The desk was a small one. It sat in the corner of the bedroom I shared with my younger brother. I was in high school the night my Dad came and sat beside me at that desk. The algebra problems seemed pointless. Why in the world would one need to match up ‘x’s and ‘y’s? What the heck is the point, I remember asking myself. This is not going to lead me anywhere useful.
My Dad was patient at first. It took him a while to remember the rules of algebra. We worked at it together; I remember him being a good instructor. But he had likely worked hard that day; he may have been hungry. Maybe he had to deal with mean people at work that day. Who knows? But he said it nonetheless.
“John, if you don’t figure this out, you will never make anything of yourself.” Then he went down stairs.
I’m almost 50 years old now, and I still think about that sentence. Dad was right. He knew I was a slacker. He knew I could figure it out if I tried.
It’s shocking how many things my Dad was right about.
He was right about his methods of parenting: being present for one. Dad was home nearly every night at the same time. So was Mom. On the rare nights they weren’t home, we had Gramps and Non living right next door, a mere holler away. Presence was normal in our house.
Dad was right about living frugally. We lived in a regular house, drove inexpensive cars and took modest vacations. There was money to send me to a liberal arts college—and oh how I needed liberal arts. I married a Hoosier; we paid off our debts and saved money like crazy. Dad was right about money; we are just as happy in a small house. (We do like carbon-fibre bikes though.)<a href=”http://www.drjohnm.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/WillandMe.jpg”><img alt=”It’s an oldie, but one of my Dad-son favs. ” src=”http://www.drjohnm.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/WillandMe-300×200.jpg” width=”300″ height=”200″ /></a> It’s an oldie, but one of my Dad-son favs.
Dad was right about being involved with our activities. We played catch and basketball. I miss the whole having a catch thing. (I’m not trying to be nostalgic here; I really do miss having a catch with Dad and Gramps.). My son came on our training ride yesterday; I love watching him on rides. He’s so Norwegian looking on the bike. It’s our having-a-catch moment.
Dad was right about college. He told me when I went off to college that if I were to study eight hours a night, I might get Cs. Of course I considered this hyperbole—though at the time I did not know what that word meant. It seemed like a lot of studying, but in those days (unlike today), college was actually harder than high school. Since Dad had been right about so much already, I took him at his word. I studied my butt off. That was my first real life experience with hard work. I got mostly straight As for the rest of the four years. Hard work then paid off in medical school, residency and fellowship. I got to train at a top Cardiology program because of hard work. Dad was right again.
Dad didn’t lecture about kindness and generosity. He showed us. When my grandfather (mom’s side) burned half his body because he fell onto a burning stove, my Dad converted our dining room into a bedroom for him. Grandpa George had grown too weak and frail to live independently. My parents now had four kids and a self-centered 90-year-old to care for. I know this may not sound remarkable, lots of middle-aged folks care for elderly parents. But one must consider the context: This grandfather did not attend my parents’ wedding because there were two kinds of people he didn’t like—Italians and Catholics. How ironic that twenty years later, an Italian and Catholic set him up with a nice room and a Dunkin Donut every day for the rest of his life.
There was also no formal instruction on marriage or relationships. Again, Dad (and Mom) showed us. They came home every night. Yes, they had their fights, like all couples do, but they managed. Coming home every night, and managing, have proven to be successful strategies for my brothers and sister. All the Mandrola kids have stayed married thus far. Then when our Mom got sick, Dad was there to manage things, for years and years. It wasn’t a burden for him; it was normal.
A few weeks ago, my grown-up daughter, now an earth mom with a schedule, landed a zinger on me. We were driving down the road when she said, “Dad…I’m sorry for all the trouble I caused you during my teen years.” That was nice. It’s one of those sentences that stick with you.
I’d say something similar to my Dad.
Sorry Dad, now that I know all this stuff, I wished that I’d made it easier on you at the time.