I lost my Dad, Jay Earle, last week after a 6-month battle with cancer. Regular readers know my father’s stories: The skinny 1950s teen who played sax in a dance band with Warren Beatty, the 18-year-old who became a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy by volunteering for dirty jobs, the cool 70s Dad who bet his buddy he could waterski in a leisure suit without getting it wet (he won the bet), the kid at heart father of four who hung a fifty-foot rope swing from the huge elm in our yard making our house the afternoon destination for 20 years, the mid-life banker who went to work for the federal government and saved the American taxpayers billions during the 80’s Savings and Loan Crisis, the gregarious grandfather who opened his lake house to brownie troops, church groups and slumper parties for two decades, captaining his boat, tubing and skiing countless kids around Lake Hartwell, GA.
My Dad was a business mentor, parenting adviser, and one of my best friends. After my mother died twenty years ago, my father and I forged adult relationship that was one of the great joys in my life. I adored my Dad, and he adored me, with no hidden agendas, reservations, or baggage. That is a rare thing indeed.
A parent’s death gives you pause to think about your own life, and the impact you want to have on this earth. Reflecting on my Dad’s 78 years, I reach three conclusions:
It’s easy to say family is the most important thing. Yet reading notes from my father’s colleagues, I’m reminded: when you do meaningful work with people you care about, your whole life is better.
According to government estimates, when my father was Director of Mergers for the FSLIC his team kept hundreds of S&L’s from going under. My Dad loved his job, he had a chart in his office tracking: “How much money we’ve saved American Taxpayers.”
My Dad was the first guy in the water, the first one to say yes to crazy projects.
I realize, there’s nothing to be gained by lingering on the sidelines waiting to see what everyone else is going to do. If you’re going to do it anyway, go first. People will love you for it.
In retirement, my Dad went to Washington DC with me, twice, to lobby Congress, once for world peace, later to help Congress adopt a better conflict resolution model. I don’t think I have to tell you neither of those ventures was wildly successful. Dad said, “This paves the way for the next time. MLK didn’t get big wins on his first rounds either.”
Half the things my father tried failed; but half didn’t. The sheer volume added up to an exciting, impressive life.
I’m getting Facebook notes from people I haven’t seen since childhood saying, “Jay was the most fun grownup I ever knew,” sharing stories about how he helped them jump onto the huge swing, told fart jokes, played with firecrackers, and fixed their sled.
My Dad wasn’t naïve; he was a responsible family guy. Over the course of his 78 years he lost a son, lost a wife, got fired, worried about money, and had health issues. He had high stress jobs and kids who whined. But he was always fun.
Lesson for me: You can be positive, negative, or boringly benign. It’s always your choice. My dad is proof that when one person decides to bring the fun, it changes everything, and everyone.
My Dad was all in. He was all in for his family, his job, his friends, and everything else that mattered.
I aspire to do the same. How about you?