On February 21, 2019, my father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. It’s been an emotional time for me because I didn’t just lose a father, but I also lost a great mentor and my best friend.
My father was a man of integrity, and his devotion toward his family and friends was relentless. He was also a planner and made it his mission in life to make sure my mother would be taken care of in the event that he went first.
My father proved this in his very last moments of life just before the morphine took hold, when he held my mother’s hand and continued to coach her on what to do with the finances. And the strength he displayed in those final moments will never be forgotten.
I will always remember my father for the incredible person he was, his service to our country during the Vietnam War, and how he was dedicated to his career in education.
My father was frugal so it didn’t surprise us one bit that he decided to take the cheaper option and be cremated. He also opted to skip the traditional wake and funeral because he believed that the burial process was a cleverly designed financial trap, and that there were more cost efficient ways to pay respects to a loved one. Instead, he left us with the suggestion that we have a party to celebrate his life with family and friends by his favorite lake.
My father taught me a lot…
My father used to stress the importance of good work ethic. He used to repeatedly tell my sister and I the story of how he once worked three jobs to pay for his own college education. He also emphasized the importance of higher education and wanted us to become completely independent so we could earn our own way in life
My father didn’t believe in “sick” days. When I was school aged my father used to tell both my sister and I that “showing up is half the battle”, and there is no such thing as a sick day. If we didn’t have a flaming fever (there were NO thermometers in our house!) or was really, really, I mean REALLY sick, my father would make my sister and I go to school.
I remember one morning I had to take a test that I didn’t study for so I ignored my alarm clock hoping I would miss the bus. My father came flying into my room and flipped the mattress over knocking me straight out of it and ordered me to get up.
In the end, my father taught me a very valuable lesson when I was the only one to show up early to a job interview. I got the job because I was on time, dressed appropriately and willing to work, while the other two candidates showed up late and lacked interest.
My father loved history, and every vacation we took as a family became a history lesson. My mother has countless family photos of us standing around rocks looking like we were waiting for a bus. In those pictures, we were dressed to the nines in our wildly colored bell bottoms with solemn looks on our faces. It used to bore us to death. Literally.
I think my father possessed some sort of super deluxe, state of the art, alien derived internal radar system, because he had the ability to laser in on every, yes EVERY, historical marker no matter where we were headed. But in the end, I now realize that those were very valuable teachable moments and I will never forget them.
My father never allowed us to whine about anything. If we didn’t want to do something my father would encourage my sister and I to try it anyway. He used to say that “doing things we don’t want to do builds character”. And that every opportunity, whether good or bad, is a chance to learn something new and grow as a person.
One summer my parents enrolled me into the town’s recreation program and signed me up for community sailing. I yelled, kicked and screamed that I didn’t want to go because all of my friends were going to the park, and I wanted to go with them. My father told me to “suck it up” and make new friends, and that he wished he had this experience when he was my age. Well, it turned out to be the best summer adventure I have ever had!
My father used to tell us that “girls can achieve anything”. He was a graduate from two Boston area universities and had a career in education. He loved the great city of Boston and used to take my sister and I to visit the museums, and other rich historical sites around the city.
One day he took us to the JFK Library where he sat us down to show us history book. I don’t remember the exact book but I do remember it was about the woman’s suffrage movement.
My father explained to my sister and I the importance of using our voice to make a difference in the world, and that we could achieve anything we wanted. He then proceeded to teach us about the women’s suffrage movement and how woman had to fight for the right to vote. He also taught us the importance of utilizing the rights that women fought so hard for us to have.
My father embraced diversity. Despite being born in the 1940’s, my father believed each and every person who walked the planet mattered. He would tell us repeatedly that the world was a chaotic and unjust place and that it was up to us to make a difference. When we asked how my father would simply say “embrace diversity”.
When I looked around the hospital room at the family and friends who gathered around my father to pay their respects and offer their support, it became abundantly clear that this was a man who practiced what he preached.
My father always emphasized the importance of “using your noodle”. He used to tell my sister and I that using our noodle may someday save our lives. He loved to tell us (and anyone else who would listen) the story of how he got out of the Vietnam War.
My father was issued a fairly low number in the draft for the Vietnam War, and was one of the earlier groups to be sent into combat. He talked very little about his war experience (he just shut down when asked) but when it came to how he managed to save himself and get out of the war, which he was morally and politically against, he didn’t hesitate to tell all.
And the story goes…
Something happened to the Army’s head chef and they needed to find a replacement. So when the Army Sergeant asked if anyone knew how to cook, my father immediately volunteered himself. He didn’t hesitate because he figured even though he wasn’t a chef, it couldn’t possibly be that hard to cook Army food from a cheap tin can. So they flew him to another area to do some cooking, and from there he was sent to Berlin, Germany to fulfill the remaining part of his draft requirement where he was safe from combat.
My father would tell us this story over and over again because he was in disbelief that he was not challenged by anyone else. He was the ONLY ONE to stand up and say that he was a chef. And by “using his noodle” he was eventually able to get out of combat so he could live to see another day.
My father respected the environment. We were not allowed to litter and if we came across litter, we were taught to pick it up and put it in its rightful place. It didn’t matter who put it there. My father also loved nature and used to carry around a mini bird encyclopedia and a pair of binoculars. If we saw a bird we knew the drill, drop into stealth mode. He also used to take on dead plants so he could bring them back to life because according to my father “every living organism deserves a chance”.
My father negotiated everything. He never and I really do mean NEVER, paid full price for anything. According to my father everything was negotiable. Houses, of course. Cars, definitely. Car repairs, without a doubt. Underwear, you don’t know until you try. As a result, every time I go to purchase something I find myself asking if there is a deal or a coupon or a special of some kind. It must run in the family!
My father’s best friend told me a funny story. Apparently, my father freaked out when he found out how much his best friend paid for a set of brand new tires for his Acura. My father told him that he was nuts. So my father grabbed his friend’s car keys, drove his car back down to the repair shop and negotiated with the shop owner. Long story short…those $1200 tires quickly turned into an $800 purchase, saving his best friend a whopping $400!
My father used to say “if I knew then what I know now” I would have saved twice the amount of money. He used to explain the importance of saving for our future, and attempted to drive home how critical it was that we weren’t just self-sufficient, but that we were financially self-sufficient. He taught us the basics of personal finance and showed us how compound interest worked. Of course, it’s the one lesson I wish I had taken more seriously. I now appreciate the fact that he took the time to teach us how to be financially fit.
Compassion, strength, encouragement, wisdom, laughter, love, life, protection, understanding and empathy. Thank you for the lessons you taught me.
I miss you already Dad.