Tribute: James Dennis Hogan, 11/3/40-11/25/21

My father died on Thanksgiving Day. He had just turned 81, and after 80 healthy years, he had spent the last seven months of his life battling pancreatic cancer. We’ve spent the last four months or so trying to pick up the pieces. This past weekend we paid tribute to my Dad, traveling to Ohio to celebrate his life with family and friends. When it was my turn to share, this is more or less what I said:

When I started teaching fourth grade about five or six years ago, I had to teach students how to write five paragraph essays. The curriculum guide suggested writing a model essay with the claim: “My Father is one of my most important teachers.” At the time, I kind of shrugged and thought, well, I can work with that. But year after year, as I thought about this claim and searched for reasons and evidence and wrote about it, I came to realize that my father had taught me more than I had ever imagined.

First, Dad taught me to think of others. He was unfailingly polite and could be quite a charmer. He enjoyed chatting with people. More than once when I was wandering around talking to medical personnel, trying to track down some random schedule detail or information, the person helping me, upon hearing my dad’s name, would say, “Oh, I remember your Dad! Tell him I’m thinking about him. He’s such a nice guy.” In a word (or two), he was ever affable and gracious, and everyone enjoyed interacting with him.

Dad also taught me to work hard and to get through tough times. Whether it was professionally or personally, Dad didn’t shirk. He reinvented his professional life multiple times, rising above some big challenges. He didn’t moan or groan about it, he just got done what needed to be done. Only as an adult could I begin to appreciate how challenging some of those times must have been. On a lighter note, I also distinctly remember him out mowing the lawn at our home in Pittsburgh, even though his allergies always kicked into gear. He would repeatedly stop to pull out his ubiquitous handkerchief and blow his nose. Then start mowing again. Stop. Blow. Mow. Stop. Blow. Mow. Getting the job done. Meanwhile, I was often cooking him a cake in my Easy Bake oven. Now that’s a memory that still makes me smile.

Above all, Dad taught me the power of a well-played word. He had a great vocabulary and a wonderful sense of humor. He enjoyed using his wit to come up with the perfectly timed quip to make people laugh. He was quick and often quite funny. He had such a marvelous twinkle in his eye when he delivered punch lines or slipped in the perfect jest. He loved using interesting words and finding just the precise word to say what he meant. For example, Dad often reminded me that my face was dolichocephalic. (dolly-co-cephalic) You can look that up. (Believe it or not, somehow that one came up in conversation more than one might imagine. )

Dad was also a terrific punster. One fond childhood memory I have was of taking road trips, usually to visit our grandparents in Ligonier, and asking him to tell the story of “Falling Rock” . Dad  had concocted quite a tale for our enjoyment about how Falling Rock was a young Indian boy who had strayed from his tribe. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember begging for the story. And I remember it ended something like, “And that’s why to this very day you still see signs that say “Watch for Falling Rock.”

Over the last year, Dad taught me so much more. He taught me how to handle the worst of situations with dignity, grace and humor. Over and over again when things were tough, he made the best of it. Throughout everything, he kept his sense of humor and dry wit at hand.

Toward the end of his life, he was talking with my niece on the telephone. She said, “So Grandpa, how are you handling everything.”
Dad, now restricted to the hospital bed in his bedroom, paused, and then replied to her, succinctly and true to form, “With style.”

One of my most treasured memories is of Dad and me sitting together this past fall, writing limericks. When writing limericks, Dad always included the name of a city and he was bold in his choices (I mean who tries to rhyme with Cincinnati!?). He also didn’t let rhythm and complete rhyme hold him back. So, it seemed only fitting to include a limerick today—and in honor of Dad, I’m including a city name and taking a little bit of license with the rhyming.

There once was a man from Aurora
who was a bold verbal explorer
Though not always loquacious
he was ever sagacious
And without him our lives are much poorer

Not long before Dad died, I told him about writing essays about him with my fourth grade students. I told him how I’d come to realize how much I’d learned from him. I shared all my reasons and examples and finally I thanked him.

Dad listened while I talked, and after I finished, he looked at me and said, in his typical, understated way, “Well, Molly, I never knew I taught you all that.”

Well, you did, Dad, you did.

23 thoughts on “Tribute: James Dennis Hogan, 11/3/40-11/25/21

  1. Janet F. says:

    So beautiful, Molly. I’m crying for your loss, yet I am basking in knowing how beaytiful your dad is and how much you were loved. He will be near you always. Keep your ears alert. You will receive his voice and wisdom as often as you need it. He did what every parent needs to do for a child. Love, teach, guide, shine.
    With fondness for sharing this in your time of recognizing and celebrating his life. There’s no rule you have to “say goodbye.” My dad passed at 85 in 2005. My mom in 2017. My dad, especially, lives by my side. It has helped immensely.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. maryleehahn says:

    Beautiful, but with a chuckle for the limerick.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Joan Leotta says:

    Wonderful tribute On Tue, Apr 12, 2022 at 5:45 AM Nix the comfort zone wrote:

    > mbhmaine posted: ” My father died on Thanksgiving Day. He had just turned > 81, and after 80 healthy years, he had spent the last seven months of his > life battling pancreatic cancer. We’ve spent the last four months or so > trying to pick up the pieces. This past wee” >


  4. Patty McLaughlin says:

    Oh Molly, Your writing today brought me to tears. Your dad sounds like quite the guy. I love the fact that you shared writing together, and so glad that you were able to share with him all the things he taught you. Hugs, Patty PS – I hope you can relax and enjoy some of vacation

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a beautiful tribute—thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tabatha says:

    I love that the assignment you gave your students gave you an opportunity to dig into your memories and produce this wonderful tribute. I’m so glad you were able to share it with your father before his passing. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a loving tribute! These lines “Dad, now restricted to the hospital bed in his bedroom, paused, and then replied to her, succinctly and true to form, “With style.” seemed to fit the picture of the man at the start of your blog. And yes, I looked up that dolichocephalic meaning a long face. What a celebration of life it must have been in Ohio of a life well-lived. Pittsburgh peeked me attention. My mom grew up in Ben Avon up the Monongahela River. We’d visit my grandparents, Hazel and Harry, every summer. Does Ben Avon ring a bell for you?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jill Bless says:

    Beautiful tribute to your father. I loved learning how he impacted your life. What a sweet thing to be able to write limericks together. I know he is so proud of you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. jcareyreads says:

    I love that this piece originated in your classroom. Because you took the time to write with and for your students, you came to appreciate your dad even more. How special that you were able to share this with him. He sounds like a wonderful person.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Amanda Potts says:

    What a beautiful tribute – even more so because you got to tell him about the things he taught you. I am also struck by how your understanding of your father grew as you pondered the topic over the years. I’m sorry he’s gone; I’m glad you sent him off with a limerick.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. margaretsmn says:

    Reading this while I am experiencing my own father’s illness is somehow soothing. My father is a charmer. He loves humor. I am hopeful he will get his speech back and be joking again soon. I’m not sure of anything but we were both blessed with a good father.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      Margaret, I’m glad this was soothing for you. I’ve been thinking about you and your father so much. It sounds like our fathers had much in common. I’m hoping your father is making good progress and holding you all close in my thoughts and heart.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Leigh Anne Eck says:

    What a lovely tribute. Your admiration for him, for his life, and for the lessons taught is clearly evident. A “verbal explorer” – what a great title to have!

    Liked by 1 person

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