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OPINION: A true father’s legacy is never erased



My Dad passed away soon after Father’s Day seven years ago, and I still miss him. Every day.

That’s a statement you might expect to hear from any number of daughters, but I’m not them and my father isn’t their dad. Our relationship was complicated, and there were long periods of time when we barely spoke.

It didn’t start out that way.

My mother tells me I had a special bond with my father as soon as my personality began to show itself. I take her word for it since that bond existed as far back as I can remember.

I was the middle of three girls, and our brother was the youngest. He got special privileges, like his own room, since he was the only boy and the baby on top of that, but it never bothered me because I got plenty of my dad’s attention.

He was a great “girl dad” in general, and very much ahead of his time in many ways. He raised all of his daughters to survive in what was then still very much a man’s world.

He championed education as the key to our futures and insisted we learn how to do things for ourselves so that we wouldn’t have to rely on others to meet basic needs. He had the same set of high standards for all of us, girl or boy.


We each followed our own path, but we’ve succeeded in crafting mostly useful lives despite many challenges, in large measure because of what he taught us about how to manage them.

All that said, I drew particular notice because I was the most like him of any of his children. I learned to read by sitting in his lap while he perused the evening paper, pointing out first the letters and later the words to me.

This was long before I ever started school – so long, in fact, that I can’t remember when I didn’t know how. He fed my relentless inquisitiveness and supported me in exploring any interest I expressed that could reasonably be accommodated.

Here’s an example. When I was six, I started to collect shells – the first of many kinds of things that captured my curiosity over the years. We lived near the ocean then and went to the beach most weekends except in midwinter.

At first, he taught me how to clean and organize my finds. Then he bought me field guides so I could try to classify the shells and learn about the animals that made them.

Eventually, the collection became unwieldy in disparate containers, so my father had a special cabinet made with 10 drawers full of dividers where I could store my treasures. He had me write the identifications on little slips of paper and store them with my specimens.

The habits I learned – sorting, classifying and taking care of things properly, etc. – have stayed with me and still manifest themselves across a broad spectrum of life activities.

That’s the way it always went. He pushed me to go beyond the minimum requirements of my school assignments. Beginning in fourth grade, he had me add a preface to my reports explaining my choice of the topic. Academic excellence was demanded, and I worked hard to meet his expectations.


As I showed an inclination for sports, he fostered that as well, sometimes in rather creative ways. When he coached my brother in Little League baseball, I kept the scorebook and team stats after he showed me how, even though I was just a few years older than the players.

Dad was a bomber navigator in World War II and was required to keep meticulous logs as part of his duties. When I was 13, he charged me with the responsibility of keeping the log for our travels, even just on ordinary road trips. I carried this custom into adulthood and still do it.

He always had subscriptions to Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and National Geographic magazines, and I read them all. The house was full of good books as well, reflecting the interests of both parents, and I devoured them. My mother had her influence too of course, but Dad always had his hand on the rudder.

I grew up to be exactly what my father planned for me to be: an independent individual capable of thoughtfully making and following through on my decisions, as well as one who refused to accept any limits imposed on me by others and who would also stand up for myself no matter what. 

What he didn’t anticipate – nor truthfully did I, until it happened – was that I would ever make major decisions with which he couldn’t agree.

But I did, and they were big ones – my religion, my spouse and my professional career path among them. These choices opened a huge chasm between us that was never entirely breached, even though my father lived to be 92 years old.

I’m at peace about this now though, because I know I tried my best and, in the end, so did he. We made significant progress in reconnecting the last dozen or so years of his life.

It’s also true that, even during the lengthy periods when our communication was regrettably sparse, I was yet my father’s daughter in every way. I still am.


I have been conscious of his hand in the course of my life throughout my journey, and I think of him every day as I see, hear or experience things we had a shared interest in.

What I have learned since Dad’s departure is that, as long as I remember him and continue to try to live up to the best that he taught me, my father isn’t really gone.

Just out of sight.

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