Five years ago today, my father-in-law Michael J. Fitzpatrick passed away suddenly. It was a shock then and sometimes it’s still hard to believe he’s gone. I was asked to say a few words at his wake and I’ve hung onto them since and now, here they are. I don’t expect anyone outside the family to read all of this, but if you do – he was quite a guy and I wish you could have known him too.
In 1991, almost 15 years ago I fell in love with a beautiful young redhead named Allison. Her family attended Saint Joseph’s Church and I remain thankful for their faith. It turns out Allison came from a long line of Irish Catholics named Fitzpatrick. I think I met Mr. Fitzpatrick after our second date. He wasn’t the typical father of three daughters. There was no shotgun, no stern look, just a handshake and a smile. However, he was still Mr. Fitzpatrick to me. Over the next few weeks as I spent more and more time with Allison, Mike took an interest in me. Where was I going to school? Where did I work? What did I want to do? Who were my parents? Where were they from? Soon it came to light that my mother was from Oakland just like Mike. Not only that but Mike knew of my uncle, Ron Tomsic, who was a famous Stanford and Olympic basketball player during the 50’s. Mike grabbed my arm, ‘THE Ron Tomsic. Fremont High. Ron Tomsic! Boy, he was something!’ I assured him it was one and the same. The connection certainly impressed him and I hadn’t done a thing other than being born into basketball friendly genes. I knew I was on the road to becoming family. Over the years, Mike continued to ask about Ron and was excited that he would be attending our wedding a few years later.
That enthusiasm was a familiar story with Mike. He was a generous man and his success was your success. Not only that but, your success was his success as well! Mike had a win-win situation on his hands on a daily basis. His children all speak of Mike as the champion of the underdog, someone who was always hoping that the local Mom and Pop coffee shop was going to outsell Starbucks. That perhaps – his children should give the kid with the funny hair in science class some slack. Another great example, he was a proud supporter of Saint Mary’s College Football. God bless ’em.
Mike read many biographies and considered himself a student of human nature. He especially loved stories about triumph over adversity. It made him an engaging conversationalist and a very encouraging man to be in the presence of. Mike made me feel like I could accomplish anything. When I told him I was going to join a small business, he was right there with an encouraging word and sage advice. When I talked of selling the business to Google, he wanted every detail. I often drew from that well of enthusiasm and will continue to remind myself that Mike believed in me and helped shape the kind of father & friend I am today.
There was a rarely a time when I was in the position to help Mike. He was a strong man, a successful man, and I – a young man. There was one time however, when I came to his aid. We were on vacation in Maui. The Fitzpatricks allowed me to tag along the summer after Allison and I graduated from Saint Mary’s. Jeannine, Allison, Mike and I drove up the coast past Lahaina to a beautiful protected lagoon to do a little snorkeling. After spending a little time in the water, Allison and Jeannine were looking at green fish thru their masks and I was enjoying the warm water. Mike suddenly, let out a loud, “Um, JASON. I need a little help.’ Mike was stung by a Portugese man-of-war. It had wrapped a tentacle around his left hand around his watch. My lifeguard training kicked in and I removed the tentacles from his watch and helped him in to the shore and quickly got him to the car. A few doses of Benadryl later and Mike was good as new. I don’t know that I did much but the Portugese man-of-war quickly turned into a stingray, and then a shark, as the years wore on. He was happy to make me feel like I had saved his life that day in the Hawaiian islands.
I think my lasting memory of Mike will be of a man that was successful in all matters. He was successful in business, successful in being a loving father and a fantastic grandfather to Miles, Emma and Drew. Even though he was successful by anyone’s yardstick he didn’t care much for other people’s measurements. To Mike the journey was the destination. He took pride in making sure you were along for the ride whether it was a bike ride in Solvang, or a walk down the beach. Life was an adventure and every day was a gift from God.
Mike, I would love to have another conversation, another bike ride, another concert in the park with you but somehow you were even successful in death, knowing that your big heart was so full of love and pride for your family will leave us with happy memories and life lessons until we meet again. God bless.
Mike in Solvang, CA in November 2002 during our annual family bike ride