Six Lessons From My Father

1. Be An Informed (and Annoying) Citizen

Dad was a big consumer of newspapers and news. He used to call the office of his US Representative, Barney Frank, so often that he was on a first-name basis with the patient office clerk. I can't say that I agreed with my father's views all the time, but I admired his desire to stay up to date with world situations and express his opinions.

2. Don't Squander Your Resources

My parents, both born in the 1920's, differed from their peers in that our family's laundry was my father's responsibility. Perhaps this "women's work" task fell into his domain because it involved operating a machine. Being a machinist and handyman by trade he brought some of his ingenuity to the laundry realm. He had a system involving two washing machines that enabled him to move the "gray water" from the first washer for use in the second machine. He had a lot of opinions on laundry.

3. Appreciate Nature, In Your Own Weird Way

Squirrels were something of a hobby for my father. He would not simply feed them, but would rig challenges that made it more difficult for them to obtain their food prizes. He liked to see them solve his puzzles. The squirrels knew him, and would come up to him when he stood in the yard - Saint Francis in a Stetson hat.

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4. Make Creativity a Habit

My father brought a Leica home with him after his time in Europe in WWII. In all honesty I would not classify him as an especially arty photographer, but he was consistent with his camera habit into his 80's. He even worked on several photo projects. One involved a life-sized plaster German Shepard lawn ornament that he found and named Alphie. He took his "pet" around town and photographed it in front of landmarks and with local officials.  

5. Work the System

Rebates and coupons were another one of Dad's preoccupations. There were certain brand name products he fixated on: motor oil, orange juice, 35mm film, pain reliever. He would jump through all the necessary rebate form hoops to get a good deal on these things. I am sure at times he pushed the "one per household" limits of the fine print.

6. Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

I believe many factors developed my father's strong sense of gratitude: growing up as the child of Polish immigrants during the depression,  losing his father when he was 14, losing a brother in World War II, consuming large amounts of bleak foreign and domestic news. Out of all these lessons I consider this one to be the most important. The habit of being thankful every day, several times a day, has been the key to my happiness. You can find many quotes on gratitude, from the Dalai Lama to Oprah. I like this one from Thornton Wilder: “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."