Lessons From My Father
Two years ago today, my dad passed away. He was a young guy, only 61, and he died far too soon. As I have grown older, I have come to understand the lessons that he taught me and I now have a much fuller appreciation for what he left me. I have not been shy with sharing my feelings on my blog, but it will probably take more time for me to process my relationship with my father. For now, I would simply like to honor him by sharing a few of his truisms with you.
“A man must have a philosophy to live by, otherwise he is lost.”
Fairly literary, but Pops was a well-read and very smart guy. He told me this several times. As a kid, it didn’t matter much to me, but as I progressed through college, I started to get it. It wasn’t so much about having a moral compass, but about defining your worldview and sticking with it. I would later find myself sharing this advice with a few of my high school students.
“If I’m not pissing you off, then I am not doing my job as a father.”
Needless to say, I was not a happy subscriber to this mantra. When I share this with people, I often get a raised eyebrow. At first blush, it doesn’t seem that healthy an approach. In reality, it wasn’t so much about creating anger (although teenagers are hard-wired for that go-to response), but what he was trying to share was that parenting meant lighting a fire under your kid’s ass. It was about motivation. And that he did!
“Better a smart ass than a dumb fuck.”
I can thank my father for training me to have a quick, witty response to any situation. Dad could bust balls with the best of ‘em. He had a smart sense of humor and he loved to tease and I certainly have an affinity for that as well. Ask any of my former students. The greater meaning to this saying of his is really quite simple: be informed. Dad read two newspapers every morning, and books in the afternoon. If you don’t know what’s going down, it will go down right on your head.
“Sunday is the best day because of no mail. If there is no mail, then there are no new bills.”
I don’t really need to explain this one, do I?
“Baseball is the only sport where the defense puts the ball into play.”
I suppose that there is a metaphysical concept that could be pulled out from this, but let’s keep it real for today. Pops was a huge baseball fan. It was everything to him. Being from Detroit, he was a Tigers man, through and through – but he did have a soft spot for the Cubs. If I was ever at a loss for a gift, I knew I could always get him something baseball related and he would be happy. He could watch a game and predict every play. He could see the whole field and understood every nuance. Just an elevated understanding that is beyond my words today.
“The Rolling Stones changed my life.”
Specifically, the song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” He never explained to me why it changed his life, but in my mind, there are two possibilities. One is the cultural timing of the song, 1965. I think he would have been about 17 years old when the song came out. It was the mid-60’s, and the cultural shift of that time is well known. He certainly embraced it. There’s also the possibility that the deeper lesson, of finding meaning and contentment in the internal as opposed to the external, which leads me to…
“I don’t want to be a slave to my possessions.”
Ok, now he didn’t say this to me directly, but it was something that he shared with my stepmother when they first met. How many of us are slaves to our possessions? I can’t say that I am a free man. Not completely enslaved, but not free either. For several years, since the nation buckled under the greed of the big banks, Wall Street, and the rest of the insufferable 1%, it’s clear to me that if more people felt as my father did, we might not be in the shit house we are in today. Corporate America has us convinced that we need the bright and shiny toys, and is more than happy to let us sell our souls to have it.
“Proper planning prevents poor performance.”
Ok, I love the alliteration aspect, but this is still a completely “Dad” thing to say. Sure, it’s great advice, but total lecture material ☺
In mind, as I thought about writing this post, I pictured a richly written piece that would deftly invoke a strong portrait of the man. It’s way more concise and direct and not nearly as poetic as I had envisioned. I guess I will have to save that for my memoirs. I can’t take a thousand words and do anyone justice, especially a complicated guy like my father. These are but a few, and I have no doubt that as I grow older I will understand him in an even greater sense. Today, I will honor him by playing some of his favorite music as I reflect on his kindness, loyalty, wisdom, and intelligence.
Today’s playlist includes Pink Floyd, Iggy Pop, Bruce Springsteen, and The Rolling Stones. If you have a chance, give your dad a call today. I’m sure that he’d like to hear how you’re doing.
And if you’re pissed off at him, and really don’t care to call…remember…he’s just doing his job.