“Hey, Dad, are you out there…somewhere… still watching me and still checking on my success?” If I had one question to ask, knowing that it would be answered truthfully, the above question would be on my short list. Of course, human nature would take hold. I would probably ask a series of quick questions. Father to father, how is my parenting? Should I be doing anything differently? Anything better? Tell me, how can I better continue the family tradition that you started?
With the recent publication of my new book, A Father’s Letters, which is available on Amazon and Kindle, I have received a dozen emails, wanted to know what inspired me to write those letters to my daughters during their four years of college and how did I ever mention to create the time. With my answers to the first part of the two questions, I have listed many reasons. I missed my two daughters. I wanted our friendship to grow stronger, not weaker. I wanted to be able to help them through this challenging transition from adolescence to adulthood. I wanted our friendship to last a lifetime. Etc. Etc.
However, in all of my email responses, I have not once mentioned my father. Today I realized how much that was a mistake. My father might not have been at the forefront of my thinking when I was writing those letters, but he certainly set a high standard, which I wanted to try to maintain. So, for all of those who have written me with that question, please add my attempt to continue my dad’s own parenting efforts as another driving force.
During the course of my daughters’ college years, my father died. In one of the letters to my daughters, I included the speech that I delivered at his funeral and service. As a tribute to my dad, and to all good parents who set a model of good parenting, I wanted to share my brief statements about my father. I suspect that many of you will feel the same about one of your parents. Maybe both? May we remember them and may we follow the values that they embedded within us.
A Tribute to My Dad
For this service, I had not prepared, nor planned on making any remarks. But when I arrived at the mortuary, it just did not feel right to remain quiet, especially in view of everything my dad has done for the family and me over the years. I have only been to two funerals in my life, my sister Sherry’s and my dad’s. So, I was not sure what to say today. My dad always preached that you never learned anything while talking, but I think he might have made an exception for this occasion. I thought I would start by sharing some memories, which unexpectedly surfaced over the past few days. At first, the memories seemed strange, random, and insignificant. But after reliving them over these past three days, they have gained more significance and have become much more cohesive and telling.
When my dad died, my mom did something very special. She waited to call the mortuary until after I arrived. That gave me a chance to spend ninety minutes with my dad, where it was just my dad’s body, my mom, and me, alone in that room. It was a wonderful experience that meant a lot to me, and it greatly eased my own pain. On that night, on the way home after the mortuary had retrieved his body, I had a sudden memory, a memory long since forgotten. I remembered myself as a young kid, throwing up on the side of a winding mountain road. I remembered how my dad pulled the car to the side of the road, how he opened the back door to let me out, and how he led me to a spot of dirt where he helped me throw up. But with that memory, I have no recall of exactly where I was, nor any recall of the events before or after that incident. But I have a clear memory of how my dad’s hand reached around my waist, how he held me close so I would not fall over, and how much comfort I felt from his hand. It was the comfort and security from my dad’s hand that stood out. Nothing else.
Later that night when I was trying to fall asleep, I remembered another long-since forgotten memory. The incident occurred when I was probably nine years old. I remember I was driving with my dad, sitting in the front seat, when he suddenly slammed on the brakes, skidding to an abrupt halt, just as a car whizzed right in front of us, crossing the intersection through a red light. Again, I have no memory of where the incident occurred, and I have no memory of the events before or after that incident. But I have a strong memory of how my dad swung out his right arm, how his hand pressed against my chest, and how his hand prevented me from flying forward into the windshield. Most importantly, I have a memory of how his hand felt. How its strength gave me a sense of safety, a feeling of protection.
Earlier today, as I was driving to this service, I had another sudden memory. It occurred a decade later in my adolescence. I remembered the time when my dad and I were body surfing in Kauai. We were treading water beyond the breakers, waiting for the next big wave. Suddenly, we saw this fin, this shark, in the water, probably ten yards from us, turning directly toward us. I remembered my dad’s hand reaching out, grabbing my hand, and yanking me back toward the shore. Instantly, we kicked like mad, perfectly caught the wave, and surged toward the safety of the beach. With this incident, I didn’t remember what happened next, except how the beach had to be closed. But when I think back to that incident, I do not think of the approaching shark. Instead, I recall the strength and comfort of my dad’s hand, once again offering me help, once again offering me protection. And that’s how my dad was through his life, always offering me a helping hand.
In life, I have a very simple philosophy that I have tried to teach Skyler and Austen, perhaps ad nauseam. I believe each person is special, each person has special gifts, and one of the purposes of life is to find your special gift, develop your special gift, and share your special gift with the world, making it a better place. My dad was the best athlete I’ve ever met. To be the captain of three teams in high school and to be captain of a football team in college, especially to be captain of a football team still regarded as one of the college’s best, that’s no easy feat. When my dad graduated from college, he had an offer to be an assistant football coach. I think he would have been an outstanding coach. It could have been his calling. When the time came to make a decision, I think he realized he had a more important purpose: to provide for his new family.
Over the next sixty years, my dad stayed true to that purpose, making sacrifice after sacrifice. When he was a young executive with Alcoa and had to travel four days a week to help with recruiting, he made that sacrifice. When he worked for Alcoa for thirty years and moved from city to city, leaving behind his friends, he made that sacrifice. When he switched careers to commercial real estate and had to work most Saturdays, he made that sacrifice. When he started his commercial development project in Oregon and had to fly there on Monday morning and return to Southern California on Friday evening, he made that sacrifice. Over and over, time and again, he made those sacrifices to provide for his family. From my perspective, he was a wonderful success. He gave us a fabulous life. We lived in the East in Pittsburgh, we lived in the South in Louisville, we lived in the Midwest in Chicago, and we lived in the West. It was a good life and a life of opportunity, all thanks to my dad’s lifetime of sacrifices.
Even in his retirement and subsequent dementia, and even after he was no longer making to provide for his family, he stayed true to his purpose. For the past five years, I have been going over to my mom and dad’s house every Saturday morning to help pay the bills. Well, my dad hated to pay the bills. It was probably the angriest I have ever seen him, signing those checks. He hated to have the money going out to someone else; he wanted that money saved for the family. Even with his transfer to the dementia unit, he hated the idea of spending money on his own care. He wanted that money to be spent on us, not him. I do not think it was a coincidence that he died on February 28. It saved my mom from spending money for another month of care. At the end, he wanted to give that money to us more than he wanted to keep on living.
From my viewpoint, my dad was a wonderful man; and from my viewpoint, my dad stayed true to his lifelong purpose, providing for his family for over sixty years. So, I wanted to take these few minutes to pay a tribute to his sacrifice and his hard work and to thank him for his helping hand. Whether I was a young kid vomiting by the side of a winding mountain road or a grown man buying a house, he was always there with that helping hand, ready to offer support. He was always ready to give, always ready to sacrifice. He was a fantastic father. I loved him dearly. I will miss him dearly. And he was a really, really good man. If there is a heaven, if I get into heaven, and if my dad is not there, well, I ain’t staying.
I hope dad is still watching …
I hope he liked my new book, A Father’s Letters …
It would not have happened without him …
So, do a favor for your own parent(s) …
Help you own children with a supportive, guiding hand …