The Eulogy – by Karrie (McLean) Martin

05/18/2010

(NOTE from Joleen: Today, on the 2-week anniversary of my dad’s funeral and the 3-week anniversary of his death, it seems fitting to remind us all what Frank Firek meant to us and some of the great lessons he taught along the way.  Take it away, Karrie…)

As you all know, Uncle Frank was magic… so I must be honest and tell you that late last night, I found myself saying a little prayer… asking him for just one more magic trick… because it will be nothing short of magic if I can describe to you this amazing man in seven minutes or less without crying to the point of speechlessness… so please, F.A., just one more trick!

My uncle, My Godfather, my father’s best friend: Frank Firek, my F.A., was all of these… to Aunt Fran, he was Prince Charming.  To Frank Jr., Todd and Joleen, he was Dad.  To Frankie and Ashton, he was Grandpa.  To many, he was boss, to others he was Coach, or Mentor.  To some, he was “Mr. Magic.”  To countless people, he was friend.  And to all of us, he was a teacher.

During the days of our long goodbye, I pondered what I would miss most.  Would it be his smile?  His laugh?  The excitement in his voice when he greeted me with a resounding, “FA – I said it first!”  (FA, short for Fat Albert, being a nick name that we had shared for as long as I can remember.)  I found myself questioning why he had been such an important part of my life, and suddenly the answer was clear.  What I will miss most about my FA, will be the lessons that he was forever teaching me.  Because honestly, I didn’t learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten.  Everything I ever needed to know about being a good human being, I learned from my Uncle Frank.

From FA I learned that heroes do exist, that fairy tales sometimes come true, and that the Beatles weren’t lying when they said “all you need is love.”  Uncle Frank taught me that persistence pays off, that a promise is something worth keeping, and that magic IS present in every fleeting moment of this rare and precious life we’ve been given.  By watching him interact with others, I learned that kindness is the key to happiness, that diversity is the spice of life, and that living a life which abounds with childlike wonder will bring joy to everyone you meet.  But perhaps the most important lesson he taught all of us is that there is no greater power on this Earth than love.

Aunt Fran and Uncle Frank proved to the world that soul mates do exist and that love is ALL you need.  From a small house in Redford with carpet samples covering the floor… to a life of worldwide travel and a penthouse on the Hilton Head beach… their epic love was the driving force and the crazy glue that made this fairy tale possible.  Regardless of the challenges that life laid before them, their fortress of love was unwavering.  I grew up watching them love each other.  Watching them play backgammon together at the kitchen table and dance across the kitchen floor, watching them hold hands at every possible chance, watching Uncle Frank massaging her feet while they watched TV… and knowing that when I grew up, I wanted a love like theirs.

I also spent a fair bit of time as a child wishing that they were my parents instead of my Godparents.  I didn’t realize it then, but now I know that Uncle Frank was busy teaching me how to someday be a parent.  It was obvious that Uncle Frank was the coolest Dad in the world ~ Frank, Todd and Joleen had mopeds, parties, a pinball machine, a pool table, and a secret closet to talk on the phone in that was FILLED with sugar cereal and sweet treats!  But there was more to their dad than that…  He was the original “Hands-on-Dad!”  He was their Cub Scout leader, their coach, their cheerleader, and their mentor.  When most dads would say, “Go outside and play!”  Uncle Frank would say, “Let’s go outside to play together!”  Whether it was a game of tag that involved the whole neighborhood scaling fences, shimmying down poles and jumping off decks, or a squirt gun fight that spanned an entire condo complex soaking innocent bystanders, Uncle Frank was always the one leading the fun!  When other dads said, “Go to bed!”  Uncle Frank would say, “Stay out here until I call you” and would then proceed to set up elaborate “haunted hallway” and would scare the kids silly as they ran down the hall toward their beds.  And while other dads would be angry when their children made small mistakes, like running over the hard top to a prized ’59 Corvette, or knocking the mirror off a brand new moped… Uncle Frank would put on his angriest face, for a moment or two, before his endless smile would melt the angry face away and he would crack a joke instead of doling out a punishment.  That is not to say that he didn’t know how to strike fear in small children… because he did!  He had a mask collection to rival a Halloween store and I never knew when he was going to come around a corner wearing one of them!
Uncle Frank taught me to face my fears head on when I was still small.  Looking back, I don’t think it was a coincidence that he always needed ME to get him something from the basement.  I would stand at the top of those stairs, toes curling over the edge, trying to gather my courage for the decent into The Viking Lounge.  I’d count to three, sprint down the stairs with my little fingers bumping against the wallpaper, turn the corner, run like hell, grab the desired object, and get back to the stairs as fast as my seven-year-old legs could carry me!  I never fully outgrew the distinct feeling that one of those hairy Vikings was going to step off that wall and gobble me up whole!  As an adult, he taught me how a hero faces fear… because on a spring day, three years ago, it was FA who stood on that scary precipice, facing a most terrifying diagnosis and, in true Frank Firek style, he was determined to run, to dance, to love, to laugh, and to teach his way through it.

Determination and persistence were ever present qualities in FA’s life… You don’t successfully start a business from scratch, knowing NOTHING about the said business, without a fair amount of determination!  You don’t finish your second marathon, 20 years after your first and three minutes faster, without persistence.  And you certainly don’t decide to conquer the problems of the Detroit public school system single handedly through a one-on-one reading program without an amazing amount of both!  And so, upon his diagnosis, he set out to write the book that he had long talked about writing and through his determination and persistence, he kept his word, and made yet another dream come true.

Uncle Frank always kept his word… even to my mother’s chagrin.  When my sister, Katie, and I were young, he promised us that EVERY time he came to our house he would play with us… and so, on nights when Aunt Fran and Uncle Frank would end up back at our house, regardless of the time, he would come running into our bedroom, throw on the lights and tickle us until we were sufficiently wide awake and laughing hysterically.  He also once promised to buy me a bird for my birthday…  All I am going to say is that it took a year for the story to unfold, and by the end of it, two important lessons had been learned: 1.) Uncle Frank always keeps his promises; and 2.) The Master of Pranks will not be out done… even if it means renting an elephant!  There was certainly something magical about seeing that elephant saunter down Northville’s Main St.

Everything about Uncle Frank was magical ~ he didn’t just do magic tricks, he WAS magic!  It was as if those graceful fingers were the most powerful magic wands in the world.  He delighted friends, family and strangers with his magic shows.  He knew how to transform mundane moments into magical memories.  He taught me that there is magic in traditions; be it a pen set won in Vegas, a Christmas Eve story recited by heart, or a small red and white bear with a desire to go places!  If you knew Frank Firek, you knew that magic does, in fact, exist.  And so, I can’t say that I was surprised by his final disappearing act.  It seems only fitting that the magician would wait until the stage was perfectly set, and the music, which coursed through his veins, was just right.  With his final dance danced and his final beer drank, he had just one more lesson to remind us of before he rocked and rolled up to heaven.  In his daughter’s arms, he reminded us one last time, that LOVE is all you need.

Many years ago, Uncle Frank was asked to speak at a funeral, and during his speech he said that memory is the ability to smell a rose in December.  Thank you, FA, for all of the memories… for I shall have a bouquet of roses to enjoy when December roll around.

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