Things My Father Taught Me: Sean Callahan
Sean and I work together. I sit in a division of the office lovingly referred to as “Callahan’s Corner.” I can’t tell you just how happy it makes me to come into work every morning knowing I’m a member of Callahan’s Corner. Sean does that to people. I no sooner started, and Sean made me feel like family.
We are both from Saint Louis. Sean went to my rival high school, the same high school as my younger brother. If you’re unfamiliar with Saint Louis, know one thing: the cliché is true. Where you went to high school is truly, unbelievably important. Almost instantly, it was as though I was sharing a room with my brother again: I could feel Sean rolling his eyes behind me, and occasionally, I could hear a grumble of heckling from behind Sean’s glass door. I loved it. Reminded me of home. It felt like I was back in the Steak ‘n Shake parking lot after a game, listening to The Urge’s “It’s Gettin’ Hectic.”
As the redbirds made a playoff run last fall, Sean and I first bonded over Cardinals baseball. On the couches in front of the flat screen in the office’s main entrance, while shoveling burritos and sucking back an ice cold Budweiser, I came to know this guy, this funny, loud, passionate guy.
And boy, is he passionate. Whether it’s the jam fest of Phish, The Black Crowes, and AC/DC which will start to emanate from his office like clockwork one hour before quittin’ time, or a lengthy discussion on the color of a beer bottle, he’ll let his passions be known, and you can’t help it if you appreciate it.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that I received a more well-rounded understanding of the guy. For a couple months, as much as he tried to leave the personal strife at home, Callahan’s Corner became a more somber place, as Sean’s dad was losing his battle with cancer. Unbeknownst to Sean, my uncle wasn’t doing well either. He was the first of my parents’ ten siblings to die. He passed at just about the same time as Sean’s dad. I didn’t say anything, at least not at first, but following Sean’s lead, I was made more comfortable in dealing with my loss — however differently as it was my uncle and not my father. When we finally commiserated, Sean shared the eulogy for his father with me, and he gave me permission to share a portion of it with you here.
It’s a time I won’t soon forget, and Sean’s a guy I’ll never forget. A great guy, a passionate guy, and zip code be damned, make no mistake that nasally accent and that bright red ball cap are two solid indications, he’s a Saint Louisan, through and through.
John Callahan. John Joseph. Johnny. Son. Brother. Uncle. Cadet. Teammate. Coach. JC. Jumpin. Marathoner. Paw-paw. Dad. Husband. I write this on behalf of my mother Joanne, his wife of thirty-six years; my siblings Tim, Megan, and Courtney; his children-in-law Catherine, Cheryl, and Chris; his four grandchildren Ellie, Johnny, Patrick, Keegan; and his siblings Jimmy, Carol, and Kathy.
In the two weeks prior to his passing, my dad began dictating various points about his funeral, including a list of those whom he wanted to invite. We’d say, “Dad, I’m not sure that’s really how it works,” but he’d continue on, outlining the VIPs he wanted to make sure were aware of the day’s events.
“I just want to make sure they know I want them there.” As he was an extremely humble man, I’m not sure he could have envisioned the turnout. Thank you to everyone for the overwhelming showing of support. It reminds me of Yogi Berra’s infamous statement, “Always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”
In the search for the right words, I watched the eulogies of notable men for inspiration. Three that I watched were Frank Oz, speaking about his creative partner Jim Henson, Edward Kennedy, speaking about his brother Robert, and more recently, Bob Costas, speaking on behalf St. Louis’ beloved hero Stan Musial. While listening to their words, I was struck by how each man remembered in his own way represented part of the same imprint my father left on the earth.
Jim Henson by his need to make people laugh and feel better about themselves and their lives.
With my dad, it was always about how the other person felt. He never made it about himself. His intelligence, sense of humor, warmth and excitability are some of the things we loved most about him.
Robert Kennedy by his strong Irish Catholic faith and by how the words of Jesus inspired him to live his life.
My dad truly lived his religion every day. His spirituality and faith in God are two reasons we loved him.
Stan Musial by the mark he left on St. Louis, making it a better place to live for so many.
My dad was a true St. Louisan starting at St. Roch’s and onto CBC; as a Hinder Club handball player, Forest Park runner, and as a SLU, Mizzou & Cardinals fan. He led an exceptional life here as a brother, friend, husband, dad, and grandpa. It’s another reason we loved him.
And as when each of these great men left the world, my dad left a community who will miss his contributions every single day.
My dad was born in 1947, the youngest of 7 children. He spent most of his life in St. Louis, having moved to LA for a few years after his father died for what I can only assume was to take a crack at being a child actor. Recently, he pointed to two very important events in his life that changed it for the better. One was marrying my mother, and the other was moving back from LA into St. Roch’s parish. After having lost his father at the age of 5, St. Roch’s gave him a sense of stability and a group of friends that remained a fixture in his life right up until the end. My dad would often say that he didn’t know what he did to deserve friends like his. These men from St. Roch’s and then later CBC have been there for him his entire life. They were there to laugh with him during the good times, and support him during the bad ones. And it is only fitting that some of these men continue to carry my dad onto his final resting place today.
My dad’s battle with cancer lasted almost exactly three years, having been diagnosed in March of 2010. And while we knew the statistics, we did not focus on the negative of these stats. The last three years have been exceptionally eventful and blessed for our family outside of this challenge. In spite of all of the pain my dad went through over this time, the ups and downs of the news, there was a lot of laughter, happiness, and love for our family. He was so excited about every aspect of what was happening around him, never wanting to focus on all of the pain he was going through. In this time, beyond his kids and grandkids, the two constant sources of joy and support guiding him through all of this were his faith and his wife.
My mom, Joanne. There are not enough appropriate words to give about all she had done for my father and my family. In the middle of being a full time nurse for premature infants at Mercy Hospital, she has been a full time nurse to my dad at home, always there for him, making sure the medications were right, talking to doctors, insurance companies, and also comforting her children, running around taking every single toy out of the bin for the grandkids to play with. She did things for my father in the last 3 years, and even more specifically in the last 2 weeks of his life, that are just beyond words. Mom, I know how hard this has been, how hard you’ve cried, and how hard you’ve worked, but you were the reason that he had the quality of life he did for as long as he did, and you were the reason he was able to spend the last two weeks of his life with all of his family, at his home, in his bed.
I will hold dear to so many memories of him: watching how hard he would laugh at the James Brown gospel church scene in The Blues Brothers, running alongside him in the St. Patrick’s Day races as a kid, listening to him sing Paul’s part in The Beatles “A Day in the Life” in order to get us “up, outta bed, drag the comb across your head,” having some part in helping him fulfill a lifelong goal of running a marathon nine years ago, which turned into a seven-year passion that completely changed his life, running nine marathons in St. Louis and Chicago.
But my most important memory of him doesn’t point to a specific time. The memory of my dad that I will always carry with me was his passion. As my brother and sister-in-law Cheryl said, my dad was one of the more excitable people ever put on earth. He always got excited and passionate about what interesting things his family and friends were up to, and about so many different things that excited him in his own life. His passion for a joke, running, his grandkids, history, handball, music, conversation, Catholicism, mundane things like a new episode of Law and Order, Criminal Intent, that passion was infectious. My dad did not need any “thing” in his life, only to care for people and ideas. This made him the hardest person in the world to buy a gift for, but the easiest person to share the way more important things in life with. Thank you dad for your passion for people, life, laughter, stories and ideas. It is the gift you have given me and all of us here that we will always carry with us.
The last 2 weeks of my dad’s life were extremely difficult and heartbreaking, but also life affirming and beautiful. My dad was able to end his physical life on earth surrounded by all his family and had the chance to say goodbye to us and so many of his friends. And we were able to do the same to him. How great is that? To have your friends and family tell you how much you meant to their lives and for him to do the same? The pictures, the stories, the sentiments, the crying, the laughing, slide shows, inside jokes were a wonderful celebration of my dad and a beautiful way to leave this world.
They will write stories and songs about this man. My father is this other Irish Catholic man who died on March 17th. He is a man who breathed his last breath on the feast day of the patron saint of all Irishmen around the world. St. Patrick’s Day will never be the same in St. Louis or in my adopted hometown of Chicago again.
My dad was an unbelievably decent and caring man, he was, as the Jesuits’ say, “a man for others.” He strived so hard over the course of his life to be his best for his family and friends, thinking only of them and because of that, the love others had for him was endless. He lived a happy but entirely too short a life, and I will miss him every single day of my own life, as I know so many of you will as well. Remember that he has not fully died. His spirit lives on in us. So take whatever it was that you loved about my dad and pass it on. Take it with you, and in that, John Callahan will live forever.