The 100th Anniversary of My Dad
They say the third time is a charm. I don’t know who “they” are, but I’ve started writing two previous times, and I just got stuck. I want to share with you about the 100th anniversary of my dad’s birth, which was November 28. I was getting bogged down in the story, and then last night I remembered what I learned in my coach training. Don’t get bogged down in the story. We don’t need the story—we need to know why the story is significant.
First, he was my dad, so that has significance for me. But, of course, not much for you. So here are a few things that made my dad unique:
- My dad was an immigrant. He was born in a German community in Romania, and when he was 10 years old, he took the voyage over the Atlantic Ocean with his mother, and four younger brothers, where they landed at Ellis Island. After their physicals and whatever else they had to do to be admitted to the United States, his aunt met them in New York, and they took a train to St. Louis, Missouri, where they met up with his father, who had prepared for their arrival.
- My dad was the oldest of eight children, with seven boys born, before his sister was born. I think that made him a born leader. His mother required the boys to wash windows and scrub floors on a consistent basis. Not only was their home clean, these boys didn’t have a lot of time for mischief, although, my dad did tell a few stories of boyhood mischief. He also learned a good work ethic.
- My dad worked for two defense contractors (Curtis Wright and McDonnell Aircraft) before being drafted into the army during World War 2. He was a noncombatant, and served as a medic. His basic training was in Miami Beach, Florida. He was there for 18 months. He then was sent to Spokane, Washington, and Riverside, California until he was deployed to New Guinea in the Pacific, where he was stationed until the end of the war. I don’t know a lot about his army days, but he always thought that young men needed to serve time in the military because it would make a boy into a man (whatever that means).
- He was an entrepreneur, and started his construction business in the early 1950’s. Most of his family of brothers were “self-made men,” who like my dad, “didn’t play well with other children,” and became their own bosses as business owners. Not only were he and his brothers business owners, they were very successful in their careers. The American dream was alive and well with this family. They worked hard to accomplish all that they did. My dad started small and grew, from park buildings, to homes, and then to commercial buildings with his specialties being schools and churches. One can still drive around the St. Louis area and see many of the buildings he constructed.
- My dad was complicated, and not an easy person. I don’t know if it was because of his first ten years in Romania, his being an immigrant and teased at school, or what, but he was not an easy person. His life focused on business more than anything. He worked long hours, and because of that, was not involved in his daughters’ lives, such as school functions. As long as my mom ran the house well, he was hands off in most of our upbringing. I wish I had a dad more involved, but I did have a dad who supported us well. We were well fed, had a really nice shelter over our heads, and he paid for our college educations. I am not complaining at all, but balance would have been nice.
- My dad mellowed as he got older. He was widowed at age 74. He once commented to me that he would not have known how to cook and clean if my mom had not been sick for years. It was skills he ignored in his young adulthood, which he had to learn later. Well, maybe his mother, back in the day, taught him the cleaning skills, but he taught himself to be a pretty decent cook.
- When I look at photographs of my dad and his family, I am struck at how handsome
these brothers and their dad were. I was told that my grandmother called it the “Nothum Curse” because women were always attracted to these handsome men. There is a “Nothum look” that I cannot explain, but I see photos of cousins and their kids, and most of the boys have these handsome Nothum features. I think it’s the eyes.
- I argued with my dad—a lot. He was stubborn, and so am I. We did not see the world the same way. He had in his head what I should have been, and it was unspoken, but it was spoken when I wasn’t what he thought I should be. There was a period of time where I didn’t like him at all. I didn’t think he had my best interests in mind. Maybe I needed to go into the military so I could have grown up faster. Over the years I realized that in his way, he had my best in mind. He didn’t know how to kindly share his dreams for his daughters, and was good at telling us what we did wrong instead of praising us for what we did right, but all in all, he really did want the best for us. As I have gotten older, I have forgiven him for not being able to express that to us.
My dad passed away in 2010. He was a few months over 90 years old. He remarried after my mom died. He was married to my mom for 53 years, and his second marriage lasted for eleven years until his death. He moved to Arizona after my mom’s death, where two of his brothers lived. He outlived those two brothers. In fact, he outlived all but the three youngest siblings.
What did I learn from this man? Some lessons were learned through the negative example, and others through the positive example.
- I learned that positive words to my children build up their spirits, rather than telling them what they do wrong. They, as I did, know what we do wrong. We don’t need to beat ourselves up any more than what we already do to ourselves. Because of continually feeling judged by him, I committed to myself to love my children unconditionally. I don’t always agree with them or their choices, but that does not change my love for them.
- Working hard will bring its rewards. My dad was poor as a child. He worked hard, started his own business building bathrooms in parks, until he was a player in the commercial building business.
- My dad was self taught—he only went through the 8th grade. He was smart, and never quit learning. We had a set of World Book Encyclopedias in our home when I was in grade school. Every so often he would tell me to go to the bookshelf a pull the letter “B” or another letter of the alphabet—that’s how the encyclopedias were. Everything you ever wanted to know about anything that started with that letter was in that particular book. He would sit and read the whole book.
- My dad had a crazy sense of humor. I think along with looking like his side of the family, I got his off the wall humor. I don’t particularly remember any jokes he told, but he could always make everyone laugh at his antics.
- My dad was good at carrying through most promises he made, except for the little stuff he told us as kids. It may not seem like much, but my dad promised two things we never saw. The first one was a swing set, and the second one was a playhouse. He was a building contractor and he would draw pictures of
a playhouse, and we would ohh and ahh over the drawings and promises in our heads, but those two things never happened. When I had my first child, my sister reminded me of the swing set promise, and said she made dad honor it, so I called and asked for the swing set. The next thing I knew, we had a swing set in our back yard. I learned if I tell my children if I am going to do something, I just better do it. Sometimes, I waited to the last minute, because I didn’t want to promise them anything I couldn’t deliver. So, if I planned a special outing, I didn’t talk about specific plans until I knew we could make them. I hope I was 100% consistent at this, but I may not have been. I did my best, and still try to do my best with my kids and grandkids to deliver on my promises.
It is hard to believe if my parents were still alive, my mom would be 101, and my dad would be 100. I have become the “old” person now that they are gone. That’s such an odd feeling. Yesterday I was young, and then I woke up and wasn’t! I still wonder how these years went so quickly.
I don’t know what my family will say about me when I am gone. I don’t know if I will have the privilege to become a centenarian. I don’t know if I will depart this earth much sooner than that. I just know our parents have an impact on our lives way past their departure. I suggest to you, as I continually ask myself, what am I leaving for my kids and grandkids to remember about me? Does my behavior teach them lessons in a positive or negative way? Something to think about . . . .