25 May 2016 – I took a walk with my dad this morning, his 86th birthday. I needed his advice. I brought my coffee, but he would have preferred a good pastry. It wasn’t really his time of day either. But I wanted to talk.
Thing is, Dad died 7 years ago.
On many occasions since I have wanted to talk with him, gain his insights. Quiet moments in my synagogue study as I wrestled with a sermon ending or tough issue I knew he’d have wise counsel on. Moments of upset when I wanted his calm, reasoned reminders to do what was right and take care of myself. And moments of utter joy that I wanted him present to savor the season’s first peach ice cream, a child reading Hebrew or playing music, a report card comment about kindness and compassion.
This morning was one of those times. I wanted Dad’s calm, protective voice. I wanted him to ask, “How can I help?” I wanted him to tell me to go out for a good meal – on him. I wanted him to tell me to take time for me. Take the high road. I walked and walked, drinking my iced coffee – perhaps it would awaken my brain. I couldn’t get Dad’s voice in my head. Was I trying too hard? I was scared – had it been to long? Could I no longer hear him?! How would I share his voice with my children?
Countless pieces of his advice ran through my head, stream of consciousness: You can’t have too many black suits or white shirts. Choose bright colored paper for teaching materials. Don’t give excuses if you can’t do something. Kill people with kindness – be as nice as can be, even if the recipient doesn’t deserve it. Stand at the synagogue door and greet people.
Guard thine alley – on the tennis court. Drive safely – remember a car is a weapon. Put on lipstick before a public appearance or meeting. Dress well and with style – even if it costs a bit more. Practice and color-code sermons so that delivery is just so. Loyalty in family and employees matters. Include at least two other colors in the text of your emails – and use large print & caps liberally for impact. Engage others in the life of community by introducing them and providing paths for meaningful doing.
Go Navy! Beds must be made with hospital corners. Orange traffic cones – or anything orange or fluorescent – have more uses than you can always come in handy. Drive a Buick. Save and invest. Make Judaism yours by decisions meaningful to your life – and live as a proud Reform Jew. Shop at Brooks Brothers. Challah must have raisins. Nurture friendships — & don’t stand on ceremony with a friend. Coffee ice cream reigns supreme – really, anything coffee-flavored does. When in doubt with a concern, go to the top! Don’t rely on the phone; see people. People are interesting – talk to them and ask questions – you can learn so much from them, too.
Read The New York Times. Privacy and family matter, even and especially when you are in a public role. Worry about the people you love. Writing for reading and writing for speaking are two different things. Write thank-you notes – generously and sincerely – good ones. Do the best. Touch the world with kindness and don’t seek attention about it. As a leader, let your community be in front and take the credit. And don’t forget about Delicious Orchards open apple pies – nothing’s better!
Much of this counsel travels with me each day. Not all, though; I persevere to do better. Meantime, I take comfort that my children converse well with folks of all ages, write a good thank-you note, look to The Times, mark occasions with ice cream, and can cite Grandpa teachings easily.
That day I did not have the satisfaction of hearing Dad’s voice, or so I thought. But something else happened. My daughter came home from school with a story. Her friend’s rabbi gave his religious school students summer advice, citing the words my father had spoken to students for a half century, and naming Dad as his source. He told them: Take a long walk. Read a good book. Make a new friend. The friend excitedly reported this story to Noa who came home beaming.
Then I thought about the question that caused me to walk. As was often the case, I knew what Dad would have said. And I realized that taking the quiet time to walk and reflect would have been his advice, too. In my younger years I’m not sure I would admit he was right. Today I welcomed it.