My late father was the best person I knew & I’ll forever cherish what he did when I came out

Brent Hartinger's father
Photo: Provided

On July 10th, 2023, my father died. He was 94 years old. Here’s the eulogy I gave at his funeral.

When it was time for my mother to give birth to my older brother, Craig, she and my father headed to the hospital. But it turns out she wasn’t quite ready to give birth — she ended up in labor for 26 hours.

Apparently, my father wasn’t thrilled that they had gone to the hospital so early because it meant they were charged an extra day.

I suspect my mother wasn’t thrilled about being in labor for 26 hours, either.

So four years later, when my mom was pregnant with me, she told my dad, “It’s time. We need to go to the hospital.”

Harold and Mary Anne Hartinger on their wedding day.
My parents on their wedding day.

And my dad said, “Are you sure? Because I don’t want us to be charged for an extra day again.”

“I’m sure,” my mom said.

“It’s not too long till midnight,” my dad said. “Let’s wait just a bit longer.”

I’d like to have been a fly on that wall, to see the death glare that I’m sure my mother gave my father right then.

Anyway, this is the story of how I came to be born at 12:20 am, mere minutes after they checked into the hospital.

Now you might think this is an odd story to tell in the eulogy for my father, Harold Hartinger — the story of how, this one time at least, he was a little cheap.

But I’m going somewhere with this. So remember this story, because I’ll come back to it later.

Harold Hartinger, about 2010,
My father, about ten years ago.

In the meantime, here are some other stories about my father.

When I was a boy, I had a cat, Felix. My dad loved that cat, and the cat loved him back. In fact, every morning, when my dad went jogging, the cat would jog with him, at least across the street, where the cat would climb up onto the neighbor’s fence to observe the neighborhood while my dad jogged his two miles. Then when he returned, the cat would hop down, and the two of them would go back into the house to have breakfast.

My dad and my cat going jogging together across the street was pretty much the most adorable thing imaginable — even if I was a little jealous that my cat seemed to like my dad even more than he liked me.

A few years later, a black family moved into the neighborhood, and one of our neighbors turned out to be a racist a**hole — ranting about property values and all the rest. I apologize for using the word “a**hole” here in church, but I’m pretty sure even God would agree that it’s appropriate in this particular case.

Anyway, when my dad heard about our neighbor, he said to my brother and me, “No! That is not who we are.” And he invited the new family to dinner and incorporated them into our lives — which he would have done even without the racist neighbor, I’m sure.

A few years after that, when I came out as gay, my father said, “I don’t understand.” Then he went out and bought a bunch of books on the topic, read them all, and came back to me and said, “Okay, I get it now. And by the way, I love you.”

Which is pretty much the most on-brand thing my father could possibly have done. Any excuse to read a bunch of books.

Photo of my father with a rose in his mouth

After I met my husband, Michael, my father and the two of us would be around town, and we’d run into friends of my dad, and my dad would say, “This is my son Brent and my other son Michael.”

This seemed a little evasive to Michael and me, and I think some people were understandably confused, because they didn’t think my dad had a third son named Michael. But Michael and I knew my dad’s heart was in the right place.

But then a few years later, out of the blue, he introduced us as: “This is my son Brent and his husband, Michael.” And that’s what he always said after that.

And then a few years after that, a friend told me that he had laid down the law at his retirement community, telling another resident, “Look, my son is gay, and if you continue to talk so negatively about gay people, I refuse to sit with you at dinner anymore.”

Keep in mind that this is a guy who was born in a small town in South Dakota in 1929, in a family that didn’t have running water for the first few years of his life. When I think about all the changes he saw in his life, it makes my head spin.

Let’s talk about my mother a moment. My parents, Harold and Mary Anne, were absolutely crazy in love with each other. They were also each other’s best friends.

My parents on their wedding day
My parents on their wedding day.

But in one of life’s cruel ironies, when my mom came down with early onset Alzheimer’s, my father was the first person she forgot. She would pull me aside and say, “Brent, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” I’d say.

“Who is that man over there?”

“That’s your husband, Harold,” I’d say.

“He seems awfully nice,” she’d say.

“He is,” I’d always agree.

Despite the fact that she didn’t recognize him, my father took care of my mother for three years. When that finally got too hard, we moved her into a home for people with dementia, and he visited her every single day.

I was the last person my mother recognized, and right until the end, she’d always pull me aside and ask, “Brent, can I ask you a question? Who is that man who visits me? He’s awfully nice, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” I’d say. “He is.”

My brother Craig and me at the cemetery.
My brother Craig and me at the cemetery.

Six years ago, Michael and I decided to leave America to continuously travel the world as nomads. But I felt very guilty leaving my father.

I met with him to tell him what we were thinking about, and I started to apologize, and he said, “Are you worried I won’t want you to go? I’ll miss you, of course, but I’ll be angry if you don’t do this! It sounds fantastic. If I were younger, I’d do it too.”

And, of course, because I was raised Catholic, this made me feel guiltier than ever.

So. These are some of the stories I wanted to share with you about my dad. What did we learn?

  • We learned he was gentle enough to love cats and be loved by cats in return.
  • We learned he was a man of deep integrity who never compromised his core principles.
  • We learned he was open-minded — and strong and confident enough to change his mind in the face of new information.
  • And we learned that he was a selfless man who always put other people first.

But remember that first story I told, about the night I was born? I told you I’d come back to that. We also learned that at least that one time, he was a little cheap.

But I actually think that story is just as important as all the others. Because it means he wasn’t perfect. My dad wasn’t Jesus Christ — he wasn’t a saint like the ones on the walls of this church.

He was flawed, just like the rest of us. He screwed up — at least that one time.

Harold Hartinger, my father, was a human being. And his very occasional flaws are a part of the picture of who he was.

But the rest of the picture? And I say this not because it’s a eulogy, but because it’s one hundred percent true.

Harold Hartinger, my father, was also probably the best human being I’ve ever known.

Brent Hartinger is a screenwriter and author, and one-half of “Brent and Michael Are Going Places,” a couple of traveling gay digital nomads. Subscribe to their free travel newsletter here.

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