Except the use of his legs.
Right after he retired, my dad contracted a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Fortunately, it
was a slow-progressing variety of what is often called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He lived with it for nearly 30 years as he gradually lost the use of more and more muscles. It seemed to mostly affect his legs. He used a motorized wheelchair for the last 15 years or so of his life.
Two things stand out sharply from the multitude of life lessons I gleaned from my father. He was a
man of few words. My mother affectionately referred to him as “the tall, strong, silent type.”
Most of what I picked up was by observation and osmosis. I learned the satisfaction of hard,
meaningful work; pride in a job well done; the values of honesty, loyalty, kindness and promise-keeping. He showed me how important it was to maintain a close, loving family and to tolerate other people’s foibles. I think these are the usual parent-to child life lessons.
But he vocalized -- actually spoke out loud -- two things I remember vividly.
Whatever you give away will come back to you tenfold.
I already knew he was generous with his material possessions as well as with his time and
patience, but I considered this pronouncement a pretty clever way of stating his thoughts on this topic. Only recently, did I realize it is a quotation from the Bible.
I thought my father made it up.
During his nearly 25-year retirement from a successful career as a commercial artist, he painted.
He eventually created a market for watercolor paintings of the homes, boats, cottages and gardens of people in his community. He also painted local landmarks and points of interest – churches, libraries, shopping districts, schools, scenes of Lake St. Clair, farmers’ markets, War Memorials, statues
and city halls.
He usually did a rough sketch on site, then took photos. Later, when he depended more on his motorized wheels, I took photos of potential subjects for him. He wanted to get the details perfect – the exact placements of dormers, the right number of panes in double hung windows, the details of weathervanes, the colors of flagstone paths, the patterns of stonework and brickwork.
If he wasn’t happy with his first attempt, he started over and painted another; and another, until he was satisfied.
Sometimes he gave these “first drafts” away.
This drove my mother nuts. She pointed out that they were, after all, on a fixed income, that he was
a well-known local artist and flooding the market with giveaways would undermine the value of his work. She worried that people would take advantage of him.
“Whatever you give away will come back tenfold,” he repeated.
He was right. He had everything he ever wanted.
Go the extra mile.
This was another lesson my father actually verbalized. When you take on a task, he said, do the
best you can, then do something extra, something special or unexpected.
He grew up in Cincinnati in a family he claimed always had enough to eat and a place to live,
but never had money left over for frills and luxuries.
When he was in his 20s, working during the day and going to art school at night, he entered a contest sponsored by a movie theater in his neighborhood. Let’s call it The Bijou because I don’t remember its name. The contest rules were to make a list: “Ten Reasons Why I Should Buy a Season Pass to the Bijou.”
My dad thought of 10 good reasons, then illustrated each one with a drawing or a humorous cartoon.
He won first prize – a Model T. Plus a season pass to the Bijou.