In my late 30's I was making a mid-life career change. I guess it was kind of crazy, but my corporate job just didn't feel like enough. I wanted to do something that mattered. I enrolled in graduate school studying clinical psychology. I was totally immersed in it. I loved all the fascinating things I was learning, especially the analytical psychologists, and I gathered all my new pieces of knowledge like seashells on the beach, brought them home and filed them away neatly. They were my possessions. I made cassette tapes of the key points and principles and filed those away too. I had it all carefully cataloged and owned.
I also had a great big old brown chair of the type called “overstuffed” that went out of style in the 50’s. It was my Dad’s old chair and I just sort of kept it around. I did all of my studying and most of my best thinking there. It was a huge, homely, bulky and unbeautiful thing. It was old and lumpy; the springs were weak. When I sat in it, I sank deep into its warm lap, cozily enclosed in its broad arms. I called it The Bear Chair.
I was going to be a psychotherapist and help the world (one person at a time) but it never happened.
I ran out of money when the corporation where I’d worked for 12 years went bankrupt. Three hundred or so of us were suddenly without jobs. I borrowed money to stay in school – I thought I could just manage. But with nothing coming in, I ran right through the money A second student loan failed to go through in time for the next quarter. I had borrowed money on my credit cards for a few months, but the interest made my debt skyrocket out of control. I knewI had to drop out of school just as I began my internship. I was a straight-A dropout.
Some people would say "It wasn’t meant to be" and I think they would be right, but I wish it could have been a little less painful, putting the brakes on. I knew that it was over and I looked for a new direction, absolutely without a clue. Just like my father, I had too many talents, too many interests where I had a little bit of talent, and no one thing where I had a lot. All I knew was, I wanted to do something that mattered. My old job wasn't it; I had hoped "it" would be in the field of psychology. It wasn't.
The next thing I did with my life was to job-hunt for more than a year, while doing any kind of work I could find. I sold ice cream at Baskin Robbins, and I unloaded trucks, and a few other, less-glamorous jobs. Finally I got a part-time job in a gym, which began a chain of events that would eventually lead to a Fire Service career, which would in turn lead me to the Emergency Medical Profession. You never really know where your life will lead you; I understand that now. You just have to go ahead and see what happens.
I often think about my Dad, and the life he had. His life was not one path, but many. The fourth son of immigrant parents, he never finished High School. Instead he ran away and joined the Navy when he was seventeen. He tried many vocations in his life – restaurant worker, butcher's apprentice, painting contractor, police officer, carpenter, bartender, waiter. The old saying “Jack of all trades - Master of none” was said about people like him.
And yet, when he was in his forties, he had the guts to go to night school and earn a High School Equivalency diploma. Then he studied electronics repair from a mail-order course, and finally got a “good” job as a repair man. He raised a son and three daughters; he was a decent, honest man. I deeply love and respect him.
I have followed in his footsteps, in a way, even though that was never my conscious intention. I was looking for Who To Be – you know, that thing we are all looking for: How to discover who you really are, your destiny, your true work, your calling.
I used to look at other people’s lives – especially those who knew at an early age what they wanted to be, then became it successfully and practiced that vocation all their lives. I saw them as the successes in life, and sometimes I saw my father and myself as, at best, “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” or at worst, the failures and "wanna-bes" of this world.
I see it differently now. I see that we had more joy, more pain, more discovery, more disappointment, more wonder, and more experience in the experience of life itself than most people do. We were never failures; not Dad, and not me. If it’s true what Gary Zukav says, that the reason all souls come to the earth-school is to learn through physical experiences, then we are really very good students. We’ve done a good job of what we came here to do.
My Dad loved poetry. I do too. I remember some of my earliest reading as a child was from crumbling old poetry books I found on a dusty shelf. My love of reading and writing came from my father. He kept a small journal of thoughts and poems he had written, hidden in the very back of a bottom desk drawer. I would sneak in there when I was about ten years old and read, and wonder. He loved art and music too – things he never had much access to as a child. But he made them accessible to me.
My father had a great heart, and great dreams, even though he did not accomplish them in his lifetime. When I was about 12 years old and my parents were separated and about to be divorced, he rented a piano and started taking lessons to learn to play. He was working as a bartender at a Country Club then. Liberace performed there, and my Dad was inspired by his music. That was in the 50’s and Liberace had not yet become the flamboyant personality and star performer he would later become. He was just a pleasant soft-spoken man in a plain black tuxedo who played the piano in public places with great love.
The piano lessons never went very far; my father couldn’t afford the piano or the lessons, and probably had no real talent for it. But I admire him for making such a grand and improbable endeavor. I’m sure I inherited that from him – the ability to believe in the seemingly impossible. Believing is the thing, and the only thing, that can make “the impossible” possible. My Dad never did any impossible things, but he did give me the right to "Believe Anyway," and eventually, I did do some "impossible" things.
Father’s Day is coming soon. I don’t celebrate it since my Dad passed on, more than ten years ago. But I always think of him in his favorite role – Barbecue Chef Extraordinaire – leader of the family, quiet honest human being. I miss him very much. I wish I had known him better; he was a very private man. We never talked much. I never told him how great and beautiful he really was.
Every year at Father’s Day, his absence reminds me to recognize and accept that I am grown up now. I take what I've learned from my life and from his, and I count myself blessed. Of all the things my father gave me, the greatest thing was this: He taught me the outrageous courage to believe, no matter what. I work on my believing, just like I work out with weights, to grow stronger. I know that in this life, this strength to believe – not money, not success – is the winner’s edge. And he gave that to me as a gift.
Dad, Thank you.