My Dad never taught me how to hunt with a bow, rebuild a car engine or fix a broken fence. While my childhood was ideal in many ways, I never learned the ‘manly’ skill sets of being handy or living off the land. Though Pop had been an active boy scout throughout his childhood, he was a city slicker at heart and much more inclined to teach me about creativity, culture, and business than using my hands to create.
During one of my summer jobs in junior high, I worked in an industrial shop and on my first day, the foreman asked me to hand him a 7/16 wrench. I literally had no idea what the heck he was talking about. Thankfully, I married into a good Southern family and my father-in-law taught me how to shoot a shotgun, chop wood, and grill a good cut of meat!
Don’t get me wrong, Dad had some pretty masculine qualities. He was bold, courageous, and as aggressive as they come. When Dad saw something he wanted, he went after it passionately. In his professional life, my father epitomized the definition of a “type A” personality. But in his personal life, he was soft as a kitty cat. Dad had a beautiful mixture of qualities from which I learned a great deal. Here are some of the life lessons that I learned from my father:
Never forget to say ‘I love you.’ Some men think it’s not manly to show emotion, express affection, or be vulnerable. Dad thought that was bullshit. He said “I love you” every time I spoke to him. Every. Single. Time. More than anything, perhaps the most important lesson Dad taught me was that love matters most - More than status, material things, where you work, or how you vote. Pop stressed that even compared to personal happiness, love matters more. Dad felt that love was the most important thing in his life and he expressed that love with the best of them. He lived his life by leading with love, knowing that true joy is found in the expression of loyalty in friendship, devotion to family, and in caring for others around him.
Forgiveness is a necessity. My Grandfather was a very accomplished man. Unfortunately, he was also a very flawed man. As my Grandmother was dying of cancer, Grandpa ran off with a buxom blonde. Classy move huh? Holding a grudge would have been understandable. But Dad didn’t see it that way. You get one father and his dad, though obviously lacking character in some ways, also had qualities worth fighting for. Dad didn’t air Grandpa’s dirty laundry nor did he banish him into exile. Instead, he chose to forgive him without holding a grudge. In fact, I never even knew about Grandpa’s transgressions until long after he was gone. As the old adage goes, “love is stronger than pride.” Dad knew that to love with your whole heart also requires a forgiving heart.
Say what you mean like you mean it. Dad was a church-going, God-fearing man. He had the utmost integrity in business and in life. He didn’t drink or smoke. But he did swear like a drunken sailor! When Dad barked, people listened. When we were growing up, Dad never used physical or harsh punishment. He didn’t need to. When we kids got out of line, Pop always had a few choice words that usually involved at least a few F Bombs. Believe me, we straightened up quickly and even the kids in the neighborhood learned that my Dad was a force to be reckoned with.
Swearing for emphasis has become sort of a lost art. As society has become more ‘advanced’ in many ways, collectively we’ve also become more politically correct, passive aggressive, and emotionally repressed. While it’s never right to be hurtful or hateful with words, it just might help us to be a bit more f**king direct every now and then. Dad taught us to always say what you mean whether it’s “I love you so much and I’m so proud of you,” or “Pick up your Damn room!!!” Both ends of the spectrum have their place.
You are not your job, your things, or your money. Dad liked nice things. He and his friend Steve kicked the tires of just about every nice car they could get their shoes on. Dad drove luxury cars and wore custom suits. He sported a fancy gold watch, several gold rings, a gold necklace and even a gold bracelet for good measure. If Dad had worn velour sweat suits, he could have been cast as The Godfather!
But as much as he appreciated nice stuff, Dad also learned the hard way that money comes and goes and things, are just things. And as careful and conscientious as he was with money, he also had some unlucky breaks. While some worked half as hard and seemed to skate by on easy street, Dad had the misfortune of some bad timing.
Dad didn’t have to just grapple with losing things and money at times, but status as well. While my father had a lot of professional success, as he wound down his career, he went from being the boss to the back burner rapidly. For decades, Pop had been a leader in business and the community, but in a flash he was a forgotten entity. It was a big time ego check, but he changed his identity with grace, humility, and gratitude.
Pop knew that even those of us fortunate enough to have success will be faced with a change of identity some day - athletes get injured, bosses retire, and marriages end by death or divorce. Titles and things are nice, but ultimately they matter a lot less than qualities.
The left lane is for passing only. Dad liked fast cars and driving them they way they are meant to be driven. Maybe it was his German heritage and subconsciously he saw the open road as the autobahn. Maybe it was the fast-paced New Yorker in him, but Dad knew where he was going and he didn’t F around with getting there quickly. His driving even earned him the moniker “Fast Phil.” Interestingly enough, I never recall Pops receiving a speeding ticket - He must have had some divine intervention there with him in the passenger seat! There are times in life to stop and smell the roses and there are times to drive fast and feel the wind in you hair. Dad knew how to stay in his lane.
Work Hard, Rest Hard. Though he moved quickly, was aggressive in business and could shop till he dropped, Dad balanced that drive as a world-class napper. He taught that hard work is a virtue, but he definitely emphasized rest as well. Dad could sleep on planes, in cars and especially in his recliner!
As an intern in college, I once fell asleep in a large meeting at Dad’s advertising agency. After the meeting, he didn’t get mad or curse me out. In fact, he didn’t even say a word. I like to think my old man sort of respected my napping prowess and felt that I was simply a chip off the old block! Resting well was part of Dad’s ying and yang. In the same way that he swore aggressively, but said I love you softly, he drove fast, but took the time to take a nap when he needed one.
Dad never taught me to change my own oil or use a power tool. But he did teach me how to be a man in a different way. Pop taught me to live in the moment and be aggressive in pursuing the things I want in life. He taught me to stand up for those I love and say what I mean. He taught me to move swiftly and with intention, but to recover well. My Father taught me that forgiveness matters more than being right. More than anything, Dad taught me to love fiercely and with my whole heart. I am so very grateful to have learned so much from such a loving father. In the end, love is the only thing you can take with you.