Those of you who’ve read my DUI loss blog know that my dad died in a tragic way — he and my mom were hit by a drunk driver, which led to both their deaths. But I was lucky enough that my dad lived and was happy and healthy until he was nearly 89. This year would have been his 95th birthday. In honor of him, and of Father’s Day, I’m writing on both blogs about three things I learned from him over the years.
Focus on what you can do. Soon after I was born, my dad had a serious back injury and needed to be off work for more than a month. But he never talked about how much pain he’d been in, instead, he told me how he’d enjoyed getting to be home with me when I was a baby. (Dads didn’t do that very often in the 1960s.) When I was eight or nine, he had an even more serious back injury that required surgery and left him with a partially paralyzed leg and on-going back pain. He had to retire ten years early. He also had to stop doing many of the things he enjoyed, which was hard because he was a very active person. But he didn’t complain. He pulled out his old aeronautics engineering books from college and spent the next two years designing his own airplane. Later he built one of the wings out of scrap wood. I still have part of it hanging on my wall.
Get involved. For as long as I can remember, my mom and dad belonged to and volunteered with Amvets. (My dad was a World War II aviator.) Every third Wednesday night, right up until the week before the crash, my parents loaded their car with soda, no-sugar bakery, and bingo cards and took them to the blind ward at Hines Veteran Hospital. Amvets members and volunteers helped the patients with their cards, and Amvets provided small cash prizes. When my brother Tim and I were playing music, my parents organized groups of musicians to put on free concerts at the hospital. My parents also became involved in a local citizens group to help stop corruption in village government, were volunteer literacy tutors for many years, and well into their eighties gave rides to people who could no longer drive to doctors’ appointments, on errands, or to church. My dad never told us we ought to volunteer, and I never felt he thought it was a big deal. It was just part of who he was.
Think for yourself and respect others. My dad always taught us we shouldn’t assume whoever was in charge — teacher, boss, president — knew what she or he was doing or had all the answers. If we thought someone in authority had the wrong facts, we should do the research ourselves to find out what was correct. If we disagreed with a supervisor’s viewpoint, we should stick to our own opinions if we believed them well founded. He didn’t hesitate to say an idea made no sense or a statement was wrong if he thought it was, no matter who said it (which perhaps didn’t make him too popular with his bosses). At the same time, my dad also taught us to treat everyone with respect. He might question authority or criticize an idea, but I never heard him call anyone names or address anyone by anything other than the proper title. And even if he had questions about someone’s character — for instance, a politician convicted of embezzling money — he would say, “I don’t understand why someone would do something like that,” or “that’s a terrible thing to do,” rather than saying that person was a bad person.
I’m grateful to have had my father in my life. I know many people who lost their dads early in life or had fathers who weren’t there or who perhaps did more harm than good. The main way that I try to honor my dad is by speaking at victim impact panels through the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM) to first-time DUI offenders. My hope is that by sharing what happened to my parents and our family due to someone else’s choice to drink and drive, at least a few other people will make a different choice, and other deaths and injuries will be prevented. I think my dad would appreciate that.
Please feel free to share thoughts about your dad below.