farm — Dad was driving a tractor late on a summer evening, and I was a five- or six-year-old sitting in his lap. I was drifting in and out of slumber as the sun set, nodding off to the rhythmic sound of the engine and the surging and rocking as we traversed the soft, black earth. Well, I guess Dad thought he could time a nap into a lap down the field, for the next thing I remember was a resounding thump as we drove over a fence post.

Faithful is a word that describes Dad perfectly. Faithful to his mother, whom he visited almost daily, or telephoned no matter where he was. Faithful to his family and friends who could always count on him to be there with his empathy and level-headed reasoning no matter what the issue, or the circumstance. Just like he always phoned his mother, Dad had a soft spot for all lonely people, and I suspect there are many in this room who miss him as his family does. Whenever I was in town for a visit, and we had plans to do things together, I’d find him in his office on the phone. “Just ten more minutes,” he’d say. “I just want to call Pani X because her husband is in the hospital” or, “I’ll just check on Mr. Y, because his wife passed away last month….” He never lost that personal touch, never forgot the value of a kind word.

Dad had a temper, but you would be hard-pressed to unleash it. He preferred reasoning to shouting, persuasion to obstinacy, and logic to anger. I don’t think he ever raised his hand to his children. The closest I recall to getting a walloping was one Sunday morning when I was about 10 and starting to question authority. The time to leave for church was fast approaching, and I was sitting on the stairs whining that I didn’t want to go. After about 10 minutes of “debate,” my eyes popped in amazement as Dad suddenly came charging up the stairs, picked me up by the seat of my quivering PJs, carried me to my room, looked me straight in the eye, and told me to be dressed and back downstairs in 3 minutes.

Dad was a liberated man before his time. If there was work to be done, it got done — it didn’t matter if it was “women’s” work, or if it was something people thought a person of his supposed stature shouldn’t have to do. Kitchen apron or surgical smock, it made no difference to him.

And that approach to work and life is what led to his accomplishments. He was not a natural student who breezed through classes. He had to struggle. It was hard work, discipline and perseverance that resulted in the honors that befell him in his later years. Honors that he accepted with a mixture of embarrassment, and, as he would readily admit, a touch of pride.

Dad was born in a simple house on a Saskatchewan farm in 1927. Life was far from easy growing up in the 30s and 40s, as his brother and sisters, and many of his generation in the audience here today, can attest to.

The Cipywnyk name had its pluses and minuses. One drawback I was reminded of as I was working on this eulogy at Dad’s desk in his office, is spelling. The Bachelor of Arts, Master of Science and Doctor of Medicine degrees over his desk all have different spellings of his name. Yet there were benefits as well. He was driving through the States back in the 70s and was pulled over by a highway patrolman who had an issue with accelerating through yellow lights. Dad handed over his drivers license, the trooper perused it for a long time with furled brow, and finally said: “How do you say your name and address?” “Well,” said Dad, “I’m Doctor Dmytro Cipywnyk of 406 Quance Avenue, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.” The trooper thought about that for a minute, sighed, and said: “Well Doc, I dunno about where you come from, but here, green means go, yellow means SLOW DOWN, and red means stop. You be careful, you hear?”

Dad loved being outdoors. He loved driving to the cabin at Wakaw Lake with our little dog Ergie draped over his shoulders. He loved her so much, he never had the heart to get another dog when she died. I think one of the little rituals he most enjoyed was stepping outside the cabin with Ergie at the lake just before going to bed, so the two of them could “commune with nature” together. The chickadees and squirrels will miss him, though perhaps the beavers that gnawed his beloved poplars will get some relief. He loved thunderstorms and the sound of rain on a roof. Raissa remembers that even in the city, when the sky crackled with lightning and the ground shook with thunder, he’d drop everything and sit with her for hours on the front steps, tasting the electricity in the air and drinking in the storm as it made its way over the University fields.

Dad had an open, questing mind. Though he had little time for relaxation, he always read books on a wide variety of subjects, and kept his finger on the pulse of his community and nation. He was an adventuresome eater and would try anything. He surprised my wife Yumi by wanting a portion of everything we had when he and Maura visited us in Japan, including some raw fish at a sushi place, and varieties of green tea. He even partook of the hottest, most garlicky kimchi when visiting Raissa and Bill in Korea.

In his younger days Dad dabbled with playing the violin. That activity fell fallow for decades, but he took it up again in his 70s, telling Maura it was good for his soul. He reveled in taking lessons and getting together with friends for basement jam sessions to scrape out Ukrainian folk songs and dances. In a moving effort, he fought off a bad case of stage fright to play “Amazing Graze” at Maura’s mother’s funeral last year, because Mom Gillis had loved to listen to him play.

And on that final note, this sharing of stories must come to an end, as all stories, and lives do. I’d like to say a few more words in Ukrainian describing the man my father was, and how we are going to remember him.

Нащ батько був завзятий, працьовитий, розсудний, справедливий, приступний і чуйний. І таким ми будемо його памятати. Спи спокійним сном, дорогий тату, і знай що будемо тебе часто споминати — “ие злим, тихим словом” — але з пошаною, вдячністю, і любовю.

We love you, Dad.