Monday, December 27, 2010

sh*t my dad taught me

Three years ago today, my dad died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

DMF football

Dad at age 18 or so, I believe.

Dad was a scholar and an athlete. After graduating from Princeton (Phi Beta Kappa), he attended Harvard Law School. Over the years – particularly after he retired to his home state of Vermont and ensconced himself in a big house – he amassed more books than anyone I’ve ever met. As far as the ALS goes, he first realized that he had a problem when – at the age of nearly 69 – he noticed he had trouble benching his customary 250 pounds. Six months later he was dead.

back of photo says feb 68 001

my big brother, dad, me, my big sister.

By the time I was five, Dad taught me…
1. how to carry scissors and knives: loosely, pointed down.
2. how to throw a punch: keep your thumb outside your clenched fist.
3. how to shake hands: firmly, and make eye contact.
4. how to sneeze: explosively. Let it out. Raise the roof.

In middle childhood, Dad showed us that…
5. you're never too old to laugh your ass off at Inspector Clouseau.
6. you can never have too many books.
7. there is no such thing as a too-large serving of ice cream.
8. exercise feels good.

november 1983 sarah

dad and me my sister in a rare moment of mirth.

Lessons of adulthood ranged from the mundane to the profound…
9. it's cool to paint rooms something other than white or off-white.
10. it's never too late to find love.
Dad and Peggy Get Married 013

me, dad, my sister, three months before he died, at his wedding to (literally) the girl next door.

11. it's cool to reconnect with old classmates.
This one came as a surprise to me, because my father suffered from the unfortunate combination of a natural reticence, and bouts of clinical depression, exacerbated by a spiritually annihilating job as a corporate attorney. When we were growing up, my mom (a natural-born leader and truly social being) “owned” the friendships. Dad was more of a loner. But after he retired, he methodically – pre-Internet – tracked down summer camp friends, elementary school classmates, and long lost family members. He attended every high school and college reunion possible. Dad was an only child, but he had a slew of first- and second- cousins whose company – indeed, whose very existence (for reasons we’ll never understand) – was denied to him. Those messes didn’t get cleaned up until after he retired, but once they did, he visited with everyone he could get his hands on.  He would have loved Facebook.

12. the main point is to enjoy life – not to please other people.
Ahhhh, the biggie. It’s possible Dad may not have explicitly intended to teach us this lesson, but he sure did. I see it in how my siblings and I have each taken – more than once, apiece – these massive leaps of faith in the directions of our dreams. I don’t think my dad felt, as the sole bread winner for a family of five – that he had that luxury.

thanksgiving 1983 001

the bread winner, thanksgiving, 1983


Rest in peace, Dads.


  1. this was both awesome and beautiful. thank you for sharing!

  2. What a well-stated tribute to a great man and a great Dad...I have many good memories of your Dad, particularly from the Stone Harbor/Hilton Head days. Hail and farewell to Big Dana.