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What I Learned From My Dad

Sadly, my dad passed away this past weekend. He was 84 and lived a full life.  Many times he commented to me that he couldn’t believe he lived this long.  When he was a child, he told me, living to 65 seemed like a reasonable expectation.  I am glad he beat his own expectations and gave us many more years to be with him.  Dad came from a generation where you lived up to your responsibilities. He didn’t complain about it and believed that one of the most important things you could do was to teach your children was to become independent adults.  He didn’t coddle us, but also did judge us too harshly.  He was always there if needed.

Pop grew up an only child in the Bronx, NY and was raised by a stepfather at a time when this was unusual.  His dad died when he was still very young.  As a young boy he spent a lot of time roaming the streets of NYC alone, which is hard for me to fathom as father myself.   As far as I can tell, nothing was ever given to him.  He had to earn it all himself.  Dad ended up staying married to my mom for 63 years, had 7 kids and 18 grandchildren.  He built (with his own hands) a log cabin on top of a mountain in rural upstate NY and that is where he retired. A retirement that lasted almost 30 years.

Besides being a loving grandfather, father and husband, he was many things: an ex-marine (of which he was very proud); an educator, a carpenter, a travel agent, an avid reader, and a world traveler.  He could literally talk to anyone about anything. He could also fix most things that were broken and solve just about any problem.  The breadth of his skill, knowledge and experience never ceased to amaze me.  To paraphrase, Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was a true “self-reliant” man.

I am grateful for the many things he either gave or taught me including the following:

  • the example of maintaining a lifelong commitment to your wife even when the road seemed rocky at times – he “got” mom and that was important to watch;
  • the gift of my many siblings and the even bigger family this ended up creating;
  • a strong work ethic and the importance of finishing what you stared;
  • that maintaining your personal ethics and values are an important  part of life;
  • a natural curiosity and love of reading and learning;
  • a love of history and an abiding patriotism that only get stronger with time;
  • an appreciation and respect for other countries and cultures;
  • a love of travel and joy in creating family adventures;
  • a deep sense of pride in my own cultural heritage;
  • a self-confidence to tackle any project if you put your mind to it;
  • that pain is a part of life and you need to learn to deal with it without becoming a burden on others;
  • an ability and willingness not to judge others (especially your children) too harshly;
  • showing me that money is less important than your own happiness and a sense of self-fulfillment;
  • the importance being a parent who doesn’t micromanage or overly guide their children’s adult lives;
  • the willingness to let your kids make my their own mistakes as adults without criticism, but then being there to help pick up the pieces if necessary;
  • a love of dogs and the special companionship this can offer;
  • a special appreciation for Christmas (also his birthday) which is ingrained in our family.

It will be a strange holiday season without my dad around this year.  Ultimately all of us have to take the journey of losing our parents and going on with our lives. While their physical presence no longer exists, their legacy naturally lives on in and through their children.  I had a good dad who I believe genuinely did his best despite his own limitations and imperfections. You can’t ask for more than that…I am lucky to have known him and loved him.  Thanks Pop, you will be missed!

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