It was 6 a.m. on a Monday morning. My geometry book was open on the dining room table. Our coffee was perking, and Dad was pouring a mug for each of us. Spiral notebook page blank, I started on the Pythagorean theorem, Unit 4, problems 1-20. A squared plus B squared equals C squared. Proving parallel lines are congruent. What a nightmare! My 17-year-old self could not wrap my mind around all this logic and proofs. I didn’t understand Mr. Whitlach’s intricately drawn triangles, squares or rectangles on the chalk board or tolerate his nasal voice as he attempted to explain the problems during class. Equally baffling were the textbook’s explanations.
Dad made the unfortunate discovery that I was close to failing Geometry when he attended my conferences, so he devised a plan. He studied the text, taught it to himself, and then somehow made sense of it to me. For about a month, we did the geometry homework necessary to pass that semester. It was critical that I have passing grades in Algebra II and Geometry in order to get into college. I did indeed pass Geometry. Barely. This experience eventually taught me the value of hard work when I despised math and didn’t have a sense of what college would require, and most importantly, how much Dad values education.
Now, rewind back to the Fifth grade, when I was expected to write a report, for the first time, on a historical figure. I don’t remember who it was, but Dad welcomed the opportunity to show me how to draft an outline, compose a rough draft, edit and then create a final draft. This process was actually fun. My older sister, a freshman in high school, also got involved, arguing with Dad over the editing process, and challenging him on some grammar issues. Over the course of a weekend, the three of us got the project done. I got an A with the now infamous question written on the cover: Who wrote this report?
Dad was deeply involved in and passionate about the education of both me and my sister. He has always believed that knowledge is power. His encouragement and support during K-12 and then the college years was steadfast. I’m sure he and my sister spent long hours discussing which college to attend, and then majors, as he did with me. Years later, when I announced that I wanted to quit a stable job in Kansas and move to Pittsburgh to earn another degree, he was completely supportive. We both hopped on a planes, and met in the urban setting where he helped me navigate the roads and finance the next two years.
Always an incredibly gifted communicator, both verbally and written, during some tense moments as a teenager and young adult ( you know, as I was the typical bratty teenager), he would write me lengthy letters, explaining, apologizing and reminding me that he still loved me. Extended family and friends, probably an audience of well over 200 people, look forward to his Christmas letters like the first snow of the season. He is one of the few people in his generation who still continues this art form. We have had many conversations about the “correct” approach to writing a Christmas letter; a comical and heartwarming summary of the year, with no complaining or bragging. It’s not Christmas until you get your annual letter from Dad. He composes it every Thanksgiving weekend, and it’s in the mail the second week of December. It marks the beginning of the holiday season, and now I carry on that tradition (although I may not send mine out as efficiently and timely as he does.)
My grandmother (his mother) died the summer before I started high school, so I didn’t get a the chance to know her as an adult. Several years ago, Dad spent months writing her biography so that my sister and I, as adults, and our children, would know her story. I am so grateful for that gem, and plan to share it with my kids when they’re old enough, perhaps as we’re looking through photos of grandparents and great-grandparents.
He is also gifted with amazing generosity in time and money. He will not hesitate to help anyone in need. No one is a stranger around Dad. He loves welcoming and entertaining family and friends, talking politics or swapping stories over a bottle of wine. He taught me implicitly that everyone has a story, and to be genuinely interested in it, asking questions, and commiserating with their sorrows, and rejoicing in their triumphs. This is in fact one of the principles in the New York Times bestseller “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie, which Dad could have co-written. The title sounds manipulative, but the more I read, the more I realized how well Dad puts these principles into practice, and might explain why he has had such a successful career.
Whenever I have been frustrated or angry over some kind of injustice, Dad’s catch phrase has always been “follow the money.” He would ask “who is benefiting from this outrage and why?” Whether it was the destruction of natural resources, poor treatment for the mentally or physically handicapped, or children’s rights, or whatever was bothering me at the time, he taught me that most change has to start with allocating financial resources differently.
Through teaching me how to drive, balancing a checkbook, helping me move multiple times, lugging all my heavy books, changing the oil in my car, the importance of regular exercise, a love of reading and literature, and countless other acts of love, he has always been there for me. And still today, he is able and willing to love my children. My six-year-old son loved his fishing trip, and my three- year- old daughter squeals with delight when he chases her around the yard. His role as a grandfather is especially important as well, since he is the only grandfather they will know.
Happy Father’s Day Dad!