An open letter to my father on his 75th birthday, October 10, 2013.
Dear Stephen, Steve, Steve Sr., Daddy, Dad, Father, Papa, Grandpa and Great Grandpa, uncle and friend to so many,
Welcome to 75, the diamond age!
You’ve come so far and look at what you’ve seen. A world at war and a nation at war (more than once); gasoline for $0.25 and $4.00 a gallon; a man setting foot on the moon and the collapse of two towers showing the rest of the world is a lot closer than we thought; the death of two Kennedy brothers and a preacher who wanted all men to be “judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character” by assassins; a time when fruits and vegetables were only available in season and when they were available any time; a time when discovering facts meant a trip to the library and a time where so many different truths seem to be available right at your fingertips that it’s hard to know what is true; a United States that stood for something, once and may again.
Look at what you’ve done. Married a woman who has been able to put up with you for 54 years; you’ve raised two sons who love you and are at best poor imitations of the example you have set. You’ve built too many things to name: from data centers to self-run businesses; from tree-houses to long lost, fire-burnt cabins; from houses to the Great Wall of Lakewood. You have been a builder and a maker and a man who knows how things work or is willing to learn, and damn fast, too.
Look at whom you’ve known and loved, your parents and grandparents, your siblings, their children and grandchildren, your friends (old and new), your wife, your children and grandchildren. You have loved many business associates by their integrity, leadership and accountability–in fact, many of your friends are people with whom you’ve worked. That says a lot about your character that people who can put up with your impossible standards of quality and still be friends.
Many of these people have gone away, some forever others just because that’s what people do. They all remember you and they always will, for that is what we leave of ourselves that is of value– the manner and degree in which we’ve touched their lives. And they will belong to you as long as you breathe and as long as your stories are told.
You had to be harsh with Steve Jr. and me from time to time, but I’ve never felt (after my backside quit smarting) that your punishments were too severe or undeserved. You don’t have to ever feel bad about that in my book. I only hope I turned out well enough.
I have learned so much from you. How to be ornery. How to listen. How to spin a yarn. To be honest, how to cope with anger and depression. How to give everybody you meet an even chance and to just try to love them. How to laugh because the alternative is so much worse.
When the Vietnam war ended for the US, the troops were coming home, and I was upstairs playing with my G.I. Joes, and you came in and said, “now that the war is over, are you going to put those toys away?”
Well, it turns out I put the toys away, not because of the end of the war, but because of girls. But I will always remember that moment, it is crystalized in my mind like an ancient beetle caught in amber– it is time to forgive and heal, maybe try loving people instead of shooting at them or burning them like so much refuse.
This is just one of so many stories I have of you teaching me lessons by your words and actions– you relied more often on the force of example than the example of force.
But as the past is just a shadow, we have to remember that the only thing we have that we can change is the future, to look at what lies ahead. I know that the amount of time that remains you does not matter as much as how you spend it– that is as true for me as it is for you, maybe less so for me, but who knows what can happen? Pretty much the same fate awaits all of us, we just don’t like thinking about it, but what do we do to kill time until then?
In truth, quality has a quantity all its own: spending our time well makes the time longer in our minds. Our most precious resource is time, but we often spend it so frivolously: watching TV, surfing the net, playing a video game, sleeping (sleep is practice for death!) or complaining.
I look at a child and I see so much possibility. Like an arrow drawn back to the cheek, it can be shot at anything, there is so much potential. All it needs is a target, or maybe many targets if the child is so blessed.
As we age, we have less strength to pull back our bow and loose new arrows, and fewer arrows in the quiver; but we can always choose where we point.
And that is the point.
My eternal love, respect and devotion,
Your son, Jeff.