Memorial Day, 2017. Sixty-four days have passed since my dad died.
My dad was the baddest ass veteran I will have ever met. So today seemed like the perfect day to share the eulogies that were read at his funeral.
I asked two others to contribute: his sister Cathy (Dad was one of seven. Cathy was the first born and he was second) and one of his best Combat Controller buddies Gary “MadDog” Maddock. Here they are.
Cathy -his big sister
October 23, 1957. A boy is born, a beautiful baby, Michael Francis Sheridan. He shares his middle name with his father. Dark hair, blue eyes, an early smiler, quick to giggle. A mischievous toddler, he loves being chased and playing with his food and hates having his diaper changed and bed time. He insists he’s a big boy long before kindergarten. He’s eager to please and hungry to learn. He loves silly names for ordinary things.
He gets in trouble at school because he’s a cut-up and bored. In a school run by nuns, he is often whacked on the knuckles and sent to be paddled, which doesn’t seem to phase him at all. And it’s football and baseball and cowboys and Indians and climbing down Big Ditch and exploring the woods. He’s a fierce defender of his stuff. He loves to read and tries to sit still. He really enjoys being the oldest of the five boys, likes being their leader, gets them all in trouble, gets them all teasing their mother. It’s Mike that comes up with the ideas to jump from the roof and ride their bikes fast as the wind and wrestle in the woods where the adults don’t go.
Baseball stays with him into his mid teens. He’s a catcher. He loves being the catcher, loves the cool crouch behind the batter, loves throwing out a base stealer at second, loves crowding the plate, loves blocking a slide into home, loves calming down the pitcher. He wears rimless glasses. They’re octagon shaped. He’s grown his hair long, past his shoulders, thick Irish hair, dark and wavy. He flings that catcher’s mask off at every possible opportunity and tosses that hair like it’s being filmed in slow motion every time. He’s right at the cusp of as tall as he’s ever going to be, which is really not all that tall, and it’s right about now when he first falls in love with deep words and the musicIan’s who wield them most sharply, and it’s right about now when the world-famous unibrow shows up. The first mustache is still a few years away, the beard even further, but this time now, the time of the unibrow, is also the time of the first real life-changing decisions. He doesn’t know that’s what they are, but who does at so young an age?
He manages to graduate from high school by the skin of his teeth, he stayed a cut-up and was never not bored there, and becomes a waiter at a local seafood place. It’s the perfect job for him as a young man, he’s good-looking and cool and funny and smart, and he makes pretty good money and lives that life, still at the home of his adolescence, until it finally bores him, until he finally feels the need to do something with his life, and he joins the Air Force.
Others will talk of his time after this, but I knew him then, and I know that much of the glory of Michael Francis Sheridan was there from the beginning, and I know he walked his own path on his own terms. Rest in peace, Little Brother.
“Mad Dog” -fellow Combat Controller and friend
Mikey Sheridan was the stereotypical, “Old Sarge.” Gruff, and rough around the edges – he was the kind of guy who has been there and done that with regards to… everything. He was as hard as they come. He endured parachute malfunctions, rough seas, broken bones, and every hardship of the field – sweltering heat, freezing cold, and driving rain.
The young airmen loved him, but at the same time, feared his wrath. Mike could chew an airman’s butt so hard that it felt like a physical assault. Exhausting. Unlike the calculated norm of today where words must be chosen carefully – even in rebuke. Mike wasn’t afraid to unleash a string of profanity and belittlements that insulted everything from the city they came from, their looks, their apparent lack of education and common sense, all the way to the utter disappointment that their parents must have felt for raising such complete and utter dumbass. But it was effective. Trust me – they rarely made the same mistake twice. No one wanted to go through that, again.
Then – as only Mikey could – he would change demeanor, take them under his wing, and show them the right way to do, whatever it was. And beyond that – why it was the right way – and why it was important. Because under his hard exterior, he was a guy who really, really cared, and a guy who made everyone around him, better. A consummate teacher. He was that one NCO that left a mark on their souls, and taught them things they would never forget. And not just the those who served under him, but also his peers and superiors.
As Combat Controllers, we lived in a tough guy world, and Mikey stood out. A man’s man. A hard and dependable NCO. But mostly a team mate for life.
Bobbi Michelle -his first born
Right after dad was given 3-6 months to live, and before he moved halfway across the country to Indianapolis he wrote:
Everything is going to be different. I can’t tell you how excited I am. I haven’t been happy in years.
Death has a funny way of giving you something worth living for.
I’m looking forward, tomorrow; and tomorrow is promised to no one.
I will soon begin my new life, real, death defying, happy-er, reconditioned amplified, loving life, having no fucks to give or take, the bearded badass I always was meant to be.
The man I got to know in his last days truly was a happier, reconditioned and amplified man. I wish that you all could have seen these last days through my eyes. I’ll do my best to encapsulate the bearded bad ass my dad was always meant to be.
We named ourselves “Team Silver Flag.” One, because I was born on Flag Day and two, we both specialized in silver linings.
Much of dad’s life was less than rosy; losing his beloved mother, alcoholism, homelessness, heartbreak, etc. I recently said to him, “Dad, if you had never been sick… we wouldn’t be best friends today.” He smiled and said, “I wouldn’t have all this, if I didn’t have this (while pointing to his head). Bobbi Shell, if today is my last on this planet, I would move on as a happy and content human. I could not have said that from 10 years ago until 3 months ago. And that’s because of you.”
Dad was always the coolest person in the room and he knew it. People were always trying to impress him. Every person who met him was fascinated. Whether it was his piercing blue eyes, his magnanimous charm, his lonnnng stories (he would say “The Irish aren’t known for their short stories!”, or his drive to teach you something (even if you didn’t want to learn); dad most certainly left a lasting impression. Kids had a twinkle in their eye, he treated them each as equals. Grown men didn’t want to leave as he was telling the best story they’d ever heard. Even as the cancer took away a bit of his handsomeness, the “honeys” would stare. It was my gift that I could see him through the eyes of every single person in the room. I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up his most unforgettable moments… “Quit dickin’ around numb nuts. You’re going to need to un-f**k this situation, stat, priority one, alpha alert. Did you not hear me? Un. F**k. This. Now.” I mean… who could forget that guy?! By the way, if this eulogy didn’t include the eff word, I would most certainly be doing my dad’s memory a disservice! He had quite a beautiful way of using it. If you knew him, you know exactly what I mean!
He woke up every morning with a to do list and a clearly defined daily goal… a goal he went after fiercely and obsessively. Before he went to bed at night he would re-write the things he didn’t get done on the next day’s to do list. Dad cleaned his basement apartment every night and made his bed every day and was disappointed in me for not doing the same. I bought him his dream car after he moved here: a red 2001 Honda Prelude. He took the car Scarlett and washed her once a week.
His passion for cooking was stronger than ever. Whether he was making the most epic taco bowl you’ve ever had or a simply ham sandwich, he turned the ordinary into “fancy foo-fwa.” His waffles were drizzled with syrup, topped with perfectly cut strawberries and homemade “creme de anglaise” that he spread using a pastry bag with a star nozzle. Another example: he’d warm up a plain ol’ can of tomato soup then top it with finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese, oyster crackers, cracked pepper, and a small square of Irish butter perfectly centered in the bowl.
Dad longed for love. He subscribed to online dating. He flirted with cute hospice nurses. He had a big crush on my friend Ryan’s mom. Deep down, under the scars left on his heart; he was still the romantic man that my mom used to tell me stories about. He would often say, “I miss living inside a love song.”
He bragged about his brain tumors because well, why wouldn’t he?! “Whoa?! Have you ever met a guy with 18 brain tumors that looked like me? Acted like me? Was as cool as me? Didn’t think so. Knocked it outta the park, BAM!”
Dad, I’ve always loved you. I’ve loved you in big ways, I’ve loved you in small ways, and I’ve sometimes loved you in undeserved ways. You were my hero in the beginning of my life and again at the end of yours. The gifts you gave to me and to everyone in my world are immeasurable. In our short time together, you taught me how to live in a way I never thought possible.
- You taught me to slow down and find the beauty in life’s hidden treasures: the first bite of a perfectly cooked steak, a bench on a warm sunny day, the way the Rolling Stones hit their groove in Midnight Rambler, a perfectly brewed cup of Seattle’s Best, even the beauty in a license plate! “They’re staring at my license plate, I can feel it. They don’t see many Air Force Vets around this town. Damn that’s a beautiful license plate.”
- You taught me to not let anger and hatred creep in. Not because I’m immune, but because I shouldn’t waste my time being irritated and bothered by problems outside of my power. He’d say, “Put that in your box of anger and put it away. Deep. Break it out only in case of an emergency.”
- You taught me to never give up. “If nothing changes, nothing changes. If it was easy, anybody could do it. Good thing you’re not just anybody. Take it for what it’s worth but life is more than hoping to wake up. Get your mind right, and un-fuck this. No luck required, so none given. But I give you this: hope. You can and will do this. Confidence level: very high”
Dad, these last few months with you were days that I will treasure eternally. Laying by your side as you took your last breath has been one the greatest honors of my life. Truth be told, with you, I have been living inside of a love song.
I’ll end this with words by, who else?! Bob Dylan.
“Take care of all your memories, for you cannot relive them.”
Thanks for reading.
~Bobbi Michelle Sheridan