As part of the Patch family, I am supposed to love all of our sites equally, and in fact I do. But we all have Patches to which we feel a personal connection, and for me, that site is East Meadow Patch. East Meadow is where my dad was raised – in a yellow house on Andrew Avenue, specifically. My brother and I would spend vacations there with our grandparents, mesmerized by summer fireflies and bribed with walks to (a novelty for upstate kids – we had Stewart’s). We’d take trips to Jones Beach (another novelty) with our beloved Aunt Karen or to dig for clams with Grandpa. It was an entirely different world for us, and not just because pizza was called “pie.” I’d consider East Meadow as much a part of my roots as I would my actual hometown.
This Father’s Day weekend, I am thinking about the ways East Meadow played a role in shaping me -- because it’s where my father learned to be who he is. I look at childhood photos of him in that front yard on Andrew Avenue, the same smile he has now but seemingly with an underlying shyness then, a precocious bookworm who probably already knew more than most people (he was somewhat of a prodigy) but who would never, ever say so. I see that timid, unassuming boy and I think of the man he would eventually grow into: a successful sales guru, intimidating at first glance but able to warmly, and genuinely, talk to anyone about anything. Did I inherit some of that? Is it why I’ve made a career out of talking to people? And can those people tell that just like my dad in his early years, my often similarly intimidating, confident exterior masks equally great timidity?
I recently met someone who worked with my father years ago. He gushed about the kind of guy my dad was, how he was always willing to “take on the establishment” – their bosses – if he felt someone was being taken advantage of or in any way stifled. He’d speak up, raise hell, and unite the team against anything that bore down on one of their own. And yet my father has for years advised me to “go along to get along” – to keep my mouth shut if it meant keeping peace for myself in the workplace or personal situations. I’ve ignored that advice at virtually every turn, from the playground through present-day, sometimes to my detriment. So hearing this recollection from Dad’s former colleague was slightly bewildering…until I realized that it wasn’t hypocritical of my father. It was bold of him to always try to do the right thing for his peers and friends, but paternal of him to try to protect me from the consequences of being the one to speak up.
This made me think about the other pearls of wisdom that my brother and I have come to know as “Dadisms.”
No good deed goes unpunished is a big one – and yet he raised us with a commitment to being good, doing good, and appreciating good when we were graced with it. And even when a good deed did come back to smack us in the face like an errant tetherball, we never regretted having done it, even knowing we’d be semi-smugly reminded of this Dadism when he heard about the outcome.
Do the best you can – that’s all I can ask is something we heard, and hear, all the time. My most vivid memory of this advice is from when I was tearfully staring down the barrel of an Earth Science final exam that could have derailed my middle-school education (the “best I could” turned out to be juuuust above a passing grade, and indeed he was satisfied with that). I realize now that this wasn’t just guidance he was giving us, but something he must have been saying to himself all the time when he unexpectedly found himself, at a relatively young age, a single father of two little kids. How he did it remains one of the great mysteries of my life; while nurturing us intellectually, emotionally, and morally, he also juggled our insane sports schedules and other extracurricular commitments, the mealtime battles over all the foods we refused to eat, the mysteries of raising (gasp!) a girl after having grown up with just a brother, and a challenging full-time career (passing up countless opportunities for out-of-town promotions because it would take him away from us). He did the best he could, and it was all we could ask.
There were countless other lessons, of course. Use San Marzano tomatoes when you can (it does make a difference). Love will find you again even when you think it has forgotten you (thank God it found him again, in the form of our cherished stepmother). Will Ferrell is overrated (I’ve stopped arguing this one). Don’t keep doing something that makes you unhappy because you feel like you’re supposed to (life is too short). Making popcorn or scrambled eggs is a science. Stop sending so much money on Father’s Day gifts (ahem – this year, I didn’t spend a dime; you’re reading the gift right now). Laundry tricks that would make Martha Stewart feel inferior. The knowledge that yelling at the TV does, in fact, make the Mets, Giants, and Knicks play better.
For years, I have carried in my wallet a printed-out email from my dad. I had dashed off a quick note to him to say I was sorry for worrying him earlier that day, when I’d asked for advice about a tough issue I was facing at work. He’d written back to say I never had to apologize for that, and that he’d always be there for me, with an extra “always” for emphasis. Whenever I need to be reminded of who I am and all that I have, I reread that note. Just like my father, it is with me all the time. (It’s wrinkled and weathered, of course, but so am I, so I don’t mind.) On Father’s Day, I am proud to post this tribute to my dad on East Meadow Patch. Because just as East Meadow represents his roots, he represents mine. He’s where I come from, my home base, my touchstone. And today and every day, I am so very grateful.