I wrote this for my father’s celebration of life ceremony, which took place this morning in Cleveland. It was but a small part of a fitting tribute to a man who served as a mentor and a role model for a lot of people — including many he never knew. Thanks to all who participated in this morning’s ceremony and particularly to my siblings who really rocked it. (Yes, that includes you, Connie.)
What We Learned from Dad
We learned to work hard.
A few months after I started working at the Ashland Times-Gazette, I was eating breakfast at a little ma-and-pa joint around the corner from the County Courthouse. It was early and the only other customer was an old man seated at the end of the counter. I sensed that he was sizing me up. Finally, he sidled over to me and said, “I know your father.” I thought he was just blowing smoke. Then he said, “Your father once told me that, if you want something done, find the busiest guy in the room and ask him to do it.” There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he knew my father.
We learned to play hard.
Playing catch in the street and pickup games at Buckley Playground were part of our daily routine. Dad often joined us. Sometimes I’d get jealous when he’d throw the ball to other kids or pay more attention to them than he did to me. But I realized that some of those kids didn’t have fathers. And none of them had a father like ours.
We learned that vacation time was sacred.
Dad insisted that we take a vacation every year no matter what. For many years, that meant spending a couple of weeks at East Harbor — fishing, hanging out at the beach or playing ball in a big open field by the shower house. Sometimes I’d get up early in the morning, before anyone else, and go exploring. I still do that.
We learned the value of travel.
When Judy and I were teenagers, we all piled into the van and headed out west. We camped along the way and, if memory serves me, we made it as far west as Utah. It was a life-changing experience. It was our first taste of the endless opportunities that life had to offer. Although we did vow never to return to Kansas.
We learned patience.
Right after dad died, a weird thought crossed my mind. I remembered he once told me, “I hadn’t planned on living forever anyway.” That was during my first driving lesson. Through this and countless other examples, dad taught us the importance of patience. Patience and a healthy sense of humor.
We learned empathy.
Growing up on the West Side of Cleveland, we often heard the “N-word” from other kids in school or on the playground. One night, I made the mistake of repeating it at the supper table. Dad shut me down on the spot with a simple question. He asked, “How did you come to chose what color you were born?”
We learned about freedom.
In the past month or so, dad talked a lot about his childhood. He grew up in a broken home during the Great Depression. His fondest memories were of the farmhouse in Solon where he lived with his siblings, cousins and assorted adults. Dad said he and the other kids never considered themselves poor because they were allowed to roam free.
We learned about the real meaning of family.
In the final weeks of his life, Dad brought this family together as never before. He took comfort in the continuous outpouring of love — but even more so in the opportunity to return it.