In Your Living Years
Posted on 1, February 2011
I grew up with a dad who worked a lot. His work was important to him, but it wasn’t until later that I truly realized why. As I kid, I wanted him to play with me, be at my baseball games, soccer games, scouting events, and while he made some of them, his attention to his work seemed to take precedence. I remember that when we did play pool together, he would beat me again and again, and was amazed that I would come back for more. But what he taught me was that he didn’t play down to me, he challenged me to play better, and when I did beat him, I knew I got his best.
When I was 8, my brother died, and while this was painful to experience as a child, I now, as a father, can more dearly understand how difficult this must have been for him. My Father tried to revive him when he found him on the floor, and his best efforts could not bring him back to life. It was in this time, as I reflect back, that my dad was selfless in times that required strength. My parents’ priority was to make sure that we, as a family stuck together, and while they both mourned the loss of their child in somewhat silence, in a time when expression of emotion was not the norm, they continued to support their children the best they knew how. As a family, we stayed together, and I remember that my Dad worked hard to make that following Christmas memorable. I think what my parents learned from the loss of their son was that life was precious and time together was important.
I remember my Dad and I usually making an annual trek to a Browns or Indians game when I was growing up, especially the Monday Night game against the Cowboys. Man was it cold. I grew up wanting more from my Dad, without understanding him and how he showed love. I didn’t appreciate his hard work and his humility. I now do. It was important for him to find me jobs at his office. That was how he connected with me. I was often known as the boss’ son, and while there were a few times I let him down, he never made it more about him, but I knew his expectations.
In my high school and college years, I had a few run-ins with my Dad, but instead of pushing me away, yelling or becoming aggressive, we had the brief, but serious talk, and he never held things over my head. He understood my humanness.
The summer before I was getting ready to graduate from college, he would call me from work and ask me to meet him for lunch. I would, and we would talk. He would listen, and he said he was sorry. He said that he knew he worked too much, and buried himself in his work after my brother died. He didn’t want his grief to be our grief. He believed his job was to be strong.
When my Dad was running a company outside of Detroit (while my parents still lived in Cleveland), I just graduated from college on my way to Grad school. He asked me to work for him to design and build the landscaping around their major rebuild of the company grounds. We spent the summer driving to and from work together (Dad, the left lane is for people who like to drive faster than the speed limit). Even when he asked me to do this, I didn’t realize how much he believed in me. We had some of the best talks driving to and from work and to and from Detroit to Cleveland for the weekends. What he also told me about why he worked so much then was that he felt it was his job to make sure that we had the ability to do the things as kids so that we could have a better life, and he was felt fortunate that he loved what he did.
And when my wife and I moved into our first house, with the help of my parents, he came to help landscape our yard with me. That is when my Dad realized I was an adult when I said, “Dad there are 50,000 ways to plant a rose, and it will still grow. Trust that you taught me well.” While I added an expletive to my comment, he stopped, listened, filtered and trusted my judgment.
And when my first business failed, and I was under a mountain of debt and stress, he came to help me dig myself out (pun intended). When I broke down during a hard day and went back to his temporary office and apologized for letting him down, all he said was, “Are you kidding me? I wish I had the courage to take the risk to do what you did.”
What my Dad learned from working too much was how to be a better grandfather and how to be a better father to us in our adult years. I am inspired by his ability to take responsibility for his mistakes and perhaps the highest compliment he paid me was telling me that I taught him how to hug and that I taught him more about emotion than anyone ever had.
He is loved by ALL of his grandkids, whether he is Big Daddy, Be-Paw, or Grandpa Buddy. He is known for his sense of humor, and the time and patience he takes with them to teach them about the simplest things in life. I loved watching him with my daughter, as he listened intently. Whether it is blowing bubbles, swimming in the pool, making funny faces, or finding fun in just about anything, he spent the time with his grand kids that they will remember for a lifetime. I feel proud that my daughter will remember her Big Daddy, and she got to read him Nursery Rhymes tonight on the phone.
You see, my Dad’s health has taken a turn for the worse in the past few days, and I am heading to Tucson tomorrow to hopefully get there in time. I pray for the weather and flight schedules to cooperate. For 13 years he has honorably and resiliently lived with cancer, not complaining much through the surgeries or the chemo – just showing a desire to live, not selfishly out of fear of death, but to share and create more memories for all of us, and to be a best friend to his wife. Through example, both of my parents taught us that we could find and marry our best friends. And I thank you both for loving my wife, as you love your own daughters. He has defied death, to champion life, and his strength makes me want to be a better man and to give to my generation and the next.
What I want you to know Dad is that you taught more than you knew, and even more, you had the courage to allow me to be your teacher. I thought for so long that I had created my equity-based approach to the world from understanding a control-based society, but now realize that my parents fostered an environment that allowed me to explore and respected my value. For giving me the permission of self-discovery, I thank you both.
I know that I am very fortunate to have a Father with integrity, who valued hard work, honesty, and who loved us the best way he knew how. I have come to appreciate the greatness of my Dad not just by seeing who he is and who he has become, but by working with so many people in my work who did not have a Father like mine. He is human and he knows it, and he accepted our humanness. I am sorry that it took me this long to truly understand him and how proud he felt of all of us, but I know it now.
Dad, I want to tell you that I love you more than you may ever know, and I am glad I got to tell you, in your living years. I feel proud to call you Big Daddy, and I speak for all of us when I say that you leave this world in a better place than it was when you got here, and we will carry the best of what you taught us into our futures. I hope that one day the world knows how great my Dad is, but I know it is enough for him that his family knows.
Your son, Erik Anthony Fisher, aka Dr. E…