We lost my Father one year ago today. Over that year I have tried to transcribe some of the most important lessons he taught me on this weblog. My hope is that they have inspired some of you the way he inspired me. Today's post is no different although today the words are not my own but my brother's. His speech at my Father's funeral was both eloquent & insightful. I hope you enjoy it.
Indeed, as I thought about the daunting task of paying appropriate tribute to my father this morning, I was at times overwhelmed at where to begin. To chronicle and praise my father’s achievements would be impossible: he quite simply did everything and excelled at all of it. And he wouldn’t have liked that anyway, he would have viewed it as boastful. I also thought about my fondest memories of my father, but knew immediately that I had no hope of getting through those without sobbing incomprehensibly.
I thought about what my father would have wanted me to do today, and it quickly became clear. Life, for my dad, was always about lessons – lessons taught and learned. He looked for the lesson in everything he did, and he relished the opportunity to share them. Anyone who has eaten with him is familiar with what one of my friends aptly dubbed “lunch and lecture.”
And while he certainly could make any setting feel like a classroom – I suspect that is why the Socratic method of law school seemed so familiar to me – it was always clear that he did it out of an intense curiosity, a joy for human interaction and a belief in constantly trying to make the world a better place through mutual understanding.
So today, it seems most appropriate that, on my father’s behalf I share with you three essential lessons that he imparted to me over the last 40 years.
The first one is deceptively simple, but it was his overriding mantra:
My father was an incredibly busy man. He never had fewer than three full-time avocations: physician, writer, Chairman of the National Italian American Foundation, pundit, restauranteur, political advocate – and that leaves many out. As we reflected this week on all that he accomplished in only 65 years, my brother Greg wondered aloud whether there had been three of him. Indeed, each of you undoubtedly feels like my father spent a significant amount of his time speaking to you, and yet he had time for all the people in this room, and more. I have no idea how he did it.
And yet, no matter what my father was doing – from seeing patients to meeting with Presidents of the United States – he made unambiguous to everyone that he would drop anything for his family. For my dad, any success he achieved in his life was a direct result of the complete dedication and self-sacrifice of his parents, and he wanted his family to have no less advantage. And we didn’t.
His dedication to and love for my Mom is the stuff of fairy tales. We each can only hope to have that kind of true love in our lives. She was his inspiration and his rock, and he was hers.
For the five of us, his children, he was always there. He worked tirelessly to provide for us, and raise us to be strong, moral and self-sufficient people. He coached our baseball teams, edited (or in some cases wrote) our college admission essays, and advised and opened doors for us as we each pursued our careers. He gloried in our personal victories and assuaged our defeats.
And when his seven grandchildren came along, my father was a grandfather in the model of his father. And for those of you who knew my grandfather, you know there is no higher compliment.
And then there was his extended “family.” I remember when I was about 8 or 9 and it suddenly dawned on me that I had a lot of “aunts” and “uncles” given that my dad was an only child. But that’s because my father defined family broadly to include all of those that he loved. And for those who became his family, you know the same awesome sense of total security he provided. There is nothing like it.
The confidence that my father’s total selflessness to us provided was essential to that which we have acheived. I truly believe, as he did, that if each of us put our families first – before career, before personal fulfillment, certainly before politics -- each of us would be happier, and it would solve most of the world’s problems.
Don't Ever Forget Where You Came From
As an Italian kid from a modest beginning in this very neighborhood, my dad went on to do things that few people do. And yet he never forgot, and indeed trumpeted where he came from. As I’ve already said, he never received any honor or notice without using it as an opportunity to extol his parents and the tenets of their Italian-American culture.
He constantly said that life is not a single-generation race to collect the most toys or “tickle your hypothalamus” in the most ways. The key to life, for my father, was to remember that it is multi-generational. That you are where you are because of the sacrifices and lessons of those who came before you.
It is this approach that informed so much that was inspirational about my dad: his wisdom, his humility, his selflessness, and in particular his strength when facing adversity.
Each day I remember, and am thankful for where I came from because of him.
Do It Now
It is an understatement to say that my father's life was tragically short in time. I find solace, however, in the fact that my father did not waste any of it. He devoured life. He always had a project, a conference, an article, a trip, an idea. If there was a subject that interested him, he would study and master it, seeking out the experts in the field to hone his understanding. And I used to marvel at both his capacity for learning information, and the confidence and ease with which he would strike up friendships with highly talented people he didn’t know at all. Even more extraordinary was his ability to tell these experts that they were wrong about something on which they were the expert.
When he became interested in architecture, he sought out noted architect Robert Venturi. When he became interested in law, he befriended Justices Alito and Scalia. When he was interested in politics, it was Rudy Giuliani, Mario Cuomo, and Congressman Guarini. With literature it was Gay Talese and Jay Parini.
Getting sick didn’t change any of this. In the last year and a half, my father approached life the same way he always had – living every day to its fullest. He traveled to Italy for conferences, went to Alaska because he had always wanted to go, though exhausted from a 25 day cycle of radiation, he attended and spoke at my brother Tonio’s wedding. Indeed, just two weeks ago, though wheelchair bound and visibly affected by his sickness my father attended the annual gala of the National Italian American Foundation in Washington to be honored and celebrate the end of his four year term as its chairman.
Carpe Diem doesn’t do it justice. My father’s example always reminded me that each of us does not know when we will leave this earth, so if you want to do something, do it now.
Shortly after my father was first diagnosed last year, he sat down and wrote each of us – my mom and my brothers and sisters – letters for the time when he wouldn’t be with us anymore. It was his way of providing lessons he knew we would need for the future. In the letter to my mother, he noted that you achieve immortality through your children. What he meant by that was that if you do your job as a parent right, your children learn the lessons of how to live life, and they try to make the world the kind of place that you spent your life working towards. The best honor I can give to my dad is to live my life according to these lessons: Family First, Don't Forget Where You Came From, Do It Now. To teach them to my son, Nicholas, and to share them with you today, that you might help me make my father’s life continue in its most important ways. Thank you.