Ten years is a long time to miss someone. Ten years is a short time when compared to eternity. Ten years ago on May 25, 2005, my daddy died. On May 25, 2015, my siblings and I got together to celebrate Memorial Day, but at the forefront of everyone’s mind was the anniversary of my father’s death.
Losing a parent isn’t something you just get over. I think of my dad every day and wonder what he would think about certain things. I often wish I could ask him questions that I never got around to asking him. Things like What is your favorite book? Did you ever meet Dean Martin? What is your proudest accomplishment? What would you ask your Dad if you could talk to him today?
So when we got together my sister asked me to say a few words, and I said stupid words. Words without substance and meaning. If given the chance to think about what I would say, here are the words I would have spoken:
My dad taught me many things and here are the most important:
1) Love for God: When I did something wrong, my dad pointed me to God. I remember a particular talk about being honest. My dad used his business as an illustration. He had a gas station and this was before the county certified gas pumps. He said he could adjust the pumps to charge an extra 1/2 cent per gallon and nobody would be the wiser. It would only amount to pennies for each fill-up, but over the course of years, it would amount to a whole lot of extra money in his pocket. What stopped him from doing something like that? God would know. My Dad loved God!
2) Love for family: Dad taught me that even if you get angry with family, they are still family. You forgive and move on. Even if they never ask for forgiveness, you forgive anyway. Family needs to be there for each other. You should always talk to each other even if you annoy the crap out of each other. Families do annoy one another, but just because they are annoying doesn’t mean you can get out of being family. My Dad loved his family, and his children meant the world to him. We knew that too!
3) To do my best: Dad taught us to work hard, and do our best when it counted. Sometimes, doing your best isn’t necessary. It is important to know when and how to do your best. Example: If I make every single meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner, the best I can, I end up spending way too much time and eventually, I will fail to appreciate the best. However, school and work we were always expected to do our best. Sometimes the best didn’t mean an A, but as long as we had done our best, Dad accepted that.
4) Eat dessert first: Dad taught me and all of my siblings to have an appreciate for a good dessert. Some people will eat any dessert. If I take a bite of a bad dessert, I don’t feel the need to finish it. If you know the dessert is good, eat it first, because you might not have room for it after dinner. I think this may be a Slovak thing because many Slovaks I know embrace the Eat Dessert First philosophy. My Dad loved good desserts!
5) Kolachi is the best food on earth: We didn’t have kolachi often – usually just Christmas and Easter and the occasional wedding. It was always made for those holidays, and it was always savored. And although my Dad loved nut kolachi, he would eat apricot, lekvar, and poppy seed. Every Christmas and Easter I make kolachi and as the house fills with the smell of it baking, I remember my Dad and those special moments drinking a glass of milk and eating kolachi at my aunt’s house after midnight mass. As my sisters and I grew up and started our own families, we all tried to perfect mom’s kolachi recipe. Each year, Dad would take bites of our kolachi and pronounce judgment such as “needs more nuts” or “the dough wasn’t rolled thin enough.” We all longed to hear, “It taste like your mother’s.” My Dad loved his kolachi!
6) The value of money: My dad taught all his children the value of money and how to count money. One must always keep money (bills) going in the same direction. To this day, it bothers me to get money from a cashier that isn’t in order. When working in a cashier position I always have counted change back to the customer. Order in money was especially important, and how you flipped the bills while counting was important too. We all worked for him in some business capacity too. I didn’t get paid; those summers I worked for him I learned a lot, but more importantly I got to spend time talking with him. Those rides to and from work were magical – just the two of us alone.
7) An appreciation of fine things: My Dad loved fine things – nice cars, nice clothes and nice restaurants. With seven children, we couldn’t afford these things often, but quality craftsmanship and quality food were definitely appreciated. Dad was a bargain hunter. He wouldn’t buy something that 1) wasn’t quality and 2) wasn’t something he wanted. You didn’t just buy something because it was on sale; you bought it because you wanted it, and you waited for it to go on sale. Many times Dad wouldn’t wait for a sale, but he would dicker on the price. Most locally run businesses would engage in the process and wanted the sale enough to reasonably lower the price. Sadly most of us did not learn the finer points of negotiating, but there are a couple siblings that have very good negotiating techniques. Because Dad was such a good negotiator and loved nice cars, he bought and sold cars to make extra money. He had the location (gas station) that was perfect for setting a car out with a For Sale sign. Because he bought and sold cars, he always had a nice looking car to drive on Sundays. Most of his children developed the same love of fine things-quality craftsmanship at a good price.
8) Do things you love to do: Dad didn’t do things to impress others. My father didn’t care what the neighbors thought. He didn’t put on airs to impress others. He did things because he liked to do them, and he didn’t do things he didn’t like. As I get older, I find his philosophy makes me a better person. If I do things to impress others, I just lose myself in the process. If I do things I don’t like to do, everybody ends up knowing anyway. If I stay true to myself, I serve others best anyway.
9) Real men do difficult things without complaining: Dad served in WWII. He hardly ever spoke about it, and the stories he did tell were usually about children he encountered. He did happen to share that he was close enough to Hitler to take a picture, but someone stepped in the way. He did tell me that “War is Hell.” He didn’t want to relive the memories, and didn’t want to burden anyone else with those memories either. A lot of what he went through died with him. Dad continued with the same philosophy all throughout life. He got up, worked, came home, and ate. Day in and day out it was the same thing over and over. He never complained about the monotony of life.
10) His greatest blessings and riches were his children: We all knew that we were loved and valued above everything. It didn’t matter if you wrecked the car, burned down the trees in the front of the property or broke a window. His first question was, “how are you?” I remember getting in my first car accident and being worried he would be angry about the car. He told me the car could be replaced, but I couldn’t be. In words and actions, his children knew we were his greatest treasure.
You know the saying, “women marry their father.” If you had asked me if I thought I was marrying my father thirty years ago, I would have emphatically said, “NO! My husband is nothing like my father.” However, today I would say, “YES, my husband has proven to be like my father.” There are certainly aspects that are different, but in the things that really count, they are alike. My husband loves God, his family, he works hard, and he would say that his greatest blessings are his wife and children.
So these are the words I would have spoken about my Dad if I would have had time to prepare a speech in advance. And these similar words I can speak about my own husband and about the man he is today. And my life has been richly blessed by both men.
A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty. -Unknown