On a rainy Friday morning, I stood before a congregation of family and strangers, and spoke from my heart to say goodbye to the Man who raised me. The writing was easy; the verbal communication of that message required several pauses... and I didn't get through the last two lines.
I was told by several that I captured him perfectly; and, that I looked just like him.
So. I have that going for me.
Here, in all it's glory, is my goodbye letter to my Father:
I begin with a line or two from Shakespeare; Hamlet, Act 1, scene 2:
"He was a man; take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again."
Paul Clemo was born on October 25, 1932 to Keith and Grace Clemo.
He graduated from Denby Tech in 1951; Graduated from Albion College with a BA in Physics in 1955, which was a full 37 years before the legalization of that horrid science; graduated from what is NOW Wayne State University with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1956.
He was a loving husband to Elizabeth, who preceded him in her journey to paradise; and the patience and strength he showed through my Mother’s process was unbelievable and an example of what it means to truly love someone.
He was a Thoughtful and Loving Father to three sons, Paul, John and Larry. And Charlie the dog.
Grandfather to Paul, Pam and Jason.
He was an Elk, an Eagle and a Mason, the combination of which if it manifested itself would qualify him as some kind of Greek God, if you can imagine a white headed bird with horns and a penchant for building with brick. The fact of the matter is, he was the most clubbable man in all of Rochester Hills. He liked the atmosphere and the comraderie, and had many good and faithful friends in those organizations.
He was, as Mr. Holmes described Dr. Watson, “a fixed point in a changing age.” And yet not.
This is where the general leaves off, and the specific begins. I had a conversation with my elder brother, Paul, on Wednesday, and I think we agreed that our Father was, in fact, many men…..in our case, three different guys. He altered his game to play at the level he was faced with.
I was the emotional artist.
And I suspect he thought I was mentally ill.
It started when I was a small child; when I was ill, running a high fever, my delusions could be very large and very specific. He often told the story of sitting in a rocking chair in the living room of the old house in Royal Oak, trying to calm down a feverish and wailing child…..when all of a sudden, I got very quiet and he thought his job was finished. And then I opened my eyes wide as I was staring over his shoulder and screamed, “It’s going to GET US!” He told me later that Logically, he knew there was nothing behind him; but there was no power on earth that was going to make him turn around to assure himself that logic was going to win the day.
It was that kind of commitment to believability that had me nominated for several acting awards. Even one a couple. But do people talk about that? No, they all remember the really embarrassing stories. My Father remembered all of the embarrassing stories, and when one or more of us were gathered together, he trotted them out like Secretariat.
My Father, as you know, was a man of numbers. He found logic in them; he was comfortable with them. And he could not understand how any son of his could not be good with numbers.
It was his ‘go to’ move: turning to my Mother and asking, “are you SURE we got the right baby out of that nursery?”
If you look at photographs, we can easily put that question to rest.
He knew the first day he walked me home from my first on-stage performance; I was in middle school, what they used to call Junior High, and I was talking a blue streak about what it was like and how it felt and how great it was…and all he was thinking was, “oooooh, craaaaap.”
He encouraged art in his kids; all three of us were musicians; Paul the clarinet, myself the trumpet, and Larry the drums….okay, two of us were musicians….. and one banged on stuff.
So, he was fine with my playing at the theatre throughout high school; and he lived with my being a theatre major in college; and he was grateful I paid my own way to get a Master’s Degree in theatre, as well….and was equally grateful when I got a job teaching theatre in a small liberal arts college in the Midwest.
But after ten years of that, I decided to back into the theatre, and this was the response I got when I told him I was leaving the college to go back to full time acting, and that I had already lined up a couple of long-term gigs: “let me get this straight: you’re giving up a career….for a couple of jobs?”
And then, he hung up.
His disappointment in my choses didn’t last long, of course, but it did highlight another wonderful quality of our relationship; he was disappointed, he made me aware, and he forgave. And I did the same thing.
When I lived at home, he grounded me on a regular basis. One time he grounded me forever. As far as I know, I’m still under that sentence, so after this I have to go back to my room. When I left home, he would regularly disinherit me. I don’t think either of us remember if we were on “he’s in the will” or, “he’s out of the will.” And when we negotiated a curfew time, he was such a tough negotiator that he often had me coming home thirty minutes before I actually left the house.
Schooling was always a nightmare when it came to report cards; great marks in band and theatre and English….and I regularly failed anything that had numbers in it.
But I was the guy who proofread his written material; and I was the one that helped with the crossword puzzles.
Pop had a thing for language; he loved words, even though he could never actually spell them. I give as evidence some of the things he wrote on his Facebook page:
“I am mighty tired, and tightly wired; and lightly mired.”
“Charles Dickens walks into a bar and orders a martini; the bartender asks, “Olive or Twist?”
“The person presenting the ultimate cachinnation possesses, thereby, the optimal cachinnation.”
“If you check with a chemist, you will find that alcohol really is a solution.”
He was a sports fan, but baseball was his favorite. He would watch anybody play, certainly….I think that the game played into his physics/science/numbers thing. His suns would travel to Florida every spring and make sure that he saw at least one game a week during spring training. I would come up and try to take him to a game at Comerica Park in Detroit…..we both had a fondness for Tiger Stadium, but our reaction to our first trip to Comerica was….a begrudging admiration. And he suffered fools with no patience at all.
There was a pitcher for Detroit. Dontrell Wills or some such thing. A good pitcher that wound up in Detroit with a bad case of the yips….could not find the plate. And on his last appearance in Detroit, he was behind 4-0 in the fourth inning and they pulled him. My Father and I got the best laugh of the day by simply asking, “isn’t it bad luck to pull a guy in the middle of a no-hitter?”. We received a good laugh from the people around us, and as we left the stadium later that afternoon, I heard somebody say, "did you hear the thing about the no-hitter?"
One of Dad’s great contributions to mankind would be the concept of the “The Clemo Job”. This is a boon for unions everywhere, but alas, a really frustrating concept for himself and anybody drafted into service to assist him. A Clemo Job is a normally simple task; the replacement of a disposal, the replacement of a piece of plumbing; an oil filter on a car.
In order to calculate the completion time of a Clemo Job, you must take the average time a normal person would be able to complete the job, and multiply by a factor of ten; twenty if it is an outdoor job in inclement weather. Between us, we invented the phrase, “Hit it with a hammer; if it breaks, it needed to be replaced anyhow."
He believed that our educations should be well rounded.
He believed that his sons should change their own oil and tune their own cars.
He taught is to drive on a standard transmission car.
When he planted a garden, we were responsible for the clearing on all unauthorized rooted residents of the plot.
We mowed, we trimmed, and we shoveled snow.
He also taught us how to fish; how to swing a golf club; how to field a grounder; and how to scramble an egg.
He schlepped us all over the country on family vacations….Florida, California, and all the spaces in between. At one point, he was whacking the starter with a hammer to get us through one more leg of the trip. We saw Disney World; Key West; Universal Studios; the Rocky Mountains and the Great Sequoia forest…and even a World’s Fair.
Educational trips included a car factory; a chocolate factory; a brewery and a cereal manufacturing plant.
He gave regular classes in First Aid. In my cases, he needed to.
In order to ensure that our vocabulary would grow and our reading skills did not diminish during the vacations, Dad forced us to read books in the summer; and would quiz us on our progress. Yeah, you could try to pull the wool over his eyes, but it never worked, so I wound up reading Twain and Conan Doyle and it would up leading to the harder stuff, like biographies of political icons and deep detective novels by Rex Stout and JJ Marric. He introduced me to Abbot and Costello’s “who’s on first”, Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Second City Television to me.
So, to wrap up, I think it’s appropriate to end with a reading from Twain:
Upon arrival in Heaven, do not speak to St Peter until spoken to; it is not your place to begin. You can ask him for his autograph, there is no harm in that. But be careful. And don’t remark that it is one of the penalties of greatness; he has heard that before. Don’t try to Kodak him; Hell is full of people who have made that mistake. And leave your dog outside; Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and the dog would go in.
Good night, Father; We'll take it from here. And we'll see you when we get there.