My dad is as old as my charming little bungalow. Born on May 16,1920 in Philadelphia, my Dad has all the rough edges, chipping paint and other oddities that my bungalow has-along with the charm, beauty and history.
When my Dad was born, there were still Civil War veterans in his neighborhood. The year he was born, the first commercial radio station was also born--and families suddenly had in-home entertainment. The year he was born, women were given the right to vote. A child of the roaring twenties, he grew up in the great jazz age--the era of big bands and what his parents probably considered to radical and crazy music.
He was alive when there was not Rock n Roll and alive when it was born; when Pearl Harbor was bombed; when we walked on the moon; when the Berlin Wall was built and when it was torn down.
To me, my Dad has always been a walking history lesson. Sure, I can read a million books--my Dad lived it. He saw it; he is part of history.
In his lifetime, he has been a big brother (the oldest of 9), a hitchhiker (he hitch hiked all the way to Florida to caddy), a landscaper (he worked on the Wanamaker Estate in Elkins Park), a merchant marine (serving his country during WWII), a father (3 times over) and a grandfather. He's played football, traveled, sailed the seven seas, golfed, grumbled and loved his way through lifetimes. He was my first teacher, along with my Mom.
The lessons I've learned from my Dad are endless. Here are Seven of my favorites--my go-to lessons in times of chaos.
Seven lessons from my Dad
1. Never do what everyone else does.
This was often heard in my home--"So what if they like to do that, do you? Never do what everyone else does." For me, this was a savior--it allowed me to be creative and be okay with sometimes not being "normal" or part of the latest trend. It gave me permission to embrace my truest self. And it gave me the strength to support others who aren't doing what everyone else is--even when I disagree. It is all okay.
2. Everyone might call you a procrastinator, but beauty takes time.
Anyone who has ever been to my parents house, will notice some half-finished projects. My Dad, who is a perfectionist, always endeavors to make something amazing. Whether it is his barn in the backyard, custom kitchen cabinets or a fabulous build in bookcase--sometimes these projects do not get done quickly (or ever). But it is okay. My Dad taught me that it is the process of making beautiful things that matters.
3. Treat your children equally and differently.
My Dad was 57 when I was born; 60 when my brother was born. He already had an adult daughter. The three of us are all completely different and have been parented differently. This lesson is invaluable to me both as a mother and a friend. I love my girls equally--but they are both very different and need different things. I love my friends equally--but sometimes my friends need different kinds of love.
4. It is okay to cry, even if you are a big tough guy, even in front of your children.
I've seen my Dad cry exactly three times. The first time, his sister Dolly died. I saw him crying in a chair in his bedroom. I instantly loved him a million times more than I did previously. I was 14.
The second time was at the death of his mother, my Grammy--a feisty old broad who was the Queen Bee. Grammy was beautiful and herself, all the time, no matter who was in the room.
And then he cried on the phone when I told him about Lily's brain tumor. It was his birthday and Lily was his girl.
My Dad's tears gave me a window into his heart and soul. I saw that he was strong--so strong that he could cry in front of his daughter. When I cry in public, which happens more often than I'd like, I always remember to feel strong in my tears, not weak.
5. Die with your boots on
For as long as I could remember my Dad would say, "I am going to die with my boots on," meaning, I am going to keep working, keep moving, keeping doing until my last breath. This has taught me that it is never too late to change or start something new. Each breath is a gift-don't squander it waiting for your last.
6. Fight. Then forgive.
My poor husband has had to endure about 500 heated discussions at my parent's dinner table--whether over politics, finances, living arrangements, college majors or what type of cole slaw is best--my Dad and I fight. We yell and stomp and scream. But then, we apologize, love each other and forgive. We never give up on each other or our relationship. This has taught me to never give up on anyone and to forgive even before I get an apology. We all misbehave; so we all must forgive.
Every night, before bed, my Dad kneels in the living room in the dark and prays. He is devout. I used to hear him whispering my name and my siblings' names in the dark. He would ask for protection and strength and love. My Dad, who has always been my Super Hero, always appeals to God for guidance. He always looks above, not within. And when times are rough, sometimes all we have is prayer. And it works. The world is a living example of that.
This morning I asked Lily if she knew her Grandpop's age. First she said, "I don't know." Then I asked again and she said, "Older than me. But smarter than you."
And that's my Dad. He is older than most of us and smarter too.
Happy 90th Birthday Dad. Wishing you many more.