It’s been said that we can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. For better or worse, we’re stuck with them. In my case, even if I were able to choose my family, I wouldn’t choose any differently. I’d choose the same parents. Every. time. I wouldn’t trade them for any others. Ever.
As I write this post, I consider myself the luckiest and most blessed person I know. It may not seem like it in light of recent circumstances, but I have been given everything one could want. I have have never wanted for food or shelter. More importantly, I’ve always felt loved by family. No matter what happened, no matter what I did, I’ve always known that my mother and father loved me unconditionally. They were always there for me if and when I needed them. It’s made it all the more difficult to comprehend and absorb the sudden passing of my father last month.
My father gave me everything a boy could want growing up. As a toddler, I had the most extensive matchbox collection a 2-year old could have. When I showed a liking for puzzles, I was given dozens of wood-board puzzle to keep me and my mind busy. When I needed a car for the Pinewood Derby, he built me a masterpiece that looked like a Formula One racer, complete with a spoiler supported by toothpicks. I didn’t win, but it was by far the coolest looking car there. I had one of the first stereos with dual cassette tape decks AND a CD player. Remember those? When I turned 16, he bought me a car. I promptly got a speeding ticket and wrecked it not just once but twice. My punishment? He sold that car and bought me another that was better than the first. He paid for my college education so I could graduate without the stress and pressure of college loans.
When I left home to pursue a career and start my own family, he was my biggest supporter. Even though I moved across the country, he was always just a phone call away. We talked regularly. The early calls involved me picking his brain for help with failing toilets, plumbing problems, electrical issues, and other home ownership challenges. He taught me a lot about home maintenance, and over time, our calls were less about home improvement projects and more about me helping him with computer problems or advising him on the latest tech gadget that he just couldn’t live without. When it came to technology, the student became the teacher.
He and my mom regularly visited me and my family. On many of these trips, I would have an ambitious home remodel project lined up for us to tackle. He was always up for the challenge. For some reason, we always ended pulling an all-nighter or two when our project planning went awry, which it always seemed to do. It happened so often, that I came to assume it was part of the process. In any case, we always finished the job. There’s hardly a room in my house that doesn’t have imprints of his handiwork on it.
I also visited my parents regularly. Returning to my hometown to golf with my dad in his Country Club’s Member-Guest become an annual summer pilgrimage that we both looked forward to. Although we lost more than we won, it didn’t matter. It was the time we spent together making memories on and off the course that I will always cherish. One such vivid memory was his first hole-in-one, which is a story he loved to tell. The hole was a blind tee shot where you could barely see the top of the flag. He struck a tee shot that looked like it would certainly be on the green. When we couldn’t find the ball on or around the green, I decided to look in the hole. Lo and behold, there it was! I nonchalantly said, “It’s in the hole.” I was dumbfounded to see it sitting in the bottom of the cup. While I didn’t appear to be excited for him, I certainly was. It was one of our shared memories that never got old.
And while I appreciate all the thing he bought for me, all the things he did for me, and all the memories we made, those aren’t the things that I will cherish the most. Above all these things, my dad shaped me into the man I am today. He taught me so many valuable life lessons that built and shaped my character.
He always pushed me to do my best in school. He would regularly remind me that people could take everything away from you, but they couldn’t take away your education. It taught me the value of an education and pushed me to acquire wisdom.
During my first summer with my driver’s license, he decided to replace our driveway with Belgian stone. We laid each stone by hand and cemented them in place section by section. On his days off, we started early in the morning and went well into the evening. Even on his work days, he would come home and change, and we labored well into the evenings. I wanted to be out with my friends that summer, so they would wait patiently while we finished one more section well after the sun went down. It was hard work, but we succeeded and built something that will stand the test of time. It taught me that through hard work, dedication, and perseverance, you can accomplish great things.
When he taught me to drive a stick shift, we didn’t start in a parking lot. He took me out on the roads months before I had my license. We drove for hours around Western Pennsylvania. We had our share of close calls during that time, but we made it through without any major incidents or accidents. I learned to drive a stick, but more valuable was the quality time I got to spend with him. It taught me that it’s OK to take risks sometimes, provided the reward was worth it, which in this case it was, multiple times over.
During one of our infamous home improvement projects, I remember staying up well past 3AM tiling a bathroom floor. I thought we were done until I got home from work the next day. He was ripping the floor up because he felt that some of the tiles weren’t cemented properly. It felt fine to me, but he was having none of it. In his world, when you did a job, you did it right. It taught me the value of craftsmanship. When you do a job, you don’t do it good enough. You do it the best way you know how.
He may have been perfect to a fault at times. And while he demanded perfection from everyone, it was because he demanded the most out of himself. Whether it was in his dental practice, in projects around the house, or on the golf course, he pushed himself, and those around him, to be the best they could be. It taught me the value of setting high expectations and pushing yourself to exceed them.
It was on the golf course where he could be particularly hard on himself and his playing partners. He expected every drive to split the fairway, to stick every approach shot 3 feet from the pin, and to make every putt. I played with him enough to know those things didn’t happen often enough, and he routinely beat himself up over it. But we always ended every round with a smile on our face, most often with a snack and a drink afterwards in the clubhouse. And then we would go out the next day and do it again. It taught me to always aim for the best, but to accept that life doesn’t always go as planned. We may get frustrated when it doesn’t, but we soldier on because it’s the journey through life that’s the reward.
I could go on, but here’s the point. While I will always be thankful for the material and financial gifts that he bestowed upon me, these are all temporal. They will pass. But the lessons I learned from him that taught me how to be a man, a husband, a father, and for these gifts I am eternally grateful. It is both my mission and my duty to pass these lessons on to my family and those around me.
Thanks Dad. Thanks for everything, especially for the lessons that shaped me into the man I am today. I hope that, wherever you are right now, that you’re enjoying what you liked to do most – playing a round of golf on a course that is better manicured and more beautiful than Augusta on the final day of The Masters. I hope the tee boxes are flat, the fairways lush and mowed tight, and the greens smooth and true. May you split the fairway with every drive, stick every approach shot, and sink every putt center cup. You deserve nothing less.
May you rest in peace my friend, my mentor, my dad.