Today marks the 11th anniversary of the passing of my dad. I think it was the worst day of my life. It is one of those calendar dates that I take time to think about my father, along with his birthday and Father’s Day, though, to be quite honest, I think about him every day. Someone will say a phrase he used to say, or an event or incident will call to mind something unique Dad would do, and the flashbacks will start up.
But Dad (and Mom) has had a profound effect on my life, and that of my two brothers and my nephew and niece. The lessons they taught us have been ingrained in our psyches since childhood, and continue on to the present day. Children pick up the cues of their elders consciously and unconsciously, and embrace them as fact.
I wonder sometimes if parents realize how much effect their interactions with their children have on their kids’ lives. For example, I have a deep love for history, any history: American, cinema, music, sports, television, popular culture and most important, family. I love doing research on history, to fill in the gaps in my knowledge on various subjects. I did not get this passion from school or history teachers, but from my dad. I could ask him about almost any subject and he would have an answer for you. His encyclopedic knowledge came from anywhere he picked it up: grade school through college, television or mainly through the newspaper. Mom has said that Dad would sit there at breakfast and read the newspaper, whether it was The Tribune-Democrat and/or the Pittsburgh Press, from front to back, every page.
His memory was impressive as well. Dad could recall events from childhood to college with ease and remarkable detail, decades after the fact.
Dad was well-informed on any subject, from local and national politics, to what was wrong with the Pittsburgh teams: Steelers, Panthers, Pirates or Penguins. He read with a discerning eye, spotting any rhetoric a mile away.
Dad would never talk down to you, either. He would take your questions seriously as a teenager and give you the same answers he would any adult.
I remember him telling me the “unvarnished truth” about Ben Franklin one day. Dad used to say that real history was much deeper, much more fascinating, than the history that was written with broad strokes in grade school and even high school books. Dad taught me to look beyond the text, to read between the lines.
Dad’s knowledge extended beyond these subjects as well. He knew how to make and pour cement, fix an electrical socket, lay bricks, work a table saw, lay roofing tile, fix a clogged sink, install paneling and paint a life-size Santa, his sleigh and reindeer, with the eye of a Rembrandt.
But most of all, Dad taught me how to be a man. Not just the obvious things we think about, but the nuanced characteristics that were just as important as the big ones. And these lessons were not always verbal; sometimes he taught by example. And if you were observant you picked them up simply by watching. I learned how to bite my tongue with grace and diplomacy, instead of shooting from the hip with my mouth.
I learned not to sweat the small stuff. I learned that there were two sides to every story. I learned it was sometimes better to lose the battle but win the war. I learned the power of giving (and receiving) an apology. He taught me it was no sin to make a mistake, as long as you learned from it.
And so, I guess Dad taught me more than just an appreciation of history. He taught me the history of life.
I will mark this day as I have the past 10 anniversaries. Mom will put one of those touching memorials we see in the newspaper today. It is always a shock for me to see those, because I still cannot quite get over the fact that he is gone.
Dad used to travel for U.S. Steel in later years, and I have sort of deluded myself to think he is on an extended trip for the mill. I know I will see him again one day, but until then I will always have my memories and his lessons.
Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident. He writes an occasional column.