Many people have either asked for a copy of the eulogy I said for Dad that I decided to share it here. I love you, Dad.
For Stephen Drojak...1/25/30-8/27-12
Today we celebrate a beautiful, long, productive, and happy life. We celebrate the life of my Dad, Stephen Drojak. When a person has lived such a long and good life as my father, it is difficult to choose what to say on his behalf.
Dad was the youngest of 9 children. His Ukrainian parents immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s and raised four daughters and five sons with lots of hard work and a huge garden that took up their entire back yard. As a child, I marveled at row upon row of varying vegetables and never appreciated, until much later in life, the work my grandmother put into maintaining the garden which provided their daily food. They used fresh food during the summer months and grandma would can as much as she could to hold them through the winter months. They were survivors, learning to live on very little during the Great Depression.
My father grew up on Linden Avenue in East Rochester. The house is still standing and I glanced at it the other day as my brother, sister and I pulled out of the parking lot of the Northside Inn, a place where the Drojak family spent a good deal of time over the years due to the fact that they were good friends with the owners. The Drojaks are still well known to several East Rochester business owners, including the multi-generational family who continues to own and run the Northside. In fact, when my parents were dating, Dad often took Mom there and showed her off.
Dad enlisted in the Korean war at the tender age of 19, but rarely, over the years, would he speak about his time there. It wasn’t until the end of his life that he would provide us with small snippets of his experiences. One of the most heart-wrenching moments was when Dad told us that when he and his fellow soldiers approached the shores of Pusan, the Lieutenant told them to look up toward the hills. Dad saw many men watching them from a great distance. The Lieutenant told them, “They are going to try to kill you. It’s up to you to stay alive.” When they reached shore, Dad recounted to us the horror he experienced in seeing so many dead and rotting bodies laying in the water and on the shore. It was there, during that story, that Dad’s voice broke and he couldn’t continue his tale.
Dad earned two bronze stars in the Korean War. One, a meritorious medal and the other, a medal of valor. Despite being wounded in that war, he survived and went on to do incredible things with his life.
He worked for Eastman Kodak Company for over 30 years and, at the beginning of his career, he met our mother. They married and had three children. I still remember my sister and I, so young, standing on the sidewalk, watching for Dad, who would walk to and from work everyday, to round the corner at the end of our street at dinnertime. We would see Dad, and he would see us, stop, crouch down low, and stretch out his arms as we ran to him, eager to be enveloped in his embrace.
Dad tried to instill in his kids a love of nature, respect for others, and respect for ourselves. He insisted that we behave well wherever we went and it was of utmost importance that we had clean faces, combed hair and clean clothes. He held us to a high moral standard, all the while demonstrating his own high moral standard as an example to us. My father was a gentleman in every sense of the word. Since his passing, when I have received calls from family and friends who knew Dad, the two words that I’ve heard the most are “gentleman” and “class.”
Probably the most endearing trait that Dad had was his incredible sense of humor and his quick wit. Even as he lay in his hospital bed, when the radiologist came in to take an xray, Dad looked at me and said, “How’s my hair? Is it combed ok?” Even then, Dad made me burst out laughing as he readied himself for an xray picture.
My sister, Pat, likes to tell of the time she drove him to his doctor’s appointment and the doctor asked if he was experiencing any dizziness or seizures. Dad replied, “Only when my wife tries to get romantic.”
That is how our Dad was. His quick wit and upbeat personality carried him and his wife, Jean, through some very difficult times these past few years. And it helped to lighten our own hearts and relieved some of our worry.
Dad coined the term, “Life is a Dance” long before those books came out called “The Dance of Intimacy” or “The Dance of Anger.” Dad told me long ago that life is a dance and you get better the more you practice. And I know that, in a sense, Dad danced with each one of us three kids the way we needed to dance and needed to be taught to dance through life.
For myself, I look at my own life, as a young child, new to the world and its experiences. At weddings, Dad would hold my hands and have me stand on his feet as he slowly waltzed me around the room, watching me, holding me tight and teaching me the steps. As I got older, he’d put his arm around my waist and hold my hand out, teaching me how to follow his lead. By the time I was in my late teens, Dad and I could cut up the floor together pretty well with the cha cha, the jitterbug, a slow waltz, or free style. I loved a fast song because Dad would whoop and holler and every now and then he had this move where he’d dip in towards me, shout, “Ca-cha!“ and dart back out, grab my hand and spin me around. There were times when it was difficult to follow dad’s lead, but I got better.
I’ve realized that what Dad told me is true. Life is a dance. With those first lessons, he laid the foundation for how he thought I should dance. As I got older, he taught me to follow his lead because, after all, he was the educator, teaching his daughter how to behave in life. And finally, he and I came together, mature in our dance moves, understanding where the other was going and following or leading, depending on the dance.
Learning to dance is painful sometimes. Sometimes one partner wants to dance one way and the other wants to go another way. Dad I and occasionally experienced this over the years, and now and then, we butted heads. We sometimes would go for periods without speaking to each other because he could be a hothead and I have been known to be a bit stubborn and slow to come around when I feel wounded. Eventually, though, one of us would make that first move and nervously go back out onto the dance floor, extend a hand, and see if the other would accept.
Dad and I never apologized to each other. We never talked about our feelings or tried to iron things out. It just wasn’t the nature of our relationship. Instead, we learned from one another and changed who we were just a bit, danced a little more in rhythm with the other to show that understood. We showed that we were willing to acquiesce, just a bit to make the dance a bit smoother.
Spending time with Dad right before he died, staying at his house with him, cooking for him, sitting with him, was a gift. Because we were, in a sense, dancing that last dance together, more of a slow dance, one in which he followed more and I led more. In taking the lead, I let him know that eventually, it would be OK to sit out the next dance and let go. Dad did that this week. The dance has stopped but his legacy will live on forever.
Copyright 2012 liamsgrandma