I hardly know where to start when I talk about my dad, but talking about him seems like a good place to begin my book, because so many of my life lessons involved my father. The “old goat,” an affectionate name that I believe my sister, Lisa, coined after Dad died, had a big heart, and we shared more awesome times than I can recount. He was the best man at my wedding and probably my biggest fan and supporter in life after my wife.
I often wish that he could have been alive for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, for the day I sold my company, to spend time with us in our beautiful home in Florida, or to drink a bottle of his favorite wine, Shafer Hillside Select, together. Most of all I wish I could see the smile on his face as he shared in the lives of his children, his grandchildren, and his nieces and nephews. I especially miss talking with him about almost every aspect of our lives. We spoke most days while he was living, and whether we agreed or disagreed, we always respected one another’s opinion.
I’m incredibly thankful and appreciative for his love, all the good times we had, and the lessons I learned from him. From my perspective, my dad made many awful decisions, and I probably learned the most from those. I think his worst decision was moving from New York to Florida with his new wife and her daughter when I was fourteen and my sister was ten. I can’t begin to understand how a man who believed so much in family could pick up and leave at such a crucial time in our lives. Surprisingly, we never talked about his decision to move.
Roughly two years prior, my parents got divorced. They never fought in front of us, and neither my sister nor I had any idea that my parents were having difficulties. When they called us into the living room to tell us the big news, we thought they were going to tell us that they were going on vacation and that we would be staying with our grandparents.
When my dad moved in 1974, long-distance telephone calls were a dollar a minute. Given the cost, a lot of our communication would occur through cassette tapes. On the way to or from work, my dad would talk to my sister and me about what was going on in his life by speaking into a cassette recorder, and he would then send one or more tapes to us. An envelope would arrive a few days or a week later with the word “Fragile” written on it. Most of the time we would listen to the tapes and then send them back after recording over them.
I’ll give my dad points for creativity and his commitment to consistently sending the tapes. Then I have to quickly ask, “Dad, what were you thinking when you decided to move 1,287 miles away from your two kids?”
My sister and I would go to Florida during school vacations for a week or ten days at a time, three or four times a year, to see my dad, who was living with his new wife, Betty, and her daughter, Tracy. You can imagine if you only saw your teenage children a few times a year, these visits would be focused on them and you would probably try to do things that the kids would enjoy.
My dad definitely tried his best and usually these visits would start out well, as we were all excited to see one another. In my dad’s effort to pack two or three months’ worth of family time together with his kids into a week or so, he probably wasn’t as sensitive to his wife or focused on her needs.
I am not exaggerating when I say that each time we visited, sooner or later there would be a blowup and our trip was ruined. My dad would try to patch things up. If the trigger was something I did, I would apologize. But once Betty got upset, she wasn’t the type to quickly bounce back. Her energy was almost always very heavy and negative. Neither my sister nor I was used to being in a house with someone so loud and moody, and we were never able to adjust to her personality.
The saying “happy wife, happy life” captures what was wrong with Dad’s life once he remarried, as his new wife was rarely happy except when she was on vacation. He prided himself on his ability to tune out all that was wrong, particularly between the two of them. This may have been easy for him, but it was brutal for my sister and me.
One thing I have learned since he died is that living your life surrounded by someone with such negative energy is not only draining, but extremely toxic and unhealthy. I think the emotional stress and other ramifications of living with her were among the factors leading to his cancer and ultimately to the melanoma that metastasized to his brain, causing his death at only sixty-seven years old.
Some people say that every day they think about the important people in their lives who have passed away. I don’t think about my dad that often, and sometimes I wonder if it’s because I never really processed his death. I don’t remember if I took two or three days off when he died, but I know for sure that it wasn’t a week. I “warriored” on, rationalizing that he would want to make sure that nothing – particularly him – slowed down my business.
I’m not sure if there is such a word as “warriored,” but as my wife and daughter would attest, I like to make up words. I’m not sure why, except that it always seems like fun. My wife tells me all the time that life is about laughing more, having more fun, and being happy. And she is right. I would add that our purpose in life is also to make the world a better place.
I now recognize that when my dad died, I did the same unhealthy thing I had done too often in my life, which was to gloss over something painful. As a man, I know that I am not alone in doing this. I have observed that many men aren’t good at dealing with their emotions, and I imagine it is extremely frustrating to the people around us. In fact, I know it is, because my wife has told me so. Getting more “in touch with my feelings” is something that I have worked on, and continue to do, and I am glad as it has deepened my relationship with Dawn.
I have a long way to go on this essential aspect of my life, but I am making significant progress, especially since I did not start working on this until I was forty-eight years old. For a long time I have believed you should try to improve some aspect of your life every day, or at the very least, each week. If you aren’t always doing something to help others or yourself, you are wasting your life. For most of my life, I concentrated on improvements in business and finance. Now I’m focused on becoming a better person and helping others achieve their goals and dreams. In hindsight, I wish I had lived a more balanced life and I frequently recommend this to others, especially younger people.
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