My Dad died two years ago this week, just shy of his 93rd birthday. I got the call at work, was able to call from the car on the way to the airport to say I love you, but by the time I boarded my flight he was gone. It was mercifully short. He had many physical problems so I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t. No matter how successful or self-sufficient I became, I was his little girl. I miss him.
If he were alive I would be telling my Dad about my transition from college president to coach and how I was still an educator. He would be showing off my new business card.
At a family wedding in September an elderly gentlemen recognized my name and said “I know who you are because your father talked about you and the important work you did as a college president all the time. He was so proud of you.” My Dad never finished college, and spent more time playing basketball than attending classes, but all three of his children have advanced degrees. When I earned my Ed.D. he was so proud to have a "doctor" in the family.
When I was a little girl I thought my Dad was the smartest person in the world. At a county fair when I was afraid it would get hot at the top of the Ferris Wheel because it was closer to the sun, he explained that it actually got colder at higher altitudes. He grilled me on my times tables and said there was no excuse for getting less than 100% on a math test. Years later I could figure out a percentage faster than my young colleague could retrieve his calculator. I am ashamed to say that I took everything my stay-at-home Mom did for granted. But Dad worked downtown (Manhattan). He brought the newspaper home every evening. He represented the outside world, the world I wanted to be part of.
I recently tweeted that my Dad had wanted to be part of the groups of vets escorted from around the country to the WWII memorial in Washington D.C., but didn’t make it. As a preteen I saw a war movie and asked him why he didn’t tell war stories. “Because there is nothing glamorous about war. It was nothing like the movies," he replied. Years later, when the film Saving Private Ryan came out someone asked him if he would go see it. "Why," he said, "I don’t need a movie to tell me what it’s like to hold pieces of my friends in my arms.” I think he wanted to go to the memorial because for the rest of his life he wondered why he had survived and his friends had not.
My Dad didn’t have hobbies. He didn’t golf, fish, grill or read. Father’s Day and birthdays would have been a real challenge except that anything we gave him made him happy. What my Dad had was family. His love for my Mom was so palpable it felt like a thing you could touch or hold in your hands. His love for his children helped us become the people we are. When the grandchildren and great grandchildren came along they were exempt from every rule we grew up with. "My job is to spoil them," he said.
My Dad’s life was about giving. He was always doing favors for people. When my parents lived in New Jersey other people in their building complained that the superintendent made sure my Dad’s car was shoveled out first. That was because my father treated him with respect and got to know him as a person. When I left my presidency I was proud that employees at all levels told me I was “ their” president and how much that meant to them. Dad was my role model.
lf she’s lucky, every leader has someone she can point to who helped shape her values and sense of self. I was lucky to have had several, but none as important as my Dad.