Twenty years ago today, my father lost his battle with cancer. I’ve mentioned it before in a Father’s Day post I wrote a while back, but on this anniversary, I wanted to talk a little further about what I have learned from Dad’s lessons.
One thing I do understand is that I’m grateful for the 21 years I DID have with him. Obviously, like most people when they lose someone early, I wish I spent more time with him growing up. I wanted to hang out with friends or watch TV or play video games or mess with girls or a half dozen other things before I felt like hanging out with my father.
That’s kind of what this post is about today – enjoy your time with your father as an adult because you’ll most likely wish you spent more time with him as a kid.
Dad’s Lessons Learned
Understand that these are completely random memories, and I’m not sure why some stand out more than others. But they do, and I’m happy for that!
1. Good Things Are Better When You Have To Wait For Them
In 1978, my Dad brought home a new box of Topps baseball cards for my brothers and I. They were one of those boxes with see-through windows, so you could see what the top and bottom cards were. Then my brothers and I had my very first Fantasy Baseball Draft. We took turns, one by one, choosing which packs we wanted for our own. The packs with Ron Guidry and the Steve Garvey visible were the first ones to go. Then my dad told us, “OK, you get to open ONE pack each day.” And we were able to stretch out the fun for nearly two weeks! It taught me that sometimes, the joy of anticipation is better than the event. (I still own that set of cards, by the way – and they are my favorite set of cards ever.)
2. Not Everyone Loves What You Love
He took me and my cousins to a Red Sox spring training game in Winter Haven, and one of my cousins had no idea what baseball was about. I remember thinking, “What – the – heck?” But now I get that not everyone had a dad that took them to spring training games all the time. It taught me that sports might be in my genes – but not everyone else’s — so have varied interests.
3. Movies Are Awesome
(Is that really a lesson learned? Maybe not.) He took me to a theater to see “A Christmas Story.” Now, every year, that movie is replayed a billion times and I get to relive that memory! It’s such a weird one to remember. (He also took me to see “Uncommon Valor,” which was an awesome Vietnam movie!) It taught me not to help my Dad change a flat tire. FUDGE!!! And to not leave any of your soldiers behind, especially ones that were MIA!
4. Practice Can Be as Fun as Playing the Game If Done Right
When my Dad came home from being on the road for a week, no matter how tired he was, we’d go out and play catch with my brothers. He would hit us “Major League Pop Flies” and we’d do our best to circle under them. (I was the BEST at playing Pepper.)
5. Don’t Catch a Football With Your Body
My Dad used to throw the football in the backyard with us often. And he taught me, “Always catch the ball with your fingertips.” And he would always say, “If your hands touch it, you should have caught it.” When I went on to play tight end in high school, our receivers coach would call me “Hands” because I never dropped anything. (Granted, our offensive line coach would call me “GONADS!” but whatever.)
6. Be a Hustler, Baby
My Dad was a salesman – and from what I gather, he was a very, very good salesman. He was, what he called, a “hustler.” Not a hustler in the “swindler” sense, but in the sense that he hustled to get work done, and he hustled to make things happen, even when those around him stood still.
He taught me how to make the most of what you got, and to be a “hustler” to get things done for what you need. Whether it’s a website, a book or some other project, I always have something going on with thoughts on the future.
7. Innocent Pranks are AWESOME!
When I had friends over swimming, my Dad used to play jokes on them. I was embarrassed at the time, but I have a ton of great memories because of it. This includes the time my Dad told my friend Artie that he had a phone call.
My Dad proceeded to have a conversation with the person on the other line for a bit, really selling it. Then he handed the phone to my 10-year-old buddy, who by now had gotten out of the pool and toweled off. When Artie put the phone to his ear and said, “Hello?” It took him a couple seconds to fully register that my Dad had filled the earpiece with shaving cream. Artie laughed, I laughed and my Dad howled with laughter.
8. Sometimes, Doing Nothing is Better Than Doing Something
My Dad bought a john boat and used to always take me out on the little lakes in Central Florida to go bass fishing. We’d pack sandwiches, just get out there – and sit. As a kid, it was tough to deal with because there were sooooo many cartoons I was probably missing. I look back now and remember/cherish some of the talks we had on that boat.
9. Gambling is Most Fun When It’s Someone Else’s Money
My Dad became a real estate agent during my high school years, and when I’d go to visit him on the weekend, we would sometimes have to go to a model home and he’d have to work.
10. Having a Little Time With Your Dad is Better Than None
My friend Artie’s father had passed away when he was pretty young, and my Dad always invited him wherever we went. I didn’t understand it then, but he was trying to impart some male wisdom on my friend (and me) at the time, and Artie was always appreciative. My Dad taught me that having him for 21 years is still a lot better than the length of time many other people have their Dad around, if at all.
Twenty years ago today, my brother Mark and my sister Rosebud were with me when my dad took his last breath. For completely random reasons, they’re living with me right now. Nearly every day, one of us does a “Dad” impression, and we crack up every time.
Finally, my Dad taught me how important it is to laugh every day.
We miss you, pop!