As many of you know, my dad, Art Caulfield, died two weeks ago, at the age of 66, from anaplastic thyroid cancer. In a way it was due to a long illness — the anaplastic form of this cancer was new, but he had battled thyroid cancer before, both in his 30s and about eight years ago. But the new incidence was sudden, moving from a pain in the shoulder on father’s day to his death five weeks later.
I could have written a river of prose on this blog about him and his life in the days just after he died, and I felt compelled to, but something about that felt to cloying and too raw, as if I was asking for pity or condolence, when that wasn’t really the point.
But today, curious, I googled “Arthur Caulfield” and “Arthur E. Caulfield” and found that the man that had introduced me to the power of the Internet — the person who encouraged me to join my first bulletin board site as a kid of 13, the person who I remember excitedly coming home one day in the late 80s with a copy of Vanevar Bush’s “As We May Think” and telling me how hypertext on top of networks was going to change the world — this man has no internet footprint of his own.
And that’s just wrong, just plain wrong.
So I beg your indulgence here — I am pasting his eulogy below. It’s not a plea for sympathy or condolence — but just a matter of justice I think — For those that may be looking for him in the future, whether they be old friends from Presque Isle, people he knew when he served in Vietnam, or friends he may have had at Digital Equipment (DEC) — I want them to find something substantial. And this blog is the most effective way to make that happen.
Eulogy for Art Caulfield
The Greeks had a word to describe a quality of perfect conversation, one which translates roughly as “a graceful playfulness”. It’s the place in between being meaningful yet joyless, and, on the other extreme, being light-hearted yet lacking in depth. It’s the perfect intersection where a lightness of heart and creativity of the mind meet deep meaning and emotional resonance.
Anybody who talked to my Dad for even a couple of minutes knew he had that in spades. A conversation with him was a joy. It was never labored, it was engaged without being adversarial, it was witty but deeply meaningful. He fired on all cylinders: emotional, moral, intellectual, and it was all suffused with the joy he took in being with you in that exact moment. I’ve been struck all my life how deeply people that have only talked to my Dad a couple times feel they know him. I’d be defensive, and think that they can’t REALLY have known him, but often talking to them you find that they do. And I think that that is because his conversation was very much a reflection of his life. He had a graceful playfulness in all he did.
His relationship to my mom was extraordinary. They never fought. For 45 years they drank in one another’s company, and they never ran out things to say. They were partners, best friends, true lovers. They were inspiring to watch. Once when I was joking about Nicole and I going on a “date night” I remembered that my Mom and Dad had had a couple date nights way back when and I asked my Dad whatever happened to that. He told me he and my Mom had figured out they didn’t have to go somewhere to be on a date. And as much as I’d like to attribute that to his legendary frugality, it was true. Every morning at the breakfast table was a date for them.
He loved us kids. The images and memories we will treasure are often related to the curiosity and interest he had in everything in the world. He loved a good science project, the boom of the Van De Graf generator at the Boston Museum of Science, or sitting in the backyard watching a total eclipse of the moon. Even when he was completely overwhelmed with work, he couldn’t resist a Lego or Erector Set.
And he’d turn all these things into good-natured competition, not out of a sense of aggressiveness, but out of that boyish exuberance and wonder that he never lost, no matter how old he got. He would sometimes lumber and shuffle around, but challenge him to a game of ping pong, and the man was Baryshnikov. I am sure it was not lost on him that in the last All-Caulfield ping-pong tournament he won, at the age of 66, over us thirty something upstarts.
He treasured his retirement. He was made to be a grandfather, and he took to it like something he had trained for all his life. His grandchildren adored him, and he indulged them accordingly. Once in Florida, my sister watched two of her kids making a game out of dumping buckets of warm and cold water over his head in the pool. He hammed it up, thanking them for the hot buckets, and making mock-aggravation noises when the cold buckets were dumped on him. Jen watched, wondering when he would finally have had enough of the water torture, but soon realized as long as the kids were having fun, he would never say he had enough.
He always took better care of other people than he did of himself. The minute someone had car problems he’d pack up his tools and help them out, and get their car into tip top shape. At the same time, he preferred to drive his Taurus wagon around with a bumper visibly affixed with twine and superglue, clearly avoiding the chore of maintenance. For every unfinished project in his own house, there are four or five projects he finished in someone else’s.
He couldn’t stand for people to be worried over him, although he worried very much about other people. He fought very hard on his last day to stay lucid, because he knew his children were on his way to be with him. He wanted us to have a chance to say goodbye, for our own sake. We were told not to stop, because Dad thought that he could only hold on a bit more. When we got there could barely speak through the pain and the swelling, but with us all around the bed looking so despondent he managed to say “You know, I sure wish I could throw a better party.” It was the last sentence he would end up saying.
Grace, and wit, and a deep resonant love that warmed you to your core.
In the hospital, the day before he died, my brother Ben came to visit him and my Dad told him how happy he was that Ben and Caitlin were getting married. “I hope you have a wonderful marriage,” he said. Then he struggled a bit, trying to concentrate through the toxins and said “After all these years you’d think I’d have have some better words of wisdom for you, but I just can’t think of anything else right now”.
He shouldn’t have worried. He had given us wisdom all his life. “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans” he would always tell us, quoting Lennon — and it was true, because in the end for each unread book in the house and each abandoned business idea in the basement, for each thing undone or unsaid or unfinished, there are the things he chose to put his time into instead — the people around him, his friends, his family, and most of all, his life with Mom, who he loved more dearly than anything. People in the hospital would ask if this was their second marriage — they couldn’t imagine people being so tender and dedicated to one another after forty-five years. I watched as nurses came into the room crying, and saying how much my parents love had inspired them. That was over a period of two and a half weeks. Many people here saw that love over a lifetime, and it inspired all of us that much more.
It’s hard, it’s very hard. He was taken away far too young. I’d say he had so much more to give, but he gave so much already. More to the point, I wish he was here so we could give back to him, to repay him for everything he did for us. But it’s not to be, and anyway it would take a lifetime to repay.
When I think of him, and how he would want us to react to this, however, I’m pretty sure I know. He wants us all to be happy, and light-hearted right now — he knows that we can be serious without being depressed and moral without being self- important. He went as far as he could, and it is now up to us to share that graceful playfulness that was his gift to us for so many, many years.