Tribute to My Father-In-Law, Dan Remley

We’re gathering today to honor and celebrate Dan Remley’s life. My name is Conrad Hilario, Dan’s son-in-law. I knew Dan for twelve years. During this time, I grew to truly love Dan and felt a deep affection for him.

Dan possessed many great qualities that I could share. However, I wanted to highlight just five qualities that stood out to me. First…

1. Dan possessed a mighty mustache.

It was part of Dan’s iconic look. His mustache made Tom Selleck look like Justin Bieber. Hilary claims she has never seen her dad’s upper lip. It’s alleged that his upper lip was spotted in the early ‘70s, but I was unable to confirm that report. Second…

2. Dan took an interest in your interests.

Most people you talk to, politely wait their turn to speak. Dan listened. It didn’t seem like his thoughts were restlessly wandering somewhere else. He was present, in the moment. But he did more than listen.

He was genuine interested in your interests. My father-in-law regularly talked to me about cycling. During the months of July, we would talk about the drama surrounding certain stages in the Tour de France. To my knowledge, he never watched the Tour de France before he met me. He probably watched because he wanted to connect with me and because he knew no one else was willing to talk to me about cycling. Thirdly…      

3. Dan was indomitable.

Though he could be stubborn, to characterize him as “stubborn” would be too negative. Though he was tough, “tough” comes off as too macho. The Oxford English Dictionary defines indomitable as, “Not easily controlled or directed, incapable of being subdued, overcome, or vanquished.” Those who knew and loved him, saw him this way.

Dan didn’t complain. I remember one time, our family got lunch at a Middle Eastern restaurant. He ordered a Kefta and explicitly told the cashier, “No cucumbers.” When he sat and opened his sandwich, it was brimming with cucumbers. He snorted in frustration. I asked, “Is everything alright?” “I told them ‘No cucumbers.’” I said, “You should go up to the counter and make them remake your sandwich.” He looked down at his Kefta and said, “I’ll suffer.” 

Trials and suffering either expose our true character or they reveal the extent of our character. As I watched my father-in-law battle cancer, I never once hear him complain.   

Dan did not quietly surrender to the cancer that attacked his body. Among the many things Dan read, he enjoyed the writings of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. In maybe Thomas’ most famous poem, he writes:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas dedicated this poem to his father, who weakened with age and lost his sight in his eighties. The poem urges an older man not to give up and yield to the final ‘night’ of death.

My father-in-law survived for two years, after the doctors told him he had Pancreatic Cancer. He worked until a couple months before he passed. And he fought till the very end. Fourthly…

4. Dan was nurturing.

Although he was a quiet and resilient man, he was by no means disengaged. “Papa,” as his grandchildren referred to him, would read to them. He would play games with them. He would ask them questions about school, their interests and sports. If one of his grandchildren expressed sadness or frustration, he would try to draw them out of with questions. He always referred to his grandchildren as “sweetie.”

My father-in-law was an emotionally engaged father. Hilary recounts how her dad went camping with her, how he did Indian Princesses with her, and built boxcars with her. Every year we were married, Hilary would find a Valentine’s Day card in the mail addressed to her from her dad. Fifth and finally…       

5. Dan was God’s son.

Dan’s favorite artist was Joni Mitchell. In the final chorus of her famous son Woodstock, Joni says,

We are stardust
Billion-year-old carbon
We are golden…
And we’ve got to get ourselves
back to the Garden.

Joni used biblical imagery to capture unity and love people shared at that event. She later commented,

“It was really something, that people could be so good to each other. Even if it was only for three days…So I wrote a song for that group to sing.”

Joni Mitchell can’t describe these rare moments without reminding us that we’re just “stardust…billion-year-old carbon.

And yet, Scripture tells us we’re much more than billion-year-old carbon; that we’re more than the collection of our experiences. It declares that God made us as his image-bearers, whom he loves and relentlessly pursues.

The Gospel of Luke tells a remarkable story of how one of the thieves on the cross who hung next to Jesus, used one of his last breathes to request something from Jesus. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Two and a half years ago, Dan received news from a doctor that altered his life and the lives of those who loved him. This news caused him to ask questions that most of us postpone answering. “Is God real?” “Is there an afterlife?” His search end with him inviting “Jesus in his life,” months before he passed.

My father-in-law passed out of this life with assurance of next. He did so without fear, surrounded by the people he loved most, greeted by the heavenly Father who loves him.