My dad was pretty weird!
If you never met him then let me create a little picture for you. Alan was one of four brothers and clearly the black sheep in the family. He certainly grew up with a slight learning disability and he spent most of his working life as a mechanic, security guard, and a janitor. He was the quiet weird guy just doing his job in the background with the same commitment that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel. He had very few words and delighted in the most basic pleasures, like a great Chinese Buffet and William Shatner Star Trek reruns. Needless to say, he didn’t say much, he didn’t need much, and he passively went with the flow.
So why is he so weird? Well, he has several of the elusive character traits that are written about, preached about, and dreamt about, that he’s truly an anomaly… an outlier…. a quiet role-model. Aside from a LinkedIn or Facebook motivational quote, it will be difficult to find someone with any one of these traits lived so submissively as my father, but next to impossible to reference someone who lived all of these traits so completely. Don’t believe me, read for yourself.
My father was married once. He was married to my mother for 46 years. He married her with her three children and they had two more together. He raised her three children like his own and, his quiet but steadfast commitment, was a glue to our family bond. He was married and had five children and that was that for 46 years.
As long as I can remember, my dad had major back problems which resulted in multiple surgeries, shots, and procedures. He had extreme trouble walking for the past decade and this progressed into repeated falls and other health issues. He never complained. He never complained. He never complained. I spoke to my dad weekly and here’s how the conversation went most of the time.
My dad: Hello my son Steven!
Me: How are you feeling?
My dad: I’m alright (he always said, “I’m alright”)
Me: Are you sure?
My dad: Yes
Me: Anything new going on?
My dad: No
Me: How’s the weather up there?
My dad: It’s good
Me: Have you watched any good movies lately?
My dad: No
Me: I love you Dad
My dad: Okay, here’s your mother
You’re not going to believe me when I say this, but I can’t remember my father ever complaining about how he felt. He just didn’t do it. He and my mother did the best they could do to help him get better but that was the extent of it. He didn’t hold back or restrain himself because of bravado or manliness, but because that was, who he was. His tolerance for discomfort is unthinkable in today’s “first world problems” society.
Hard Work –
When I was growing up my father was always working. Images of him in his work uniform are some of my earliest childhood memories. He led by example and never expected or requested credit or praise. He just showed up. One of my memories that has framed my life is the day I showed my father a report card with a grade of 96. I was so proud to show him this and get his approval. In typical Alan style, he replied with only a few simple and soft words: “you couldn’t get a hundred?”. I knew immediately that he was right, and I was inspired to work harder to be more like him. If I had worked a little harder, like him, then I would have gotten that hundred. For anyone reading this that knows me, you know I’m constantly working a little harder to get that hundred.
In 2007 I completed the a personal development course called the Landmark Forum. Part of the homework in the course is to contact important people in your life. I called my parents to let them know how much they meant to me. After spending several minutes talking to my mom, sharing my thoughts and several tears with her, she responded amazingly with generosity and grace. Then came my father, who wasn’t much into discussing emotions or feelings. After spending several minutes talking to him about my thoughts and feelings, I told him how much I love him. He said “I know” and quickly passed the phone to my mother. He didn’t do this because he couldn’t talk about his feelings. My father loved me and I’ve always been very clear about that. For him, telling you, he loved you, was so obvious it was like telling you the sky was blue. For him, it wasn’t worth the effort to say something so obvious. For him, it was always just a given that he loved me and my family.
He delighted in the most simple pleasures. Of course he wanted the latest and greatest if he could have it, but if that wasn’t in the cards it was just as fine with him. From watching Three Stooges reruns to enjoying a nice bagel and lox, my father enjoyed his life. For him, it was not settling. For him, it was the way it was. He was fully engaged with whatever it was that made him happy and satisfied, and the rest of the world didn’t matter. His sense of contentment, even in discomfort, is difficult to imagine but I saw it with my own eyes.
These are some of my fondest attributes of my father. I used to think my father was too tolerant and that this was a sign of weakness to be this way. For a portion of my life I looked down on him for this. One day I was having this conversation with my friend Mark. Mark asked me to list any famous bridges that I knew. I quickly referenced the Brooklyn, London, and Golden Gate bridges and wondered what his point was. He asked me to describe why these bridges are so famous aside from their location. It didn’t take long for me to describe them as the strongest and most durable bridges in the world. “So, how does a bridge become strong?” he asked. It was crystal clear at that moment that bridges are strong and durable because of their tolerance. My father’s tolerance was actually his strength. What I saw as a flaw in my father was actually something remarkable. He is one of strongest men I have ever met.
He lived his life in the service of others and the “others” were his family. We knew it so well that we often took it for granted. We never questioned it.
In true Alan form, you left in the quiet of the night. I’m grateful that you are finally able to rest in peace.
My biggest regret, is that I’m not more like you.
May your memory be a blessing, now, and forever.
I love you Dad!
Don’t worry… you’ve been training me not to expect a response.
Every time I see a blue sky, I’ll know.
April 9, 1941 – June 10, 2016