William Holden (1931-2014)

Several months ago my dad died. He was my second dad. My family never followed hard distinctions between biological or social, much less real or step parents. My two sets of parents were always simply my American or Canadian dad or mum, depending on where they were born. This dad was my American father, the Canadian one having died many years past.

While I was able to be with dad at the end of his life, I was not able to attend the funeral. I did write this remembrance, however, read by one of dad’s other children during the memorial service. It speaks to his important influence on my religious development, and my eventual choice to choose nature and not the church when finding meaning in life.

So on this winter solstice of 2014, a date which in many cultures is revered for its connection with nature and her cycles, I thought I would share my remarks.

Death is that state in which one exists only in the memory of others, which is why it is not an end. No goodbyes, just good memories.
– Tasha Yarr.

Working on Dad’s obituary for the Unitarian-Universalist Association (UUA) reminded me of how much he touched people’s lives — as a minister, social worker, political activist, father, friend, and spouse. Dad had an astonishing array of personal and professional commitments, and he seemed to volunteer for everything! As his sister, Nancy Gear, shared her memories of his youth with me, I’ve come to appreciate how deeply rooted this was from Dad’s earliest years.

Dad had a passionate commitment to helping others throughout his life. He started early in church youth groups, scouting, teaching swimming at summer camps, and then religious education. He achieved degrees in youth leadership, social work, and ministry, all with the intention of serving others. His work in corrections, UU fellowships and interim ministries, and in countless volunteer organizations bespoke this commitment.

And I have yet to mention his personal commitment to other heart transplant patients and survivors, especially through the Second Chance for Life Foundation. Dad helped start that organization with his best friend, and brother of the heart, Joe Keating.

I have many memories of Dad to share, but allow me to focus on two that shaped my life. Two from a time in Dad’s life that precedes his abiding relationship with many of you here today.

The first experience is about reading and science fiction!

Dad was an avid reader when he was young. His sister Nancy says he was always reading from the youngest age, and he’d tune out the world when reading. He passed both these traits on to me in a way that helped shape my future life.

When I was in grade five Dad started giving me a new science fiction to read each week. He continued to do this well into high school. It was not until much later in life, when I re-read many of those same books, that I realized Dad was doing more than encouraging a joy of reading.

Dad was selecting authors that specialized in discussing contemporary social issues through the genre of science fiction. These books exposed me to ideas and debates about ethics and religion, faith and reason, freedom and responsibility, the individual and society, liberty and equality, science and social responsibility.

Dad and I were avid Trekies as well. It was much later that I discovered Dad knew that Gene Roddenberry — the creator of Star Trek — was himself a UU. Roddenberry invested his series with UU values like reason, compassion, tolerance, freedom, and solidarity. What a superb way to learn what it means to be a UU!

The second experience is about camping and the natural world.

When I was in my early teens, Dad and I went backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness. Overlooking Lake Tahoe, it is a place of alpine forests, meadows and lakes — absolutely stunning.

We spent a week hiking, camping, watching wildlife, and of course, reading books. Our family had been car camping before, and I knew that Dad had serious skills from scouting. But it was this particular trip where I experienced Dad full on as the Eagle Scout. It was also a trip where Dad talked about his religious journey.

Dad was not always a UU. He began with a strong faith in Christianity. His experience with the YMCA influenced curriculum of Springfield College lead him toward ecumenism. It was studying at Crane Theological School that was a turning point in his long journey to humanism.

But that was not the only turning point. While camping Dad explained to me his fascination with what we might call Henry Thoreau’s journey from the “indoor church” to the “church of nature”. Where some found a wider orbit of meaning and purpose within the walls of a church, Thoreau found it by embracing and immersing himself in the animals, plants and ecology of the natural world.

I can’t fully convey the impact this conversation had on me down the line. In my life and work Dad helped me choose the path of Thoreau. He never saw this as contrary to his humanism, but an outgrowth and complement to it. And for my part, I deeply admire and am proud that Dad chose to stay inside, so to speak. He has served so many both in and out of the ministry, and he did so brilliantly. He loved people, accepted who they were, and sought the best in each of us.

And so Dad remains with us, in the minds of others, and with many good memories to share.

We love you. Rest in peace.

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