Monday, March 9, 2015

The lessons my father showed me

One of my favorite pictures of my dad,
Today is my dad's 78th birthday. I got to thinking about all I've learned from him. He's not so much a talker who sat all of us down and said these are things that are important in life. I learned life lessons through his actions and there are many.

Family - The ties that bind

His immediate family was not very big. He had his parents and his younger brother. But, he grew-up in a neighborhood surrounded by his aunts, uncles, cousins, and the list goes on. His family even shared a duplex with my great-grandparents.

He has a vast knowledge of his family's history. Not only his side, though. He probably knows more about my mom's side than she does.

It's important to know where you come from and who shared in that journey. His famous Christmas letter is just one example of his appreciation of all the family has done and where it has been. It's also important to stick together. If he had his way, everyone would still be living in the same neighborhood.

Education & Culture - Find a way to learn

I don't know how he and my mom did it, but they made sure we had a many ways to be educated and to experience culture. Having 5 kids was not easy in general, but providing those kids with so many opportunities must have required an extra layer of strength.

When I was young, I had no concept of money and how it played into our lives. Looking back on my childhood, I can't believe how fortunate we were despite not being the most financially fortunate.

My dad has never taken living in Cleveland for granted. People may mock it, but it is truly a cultural mecca. No, really, it's not just my northeastern Ohio pride showing bias.

From a very young age, we knew about Wade Oval and University Circle. He got us family memberships at museums and then registered us for Saturday morning courses. I would probably not have gotten the chance to walk over a shark tank; search for mudpuppies in a river and then check for leeches when getting out; learn about the behind-the-scenes workings of museums; and much, much more without those classes.

He and my mom also wanted us to have the best education they thought possible. For them, that was in a Catholic school. That came at a price and tuition for 5 kids was a big price tag. Seriously, I don't know how they managed that, but they did.

Just upon entering my parents' house, the importance of books, fiction and non-fiction alike, are obvious. And, the value of books goes hand in hand with the importance of libraries. He supported the local library with countless hours of work with the Friends of the Library. Also, later in his life he worked for the county library system by helping area libraries at the reference desk on weekends.

My dad knows that television also has its contributions to culture and education. He supported public television with volunteer hours and membership. When the moon landing took place, he held my oldest brother up to the television as the event was covered. My brother was just a baby, but my dad was already teaching him about significant events. I can remember him making sure we gathered around the TV when Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles of Wales. Granted, that didn't end with a happily ever after, but we couldn't know that at the time of major world event.

Generosity & Kindness - Do for others what you can, and sometimes, maybe a little more

This may be the biggest of all and one he showed me the most. He is a giver, if not financially, then through time and sharing.

In my childhood, my dad managed the food and other household goods collection and distribution at the Catholic church. After mass, the donations left in designated areas of the church would be gathered and taken to a pantry in the basement of the rectory. He would then organize the products in their different areas. He would also make his own donations. The king of coupons, special offers, and weekly discounts for grocery shopping would always buy things for the food pantry while getting our family's groceries. Then, it would be time to "shop" the pantry. He would gather a variety of items to be taken to the families in his address box filled with names and addresses of the people the parish staff knew were in need. The assistance also went beyond the offerings behind the pantry door and would be for payment of utilities where the need was greater. Sometimes, I would help and go on deliveries and sometimes they were people I knew. I don't remember if he ever told me outright, but I knew we were doing something private, something I shouldn't share with others out of respect for those on the receiving end. At the holidays, the need was greater and turkeys, hams, and gifts were added to the deliveries. And, the same respect for the dignity of the recipients was there for me to see.

This already seems to have gone long and yet I feel I haven't even begun to do him justice. I do know that if the world were filled with more people who were even half the person my dad is, it would be a much better place.      


  1. What a great tribute to uncle John! Your writing is extremely captivating!