Seeing everyone’s father’s day posts still stabs me in the heart. My Father, Ace – as he was nicknamed, died 12 years ago, a couple of weeks before that special holiday celebrating dads. I was angry that cancer and Parkinson’s took him away too soon – leaving me anguished and wiser. It is no pleasure ride to see a loved one go through the stages of disease and death, losing one’s dignity along the way. Especially a person who was once larger than life – a pillar and role model. A constant. A rock.
Probably he is idolized much more in death than life. Aren’t we all?
He used to embarrass the hell out of me as a teenager. I remember we went to Italy on vacation one year and, for some reason, my mother allowed him to pack his own suitcase. In his bag he had brought an abundance of tube socks and bad T-shirts. In Italy? The fashion capital of EUROPE?? Nothing screams “Ugly American” to a 17-year old girl more than being accompanied by her T-shirt/tube sock wearing father to a lovely al-fresco dinner in Piazza Navona.
I remember I went on a date with an older boy who worked at a record store at the mall when I was 15 or 16 years old. My father insisted he come in to meet him when he arrived at our home. Then the grilling began. I turned 5 shades of red when my father asked for his driver’s license so he could copy down all his information. I completely understand his concerns now. However, at that time it was painfully embarrassing. “Mall guy” and I never had another date. Although I was impressed with his knowledge of music, he was pretty much a putz.
I took some photography classes in high school and Ace was extremely encouraging since he enjoyed taking (not-so-great) photos. I do believe he lacked an artistic eye, as most of his hobby photos consisted of aircraft carriers, naval ships, and his officer buddies drinking beer – with poor lighting. Nonetheless, he allowed me to use his ancient 1950’s Nikon camera with the hand-held light meter and eventually bought an SLR camera for me as a gift.
One time on a family trip I lost the lens cap. Most photographers know this is an easy thing to do – it happens. You put it down and forget it, it falls out of your pocket or bag. However, my father roared when he realized I lost it. I looked at him and said, “Its no big deal. I will get a new one.” At that time, you could buy a lens cap for less than a dollar. Being a child born into the Great Depression, my dad was always one to be very careful about money (a trait I now admire intensely). “DO YOU THINK MONEY GROWS ON TREES?” he yelled alarmingly loudly into the crowd at whatever monument we were standing. To this day my family still calls it the “Lens Cap Incident.”
This man I called “Dad” was entertaining and amusing. When he wasn’t embarrassing me or yelling at me about a lost lens cap, we used to laugh – a lot. He never knew a stranger, as all who knew him will tell you. I still laugh reminiscing about funny situations, especially later in life after a few cocktails. We met a priest on one trip at a bar in Sicily. He invited us out to his commune, and of course, we went for the experience of it all. It turned out to be not only suspicious but then dangerous as we were out in the middle of nowhere (before cell phones) with the “priest” in our van and a chase car of his Italian goons following us. Thank goodness my mother still had her wits about her – since my father, my cousins and I have been over-served fine Italian wine and grappa. She made my cousin stop the van and yelled, “You’re no priest, get out,” kicking the old man out into the abandoned field.
I smile fondly at all the silly things which occurred in our Father-Daughter relationship. But I am oh-so-thankful for all of the very important things he taught me. He said a lot of wise things. I wrote so many of them off at the time. And yet, now they all ring true.
“The only thing constant is change. You might as well embrace it.” No matter what, even if you don’t do anything or go anywhere – change will happen. New friends, new school, new job, new boss, new corporation, new rules, new car, new home, new changes to your policy, death. Ah death changes everything, doesn’t it? Thankfully he helped me with a positive perspective towards change early on.
“One day great wars will be fought over water.” As a child who grew up near the Great Lakes, it was incomprehensible to consider anyone not having an endless supply of fresh water. And yet, here we are today and some of the most pressing issues around the world are either lack of safe drinking water or the means to get it where it is needed. Even in my adopted home country of Costa Rica, where rain is abundant at least half the year, there are massive water issues in some parts of the country.
“Know a little bit of everything and you will own a room.” My father left active duty in the military and went into the naval reserves, climbing the ranks through the years. He also found a niche in a very successful sales career with IBM. And he literally owned a room when he entered it. He was not exactly a rocket scientist, but he knew a little bit about everything. Who was in the World Series, what was happening with the arms deal in Nicaragua, what movie won the Oscar last year, what restaurant has the best steaks, etc. When I first went into sales and asked for advice, I found this to be magic. “Find a hot topic of interest, say a few things about it and let them TALK!” He would tell me.
My father never (okay, rarely) spent money on frivolous things. “A car is to get you from point A to point B,” he would say. Yeah, he did drive a few crappy cars! He would not buy a car for me for my 16th birthday as a gift like so many parents did. I resented it. And I went through years of spending money on frivolous things while I had a successful career. But the lesson finally sunk in. Using his formula and investing intelligently has paid off and allowed me to live an experiential life – free of shackles of the mass consumerism wheel – much sooner than most.
I wish I could see him walk through my door wearing a bad T-shirt and tube socks with a martini in hand.
**Editor’s note: We never let him pack alone for vacation again and he did eventually ditch the tube sock look. I heard they are coming back?