As a child my dad would scoop me up in his his arms and throw me into the air before catching me. I learned that scary can sometimes be fun and that in the end he was always there with a safe place to land. Whether it was helping a teenager with a flat tire on the side of the road or newlyweds wanting to move back home to save money for their own house, dad was always there, he was the safe place where we were always welcome.
Some time around 9 years old my dad and I had a serious talk. He made it clear that he never wanted to hear of me starting a fight or picking on someone. Hitting someone in anger wasn’t how we did things. However, he made it very clear that if someone was picking on my little brother that all bets were off. He was fiercely proud of his family and I learned from him that we safeguard and protect them.
For my birthday each year dad and I would go on a date, to a very nice restaurant. I didn’t even mind so much that I had to wear a dress, he wore his suit, reservations were made and we would go, just the two of us. I often felt like a movie star in these super fancy restaurants, I got my first filet mignon here (at dad’s recommendation) and loved it. A lesser man might have felt the need to showboat or treat the restaurant staff as servants, to make himself look like the ‘big man’, but that was the very antithesis of who my dad was. He was gracious and polite and he treated everyone he met well, and that kindness was returned to him. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in watching him; that you really can take the measure of a man’s character by seeing how he treats others.
My dad had a tremendous work ethic. He worked hard his whole life to ensure that his children never went without. Sure our yearly vacations were long road trips from Salt Lake to San Diego to stay with our grandparents but we took them, as a family. We didn’t live a posh life, but there was always enough. My parents always showed us the value of hard work; I understood from a young age that money didn’t appear magically, it was there due to their hard work. Learning to be self-sufficient and to work hard was a gift he gave me beyond measure.
Some people think my dad was quiet or even shy. This wasn’t the case, he was simply content to let his wife and kids take center stage, instead preferring to be the strength and support behind the scenes. He was the very definition of easy-going. My mom likes to joke she dragged him all over the world and he just went along, that’s how much of a good sport he was. I think he learned to set aside his reluctance and simply embrace the unexpected which sometimes led to extraordinary adventures. We are not a family of itinerary makers, dad taught us by example that life isn’t about the destination, but about being there for the journey.
There’s that saying “sing like no one is listening, dance like nobody’s watching..” My dad had a variant on that. Dad loved to sing in the car. He loved to sing country music loudly in the car. Even when he had no idea the lyrics or melody he sang loudly in the car. Dad had found that singing was all the sweeter when he had a captive audience of his daughter and her teenage friends on the way to the mall, his daughter cringing in the front seat begging him to stop. My dad taught me that it’s sometimes worth it to look foolish if it means giving your daughter some well-deserved payback.
It is his sense of humor and that mischievous smile I will remember and miss the most.