Three things stood out to me about my dad when reflecting on his life and his role as my dad. He always made me breakfast. He made sure I had warm towels when I got out of the shower. And he was considered an ‘Old Dad’. Being an ‘ Old Dad’ defined our relationship. He had gray hair for as long as I can remember and was often mistaken as my grandfather. We never corrected them either. Since I was younger and I thought I wouldn’t get a lot of time with him, I paid very close attention to all of his little pearls of wisdom; his life lessons. These are a few of my favorites that stand out the most.
For a man who says he was “thrown out of high school’ and claims he accidently took the GED just to enlist in the Navy, he knew that “education was contagious”. He learned that lesson as he took college courses later in life. He fell in love with philosophy, or as he called it “the root of education”. He believed education to be so important that he afforded all three of his children the education of their dreams.
When I first learned how to drive, he was the only one brave enough to teach me. It was at a four-way stop he explained to me the golden rule about ‘who’s right’. Except, he didn’t just stop at the lesson of driving, but extended it to life. He said, ” It’s not about who’s right, it’s about who’s left? Who’s left when it’s over? You might be right, but what is it going to cost you?” I reflect on this often.
As I got older, he would often tell me that as long as I was single and without kids, I only had to worry about myself. Having the freedom to do or pursue whatever I wanted was a true gift in life and the only mouth I had to worry about feeding was my own. He also said, ” you can do whatever you want until you’re 30, then you have to figure life out.” I think he was partially right about that one. I think it might take your whole life to truly figure it out. This lesson gave me the courage to pursue dance and travel after I finished school.
The best advice he gave my brother and I without ever even saying it was, “ALWAYS WEAR SUNSCREEN”. After a few hours in the ocean on one of our many trips to California, we were burnt to a crisp having been in the water without any protection. When my dad realized his mistake, he tried to get some sunscreen on us as quickly as possible but the damage was done. One whole day of our vacation was dedicated to laying in bed, trying to recover. We will never forget that valuable lesson. Now, I always wear sunscreen.
The best lesson came to me in a letter he sent me shortly after my wedding. He explained that at one of the lowest points of his life, after his divorce, he walked into a bar. There he saw a coaster with a rat on it. It read, ” The rat’s race is over. The good news is that it’s over. The bad news is that the rat won.” He couldn’t help but to laugh. It was the irony he felt in that moment and finding a little joy in a message from a coaster. He told me to never lose my sense of humor. So, I married a man with a great sense of humor.
A few years ago we both had to make a hard choice, one for each of us to keep the peace in our lives and one that led our paths to diverge. Though we each wished the other would change their mind so or paths could join again, they didn’t. We both loved each other deeply, even from a distance. That never changed, even at the end. Though he is no longer here with us physically, his spirit lives on in these life lessons and in a way only each individual spirit knows or understand when they meet. And for that I am grateful.
I love you Dad.