Life Lessons from an Amazing Dad

Leonard Rose died on October 22, 2012. He was my Dad. He wasn’t famous. He didn’t invent anything, or do something that will cause him to be remembered in the annals of history. He was just a regular guy who did things that regular guys are supposed to do: support his family, be a solid citizen, help his fellow man, and, most importantly, just be a good person. While he was all those things, he was so much more than that. And I’ve spent my entire life learning, observing, listening, and trying to measure up to this amazing guy.

He was born on June 27, 1928 – a child of the Great Depression. He was the number two kid, with an older sister, but three younger brothers. So he was the brother that got looked up to. I was the oldest of three boys – so I also had several sets of eyes watching what I did. When he was young, his Dad was a farmer, so he learned about hard work, taking responsibility, and setting the example. That’s probably why I had a paper route at 11 and spent many a summer mowing lawns in the neighborhood. I had my first restaurant job at 15.

He stressed the importance of education to get ahead in life. But unlike a lot of families where it was “do what I say, not what I do”, he walked the walk. He started his undergraduate degree at Central Michigan University, but ran out of money. So he joined the Navy, and served in the Korean War. Returning from the war, he went right back to school and got his degree. And he didn’t stop there. It was on to Michigan State and an MBA – a rare achievement for the 1950’s. When it was my turn, I was on a tear to achieve: graduating from High School at 17, Undergrad at 20, and I also got an MBA – at age 21. Both of my brothers are college grads as well.

He then embarked on a 35 year career with the Chrysler Corporation. Like most corporate careers he had successes and some disappointments. He never quite got up to the highest levels in the company, but was always loyal, focused on doing a good job, and was the first guy into the office every day. I’ve had success in my career, but have also hit a point where I’m probably not going to go higher in the organization. My focus is on being a good leader, coach, and adding value every day to what work I need to do. That comes from listening to Dad all those years.

When Dad died, he was a multi-millionaire. That will surprise a lot of people, because you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the way he lived. After he retired, he and Mom moved up to Gladwin, Michigan. Trust me when I say – this is not where the beautiful people hang out. It’s in the middle of Michigan – which is to say in the middle of nowhere. Now they had a nice home on a small lake, but it certainly was not over the top. He could have easily afforded something more opulent. His vehicle of choice was a Dodge mini-van. Nothing very sexy about it, but that wasn’t what it was about for Dad. To him, the most practical vehicle going was a mini-van, so that’s what he drove.

He and Mom liked to play golf, and they did belong to two country clubs: one in Gladwin, and one in Arizona where they ended up with a townhouse to get out of the cold in the winters (and to be closer to me and their grandkids). But – once again – these were not the high end kind of places that you see on televised golf tournaments. I doubt if Dad ever paid more than $50 for a round of golf in his life. He did get to play Pebble Beach, and the old courses in Scotland, but only because my brothers and I sent them to those places for anniversary gifts. I doubt he would have done it on his own.

I don’t want to give you the impression that Dad didn’t enjoy life. I think he had a blast. But money didn’t define him. He always lived below his means, which is the lesson I’ve tried to take from all this. While I may look longingly at a Mercedes or Lexus, I drive a Chrysler. I’m not exactly slumming, but I can’t make myself spend $75,000 on a car. Just knowing that Dad would think I was nuts to ever consider it will keep me from ever pulling that trigger. I’ve lived in the same house for the last 25 years, and when I retire my wife and I plan to downsize. And despite some occasional grumbling from my wonderful wife, we deduct the maximum allowed for our 401k each year. Dad said retirement was the best years of his life, and I want to have enough to enjoy it – just like he did.

Dad had a strong, but quiet faith. He and Mom were regular church goers, and through the years he found many ways to serve: usher, Sunday school teacher, treasurer, greeter, and as a member of countless committees. He was also a faithful giver. But Mom was always more vocal about her faith, so it would be easy to assume that Dad was just going along. But I discovered that if Mom was sick or there was some other reason why she couldn’t go to Church, he’d go by himself. My own walk has been far from perfect, but I now have a strong faith that started with the example of lots of wonderful people that have helped me to grow – including the example of my Dad. My wonderful wife is a strong Christian, and similar to Mom, she is outwardly more demonstrative of her faith. My faith is quieter – like Dad.

The greatest gift my Dad has shown me is the gift of love. Mom and Dad were married for 59 years. One of the biggest disappointments in my life was when I had to tell Dad that my first marriage of 22 years was coming to an end. While he didn’t judge me, I could just see the hurt on his face. It took me a while to realize that he was hurting for me, but at the time I just felt like I was letting him down.

I probably didn’t realize the depth of Dad’s love for Mom until after he passed. Five years ago my Mom had a brain tumor, and her memory has never been the same since. When we would go over to visit, I could tell that she was having short term memory issues, but since we were only seeing them for a few hours, I had no idea the extent of the problem. Being with Mom full-time, we really discovered how Dad had been protecting her, and had basically become a care giver. He drove her to golf, tennis, and all her church activities. He did all the grocery shopping, cooking, most of the cleaning, as well as managed all the finances and paid the bills.

And then he got sick. He had weeks of chemotherapy and endless doctor’s appointments.

Through it all, he continued to take care of Mom. As he grew weaker, it was like she didn’t really understand what was going on, and he tried to keep her normal routine going. When I would call, his only complaint was that he was feeling weak; that he didn’t have much energy. But he never once asked for help with Mom. That was his job until he couldn’t do it anymore. That kind of love is very special – that’s my Dad.

A few weeks ago Pastor Pat at the church my wife and I attend preached a sermon entitled “Better is a Good Name than Riches”. He talked about the importance of who you are and how you are perceived by your fellow man. That a “good name” creates protection, how it speaks to you, and how it inspires others. Over the past weeks as my brothers and I have been dealing with various financial decisions, I have had contact with complete strangers who want to talk about my Dad: how special he was, how he never had a bad thing to say about anyone, how he was honorable, how he did things to help people without expecting anything in return, how he was just a great guy. They shared these stories with me with a smile on their face and tears in their eyes.

Dad – you’re a hard act to follow. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul writes, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ”. I’ve spent my life trying to imitate you; to be as good as you; be as special as you. Even as I fall short, know this: you were an amazing Dad, and the lessons you taught me will never be forgotten.

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