While I was agonizing over my dad’s eulogy at Starbucks last month, I was struck with how many things he taught me before he died, and because I so desperately want the world to know what a great father and mentor he was to me, I have been struggling to find a way to honor all of those important lessons he passed on to me.
But while I think I’m fairly decent at writing lists, I didn’t really feel “10 important lessons my dad taught me before he died” was appropriate for a eulogy, so I decided to share my fondest memories of my dad with my family and friends, and saved these lessons for my blog instead. Because let’s face it, you guys will appreciate this stuff much more than my dad’s boss, my mother’s best friend, and the my dad’s old army buddies.
1. Never drink and drive
When I was 25, my dad taped one of those made-for-TV specials about a group of friends who had been hit by a drunk driver on NYE and made me watch the entire episode so I could see how dangerous it is to get behind the wheel of a car while under the influence. He then told me that, even if I’ve only had one glass of wine with dinner, I am never to get behind the wheel of a car, because as horrible as it would be if I killed myself, it would be completely unforgivable if I killed someone else. Especially a child.
2. Love your kids unconditionally
Most people assume my dad’s biggest passion in life was his job since he dedicated so much of his life to it, but what few people realize is that he took his role as a dad much more seriously. He often knew more about what was going on in my life than my closest friends, and every single time my dad looked at me, I saw nothing but pride in his eyes. I remember asking him one day why he always went so far out of his way for my sister and me, even after we had moved out on our own, and his reply has always stuck with me. He said, “you didn’t ask to be born, Dani. I wanted you to be born. So it’s my responsibility to make sure you are happy and taken care of.”
3. Be kind to others
While I was writing my eulogy, a homeless man sat down at the table next to me, and after catching a whiff of his body odor, my immediate reaction was to grab my purse and move to another table just so I could get my eyes to stop watering. But then I made eye contact with the guy and my heart softened. My dad was always showing me that, no matter what a person’s sex, age, race, religion, or socioeconomic status is, they are human beings just like you and me. So I gave the poor homeless guy a smile and settled back into my seat, and silently thanked my dad for being such a good role model.
4. Always wear sunscreen
My dad and I used to do A LOT of sunbathing together when I was a kid, and for the last few years before he died, he had a lot of cancerous spots removed from his face because of all of that time in the sun. And while I cannot erase all of the damage I unknowingly did when I was young and stupid, I’m all about the SPF 60 and sun clothing these days. And you should be too.
5. Laugh often
While I was compiling a slideshow of pictures for my dad’s memorial, I was struck with how happy he always looked. He had one of those smiles that always reached his eyes, and he was the kind of guy who could find humor in any situation. I always loved that about him because it made being with him so easy, and it taught me that, no matter what life throws at you, a good belly laugh can make even the darkest moments feel more manageable.
6. Take care of yourself
When we learned my dad died of acute heart failure, we were absolutely shocked. He had no history of heart disease, he wasn’t overweight, and he was a pretty health guy, so I guess we thought he would live forever. But in the weeks after his death, while my sister and I tried to understand why he would have died so suddenly, I’ve learned the importance of taking care of your body, and now I try to eat healthy, exercise regularly, limit my alcohol intake (kind of), and just enjoy my life, you know?
7. Find an outlet for your stress
My dad had a lot of stress on his shoulders, and I can’t help but think that played a role in him dying so suddenly and so young. And while I am not very good at managing stress, I’m trying to make it a central part of our lives. Of course, going for a run every time something upsets me isn’t always possible, but I’ve found a lot of other ways to relieve stress, and they have been a lot of help over the last several weeks.
8. Appreciate your loved ones
For the last couple of years, my husband has been working on a really big project at work which keeps him at the office late and requires a lot of travel, and about an hour before I learned my dad had died, we had an argument about how little time we have been able to spend together lately. I will always regret that argument, but rather than dwelling on it, I’m using my dad’s death as a way to remind me to always appreciate my loved ones. Especially my husband. That man works his ass off to make sure the 3 of us are taken care of, and while I would give anything to have my dad back, I’m glad he gave me the gift of realizing and appreciating how wonderful my husband is while I still can.
9. Hold your friends close
I’ve always been a bit of a loner, just like my dad was, but when my aunts and uncles couldn’t even be bothered to call me to see how I was feeling after my dad died, it suddenly struck me how important friends are, and I am filled with a lot of regret for all of the dinner parties, brunch invites, and play dates I’ve cancelled over the years. Friends are the family you make for yourself, and they are the ones who lift you up when you need it most, so hold them close to your heart.
10. Tell people you love them
While my husband and I are very free with the “I love yous”, hugs, and kisses, this was not something my family has ever done. Of course, actions speak louder than words, and I’m certain my dad knew how much I loved him, and I certainly knew how he felt about me, but I regret that I didn’t say it more over the years, and will never let a day pass by without saying those words to my husband and daughter.
I miss you dad!