Today is my Dad’s birthday. Amazingly, he would have been 80 today. Sadly, cancer took him way too young; he was only 56. It is incredible to me to think that I’ve spent nearly as much time alive without my father as I did with him. While it has been many years since I’ve been to the site of Dad’s grave in New Jersey, I visit him often in my mind. So today, on Dad’s special day, I bring you five useful things I learned from my Dad. Note that these aren’t presented in any particular order, nor are they the ONLY five things I learned from my Dad.
1. Stay Calm
Regardless of circumstances, my Dad was always cool as a cucumber. Maybe it came from teaching high school math at DeWitt Clinton in what was, at least for a time, a rough place to teach school. In the best of circumstances and in the worst, I rarely saw Dad lose his cool. Whether we were in a fender bender, my brother fell out of our raft while whitewater rafting the Snake River, or Dad was dealing with the realities of his illness. I too, try to stay even-keeled. Maybe I don’t succeed all of the time but I’m also willing to bet there are times when Dad lost his cool when I wasn’t around. For the most part, Dad didn’t panic. I like to think I’m like him in this way.
2. Keep Learning and Expanding Your Horizons
Dad was a smart guy and extremely well-read. I think of him when I watch my kids (especially my daughter) consume book after book. Rarely does she go anywhere without something to read. It reminds me of how Dad used to read a few books at the same time. Among my brothers, I was the biggest reader and Dad constantly was on hand to suggest a new author or an interesting book he thought I might like. I would often ask what was the latest book he was reading and he’d enjoy giving me a brief synopsis (and critical review) of the book, especially if he had read others by the same author. Books exposed Dad to many things outside of his middle-class suburban life. In my mind, I associate Dad’s love of books with his love of travel. My parents didn’t really start traveling until 1978, but once they did, they were both enamored with the way visiting other regions of the world gave you new perspective on your own existence. We are fortunate that we were able to travel widely and bring our kids along.
3. Work Hard and Spend Wisely
My Dad worked very hard his entire life. He taught high school math, tutored student many nights a week, taught SAT review classes several times a year, and even wrote and published a few SAT review books with the English teacher he taught his SAT classes with. We grew up in a middle class suburb. I once asked my Dad if we were middle-middle class or upper-middle class. He responded saying that we were probably lower-middle class. But by being mindful about how we spent our money, I didn’t grow up feeling like we ever lacked money for the things that were important. We went on family vacations, we ate and dressed just fine, we played in organized sports leagues, went to (day) camp, and each of my siblings and I went to college. My paternal grandparents divorced when Dad was young and he grew up pretty poor. He (and my Mom) earned everything they had. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from that. I learned that from him and I hope to impart that to my children.
4. Make Time For Fun
For as hard as my Dad worked, I always felt like he was there when you wanted him to be. He and Mom played bridge (a lot), they bowled in leagues of some sort, and they were there for our games and activities. We took many fun family road trips, shot baskets out on the driveway on warm summer nights, went to and talked about lots of movies, and had lots of family dinners where we laughed so hard I thought I was going to puke. I hope to live a longer, healthier life than my Dad did but regardless of what is in the cards for me, I make sure to “make memories” with my wife and kids every chance I get.
5. Always Make Sure the People You Love Know They Are Loved
From the time I was little until days before he died, my Dad always told me he loved me. That meant a lot to me. But not simply because of the words – we all know people who might say they love someone else but their actions belie their words. Said another way, my Dad always made me feel loved. He enjoyed spending time with his sons. He was fun, fair, appreciative, interested and interesting. Whether we were in deep discussion or sitting quietly beside each other in the living room reading together, I knew Dad loved me and was always on my side.
Happy Birthday, Dad! Thanks for being such a great teacher. I love you and miss you.