There is no experience quite like losing a parent. When it falls on you to write a eulogy for the father who raised you, it's natural to feel anxious and overwhelmed. Regardless of whether your relationship with your father was warm and loving or very troubled, you may not know how to write a eulogy for a father like yours. How would you? You've never done it before. You might not even be quite sure what belongs in a eulogy.
What is a Eulogy?
A eulogy is a tribute, either verbal or written, usually presented at a memorial for someone who has passed away. But this definition doesn't do justice to the experience of hearing such a tribute, particularly when it is given by someone who loved the deceased person.
Why Eulogies Matter
Composing and giving a eulogy can be a difficult experience, there is no doubt about it. But it is also extremely powerful. It helps friends and family remember the person and all of the qualities that made him or her special. As you speak about your father's life and the memories that you have of him, you help everyone in attendance process their own feelings.
Only someone who was close to the person who died can give a truly powerful eulogy. A stranger can memorialize with facts but there is nothing like the words of a loved one to bond a community of mourners and remember a dear person who has passed away. For you as the eulogist, it is a bittersweet privilege.
How to Write a Eulogy
Many eulogists have never written or presented a speech before. Even if you have, the unfamiliarity of the task blended with the disorientation of grief may have you feeling intimidated. That's perfectly understandable. Take a breath and think of the writing process as incorporating five specific steps. That way, it becomes much more approachable.
Step 1: Gather information and ideas
You may be feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of memories that you have of your father. That's actually a good sign. It means that you have a breadth of material to draw from, so don't start censoring yourself or editing it down just yet.
Brainstorm. You don't need to write in complete sentences; this is just for you. Take note of all the memories you think you might want to share. Write down what your father believed in and how those beliefs informed his choices. Write about what mattered to him and what made him happiest in the world. If he went through difficult times and overcame struggle, write about that too. Feel free to draw inspiration from family photos, cards he sent you, or his everyday belongings.
You don't need to write in complete sentences; this is just for you.
You don't even have to limit your brainstorming to your own memories. Take some time to talk with family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Find out what they loved about your father and what they remember. This might be the part of the process that gives you the most personal comfort.
Step 2: Decide on a theme and tone
Once you feel satisfied that you have enough to work with, read over the notes you made, looking for common threads. For example, you might find that many of your stories mention your father's love for his family, while others encapsulate his belief in hard work. Identify two or three themes like this.
Thinking about themes can also help you to determine the tone you want the eulogy to take on. Some eulogies are formal and solemn, while others are more playful and humorous. Consider the tone of the service overall, its level of formality and tradition, but focus on your father's personality. How would he want a celebration of his life to sound?
Step 3: Organize your ideas
Now you have anecdotes and thoughts about your father, as well as an idea of how you want the speech to sound. The next step is to take the general and the specific and meet in the middle. That means creating a structure.
Begin a framework
While you don't have to write the kind of outline that you learned in school, complete with indentations and "correct" formatting, your writing will go much more smoothly if you are able to organize your thoughts.
Take a piece of paper, or open a new word processing document. At the top of the page, write “Introduction.” Near the end, write “Conclusion.” Chances are, you will already feel like you are getting somewhere.
Create sub-sections by topic
The next part requires the most thought. The body of the eulogy is where you put all of the memories and thoughts that fit with your theme. This is the time when you have to start culling the stories you collected.
Just like you divided the whole document into sections, divide the body into sections as well. Decide on three to five main ideas, depending on the length of your eulogy. Make a bullet point for each and sandwich them between the introduction and conclusion. If you selected “family” and “work” as your themes, your bullet points might be something like:
- How your father came through for you and your siblings (if you have any)
- Favorite memories with grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and other young family members
- The values that you hold because of him
- How he taught his children to work hard
Notice that these are not individual stories, but rather categories into which those stories can go. Once you have the categories chosen, you can choose those stories that fit best into the developing arc of the speech and communicate what you want to say about your father.
Step 4: Write it out
If you are an experienced speaker, you may decide not to write the eulogy out word for word. That said, there's nothing wrong with writing it all out if you feel like you might need to read it verbatim, or if there’s a chance you’ll want to ask someone to read it in your place.
Either way, you'll want to start in the middle. Leave the introduction and conclusion for later and focus on the body. Take each bullet point and the stories you have chosen for it and write them so that they fit with your chosen tone.
Once you have the body written, think about how you want to end the eulogy. You might want to start by briefly summarizing who your father was, as you have described him, and thank the people who have come to remember him. You can end with a quote, a blessing, a song or poem, or a simple loving goodbye. Whatever you think encapsulates your father best will be the right way to go.
Finally, write the introduction. It should set the tone for the eulogy and give the audience a taste of what is to come. Quotes go as well in introductions as they do in conclusions, and so do song lyrics and poetry. Of course, your father might have preferred a joke. Like the rest of the eulogy, this part should communicate who he was as its primary purpose.
Step 5: Review and edit
When you finish writing your father's eulogy, you can put it aside for a short time and take a rest. Writing a eulogy is emotionally and mentally tiring, and you are most likely already worn out from the day-to-day work of grieving.
In a little while, though, pick it back up again and read it through. Think about whether the stories you chose are expanding on the themes of the eulogy. Add anything that you feel needs to be said and cut out anything that doesn't quite fit. Read it one more time and make sure that it flows well, that it has plenty of vivid detail, and that it has at least a little bit of levity. Your audience will thank you for it.
If you've written it out word-for-word, be sure to read it aloud. It's easy for a sentence or a paragraph to sound natural on paper but become clunky when spoken. Try to make it about four to eight minutes in length and type it in a font that's easy to read.
A Few Examples
There is no one right way to eulogize your father, but it can help to see how others have done it. Here are a few examples of eulogies that you can use as a jumping-off point.
An Example of a Eulogy for a Loving Father from a Daughter
My Father, My Teacher
“Do not seek yourself outside yourself.” When my father founded a private school in 1981, these were the words he chose to use as its motto. I grew up hearing them, but it wasn't until I became an adult that I realized how well they encapsulated not only who he was as a person, but also who he was as a father. He liked what he liked and he was who he was, and he encouraged us to be true to ourselves as well.
Part of what made him so unique was his story. A late-in-life dad, he lived almost 50 years before his first child, yours truly, was born. And while that means I lost him before my 25th birthday, while most of my friends' dads are still saving for retirement, it also means that he had a wealth of life experience to share.
Forging His Own Path
As a young man, my father wanted to be a teacher. But his dad, a small-town barber, thought he could make more money in finance. So after his honorable discharge from the Army, my father moved to the big city and joined a financial company.
Spoilers – it didn't become his lifelong career. A few years later, he moved back home and finally began pursuing his dream of teaching. He ended up working with gifted students in an elementary school close to where he grew up, and that's where he met my mother. I was born four years later.
Because my dad was discouraged from pursuing his dream, his own support of us was absolute and unconditional. We could go in whatever direction we wanted, even if it didn't pay well. Hence my theater degree. Seriously, though, as soon as it was clear that the drama thing was my passion and not just a phase, my dad didn't think twice about jumping in the car to drive me to rehearsals, dance classes, and auditions. No judgment, just support.
The Power of Learning
My dad also knew that education was the way to open doors. He got the idea for the Academy two hours after I was born. He wanted a school where I and other kids who were gifted or talented... and modest… would not only build a solid academic foundation but also learn how to learn. We were taught study skills alongside our multiplication tables. We even learned how to diagram sentences. Yeah.
He spent countless hours in his office at the Academy, saying goodnight to us over the phone. He left vacations early to get crucial administrative tasks done during the summer months. It wasn't his first choice, but he believed in what he was doing. He took great care to make sure the teachers he hired were skilled and that the curriculum was strong. He was hands-on because he knew what kids needed to be academically successful.
A Favorite Memory
Because my dad was an individual, he knew what self-confidence could do to a person, and to a kid. Those of you who know me will be not at all surprised to find out that I was a bit of a misfit kid. Especially in middle school, I struggled to make friends. It didn't make me feel great about myself. But one day, on a normal everyday drive, probably to rehearsal, my dad told me that I was more myself than any kid he'd ever met. From him, that was the highest of compliments, and it made me feel so much better about being a bit odd.
My dad wasn't a touchy-feely kind of guy. But I knew he loved me, and I knew he was in my corner, no matter what. And he always will be. Thank you, Dad. Thank you for everything.
So, there you have a eulogy. Were you able to identify the themes? This particular eulogy focuses on the beloved father's life stories, his faith in education, and his belief in individuality. But it presents them in a way that they flow naturally together.
Take particular note of the introduction, which sets a tone for the piece and gives the audience an idea of what to expect. The closing is a thank you and a loving farewell, a classic end to a eulogy.
Also, notice the detailed and specific stories that give this eulogy its emotional strength. Finally, although the speech’s grammar isn't perfect, it sounds natural when spoken and allows the speaker to connect with the audience.
An Example of a Eulogy for a Loving Father from a Son
“There is no joy in Mudville; mighty Casey has struck out.” Hello, everyone, and thank you for coming here to say goodbye to my father. My dad was nothing like Casey, immortalized in the Ernest Lawrence Thayer poem "Casey at the Bat." Casey was prideful and refused to even try if the pitch wasn't perfect. My dad gave his all no matter what, and he always put others before his own pride. But he did love baseball.
Love and a Childhood Dream
My father took me to my first baseball game when I was nine. Afterward, I told him that I was going to be a pitcher when I grew up.
As a child, I was nearsighted, bookish, and clumsy. I wasn't the star of phys ed. (Shocking, I know.) I'm sure my father knew that I was never going to be a professional athlete. But he also knew that I was nine and that I would eventually figure out that my destiny lay elsewhere So he signed me up for Little League and practiced with me daily.
In our league, everyone got some time on the pitcher's mound. I would love to tell you that my debut as a pitcher was straight out of a baseball movie and that I struck everyone out and became the star of the team. But I was terrible. I mean, really terrible. I told my father that I didn't think I could ever become a pitcher.
A Father's Guidance
Dad didn't lie to me and say I'd make it, but he also didn't say that I should give up. He told me that because I truly loved baseball, no one could take it away from me. He told me I would always find a way to play. Those words, kind but honest, helped me to go out and find what I was good at while keeping baseball in my life however I could.
These days, I play softball on my company team. I'm still terrible. But every time I step onto the field, I feel that love for baseball that my father promised me I had.
A Voice for the Voiceless
Some of you know this story, some don't, but most if not all of you knew my father. You know he was a deeply empathetic man and a loving father, husband, and friend. You know that he was a public defender and that he chose that line of work because he wanted to be a voice for those who were vulnerable.
My dad fought for his clients with everything that he had. He never discussed the details of his cases with us, but we know that there were several cases that his colleagues wanted to end in plea bargain, even though the client was professing innocence. My dad always stuck by his clients. And a lot of the time, he won.
Our Dad, Our Champion
He fought for us, too, with even more persistence and dedication. When my younger sister was in seventh grade, a group of girls accused her of cheating on a test. My sister was the only one who did well, so the popular girls decided to tell everyone that she cheated. They made a fake cheat sheet and said they found it in her desk.
The worst part was that the teacher believed her and gave her an automatic failing grade, so my dad went in and talked to the guidance counselor. The counselor said they had a policy of not changing grades by parent request. So he asked if he could at least see the cheat sheet, and he had the handwriting professionally analyzed. The school still didn't believe him, so he sent the handwriting analysis to the school board.
Sacrificing for His Children
Should I mention that he turned down a high-profile case so he could have the time to do this? The attorney who ended up taking that other case became a local celebrity, but my sister's honor was spared.
What We Lost, What We Carry
We were all lucky to have him in our lives. We'll miss his thoughtful advice, his sympathetic listening ear, and of course his warm bear hugs. The world is a darker place today, but my dad would tell us to go make it brighter.
We'll do our best, Dad. Just like you'd want us to do.
This eulogy characterizes the writer's father as a man who was warm and kind, but honest. The writer opens with a story about how he connected to his father through baseball, but freely acknowledges that he wasn't particularly good at it. He spins what could have been a negative story into something positive, emphasizing how his realization that he would never be a pitcher gave his father an opportunity to support and encourage him.
It's worth noting that this eulogy, like the first one, has occasional splashes of self-deprecating humor, but the jokes are always aimed at the writer – never at his father. Both writers communicate the good things about their fathers by telling stories, which is almost always a clearer and more powerful way than simply stating them.
What If Your Relationship with Your Father Was Rocky?
Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to have a good relationship with their parents. If your father was distant, neglectful, or abusive, you might still be called upon to write and deliver his eulogy. This can be a very difficult situation to be in.
If you’re in that situation, bear the following in mind to make the process a little bit easier.
You Don’t Need to Pretend Your Relationship was Perfect
You’re under no obligation to lie about your relationship with your father. If he wasn’t a perfect person, it’s okay to acknowledge that. It’s best not to share too many details—it can be very helpful to talk about them, but that’s best done in private. A eulogy simply isn’t the place for it. Phrases like “there were some difficult times” and “although he struggled with his temper” get the point across in a way that’s reasonably subtle, without being euphemistic.
It’s still worth remembering the good times, even if there weren’t that many of them. Most relationships are complex mixes of good and bad, and you can talk about both. If your relationship was so troubled that it’s difficult to think of anything to say about it that’s both positive and honest, you can skirt the issue by spending more of the eulogy sharing concrete, specific stories, and spending less time describing your father’s character or your feelings towards him in general.
Even if your father was neglectful or abusive, there’s a chance you’ll miss him. That’s a very normal experience, and it’s fine to say something to that effect. That can be a good note to close your speech on—” Although it wasn’t always easy, I know I’ll still miss him. Goodbye, dad.”
An Example of a Eulogy for a Distant Father
I want to thank you all for coming today. My name is Anne, and I'm Patrick's daughter. If you only know of me through him, though, you might know me better as Sprinkles. See, my dad had silly nicknames for each of us four girls. But because I want my sisters to still like me when I'm done up here, I'll let them share theirs at the reception.
A Troubled History
My father said he chose those nicknames because he wanted us to always know that we each had a special relationship with him. Some of you might know that those relationships weren't always what we wanted them to be. He struggled to control his anger, and he often lost the battle. So even though he said he loved us, he didn't always show it, and we wondered if maybe he didn't mean it.
After I'd moved out on my own, I kept thinking that I should go home and have a long talk with my dad. He kept telling me that he was working on himself, but I was gun shy. I didn't want to get hurt again.
Then, Dad got sick. When we realized he wasn't going to pull through, I finally sat down with him and we talked about his past and the things he'd been through, mostly in the war. It isn't my story to tell, but it's important for me to say that it helped me to understand what a difficult time he had. I didn't excuse what he did, but I managed to forgive him and reconcile with him before the end.
Learning from Dad – Persistence
Now that I've made peace with my dad, I'm able to see past his temper to the lessons he was trying to teach us. Like hard work, persistence, and finishing what he started.
I remember one Christmas when he decided he was finally going to put lights around the outside of the house He was going to string lights all around the roof, down the edges of the house, and around each of the windows. He got pretty far before he realized that he couldn't use the same string for the house and the windows, without having the place look like an Etch-a-Sketch.
So, Dad went out to the hardware store down the street and bought some extension cords. He brought them home and continued his project. Two hours later, he went back out to the hardware store to buy more lights. This took another hour. There were five, maybe six trips to the hardware store in total, and my younger sisters learned some choice new vocabulary that day. But he did it, and he was pretty proud of his work. So proud, actually, that he left the lights up until Valentine's Day.
The Lasting Gift of Discipline
Not only did my dad never quit anything – at all – he also refused to do anything other than his best. And he passed that on to us, big-time. If he knew we were phoning it in, he simply wouldn't accept the finished product. My sister Julie made the mistake of writing her college admissions essay the same night as she had a date with her crush, the first cello in the school string ensemble. She finished, handed my dad her first draft, and ran upstairs to get ready.
She didn't even have one eye made up when he came back in with the essay, red marks all over it. He told her that she was too smart to hand something like that in, and she'd better at least fix the grammar. So she did, and she gave him the second draft. One more eye shadowed and lined, and there he was, reminding her that every applicant to Princeton would be telling them about how volunteering changed their lives, and she'd better pick a more unique story. My sister got into Princeton. Meanwhile, I credit everything I've accomplished, from my medical degree to my three healthy children, with my dad's insistence on excellence.
Choosing Dad's Legacy
When someone close to us dies, we start thinking about how we want to remember that person, and how they would want to be remembered. I know my dad would want his legacy to be the lessons that he taught us and the efforts he put in to making sure we were all housed, fed, and clothed. We made it, Dad, and we're still doing our best every day. This is what I offer as your legacy.
This eulogy walks the line very carefully, managing to be tasteful without being dishonest. It’s pretty clear about his history of abuse; it doesn’t skirt the issue but also doesn’t delve into the details.
It’s still worth remembering the good times, even if there weren’t that many of them. Most relationships are complex mixes of good and bad, and you can talk about both.
You can infer from the speech that the writer’s father was a flawed person. However, the eulogy doesn’t focus on his flaws. It takes two of his positive traits, perseverance and a strong desire for his children to excel, and highlights them instead. Those were also the themes of the eulogy, along with the writer's eventual reconciliation with her father.
This post was written by Compose.ly writer Laura DeCesare.