There are 5 important life lessons I learned from my dad without ever realizing he was teaching me. My father, Joseph DeNicola, was an amazing man. Dad was born on July 16, 1931, and unfortunately passed away on September 7, 2001, much too early from cancer. He went into the hospital for the final time just after his 70th birthday. That same year, only a few months earlier, he retired from a job he had for over 40 years.
My dad never got to enjoy retirement because of his illness, but I imagine he would have spent most of this time doing odd jobs around the house and napping. He was a professional at both. Watching my father’s health deteriorate in the last few years of his life was tough. A once vibrant man now became a bit more tired and quiet, eventually losing the ability to speak due to his condition. When we visited him in the hospital, you could tell he was getting frustrated. When he passed, the nurse described him removing the tube from his throat and shaking his head, gesturing that he was done.
I got married and bought my home like most people do and then started having children. At this point in my life I began to realize the lessons I had learned from my dad. Some of these were lessons on how to perform specific tasks around the house like changing a wall switch or outlet, or how to care for the lawn. Others were sports-related, like how to throw a curveball or swing a bat correctly. The most important lessons were the ones I learned that I didn’t even know were being taught to me.
These 5 important life lessons weren’t taught to me as much as they were absorbed into my being just by living my life around this incredible man. Here are only a few of the important lessons my dad “taught” me.
5 Important Life Lessons I Learned From My Dad
Work hard all the time
Dad would get up every morning at 5:00 and be out of the house by 6:00 or earlier to drive 45 miles in bumper to bumper NY traffic to go to work. Dad did this every day for 40+ years of his life, and he rarely complained about it. Snow, sleet, rain whatever the conditions Dad got up and went to work. Other than the common cold now and then, Dad didn’t get sick, and he never let it stop him.
Dad would often tell the story of having perfect attendance through all his school years, never missing a day. We never believed it until we found his perfect attendance medal after his death. An incredible feat considering the times he grew up in.
Dad would leave early in the morning and arrive home at night sometime around 6:00. As I got to school age, he would also coach my little league team, so the night didn’t end for him until the practice was over somewhere around 8:00 or so. Projects that he did around the house were done until completion regardless of how long it took him that day. Nothing was started and left unfinished.
There is no doubt in my mind that the strong work ethic I have today is from my father as I am the EXACT same way. Projects I start get finished, and I work until I am done, whether that is at home or in my full-time job. The life lesson is that we do what needs to be done and we work hard all the time.
Feed your guests
When my wife and I were married, we lived in an apartment in Queens, NY, but came out to Long Island to my parent’s house every weekend to go to the beach or enjoy the backyard. The first words out of my father’s mouth the minute we walked in the door was “Ja Eat Yet?” (short for did you eat yet?). Dad was always trying to feed people. In high school, my sister had a party that got crashed by a lot of people.
Her boyfriend’s band was playing in our yard, and dad was working the grill feeding everyone regardless of if they were invited or not. The police were called due to the music being too loud, and dad offered the police officers burgers as well.
I’m not sure if it’s an Italian gene that wants everyone to be fed and full, but it could be why we enjoy entertaining so much at my home. During the summer you will find me at the BBQ most weekends with friends gathered around the bar or table eating. No one leaves hungry.
Listen to your mother (or wife)
If I had a nickel for every time I heard dad say “listen to your mother,” I wouldn’t be writing blogs and working three jobs. Most of the time, I think he would say that to pass the buck to mom, so he wasn’t the bad guy. Dad wasn’t the disciplinarian in the family. Mom held that job. My father yelled at me once in my life, and I decided that I never wanted to see or hear that again. Dad was a very patient person, but when he snapped, he snapped big time!
Looking back, I think he just went with what my mother wanted because he didn’t want to deal with arguing about it later. It was just more comfortable for him and less stressful for mom to get her way. Luckily my wife and I are on the same page about most issues and rarely, if ever, argue. Life lesson – happy wife, happy life!
Family is always first
Dad was always there to help out, regardless of what you needed. A baseball coach, school project builder, limo driver, whatever the need dad was there for you without a complaint. He waited in the parking lot of Shea Stadium in NY while my friend and I, at 14 years of age, went to see The Who. He drove and stood on line with us for 5 hours to get tickets to that show. He never complained about it once.
Every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning, he would drive an hour each way to pick up my grandparents (his in-laws) to make sure they were with us for the holidays. My grandmother, who has suffered two strokes, would only let Joey handle her. She had the utmost faith in my father, as we all did.
I’ve taken much of this with me in life with my children. I attend all their events unless I’m traveling and help out whenever needed. I think they know they can count on me in that regard.
Love your team no matter what happens
Dad was a die-hard Yankee fan through thick and thin. He went through the not so great years but hung in there long enough again to see this team come back around in the late nineties. Dad never jumped ship and told me that you stay with your team regardless of how they are playing. That is unless your team leaves NY to go to the West Coast as the Dodgers did in 1957. This departure hurt both him and mom deeply, and they never really recovered.
In my heart, when Dad was talking about loving your team no matter what happens, I think he also meant family as well. Brothers, sisters, wives, husbands -whoever is on your team – love them no matter what.
I can still picture sitting next to my dad in the front seat of his car. That’s what we did in the ’70s. We didn’t sit in the back seat. We sat in the front with a thin lap belt across our hips and Dad’s arm across our body if he had to stop suddenly. We listened to music or sports radio and talked. If you told me back then that I’d be married with two kids, I’d have laughed. Tell me that I’ve grown up to be just like my Dad and I smile.
The lessons he taught me were not done so much over a sit-down conversation. I watched a man live his life to the best of his ability, and that was pretty damn good enough for me.
What lessons did your dad teach you growing up? Comment below.