Family Jewish Stuff Memoir

Lessons From My Father

Note: Part of this piece was originally posted one year ago on Father’s Day 2010, when I had very few followers. I thought I would post it again this year, in honor of my father. Please note, these items are listed in no apparent order, which will – no doubt – drive my father nuts.

Dad & Me

The men in my life have to accept my flaws. They basically have no choice. When it comes to Father’s Day, everyone knows I’m bad at it. For a while I think I had Monkey fooled, but now I am pretty sure even he’s on to me. I think. Anyway, this is my last minute sincere attempt to tell my father that I love him in a song. Sorry, I lied. It’s not even in a song. It’s just words. Unless you can find a smooth groove that works along with my prose, then I meant it as a song. Totally.

• • •

Dear Dad:

I know that I never send a card. I mean, sometimes I manage to pull it all together, but not usually.

And I hope you know it is not because I don’t love about you, because I do. It’s just… what can I say to you in a card that I haven’t already said to you in one of our two-hour marathon phone conversations?

Even though we can’t be together today, please know that I am thinking of you. And in the meantime, here are a few things that I have learned from you. I thought you should know, I have been paying attention.

• • •

Turn Off The Lights When You Leave A Room. My whole life I have heard my father utter this refrain, but you know what? He is right. It is wasteful, and we can each do our part to try to save a little energy.

Be Neat. Neatness matters to my father. Before middle school, he sat me down and taught me to color-code my subject areas: How about a red folder and red notebook for math? he suggested. And how about a blue folder and blue notebook for English? And later, when I graduated to a three-ring binder, my father taught me about the benefits of dividers with rainbow-colored tabs. He likes my penmanship to be impeccable, my numbers to line up in straight columns. Errors made because of sloppiness drive him crazy.

A Crossword Puzzle A Day Will Keep The Doctor Away. At 73, my dad is sharp as a stick. He does a crossword every day, and – as people who do crosswords know – the puzzles increase in the level of difficulty as the week goes on. By Sunday, I am usually stumped. My dad is not a quitter. He works on those suckers until he beats ’em. A few years ago, a study came out that indicated doing crossword puzzles routinely helps delay Alzheimer’s disease. Wouldn’t you know, my dad was ahead of the curve on this one, too?

Leave For The Airport No Less Than 2.5 Hours In Advance of Your Departure Time. I don’t actually do this, but whenever we are going on vacation, I hear the echo of my father’s words in my head chiding us all to “hurry up,” because “we don’t want to be late and miss our flight.”

Stay Active By Doing the Things You Love To Do. My father loves all things associated with his alma mater, Syracuse University – especially sports: basketball, football, even lacrosse. He loves parking at Manley Field House, taking the bus to the Carrier Dome, jumping into the fray with the all other fans, and – win or lose – screaming for his favorite team. It reminds him of his college days, I’m sure. He also plays table tennis regularly, and sells real estate in Syracuse. These are all things he loves to do, and I am sure they help keep him feeling young.

Do Not Do Anything Less Than Your Best. He would say, “Everything you do is a reflection of you. If you don’t care about the product, why should anyone else?”

When You Think You’re Done, Check Your Work. Yep. This is the man who taught me to revise. To find the errors. To make the changes. To not be afraid to rip things apart and start over. To dissect and rework. While my English teachers certainly helped, it was my father who gave me an editor’s eye.

Be good to people. Always.

My Mom & Dad

Family first, then friends.

Don’t live beyond your means. I grew up modestly, but comfortably. I never wanted for anything, but I didn’t get everything I wanted. My father talked about saving for college, and saving for retirement. He’s a saver. He taught me not to covet what other people have, but to be happy with what I’ve got.

Avoid Doctors, But if You Have to Go, Listen to what the Doctor Says.

Do Not Expect Special Treatment. That way you can be surprised and gracious if you get it.

Don’t Forget Your Roots. I grew up in a modest house with a pretty backyard. Though we could have had more stuff, mostly, we kept to the things that were necessary. We played board games: lots of Scrabble and Monopoly. Holidays were spent with my father’s side of the family, who lived nearby. We didn’t take fancy vacations, but visited my mother’s side of the family – my grandparents, aunt and uncles, and cousins – in the Catskill Mountains. We practiced our Judaism quietly but consistently, and we continue to do so.

Overnight Camp Rocks. That is a blog unto itself.

Your Health is Everything. Over the last few years, I have watched friends struggle with and succumb to cancer too young. Other friends have developed chronic illnesses with which they wrestle daily. These things make me feel sad and more than a little helpless. When I was in college, my father had one scary episode that involved shoveling snow, passing out, and waking up in a pile of freezing cold, slush. Suddenly, he had a stent and a whole set of new dietary habits. No more steaks (he eliminated red meat), and no more tall glasses of 2% chocolate milk (he cut out nearly all dairy). These days he looks and feels fantastic, and I pray he is around for a long, long time.

My dad has taught me a zillion other things too.

And I know he’s always got my back.

I love you dad.

(I know. I forgot the comma.)

For better or for worse, name one thing you have learned from your father.

23 thoughts on “Lessons From My Father

  1. Because of the fact that I know your dad (because I am your kid and he is my grandpa), it will definitely annoy him because your reasons are in no order. Also, I think all of the things are not just lessons to you, they are life lessons for everyone!!

  2. This comment is from your dad. I am touched by your comments. However, I do have to make a few corrections. First of all, give me a break….I never passed out in the snow, but I did pass out when I was jogging in the neighborhood due to my medications. Also, I still do drink chocolate milk. Only now it is skim milk and I add Ovaltine. Love ya.

  3. Renee, that was beautiful. You are blessed to have a very wonderful, kind and smart Dad. He is a good example and teacher to you and your brother. I am glad you appreciate your parents. They are great. xoxoxo Aunt Sondra

  4. This is a wonderful tribute to your father. He is not doubt a very lucky man and you, a lucky daughter. Better than any old greeting card!

  5. I just want to say you made Daddy a very happy Father today. It’s the best present anyone could want. A true tribute to a special man. Love Mom

  6. You have a wonderful family. I was taught the same thing about the airport and it’s a rule I violate too. I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only one with the voice in the back of my head saying, “Security! Traffic! Unexpected delays – leave a cushion.” This is a great tribute; I loved reading the comments from your family too.

    Have a fun day!

  7. So thanks, big time, for your sweet words over at my blog. I love finding new friends around this great, big blogosphere. Your dad sounds like an amazing man. You are so fortunate to have him.

    My dad was an awesome man, too, with the same sensibilities as your father. People often referred to him as the white Bill Cosby. He was just that kind of guy. To my great sorrow, we lost him a few years back, without any warning. He was up on my parent’s roof, doing what he did best, taking care of things, patching a worn spot. Healthy and vibrant, it was a shock to all of us when my mom found him up there, already on his way up to the heavens.

    And that’s enough of that. My dad never wallowed in misery. I gave his eulogy and I spoke of the things my dad had taught me. Here are just a few:

    Live with no regrets. Pray while on your knees. Don’t play with fireworks. Fix the broken things. Wear a hat and keep a handkerchief in your pocket for little noses that need blowing. Raise the flag. Always give valentines. Believe in noble causes. Buckle up. Write love letters to everyone you love. Have a dog. Never sit out the dance. Vote. Always go with the flow. Watch the children’s necks when they’re doing handstands. Watch every sunset. Drink wine. Always have a song ready to sing. Keep your family close.

    See! My comments are as long as my posts. You’ll get tired of me fast.

    Happy Father’s Day to your dad and every other wonderful dad whose made a difference.

    1. Joann: That is so beautiful. I’m so happy to have met you! I’m thinking our dads would have been buddies. They certainly would have been up on the roof together. He’s a big romantic, always gives my mother two symbolic roses for their anniversary. And he writes great birthday poems!

      You just reminded me, my father also told us to “Park Away.” You know, find a parking spot as far away as possibly from other cars so that no one could accidentally scratch your car. (*hangs head in shame*) I have not always been so good on this one.

      I sincerely doubt that I will tire of you! I’m a long commenter, too! 😉

  8. Dear Renee,
    You made daddy a very happy father. He loves you and Erik very much. You always seem to do something that is thoughtful. God Bless you and your family. Say Hi to all the men in your family too! Love Mom

  9. Hmmm..

    I can tell you what I’ve Learned from Not having my father teach me.

    You do need a father.

    People who say you don’t more than likely grew up with either a dysfunctional, non participating one, or with one that they never appreciated.

    My father passed out of my life when I was only 6.

    I have been missing him ever since.

  10. A few paragraphs into this I thought, “her dad sounds Jewish” and I was right. How do I know? Mine was like yours – well, with the advice, anyway. Healthy… not really. And the first part of this would’ve been a difficult one for him: “Avoid Doctors, But if You Have to Go, Listen to what the Doctor Says.” Though the second part he’d have agreed with – because he was one! 🙂

    What have I learnt from mine? Er… always have sherry in the house for guests (meaning him), always have a comfortable sofa to sit on (oh, no, wait – that was for him too)…

    Seriously, though, he taught me to be compassionate.

  11. Good list – althought these days you have to ARRIVE at the airport 2.5 hours before departure.

  12. Old Jews that went to the UK protected their tables with plastic (or did in the 60s and 70s and 80s anyway!) Nope, not Italian, though mixed with plenty of Italians as I was growing up.

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