In Loving Memory of Jeff Hodapp

Photos available here.

As long as I can remember I’ve always been a very pragmatic person, so when it became apparent that my Dad was not long for this world I started to try to come up with things to do to make life less stressful on everyone else in the family in whatever way I could. The legal stuff was easy, a signature here, a printed name and date there, that was painless.

The segue into arranging things like the whole cremation and even thinking up with ideas for this memorial service also just felt natural. Coming up with solutions to problems and executing on them has always been a strong suit of mine, and something my father often thanked me for as I slowly started absorbing responsibilities in the family as he got sicker over the years.

What to do for a eulogy, however, has kept me up at night. Like you’re just trained to do now, when you want to know something you just type it into Google. A variety of search terms later ranging from “eulogy tips” to “best eulogies” had me even more lost in the woods than I had been before I started. A common suggestion is to sum up a loved one’s life, or the impact they had on you and your family, and numerous other things in between.

Here’s the problem: My Dad’s life, and his impact on others, have both been too big for words. When I started calling family members to come visit when he was still with us, everyone had their own favorite Jeff story… And no two stories were even close to each other. My Dad did so many crazy things in his life, that if we pulled someone in off the street and everyone told their best memory of him, you’d be left with a collection of tales that no normal person would even believe was true.

In fact, it probably wouldn’t take that same person very long to have their own favorite Jeff story, as it often didn’t take much more than a single conversation for people to become friends with my Dad. Jeff Hodapp, without exception, was truly was loved by all.

My Dad was born on December 5th 1952 in Elmhurst Illinois to my loving grandmother Lorraine and my late grandfather George. A few years later he was joined by my aunt Cheryl, and many of my father’s childhood stories seemed to focus around riding bikes up mountains in Arizona, harassing random lizards in the deserts with friends, and road trips back to Chicago.

My Dad met my mother, Nancy, in 1976 and they were married on April 10th 1982. A little less than a year later I was born on February 28th 1983, and my sister, Amy, entered the world on July 5th 1985. We were, and still are, an incredible family- Largely because of my Dad.

But to back things up a bit, as part of this whole memorial I’ve been scouring my parents’ old house for photos and other relevant relics of Hodapp history. Prior to the iPad, my Dad never really used computers for anything but the most basic emailing and web browsing, which thankfully resulted in scraps of paper absolutely everywhere with everything from random numbers being added up to actual journal entries to logging dates that he and my mom bred their various animals on the farm and everything else you could possibly imagine.

Among these belongings was a black and red bound book which I only ever knew as “Dad’s phonebook” which I finally took the time to examine. It’s something I’ve always known of my whole life, but never really thought twice about it until now. Adorned with concert stickers and backstage passes for bands like the Blue Oyster Cult and filled with a myriad of different phone numbers, this book also served as a makeshift financial planner as my Dad kept track of his bank balance with detailed line items for things like tickets for the Bee Gees and Ted Nugent, a CB radio for his van, and random albums he purchased going all the way back to the late 70’s.

What makes this particularly noteworthy is that between the years of 1978 to 1983, my Dad wrote sporadic journal entries which feel particularly relevant looking back on his life, especially when it came to his vague hopes for the future. Here’s a selection from the page dated January 19th 1978 titled “Life, What Is It?”:

You have a life full of decisions to make. The present is only a fleeting moment making additions to the past, and shortening the future. I believe we are our own judge of what path to take. The future lies ahead in a mysterious way it is our decision. For we live in the present, and we can learn from the past but the future is a question.

Remembered or forgotten it is up to you.

For the beginning has started, the end is for sure. It is what you do in the middle, and it is all up to you.

He wrote other random entries, focused around road trips, taxi driving, and other things, before taking time to write a multi-page sign off to the year of 1981, one year before he and my Mom were married. They were broke, and from the sounds of it didn’t have much to celebrate beyond his hopes for 1982. In specific, he wanted to be “sitting in a fancy restaurant drinking champaign and eating oysters rockefeller.”

On that night, my Dad wrote:

This is a year coming that I want to be right so that when I pick up this book next year that the dreams of marriage, money, houses, children, smiles, happiness and the strengthening of the only commodity I possess, love, will have become more of a reality and the 75¢ in my pocket and my empty bowl of noodles will only be memories.

Here is to 1981, never again will I see it. May 1982 be better but I still give thanks to things I have. Nancy is #1, my friends #2, and everything else that if we only open our eyes to look would see that we have much to be thankful for.

Good luck 1982

In no more than a few pages apart in this book my Dad went from broad statements about doing something to the future and then building those into concrete dreams. Barely a month later, as part of an entry where he actually admits to liking cats when my Mom isn’t around, he writes:

Soon Nancy and I will be working again. She can come home and we must start to seriously plan our lives together.

My parents were married, I was born, and my father started writing letters to me. As part of one of these letters from August 14th 1983, he writes:

In 5 1/2 months you have learned so much and so have I. I’ve learned love and worry, though we have been blessed with you being so healthy. Whenever something is out of the ordinary, it causes a father to worry. I wonder if this will stop as I learn more about you. Probably not as I think of the heart attacks I caused my father.

Eli I hope we can be the best of friends, as close as a father and son can be. I hope I can teach you everything I know. I hope you will listen to me and I to you as I listen to your new noises and laughter waiting to hear what you have to say. How will you use your voice we’ll have to wait and see. If I could I would make use of mine to make peace and create love. I hope I do.

Soon you will talk and soon you will walk and where will your feet take you in life? May the words you choose open the doors so you may walk through.

You all know my Dad through other means, whether it was his life as a family member, a taxi driver, a farmer, or an artist at Native American pow wows, and while he excelled at all those things, he was the absolute best father my sister and I ever could have asked for. After these journal entries stopped in late 1983, presumably because I became too much for him to handle and write in this book, my Dad focused nearly 100% of his energy on our family.

I didn’t start to realize it until I was an adult, but the sacrifices he made for even the slightest quality of life improvement for me and my sister were immeasurable. My Dad never really had what you’d call a normal job my whole life, and because of that we never had the money or the nice things that friends had with parents that both worked traditional jobs and lived traditional lifestyles. Instead, the difficult path my father decided to take focused around him always being there for us, working extra hard to provide for us, providing countless numbers of invaluable life experiences in the process.

Without a doubt, each of my successes in life is a direct result of the impact of my father. Not having the resources for things most people would just buy at the store meant getting creative, and this Robinson Crusoe-style approach to just figuring out how to somehow make an acceptable alternative has had an incredible impact on the way I’ve approached life… And I have no idea if that’s what my Dad was even trying to teach me when he had me down in our basement building a desk out of random scraps of wood and a excess piece of countertop complete with backsplash that we got for next to nothing at the hardware store.

One of my favorite memories of my Dad plays directly into this. The livestock business my Dad was in in through the mid 90’s resulted in loads of free animal byproducts ranging from hides, to bones, to full skulls. This coincided well with the whole southwestern interior design motif exploding, as it turned out they had most of the reagents required, so somehow there was some evolutionary step there where my parents decided to combine these skulls with some paint and start setting up at indoor craft shows.

The problem was, the old ladies who attended craft shows largely weren’t into the idea of buying goat skulls. There were however, a few random people who were super into the stuff, which eventually lead my parents to shifting gears and exhibiting their arts and crafts at Native American pow wows instead. Craft shows were almost exclusively indoors, and my Dad could come and build whatever insane display contraption he could come up with to best fit the venue without much worry of structural integrity in the elements.

Pow wows, on the other hand, are the opposite, and with rare exception are usually outdoors. Among the first big events we set up at was a pow wow at Aurora University. This introduced the substantial problem of needing some kind of tent to set up outside that’d be appropriate for showing off all the things he and my Mom had made. Of course this resulted in him and I hopping in whatever rusty pickup truck he had at the time to head off to look for scrap at the hardware store.

We spent the following weeks erecting this PVC pipe monstrosity that was incredibly over engineered. If there was room for a cross brace, there was one, or maybe two. The thing was anchored to the ground with either six or eight buckets filled with concrete, and on top was this loose striped green and white tarp, with an origin that is still completely unknown to me.

My father and I tore this tent down, with him leaving Jeff Hodapp trademarked notes and numbers on every single piece for reassembly at the event a few miles away from home. Unsurprisingly, the tent went up almost exactly the same way it did in our driveway and the pow wow seemed to go off without a hitch, or, at least until one of the most brutal summer storms I can remember kicked up.

It didn’t take long for the tarp to turn into a massive green and white striped kite flying through the skies of Aurora, leaving us totally drenched and all of my parents’ art exposed to this gigantic thunderstorm. Like most midwestern storms, it passed quickly, the sun returned, and we were left standing in the ruins of our tent.

By now you’re probably thinking, “Wow, this is a terrible story, why is he focusing on what amounts to a failure in his Dad’s eulogy?”

But here’s the thing- The most valuable lesson my father ever taught me is that failure in life isn’t some kind of irrecoverable binary state. Instead, he looked at life as a iterative process. So this tent didn’t work out so well and all of their crafts were soaking wet. Who cares. Tomorrow is another day, we take what we experienced and learn from it, and try again.

My Dad’s incredible sense of perseverance served as the model I’ve crafted my life around. You’re looking at someone who barely graduated high school who now runs the top iPhone games web site on the internet and is paid to fly around the world speaking at conventions about my life experiences. My father is wholly responsible for planting the seed that started all this.

His perseverance also took center stage as he was diagnosed with cancer a little over a decade ago. As mentioned, my Dad is not one to give up, and while I still remember the phone call from the hospital parking lot from my Mom telling me he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, I knew it wasn’t the end for him- At least not yet.

Even in his final days, my Dad’s will to live and spend every last second with his loving wife and family never faded, but prior to that he endured massive surgeries, and a never-ending barrage of chemotherapy that involved getting up before the sun to drive to downtown Chicago every couple weeks while he slowly withered away. I couldn’t even estimate the number of times I was dumbfounded by his strength to fight, especially as his disease advanced, he never gave up.

His stubborn will to live was particularly apparent this past July when he was first admitted to the hospice program. When you get there, they give you these depressing little booklets about the death process, and not only was my Dad sicker than I’d ever seen him, but he was also going down this list of signs and symptoms like a champion. It eventually reached a point where I had Mom and Amy say their goodbyes, I sent them home, and fully expected to watch my Dad die that night.

At around 11:00 AM the next morning he was still largely unconscious and barely breathing, at which point I figured I’d take a half hour, run home, take a shower, change my clothes and prepare for what’d inevitably be a long day of dealing with undertakers and funeral directors. Instead, I returned with my Dad sitting up in bed giving me a hard time about where the strawberry milkshake was that I had promised him the day before. Since then, it had been a bit of a roller coaster between good and bad days before he finally passed away peacefully in his sleep on the morning of November 24th with my Mom by his side.

Coincidence or not, I closed on the house I bought for my Mom the Friday before, and me coming to hospice and giving her the keys was the last time he was alert enough to speak to me. He didn’t do much but watch followed by the last words my Dad said to me: “I love you,” followed by the best thumbs up he could muster. The nurses kept asking if he was waiting for something, and I’m starting to buy into the theory that my Dad was doing everything he could to hold on to life to make sure my Mom was going to be OK.

My Mom, after all, was the true hero of my Dad’s whole illness. She was the love of my Dad’s life, and was by his side every step of the way, through each and every depressing and often horrible side effect of whatever new increasingly aggressive cancer treatment they had him on. Watching her take care of my Dad and refusing to leave his side even when he was largely unresponsive in his final days was simultaneously the saddest thing and the purest example of love I’ve seen in my life.

So, looking back to these journal entries I shared earlier- Jeff Hodapp, even though your life was cut short, every goal you set out was achieved, whether you realized it or not. You are remembered, and you will not be forgotten. Your list from New Years Eve? Well, I’ve got a nice house for the family now, you married an amazing woman, you had two incredible children, and gave us all a life filled with smiles and happiness. You might not’ve died with more than 75¢ in your pocket, but in regards to the love you shared with the world and the priceless gifts you’ve given your children, you were the richest person I’ve ever known.

Additionally, this New Year’s Eve I’ll be sure Mom is at a fancy restaurant drinking champagne and eating oysters rockefeller.