I have given many speeches in my life. None has ever been more important to me than the one I’m about to give…….what a great honor it is to be asked by my mom and siblings.
Dad (to me & a bunch here), Grandad (to an even bigger brood), Great-grandad to 1, Tom (to most) and even “Tommy” for at least few people here was many things to many people.
He was the Bell Telephone, AT&T, etc, etc retiree and the SAP consultant and the guy with the big family……but, he was so much more to so many more……someone who quietly and faithfully marched forward in life……one foot in front of the other (one of his favorite sayings)……in order to leave the world a little better than he found it (another)…..something he clearly did as evidenced by the touching memories and outpouring of friendship shared by so many these last few days…
My Dad was a pretty fantastic human…..a really good man. And although his humility and kindness would never allow him to thump his chest or brag in any way…..lucky for you, not all of us were endowed with such restraint.
Let’s start with the easy one – by at least 1 definition, Tom Eisenhart was an American Hero…..in the formal sense. As the US Military says it – The Bronze Star is awarded to any person who is distinguished by heroic or meritorious achievement or service……for those that really knew him, there is little surprise that he acted heroically in his moment under fire…..
There are countless examples of him having the courage to do the right thing when things got tough, even when it wasn’t the popular thing……whether it was scary things like volunteering to serve in the days of a military draft or moving his family away from home to a small town in NJ where people wore blue jeans to school and church (talk about culture shock), or REALLY scary things like trusting any of us with the car keys or facing the wrath of my mom after leaving a few of us now pasty jersey kids at the beach in Miami for too long without enough sunscreen…..the man had courage.
He didn’t talk about those early acts all that much. I didn’t know and he didn’t tell me in high-school when I first borrowed the tie I’m wearing today that the colors were in honor of Vietnam Veterans, someone else, a teacher I think, pointed it out as I walked down the hallway. Maybe that’s because some things are best left unsaid or maybe because as time marched on he much preferred to put his energy and voice into other louder and more enthusiastic roles……like cheerleader.
As early as I can remember my Dad was a cheerleader…..or at very least a cheerleader-Dad. It started as the proud parent of two cheerleading daughters at the Southwest Broward Junior Athletic Association (or SWaB JAA as we called it). His was the booming voice in complete and total support, thundering from the sidelines.
You know when cheerleaders say “we say this and you say that?” – well, the look of utter disbelief from anyone who wasn’t ready for so much volume to come out of a 5 foot 6 inch frame was absolutely priceless…….it defied logic….and physics.
As the years went by the energy to “be there as the number 1 fan” never faded, not ever. It carried over to football sidelines and baseball grandstands, it was at cross country and countless road-races, it made its way to the Boston Marathon more than once to witness one of his own on a course he dreamed of racing in the days he was adding layers of shoe goo to his Saucony’s and laying down a personal best at the Orange Bowl Marathon.
The number one fan energy was there for many second-generation cheerleading competitions, soccer games, school plays, recitals, concerts, triathlons and only a few weekends ago felt loud and clear on the side of the rugby pitch.
It was always there. In full and total support. Every time.
But perhaps the most widely experienced explosion of support was found near the wrestling mats where anyone and everyone around knew that someone named Eisenhart or perhaps Bagley or Wadle or Cosgrove or at very least wearing the Green and Gold of North Hunterdon was about to pin an opponent. It may have sounded a lot like “SQUEEEEEEEEZE” which of course is the word he became known for bellowing……..but in that simple 1 syllable…..long and drawn out as it was, what he really meant was “YESSSS……I knew you could do it. I believe in you. Maybe more than you believe in you. Hard-work always pays off…..you did it”…..he just didn’t need all those words to make the point.
You see, whether it was loud enough to rise above the crowd or in the quiet calm of a genuinely caring interaction, my Dad had a special way with words. In addition to “hero” and cheerleader (which we lovingly renamed to loudmouth), he was also our co-author, editor and wordsmith.
Language mattered to Tom Eisenhart. Communication was not something to be taken lightly. It was a game of precision, an art-form even, because when done thoughtfully, words had the power to both soothe the hurt and challenge the status quo, to inspire and maybe even change things for the better.
My Dad spent MANY “after hours” in the radiant glow of the monitor attached to the early personal computer which was positioned quite literally next to his bedside (as our poor mom tried to sleep). We learned how to weave themes into a solid structure……that you had to tell them what you were going to tell them….then tell them…..and then tell them what you told them.
We learned that a little bit of humor or vulnerability would be the most memorable. And some of us, the ones who may have found ourselves at the mercy of the local 7th grade disciplinarian who was having a bad day, learned that with some creativity, you could pack a lot of sarcasm into a 500 word essay. That paper was given high marks……but the joy was in writing it……
Maybe that was because in his own way, Tom Eisenhart was also just a little bit of a rebel…..not in the “without a cause” or “without a clue” way, he was far too methodical and meticulous for that…..but always adding just a little creative twist…..some slightly crazy idea that few would’ve thought of, fewer would ever understand and almost no one would be willing to try…..to hammer home the point or get the desired outcome…..that was where My Dad thrived. Because he loved a good story, but what he really loved was a good lesson, mission or cause.
I think that’s probably why he loved watching the A-team and the Dukes of Hazzard which he did with visible excitement or why a James Bond or Mission Impossible movie would draw him in like a magnet, because stories of good versus evil, little guy against tall odds, everyday robin hood who uses brain power and ingenuity was not just a story it was HIS story.
He LOVED IT when the plan came together….not in the cigar chomping, martini shaking macho rebel way, but because of what was at stake. See Tom was the kind of rebel who fights through the darkness with light, the kind that wields a deep faith in a power much stronger than himself….something that is all around us always….impacting everything we do……the rebel he was most like was Yoda…..which used to always get the patented Tom Eisenhart “we both know I’m up to something” grin when we told him.
Whether you use the label that he did and call that force God or call it by its simpler-to-understand four letter name, LOVE, my Dad had it, he taught it and frankly, changed lives when he channeled it…..something he often found a way to do…..see, Tom Eisenhart would tell you he had very modest abilities and strength…..but I suppose when you’re armed with the greatest force in the universe……love……and you’re not afraid to use it……it doesn’t really take that much of anything else to do great things.
Visiting the homebound, bringing them communion? Yes, there were many years of that.
Inviting someone who didn’t have a place or family to celebrate-with to pull up a chair at our family table? Yes, on more than one holiday.
Moving something ridiculously heavy, like a piano, for a neighbor? Teenage sons could probably use a good workout anyway.
With love he even drove into the darkest place in the universe, the place where he most hated to drive. Yes, we all went into that place they call Manhattan, so we could celebrate Christmas at midnight at Covenant House alongside the many homeless youth they served because their mission spoke to him……because that’s who he was.
He could always find a way to quietly give more than he could afford – time, money, energy or a fully engaged listening ear – he knew full well we get back many times more than we give……you see, Tom Eisenhart was a long-term investor, an endurance guy, a cultivator – someone who understood the power of planting seeds or even humble seedlings in well fertilized soil, tending to them and watching them lay strong roots over a long period of time.
You’d never know if you drive by the house where we grew up how small and humble those spruce trees started. You’d never know how many times we mowed over those now tall and strong oaks at Brown Court while he was out running the legendary, at least in our house, “5 mile loop”.
Stepping into that not-yet-finished house in the early 80’s surrounded by that not-yet-seeded clay footprint, none of us could have envisioned how perfect that lawn would be for backyard football and endless games of wiffle ball, for hearing (or smelling) the obviously crazed-cow from the nearby farm or for celebrating the addition of new brothers after he proudly walked daughters down the aisle….but it sure seemed like my Dad could see it. We should’ve known he’d repeat the feat after they moved up the road; that he’d have it just right for high stakes easter egg hunts and other family traditions…..but we never gave it much thought, because he did it quietly, often in the background.
But he wasn’t ACTUALLY one of those manicured lawn types, the literal planting of seeds and cultivating soil was important but not nearly as important as other seeds……like respect and discipline – helping us to understand that creativity and excitement is best built on a solid foundation of respect for other people and the things they hold dear, whether they have a lot or a little and no matter how differently they see the world than we do.
He taught us that food belongs in the “food room”, elbows belong off the dinner table, hats are meant for outdoors and if you were going to leave the house, you darn sure better have a belt in those loops…..I still panic a little if somehow I walk out of the house without one.
He showed us that with the right effort seeds of new ideas and new businesses could grow, seeds of community cultivated through shared experiences could sprout, that the “city on the hill” was a worthy vision and that if you cared enough to meet them where they were, the hearts and minds of the next generation, no matter how old they already were, could be the single greatest investment anyone could make. He was always teaching & guiding. In CCD or as a substitute teacher, as a destination imagination coach, with men’s cornerstone and even as a teacher’s aide in early retirement. The man sowed the seeds of self-confidence by working to make everyone feel important and included. Through a gentle smile or a pat on the shoulder or an invitation to go for a run with the group, to help them see what he could see, that they could do more and be more…..
But if you asked him, I’d bet he’d say the most important saplings he tended to were the ones that are sitting near the front today…..see, above all things, Tom Eisenhart was a family man. It was his mission, his joy and his greatest treasure.
Day in and day out, decade in and decade out he put his family first. He showed what it meant to be a loving enough husband and father to work really hard at it, even when it was really really hard work. He showed what it means to take absolute JOY in the role of granddad, just about bursting with emotion at every achievement, celebrating every milestone as if it were the most important thing ever, hanging on every word and relishing every chance to hold a new baby or get a hug from a little one as if it was charging his soul…..always at the ready with a handkerchief or comb.
Over the last couple years as his body stopped cooperating, he somehow still found a way to comfort and support us…..even while we tried our best to comfort and support him.
Tom Eisenhart was a powerful spirit, full of light and optimism. He was a cultivator, a communicator, a loudmouth cheerleader and the number one fan for anyone doing it for the right reasons.
To know him was to be loved – he was a fantastic Dad and we will miss him dearly…..along with the memory of who he was, we will hold on to the memory of how far his loving influence reached.
It has been so comforting to see that so many others saw in him what we were lucky enough to have…..a loving father, a loyal brother, a devoted husband, a companion on the journey and a fantastic human.
We are sad that he is not physically with us but take great solace in knowing exactly where he’ll be. BEAMING alongside the ones his heart ached for in moments like these, welcomed in by the one he so faithfully served.
Thank you for being with us in our grief, please continue to lift him up in your thoughts and prayers.
Mike E, on behalf of the Eisenharts.