Thomas Aref's Eulogy
My dad once told me that “Starting talks is usually easy... it is finishing them that gives people trouble!”. Well, in preparing this, I certainly got a taste of another quote of his: “problems worthy of attack, prove their worth by kicking back”. We'll just have figure it out with Dad’s reassurance that “we usually do!”
Dad probably went exactly how he wanted to. Sitting in his chair at home, cup of coffee at his side, fiddling on his laptop, quick and painless. The timing was simply way too early (about 20-30 years or so) and a shock.
When I was leaving my work in Helsinki to come here, I wrapped up some practical details so the experiments would continue to flow smoothly in my absence. My colleagues and advisor kept saying not to worry about it but I think my Dad would have wanted the practical dealt with and the science to go on as smoothly as possible. If he had known exactly when he was going to die, he wouldn't have changed much. He would have wrapped up his papers and his books, made sure his students were graduated and in good hands, retired a few years earlier to be with my mom and live the comfortable life. He might well have been sitting in that same chair, drinking that same coffee, and pondering the same things on his laptop. He would have loved being here for those many milestones of life: seeing his first grandchild, seeing the future successes of his children, enjoying a peaceful old age with my mom.
There's a lot of my Dad in Mike and I. Some of it is physically obvious. We both have these remarkable skinny long fingers or "little ickle professor fingers" as they have been described. When we walked around the house in our slippers, not even my mother could hear which one of us it was. When I noticed I was going bald at the tender age of 30, I jokingly blamed him and his “overpowerful genetics” that I thought I had some protection from Mom's side where the men generally retain their hair. When we stood with our hands on our hips, we tended to do it almost exactly the same way with our hands rather high. My dad had a tendency to put a finger on his nose and mash it flat which we always found amusing since it was such a funny characteristic pose. Maybe I'll acquire it in the future.
My dad had an attention to detail. If you put a glass on the edge of a table 9 times out of 10 he would ask you to move it in so you didn't knock it over with your elbow. My brother and I both have a tendency to remind people of this in such a similar way, my uncle sarcastically responded "Thank you, Hassan". As my dad once put it “Thorough is my middle name”.
My dad was not always one for small talk but he did love to give sound advice combined with his own unique combination of joking sarcasm or as he once put it: “Useful with such a learned dad, huh?” And it most certainly was. When I complained about getting too much advice, he would reassure me “I just worry about my little boy!”. We would on a regular basis send a few words to keep in touch, him often starting out with “Hello my son!”.
I remember I had bought a ticket down to Denmark so I could meet my parents there and Dad offered to pay the 100 euros it was for me. I joked "that I should have gotten the more expensive ticket" to which he responded “nah, 100 euros was as high as he had planned to offer anyways”.
When working on a paper, he asked me “did you put in some pretty pictures?”
“some snazzy graphs?”
“some profound citations?” and then got carried away with
“some literary quotes”
“a poem or two”
Note that this advice was not always one sided. When I was about 3 or 4 years old, I walked up to my dad who was looking at some scientific plot with a bunch of points. I look intently at it and finally, after significant deep thought, said in a very serious way “Dad, I think you are supposed to connect the dots.”
His humor was an ever present part of him: When I told my dad I was off on a trip to Stockholm he joked: “I thought maybe it was to pick up the Nobel prize!” To which I responded: “The Nobel prize committee thinks I am too young still =D” and he couldn’t resist: “OK, we'll give it a few years.”
When I mentioned “I am a EuroBonus member” (the frequent flyer program with SAS airlines) Dad responded: “How many Euros bonus do you get? ;)”
When I complained about being sick with “Finnish germs!” “They'll finish you off if you aren't careful”
I was describing a girl I was going to the movies with one Saturday and of course he asked about her. I tried to satisfy him with she had studied mechanical engineering, he responded: “well, maybe if it had been fluid mechanics....”
I tell him “I'm going to a Finnish party tomorrow” to which he responded “AA meeting?”. I said “That’s called sauna here”. he says, “I begin to get the picture. drink - heat up - sweat it out...”
And I guess, that’s what we are doing now, sweating out the pain of his being gone. In preparing this, I came across a message from my Dad when I was traveling home once “have a safe trip... let me know when you get home or if you have problems on the way... (not that I can do a whole lot about them!)” Even if he can’t do a whole lot about my problems now, it fills me with tears that I won't be able to reach out and ask him advice about something or just pass a few words to hear how it's going. I guess we will just have to figure it out one day at a time but as Dad said “we usually do”.