These remarks were originally for a 40-day Remembrance service hosted by Ras Media on July 24, 2021, posted here.
Hello to everyone watching this solemn event, which is both a celebration of a wonderful life lived and an acknowledgment of the heartbreak of the loss of a father, a husband, a brother, a mentor, and a role model. I’d like to thank Ras Media for organizing this event and inviting me to participate.
I was asked to say a few words about my father from the perspective of a family member. Well, we first have to remember that family see the full individual. We are not fooled into believing that anyone of us is perfect. Professor Getatchew Haile was not perfect. But he was as close to perfect as a person could hope for. I focus on two things that made him so special. First, he was not afraid of death. Second, he was not afraid of life.
Most people understand what it means if we say that someone is not afraid of death. It means they will not compromise their principles or their loved ones in order to avoid death. This was certainly true of my father. He was truly brave in the face of tyrants. He spoke his mind and pursued justice, and the consequence he suffered, a lifetime in a wheelchair, are well known.
But what does it mean that he was not afraid of life? I mean that my father understood that living life to its fullest is a struggle, and that the struggle is worthwhile. He struggled day in and day out to bring joy to his living and to the lives of others. My father valued every moment he was alive, he cherished good news about family members, and drank in the sights on any and every outing. He never lost his child-like enthusiasm to see new places and meet new people. He worked tirelessly, and he delighted in the fruits of his labor, be they the books that he published, the people he helped, or his ability to maintain his physical strength until the ripe old age of 89 despite all odds. It is absolutely remarkable to me that a person who lived in constant pain could live a life of such joy.
I often wonder about the source of his fearlessness. I have to imagine it came from his deep faith in God. His faith was unshakable. However, as a deeply intellectual person, he was also able to question his faith. For most people, faith is shaken by life events. How can there be a God when such bad things are happening all around me? Why don’t my prayers improve the situation? For my father, these types of reasons for losing faith were surely everywhere. Yet, for him, living in a wheel chair and all of the challenges it brought, were simply a matter of testing his faith. No, the trials and tribulations of life did not cause him to question his faith. Instead, he pondered a deeper question. He wondered about the mysteries of God in the context of the universe. How could it be that we on planet earth, just one planet in a universe of billions of stars in billions of galaxies, are privy to the son of God? Ultimately, he decided this too, was a matter of testing him, and that God was not required to reveal his mysteries to mere mortals.
I point this out to say that my father was the perfect paradox. He was not afraid of death, and he was not afraid of life. He was deeply religious and deeply intellectual. For him, there was no contradiction with these traits. They were simply integral parts that made up the whole. And this fascinating paradox made him a delightful conversationalist. He was interested in everything, and willing to explain everything. He could take in new information and revise his thinking, update his framework for understanding the world. I truly, truly loved that about him. Here he was, a person deeply convinced of the importance of ethical actions, willing to absorb new facts and new viewpoints to reassess what those actions should be. In this way, I would say he was perfect.
I imagine you wanted some personal anecdotes of what it was like to be the daughter of Prof. Getatchew Haile. So let me end with this. My father lived his life as a role model, not as, shall I say, an instructor. He pushed his children hard by pushing himself hard. Of course, he intervened if we didn’t do our part, but that was rare. I’d also say he left the more challenging parts of parenting to my mother. My father was the softie. When my mother insisted we eat fried liver for dinner and my siblings and I burst out into tears, it was my father who intervened and rescued us from that unique flavor. And you can understand that, if fried liver is the greatest conflict our family had, then we had a very tight knit family, with two parents who adored each other and their children, and children who adored their parents.
Thank you for joining me on this 40-day remembrance of my father, the delightful, joyful, and fearless, Prof. Getatchew Haile.