The Measure of a Father

My father passed away on 11 March 2011. While death is one of the most difficult subjects to discuss with anyone, it is an opportunity to reflect on a good life and the measure of what one leaves behind in ways of values, ideals, good deeds and meaningfulness.  Death allows us each to reflect on the past, improve the future and find the bits and pieces which best demonstrate how to do good, live well and be the change we wish to see in the world.

Frugality is one of the many words  explaining my father; He did not own much in possessions which most other people would consider important – he had books and experiences, a few pieces of art. My father valued being learned, having literacy and the capacity for compassion/empathy.  He believed in experiences, supporting causes and being positive about the possibilities ahead  and this was a wonderful legacy to pass on.  Very few people knew he was even ill.  He treated his cancer as an inconvenience to his living…..

Frugality meant using the library, having all the money you desired for books, magazines, models to build to help you understand math, science, history – it meant being wise about money and using it in a purposeful manner.  There was no greater goal than to be educated as this led to self efficacy and a keen responsibility to others.  Frugality meant not having everything handed to me – I had to work to earn things, even though I did receive dispensation along the way (allowance, college tuition as an undergrad, used car….I paid the insurance, gas, repairs!).  Frugality meant saving money from the time I probably first understood what a quarter was and that 2/3 of the value should be put away for some future need or endeavor and not wasted on a moment of abandon.

Becoming a life long learner did not happen by accident, rather it happened by choice (my father’s). The capacity for questioning/discovering, finding things interesting and knowing the world was my  oyster is the best thing any parent can instill – EVER.  As I went through the book-case (my father was a pharmacist and a teacher) I realized my father very much lived his values. I had been through the book-case many times to select something to read and this time it was to evaluate what was near and dear to my father’s heart.

Frugality meant finding things of value at second-hand stores and not always needing the most expensive, immediately advertised gizmo (we were often not early adopters 🙂  .   Despite frugality, I always had a sense of abundance as many things of value can be experienced on a shoe string budget.  My father was a first generation American from parents who survived the craziness of Poland/Russia for the craziness of the American Depression Era.  This man passed along a greater value than a large house and ‘stuff’ – he passed along the value of a quality life, which is substantially different.

As I walked through his apartment, I noticed all the magazines he loved – everything from The New Yorker and Smithsonian to Kiplinger, Road Scholar, anything about pharmacy and science, etc. He just wanted to be aware and in the know of the world.    Friends came by and the most important thing they wished for as remembrance were books…..books my dad had found at garage sales, books from library give away bins, books handed over to him for some type of safe keeping.  His friends wanted books because that was what they really knew of my father, besides friendship was his endorsement of reading and learning. So, I gave away the bridge, chess, finance books – things I don’t really have an interest in, and when I do, will obtain books on these subjects.  I gave away history books to my aunt for her son.  I gave away book ends to another.  It was so interesting how each person truly valued these gifts (these were not books of high value due to age) and knew this would keep the memory of my father alive.  Each time I gave something away, yet another person stated how they had enjoyed discussing subject x,y, and z with my father as he loved to learn.  I truly felt I was giving away both a memory and a very special gift.

Different books had book marks in them – some merely scraps of paper with notes he wrote to himself about this page or that, some tidbit of knowledge to be learned well and share with others.  My father was left-handed so sometimes this scribbles were not the easiest to decipher.

There were coins saved in a container called ‘sunsets’, apparently for a future time where he  might have wanted one more book at the end of the day.   There were notes, cartoons (humor enthusiast would not cover it all), no TV (it was not an object of value or something to covet even, except maybe for Washington Week and 60 Minutes), no gorgeous furniture – just simple things. I found a mechanical watch which was interesting for the ‘mechanism’ being exposed,  a slide rule (really old school math!) and so forth. These treasures are what will keep my father alive in my memory.

I have not finished (nor will I ever, most likely) processing his death, what it means to me in entirety or how he lived.  What I have done is find a tradition to pass down and pass on – the value and power of learning.  I have found a best cause for my endeavors and know, being a teacher myself, the gift of reading and knowledge is more than the sum of its parts.

It has been 10 days since my father died.  He is constantly on my mind as I miss our chats about politics, world events, stupidity in humans….you name it.  Most of all, I miss the philosophical discussions which would have allowed both of us to discuss the following article.  Even better was that my dad did not have a number’ in mind….he just lived.  ‘