In Absentia – Happy Fathers Day Chet Fish, Jr

SKF NOTE: Happy Fathers Day to my dad, Chet Fish, Jr. Dad was a magazine and book editor. Among his five children I’m the only one who followed somewhat his career path.

Last year my dad died. My brothers and sisters asked me to give the eulogy at dad’s funeral Mass. A tough assignment I wasn’t convinced I could handle, but I did. Here’s what I said:

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Chet Fish Eulogy
by Scott K Fish
April 2, 2019

I am Scott Fish, Chet’s second son. My mom and dad have four other children: Craig, Maribeth, Andrea, and Brian.

Those of you who read dad’s obituary know my parents also considered Marco Toninelli a son, and Mary Stouffer a daughter.

Marco lived one year in NY with Claire and Chet as an AFS student. He arrived unable to speak English. No one in our family spoke Italian.

In the end, Marco was fluent in English, and my parents were fluent in Italian.

Maribeth has the eternal gratitude and love of her brothers and sisters as primary caregiver for both our parents.

Mary Stouffer earns the “You Got a Friend in Me” award for having Maribeth’s back during those care giving years.

Thank you, Mary and Marco.

Chet’s family — his children and his grandchildren — Tess, Katie, and Patrick — are his greatest legacy.

My brothers and sisters and I each have unique Chet stories, and Chet stories we share in common. As Craig said recently, Chet was almost 94 years old.

That’s a lot of stories.

The times I heard Chet speak in public, he began by starting out promising his audience to abide by the Three B’s of public speaking: Be Brief, Be Brilliant, Be Gone.

I will do the same.

If Chet had a parenting philosophy — I think he did — it was this: to raise us kids to be self sufficient.

More than once, Chet told me he raised us to leave home, self-sufficient, at age 18. We were always welcome in his home, he said, but he hoped, after age 18 we wouldn’t be living there.

In junior high school, if memory serves, dad decreed the school night hours from 7:00 to 9:00 as “homework time.” No tv. We were to be in our rooms doing homework. If we weren’t doing homework, we at least needed to be quiet.

I thought homework time was cruel and unusual punishment. Kids on the school bus the next day were talking about 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaii Five-0 — all the cool shows I missed.

But as an adult, I believe homework time was one of dad’s best decisions. Truth be told, I rarely used the time to do homework. But, I did use the time to read books, to learn to write, to do research, and to study. And, with my radio playing very, very softly, I also began learning about popular music.

These are the skills I used — and still use — in my professional life.

Chet taught us survival skills: how to build a campfire — even with flint and steel; how to tie rope knots, how to police a campsite; how to catch a fish and prepare it for eating, how to cook over a campfire; how to shoot a rifle, gun safety; how to use axes, knives, hatchets; how to plant and care for trees and plants. How to train dogs.

My sister Andrea reminded me of our religious upbringing — a tremendous foundation of schooling and church participation, of spiritual curiosity that has remained — and grown — with all Chet’s children.

And sister Maribeth pointed out Dad’s devout Catholicism which grew from his adult conversion. What started out as Dad’s studying Roman Catholicism to poke holes in his wife’s faith, became Dad’s conversion, which meant a great deal to him.

Andrea said of Chet, “When I think of the arc of his life I see him as an example of faith and constancy. Greatest generation and all that…enlisting in the US Navy right out of high school, married to his high school sweetheart for his whole life, ambitious but not materialistic, scrupulously honest, highly sensitive BS meter, not outwardly sentimental but easily brought near tears by sentimental moments. He had his eye on the “God” ball pretty much all the time and lived his life accordingly.”

That, too, is self-sufficiency. For this world — and the next.

I wish my dad had more interest, especially in the latter part of his life, to initiate communications with his adult kids living out-of-state.

Especially when he and mom stopped traveling and became homebodies.

Chet was not “a phone person,” and never warmed to computers or internet technology.

He acted as if he was afraid if he pushed a wrong button the family computer would self-destruct in a shower of sparks and smoke.

It wasn’t that Chet couldn’t use modern communications tools.

For example, Maribeth bought dad an iPhone. One day, out of the blue, I received a self-initiated FaceTime call from dad. He also Face-Timed Craig at a restaurant, and his son-in-law, Buzz Hofmann, out on the golf course.

That surprised the heck out of us all.

One of my last calls to dad was perhaps our best phone conversation. Nearing the call’s end, dad said, “Well, Scott. This has been a good phone call. But we probably shouldn’t count on doing this on a regular basis.”

My brother, Brian, wrote yesterday of Chet’s death, “I have come to understand the word ‘departed” more. As my friends and folks pass on, I do feel they have left for a different place. It is not a sad feeling entirely, but one of “See you again” and mystery.

I feel the same.

Thank you, dad. Well done.

We’ll catch up some other time.

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