“There’s always someone having a worse day.”
That’s what my dad would say to each and every one of us today. I know that because he has spent so many days reminding me of those exact words.
Today we celebrate a man whose life was whole, which seems like an ironic word choice given the fact that his body was anything but.
He was whole because he chose to be. Despite the pain. Despite the physical limitations. He showed up every single day for each and every one of us because he loved his family so fiercely that there was no other option.
His story is one of perseverance and grit. Just a kid from Jersey who started working young, and quite literally, never stopped.
He’s the second oldest of 6 children, but if you ask his siblings, I think they would all tell you he was very much always their big brother. Even my Aunt Linda who is just a little bit older. His childhood wasn’t perfect, but his devotion and adoration for his mother and his siblings carried him through every challenge.
When he graduated from high school he enlisted in the Navy, which had to be surprising to his friends and family since the Navy is the seaborne division of the United States military and my dad had an extraordinary fear of water.
He used to tell us about a training exercise when they threw him in a swimming pool…and he immediately sank to the bottom.
They eventually would pull him out, and then throw him in again. And again he would sink. This happened three of four times before they got it that he wasn’t going to be any sort of aquatic specialist.
He collected experiences all along the way, and loved to tell you all about them. No matter how many times you may have heard them before…
When he was discharged from the Navy he began a celebrated career that spans all of the years of my life. He started as a twenty something convenience store clerk. He had a wife, a baby and little else. He worked. And he paid attention. And he aligned himself with the right people who could teach him what he didn’t know. He read. God did he read.
He learned from mentors who showed him what true leadership was, and he learned from leaders who taught him what never to be. He emulated the ones he admired most. He became a leader. A leader who wasn’t always liked I’m sure, but I feel pretty confident that he was absolutely always respected.
To stand here and try to detail 67 years would be impossible. His accomplishments were great.
With the greatest of them sitting right in front of me.
My dad would tell you his children were the best thing he ever did in his life. When in reality, we were the recipients of the greatest gift.
A man who would do anything, literally, for any of us.
I tell the story often, but I’ll tell it again.
When I was in Kindergarten, my dad lived in New Jersey and I lived in Missouri with my mom.
The night before my birthday party at school I talked to my dad on the phone as I did every week. I told him I was so excited for my party at school the next day and that I told all my friends he would be there for the party.
He gently explained that he was so sorry but he wouldn’t be able to do that because he had to work the next day.
I said okay and cried myself to sleep.
The next morning, when my mother walked me into my classroom, there he sat, waiting for me in my chair. He flew overnight to have a cupcake with me.
That story is everything you need to know about what kind of father Harry Brenner was.
No matter what it was any of the four of us came up with, he always started with no…..usually frosted with a couple expletives…..because let’s be honest, the four of us are creative and have come up with some pretty outrageous hopes and dreams.
And then soon after, he would begin the process of making whatever dream it was possible. No matter the outcome, my dad taught us that a parent’s love creates the fabric by which you become who you really are.
The four of us have parents who have never given up. On us. On each other. On teaching us what family is. What family does. You may hear the words “Brenner Strong” from any of us at any given time. That is because we embody exactly what whose words mean. We become the strongest force together. The past few days have reminded me of what we are capable of. Our force.
His love for his children can only be paralleled by his love for his grandchildren.
If his greatest love lies in myself, Harry, Zac and Sarah, then his greatest joy lies in the eyes of Ty, Lucas, Miranda, TJ and Gavin. He was their Pops. Their hero. Their playmate. The man who would stop anything at anytime for any reason if they wanted his attention or needed his affection.
My sister and I can tell you endless stories of what it’s been like watching our dad as a grandfather. Every dream he has made come true in our lives he has done triple fold for our children.
There is only one love that could possibly be greater, and that is his love for our mother, Alayne.
This love is unlike any love I’ve ever witnessed.
Let’s be honest, it took him a little practice to get it right. But boy, once he did, he nailed it.
My parents love story wasn’t just romantic fiction. It was real life. It was hard work. It was extremely traditional at times, and it was beyond inspiring to watch.
They created a beautiful life together. A life that was never perfect, but also perfect in every way because it was theirs. They allowed each other to be who they were. They showed us that being married was about honor. And respect. And so much laughter. And they showed us every single day that above all else, marriage is about never ending love. He wanted her to have the world on a silver platter because with every beat of his heart he believed that’s what she deserved. They lived a simple life. A private life. A beautiful life.
Before I end, I have to take a second to talk about his hobbies. To say he enjoyed reading would be a pretty gross understatement. He read his entire life, but at some point, his reading became about more than just content or education or enjoyment. At some point his reading became his sport.
Physically incapable of so much, his mind was his greatest asset. Those who knew him through is professional life could fill this room a hundred times over with stories that exemplify his business acumen. He read to keep his mind capable in every way his body wasn’t. He counted pages. He counted titles. He counted number of books read.
His year wasn’t up yet, but this year alone he read over 400 books. And if you asked him about any of them he could talk about them with you. If it wasn’t books, it was Tetris. If it wasn’t Tetris, it was sports scores. My dad had a brilliant mind for numbers, and he absolutely loved it.
He gave me many things in my life, but genetically he did NOT give me a brilliant mind for numbers.
He’s now among some of the people he missed the most. Uncle Bobby and Nana. Our grandparents. Dan. And his beloved Rico just to name a few.
He taught me that I am capable from a very young age. He taught me what it means to be fought for. He taught me that if you work hard and never compromise your authenticity, you can quite literally accomplish anything.
He taught me that a father’s love can sustain you all the days of your life, even when you aren’t sure how to take your next breath.
He taught me to always be myself because she’s always enough.
And above all, he taught me to always be grateful for this day. With these people. In this life.
I love you daddy.