• “the skin you’re in” — my eulogy for my father

    by  • August 11, 2013 • family, grief, poetry, Uncategorized • 38 Comments

    My father, Milton Cunningham, died August 3, 2013. He was a little over a month away from his eighty-fifth birthday. What follows here are what I said at his memorial service last Wednesday, including a poem I wrote for him entitled “The Skin You’re In.” I’m sure many of the words I write over the next weeks and months will be colored by both my memories anIMG_0073d my grief. Tonight, I am posting these words in gratitude for his life and the life he helped shape in me.


    Some time after I was out of seminary, I ran into a friend who had just come from a conference where my father preached. He shook my hand, smiled, and said, “You made your dad’s sermon today.” He then went on to tell me that Dad began his message by saying, “One of the lessons we have to learn in life is the difference between a problem and a predicament. A problem is something you can change or solve. A predicament is something you have to learn to live with. I used to think my eldest son was a problem; now I understand he is a predicament.”

    Though I was hurt at first, I learned to appreciate his words because it gave me room to acknowledge that he was a predicament as well. So we learned to live with each other. And it was good. When Dad turned seventy-five, I wrote a Dr. Seuss-like poem for him called “The Skin You’re In,” which looked back at his life. I revised the poem and I would like to make that my offering this afternoon.

    The Skin Your In
    by Milton Brasher-Cunningham

    You come into this world and they give you a name
    As though you are going to stay the same
    And everyday from there on in
    You’re the one living inside your skin

    The problem, you see, is you start to grow
    and  — so your bones don’t start to show
    your skin will sluff and stretch in size
    so folks can continue to recognize

    Just who you are, though long since gone
    is the kid in the cradle with the sock hat on
    who looked pretty ugly, like most babies do,
    and from Day One was considered you.

    So this is the story of who you became:
    as you shed some skin, but kept your name:
    you left the Gulf of Mexico
    to head for Austin, don’t you know

    And on about your sixteenth June
    you traded your Austin High Maroon
    for the Green and Gold up Waco way
    and football to manage, but not to play.

    They called you Squirrel, and the nickname stuck
    You tackled Baylor with, shall we say, pluck?
    Expulsions? Count ‘em: one, two, three —
    and you still were elected as head trustee.

    Before that happened you got things right
    Thanks to the kindness of W. R. White
    Who knew that you needed to be wrapped up in grace
    as he helped you to figure out your place

    on the planet beyond Patt Neff Hall
    so you could stand up and answer the call
    you’d heard one night out on the West Coast
    and you set your eyes on what mattered most

    and went to Fort Worth and the seminary
    and became anything but sedentary,
    then you ended up pastor at Cranfills Gap
    a town very few can find on a map.

    At this point our story grows more exciting
    because you decided it was worth inviting
    a woman named Barbara into your life
    and you became husband and she became wife.

    From there you went on to Corpus Christi —
    and I’ll bet your eyes are getting misty
    because there God gave you your firstborn son,
    the smart and strappingly handsome one —

    What happened next? Don’t feign amnesia:
    we got on a ship and sailed off for Rhodesia.
    And there in the land roamed by Livingston
    you added a second spectacular son —

    Then we headed north, beyond Lake Kariba,
    driving past ‘bout a million zebra,
    to our new home on Harding Road,
    at least that was our last abode

    In Lusaka, Zambia, where we spent some years
    and you began to shift your gears
    working in radio and television
    despite the mission boards’ indecision

    which led us northward to Nairobi, Kenya
    and you chased your dream with all ‘twas in ya
    which meant you lived on lots of planes
    and you’d come home and then leave again

    and then come back to our home in Mwitu
    where you asked if we’d all agree to
    move again, this time heading west
    to Ghana, which was our hardest test

    because of the weather: heat and Harmattan,
    or humidity that sapped every woman and man;
    seems we sweated out about half a year
    till you could see that the end was near

    and then on your eldest son’s birthday,
    we packed our bags and flew away
    from Africa, to Houston town
    where — yes — heat and humidity abound.

    In the heat and the hope of those Texas days
    you filled your skin in some brand new ways
    as pastor in Houston, and at Baylor, trustee,
    and even as Pres. of the BGCT,

    yet as Houston became your new mission field
    the tether to Africa refused to yield
    all of your heart, so you stayed connected:
    your love of that land so strongly reflected

    in the trips you took and the folks you sent,
    but before that’s where the story went,
    It was Westbury Baptist where we landed next,
    to write the next chapter in our family text,

    and a whole host of folks who found their way
    to hear just what you had to say —
    and what you said they remember still
    about  those people up on the hill.

    The years stacked up there to seventeen
    when you retired, or did you mean
    retool? restart? Your work didn’t end,
    you just changed again inside your skin

    and circled back to the Brazos Bank
    where roots so long ago you sank,
    this time to be the chaplain guy.
    Did people ever wonder why

    You showed up just to watch them play
    whether baseball, or football, or street croquet?
    And somehow you managed to convice them all
    that season tickets to everything was your call.

    The mission flame continued to flicker
    from deep down inside your souped up ticker,
    and chaplaincy turned into summer trips
    from which students returned with flapping lips

    telling stories of what they had seen and done
    in Uganda, Ukraine, and the Amazon,
    and you knew from deep down inside your skin
    what to be next when you retired — again.

    And so you moved with both heart and hands
    to look with love to other lands
    as you had long ago, you did once again,
    ‘cause it was, as I said, deep inside your skin.

    So here’s to the memories that make up your years,
    here’s to the laughter, the love, and the tears,
    here’s to the things your death can’t erase:
    to forgiveness, to thanks, to hope, and to grace;

    Here’s to the journey that you gave your best,
    and the sadness and joy knowing you are at rest;
    after eighty-five years, look at who you have been:
    Dad, you were the best you in the skin you were in.

    I am thankful today that finally my father knows what it feels like to hear and believe that he is enough. And I am thankful that he gave my brother and me a more hopeful world than the one he inherited.


    Blogging since December 2005


    38 Responses to “the skin you’re in” — my eulogy for my father

    1. evan klaras
      August 11, 2013 at 11:10 pm

      Beautifully written…thanks for sharing this!!
      Will continue to pray for you all and mom and
      I will check in on your mom.

      • August 12, 2013 at 8:41 am

        Thanks, Evan.

        Your family means so much to my mom.


      • Sara Massey
        August 13, 2013 at 7:30 pm


        I definitely concur with Evan – this tribute to you father is beautifully written. Praying for you!

        Peace and blessings,

        Sara Massey

        • August 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm

          Thanks, Sara.


    2. John Scott
      August 12, 2013 at 1:07 am

      Milton, your father came to Westbury soon after I became a member there. We always want to say that a preacher accepts a position as pastor of a church because he believes it to be God’s will. It seems to me that such is often not the case. The preacher may accept because of prestige, location, size of the church, pay increase, etc. I never doubted that your father’s sojourn at Westbury was truly God’s will. He and I had our differences and, like King David he had his faults. However, I think it can truly be said of him, as it was said of King David, that, “He was a man after God’s own heart.”

      • August 12, 2013 at 8:42 am


        I feel the same way. Thanks.


    3. Charles Smith
      August 12, 2013 at 7:57 am

      And I cried. remarkable words from a guy who continues to remark eloquently and who has left a mark on me. I love you Uncle Milty. Walking the journey with you with tears and heaviness.

      • August 12, 2013 at 8:43 am

        And with you, my friend. I love you.


    4. Leah
      August 12, 2013 at 8:08 am

      Milton, thank you for this delightful remembrance of a person I did not even know. Light Perpetual. Peace.
      (Looking forward to being in your company in Texas in October, when it will probably still be hot and humid.)

    5. August 12, 2013 at 8:33 am

      Beautiful Milton. Your Dad would be so proud.

    6. Bill Price
      August 12, 2013 at 8:59 am

      Beautifully and lovingly written. Thank you for sharing this – I think my father and I were in a “predicament” for about 15 years but we had the opportunity to sit down one day and figure out just how we were going to deal with it. It was a changing day in our lives and even though he died more than 25 years ago there are times when he being simply pops into my consciousness and I know that he is still in and with me. I pray that God’s peace and comfort continue to live in the hearts of you and those you love.

      Blessings, peace and love.

      • August 13, 2013 at 9:19 am


        These have been tough days for both our families. Blessings to you.


    7. TCraigC
      August 12, 2013 at 9:18 am

      I was going to write you asking if you would mind sharing your eulogy…I’m late as always. Thanks for sharing a beautiful poem that I know was written with love and respect. May God’s peace and comfort continue to surround you and affect you, Milton. Because your dad lived, I have been blessed to know you.

      • August 13, 2013 at 9:19 am

        Thanks, Craig. Best to you.


    8. Mary Ducey
      August 12, 2013 at 9:22 am

      Milton, I am sorry to hear about your father’s death. You are all in my prayers. All of the Ducey’s send our love. Mary

      • August 13, 2013 at 9:18 am

        Mary, our love to you family as well.


    9. August 12, 2013 at 9:46 am

      Thanks Milton – what you’ve written speaks to me in so many ways! I’m sorry for you and your families loss; my heart goes out to you. Love to you and Ginger, Elizabeth

      • August 13, 2013 at 9:18 am

        And also to you, Elizabeth.

    10. Judith Woelke
      August 12, 2013 at 10:00 am

      Milton: that is a beautiful eulogy – one that lets me know a man I never met and now wish i had. Hugs to you and Ginger. Judith

    11. Giddy
      August 12, 2013 at 10:02 am

      I’m sorry for your loss, Milton.

    12. Karen Lauterwasser
      August 12, 2013 at 10:10 am

      What a poet you are! Guess that is one thing that being a predicament can lead to, eh? So sorry to hear about your dad. Pretty sure he is in heaven proudly watching over you. Take care!

      • August 13, 2013 at 9:17 am

        Praying for you and Bruce, as well, Karen.

    13. August 12, 2013 at 10:37 am

      Howdy, Milton!
      Sure was sorry to hear about your Dad. The only thing that helped me during these hard times is that it’s not “Goodbye,” it’s only “See you LATER!” Uncle Milton was always one of my favorites. Of course you, Miller and Aunt Barbara are right up there too! Love ya, bro!

      • August 13, 2013 at 9:16 am

        Best to you, Tim.

    14. August 12, 2013 at 11:20 am

      Beautiful rendering… tender prayers for you…
      May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you always, especially throughout this grieving time of change.

      • August 13, 2013 at 9:16 am

        Thanks, Patricia.

    15. raider92
      August 12, 2013 at 2:13 pm

      What a thorough tribute. . .that’s not easy to do! Beautiful! Your father may have thought of you as a predicament, but I’ve always thought of you as a problem–someone who pushes me to do better and help solve the problems of the world! Thanks.

    16. raider92
      August 12, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      And may souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace and may light perpetual shine on him and give him peace.

    17. David George
      August 12, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      Squirrel Cunningham, young missionary to Africa, was the preacher for a youth retreat in the mid-fifties for Trinity Baptist Church, San Antonio. I was a sixteen-year-old kid. His sermon on Gideon and his small dedicated band prompted me to think God was calling me into the ministry. I followed that call and served as a pastor of Baptist churches for more than fifty years. I hope somebody got something out of some of my sermons and remembers at least one of them.

    18. Susan
      August 13, 2013 at 1:23 am

      I am so sorry for your loss. Wonderful poem! You have a real gift.

      • August 13, 2013 at 9:15 am

        Thank you, Susan.

    19. August 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm

      What a poem and what a tribute to the man! Peaceful breath ahead … that’s my prayer for you.

    20. Nancy
      August 15, 2013 at 9:08 am

      How pastoral Milton! How loving! I feel I know your dad better. More so, I know you better. Thank you so much for posting this.

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