I’ve told people this story – and I have a lot of friends that know it just from being part of my life. But I’ve never spent the time to put my thoughts down on paper, or on screen, about this.
In September 1992, when I was 18, we learned that my dad’s persistent cough was more than that, and that he had lung cancer. He went through significant amounts of testing, and was told that the tumors were too diffuse to operate on, and that this would be terminal. The doctors were right – my daddy was taken from us on July 29, 1994. He was 59. And I’ve never went through a deeper valley in my life.
The trauma of that summer was more than a family should have to bear. You see, one of my two brothers was killed in a car accident in May of that year – on the Mothers Day weekend. I firmly believe that’s what killed my dad in the end. His condition had stabilized and the doctors indicated that his cancer might even be regressing – but the day my brother died, my dad slid into a downward spiral that never headed in the right direction again. I suppose it took that fight out of him.
It might be hard to believe, but I still think about my dad every day. My dad was my best friend and he was everything to me. I was a bit of a Mama’s boy too, yes, but my dad – well, he was the smartest person I have ever met. Not just smart, mind you – he was wise. And he taught me the difference. My dad had a million sayings – often I’d shake my head quietly and chuckle to myself – “When will I ever think that way, seriously?” I see it now – I’m thinking EXACTLY like my dad did, and I’m so grateful for the time I had with him – to teach me the things I know now, and to observe him as a husband and father. My dad wasn’t just a great dad – he was a great role model.
He taught me the value of the people around me, and that my success will ride upon their shoulders. He taught me never to forget those who quietly go about making our lives better each and every day without asking for so much as a thank you. He taught me that I should marry the right person, as that (according to his math) will cause 95% of your happiness or misery. He taught me that my family is important – far beyond what you see on the surface – for it shapes who we are, and who we become, and just as importantly, the footprints we leave behind. He taught me the value of laughter and humor – even when it doesn’t seem as though we can or even should smile, and most importantly, he taught me about love. My dad taught me about love by showing me every day how to treasure it and work with it and how to let it grow and control what we do. I learned that holding and kissing my wife is always the right thing to do – whether we’re at home alone, in front of our kids, or wherever and whenever it feels like I should. It’s not just something for the bedroom – it’s something that’s OK for the kids to see – that their parents are in love. Was this something my dad told me? Not a chance. I watched him live this every day. A thousand times more powerful than hearing it was watching him do it. That is why it stayed with me.
My dad taught me to love food and cooking, and to always do my part around the house. My dad was very wealthy by the time I was born, and yet he chose to get his hands dirty, day in and day out. I watched him as he lovingly tended his herb garden, his tomato plants, his dill – and then I watched him as he created masterpieces in our kitchen, often while reflecting aloud on his childhood and the smells and experiences that led him to this point in his life. I watched as he would go, every day, to the pond, to feed his beloved rainbow trout – and then watched him catch them and clean them – with pride. I learned that treating my “chores” around the house, even to this day, needn’t be chores at all – if we see them as necessary parts of getting through our day and pair them with thankful hearts. I’ve never thought doing the dishes was a bad thing – how can standing beside my wife, and across from my kids, cleaning up after a meal, be a bad thing?
My dad taught me, again through observation, that I was important. We would, almost without exception, read the paper together every day. We would lay on the floor, on the cool carpet, shoulders touching – he with the business section, invariably making notes in his Moleskine-style black pocketbook with the elastic wrapped around it, me reading the comics. What we were reading was of little consequence – it was that we were doing it together. It made me feel as though my dad wanted to have me there. It had a very lasting impact on me, and on my soul. And, on a bit of a funny note, it also led me to start using Moleskine books since I was in junior high – much to the amusement of my friends. I continue to use them daily, and have filled up over 15 of them. Luckily, my mom kept all my dad’s notebooks from his entire life and they are mine to treasure.
My dad taught me to appreciate quality. My dad loved his German cars and his Swiss watches – not funky, technological advances on our wrists – yes, I still remember the calculator watches that everyone wanted. Nope, he loved hand-made quality and he collected Swiss watches. But he had a special place in his heart for his beloved Omega Seamaster – ancient and worn, but an integral part of him to anyone who knew him. Watching him take care of this timepiece, and explain to me how a good watch will last a lifetime, was a big part in my first major purchase. I worked an entire summer for my dad – I saved up every last dollar and bought my first Swiss watch in 1988. I love it as much today as I did the day I bought it from my own hard-earned money. In retrospect, I realize that perhaps my dad taught me more about hard-earned money than he did about Swiss watches.
My dad also taught me to experience love fully with my kids – to always show them that they are loved, even during discipline and harsh lessons, and to always touch them and connect with them. My dad never hesitated to touch me. I would always count on getting held tightly as a small kid and picked up and kissed – as I grew older and “smarter”, I realized that maybe I didn’t want to be held onto as much anymore – but deep down, I knew my dad’s touch was what I longed for and needed once in awhile – a hand on my shoulder, a pat on the back, a hug, or just putting our foreheads together for a few seconds to remind each other of how we’re connected.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started writing this – as I near the end of this chapter, I feel utter exhaustion and some pain, paired with joy and complete satisfaction. I also feel as though I haven’t even scratched the surface of the things I remember about my dad and how he shaped who I am today. I will likely go on about this one day as the things my dad taught me are seemingly endless, and I’ll certainly have more to say about my dad as I continue down this path of sharing and blogging. I will also share about my two brothers – the one that was taken from us, and the one that remains. They are creatures as different as night and day, yet both have helped shape who I am today.
Thank you for reading this. If you know me, then you already know my father – I’m often told by family and by my dad’s business associates that I remind them most of my father. I can’t imagine a deeper honor. He wasn’t just the best husband and father I could describe, he was my best friend.
I miss you, Dad. I miss you so much, and I only hope that I can be a fraction of the husband and father I saw you being every day. As much as I wish you could be here to continue guiding me and teaching me, and that my wife and kids could have met you and felt your love too, I know that it’s my responsibility to carry on what you so gracefully shared with me for 20 years.