This is an adapted version of my eulogy for my father, Barry Walter Burlaga, given in February 2017.
As a way to remember our nation’s Bicentennial a Philadelphia radio station asked listeners to write in with stories of how they had celebrated it. This one was written by our dad and was read on the air.
A Most Memorable Summer
Like many I recall the bicentennial summer in my own special way. We lived with two smaller daughters on a tiny cobblestoned street in a colonial rowhouse we remodeled. Our block was home to “young urban professionals”, not yet so labeled, who really liked each other. Philadelphia had a delightfully liveable center city.
My company’s purge like most, was badly timed, and hurt our hard earned economic momentum and our spirit. But, that memorable summer my wife began a new career, while my two small sidekicks hiked me around the city so we could get acquainted and grow together. The city looks different sitting on the ground enjoying a puppet show, rather than from a lofty office. Block party food is as good as executive dining room fare. Real queens are as impressive in humility, as corporate royalty and would be kings.
Our lives changed in Philadelphia that summer because we learned a family needs inner direction, community and freedom. We became one of an endangered species, the American family. Philadelphia was a terrific place to live, and must be reclaimed from spoilers, manipulators and exploiters in high places and at sidewalk level, and returned with freedom from anxiety to families and communities.
A lot had changed for our family that summer. My dad left banking, my mom went back to work, and sister Sally and I needed to be taken care of with not a whole lot of money.
I don’t think it was one conscious decision, but rather a series of events that brought us to Dad realizing what his family really needed. Him. Specifically for him to actively participate in taking care of us. My parents bought a store in center city Philadelphia, and my dad framed pictures. We were there after school up until we moved to Beach Haven, New Jersey.
Barry was a big believer in things happening for a reason and listening to your gut.
When we moved, I was in sixth grade at Beach Haven Elementary School. It was a bit of a tough entry for me coming into such a tight knit class, but by the spring I had definitely made friends. Then softball season happened. All of my Beach Haven friends played for the Village Pub team. I signed up and was excited to play. Unfortunately the league decided they could not take one more sixth grade player because they were full. I was told I could play for the North Beach Haven team Sink R’ Swim. I didn’t want to, but my dad encouraged me multiple times, with a lot of tears. I am sure he said something about fate or something like that... I also heard him in his booming voice arguing with the coach about the ridiculousness of them not letting me play, and then trying to appeal to her by saying that the move hadn’t been so easy on me. Either way, it didn’t matter they wouldn’t budge and I went to play for Sink R’ Swim.
All things do happen for a reason. I met the girl that would be one of my best friends all through high school. Meeting her brought a whole new group of friends. Friends I probably never would have become so close with.
Years later, the same softball friend, having moved to the Florida Keys, was working on a scuba boat. She was making small talk with a pregnant passenger on the charter boat where she was working. Next thing I know I am sending her my resume and on my way to my first job in New York. Dad only asked me once if I was sure I wanted to do it. And when I was said yes he said he would drive me to Queens where I would crash on a friend of a friend’s couch. When we got there, he gave me a hug and a kiss, told me to “THINK”, a very Barry thing to do. There I was starting one of the biggest adventures of my life.
Barry was not a quick guy. He thought about things A LOT. He deliberated. He weighed out his options. And always wanted to look at all possibilities. Honestly, it often drove me crazy. And we did butt heads. But, there was one day in particular that I really appreciated these qualities in my dad.
We were at a family event in Bucks County Pennsylvania. When it was over, and I don’t recall why, Sally and Mom went one way and Dad and I went the other. We ended up riding through Upper Black Eddy where he grew up. He started telling me stories about riding his bike through the hills with his friends, outdoor adventures, stuff I had never heard. It struck me as being very “Stand By Me” and I was totally into it. Because as honest and open with us as he was about a lot of things, he didn’t talk much about his childhood.
So here we are riding on a winding road and we both see something. He slows down, and crossing the road is the biggest land turtle I have ever seen. His shell had to have been at least 2-feet across! We were completely mesmerized watching this old timer cross the road. When another car was coming up, Dad flashed his lights, and they slowed down. So now there were two cars watching the very slow, very deliberate moves of this turtle crossing the road. It was one of the coolest things I ever watched. I talked with Dad about the path of the turtle, the fact that he was heading for a creek Dad knew was down below where we were riding, and speculating on just how old that turtle was.
The turtle wasn’t in a hurry. We weren’t in a hurry. This was now totally our turtle. We were completely invested in his journey and success. When he finally crossed the road, we had huge smiles. I think we even cheered a bit. Dad slowly started up the car and we were on our journey again. We stopped for ice cream, listened to the radio, and talked about his grandparent’s farm. That turtle really was so Barry. Slow and steady finishes the race. I gave him a little stuffed turtle for his birthday and it rode in his car until the stuffing came out.
A few years after that, I came home and announced at Thanksgiving I was moving to San Francisco. Again, he only asked once if I was sure I wanted to do it. On the day the movers showed up in Brooklyn, he drove up and gave me one of my most prized possessions. It was his childhood wagon. He completely restored it. New paint job and working lights. He made sure the movers got it on the truck and then sat with me on the front stoop while the rest of my possessions were loaded in.
Of course, there are many more stories and moments in time I will hold onto when I think about our dad, but these are some important ones for me. Sally wrote perfectly in the obituary that to remember our dad invest in your retirement and plant a garden. I would like to add one more. Look at some of my dad’s choices as examples of how to raise thoughtful and strong girls. And, likewise raise thoughtful and strong boys. Those two things don’t have to be independent of each other.
Barry, the gentle giant, was both thoughtful and strong and he taught Sally and I to do our best to be that way too.