The memories of who he was come flooding back today, thirty years from the last time I looked into his soft gray eyes, which were a beacon of truth. Those eyes were the gateway to life lessons, some of which I haven’t mastered yet.
He was the gentlest man I’ve ever met. A man who took responsibility to a level that I still aspire to reach. A man who commanded the respect he deserved. The man who stood his ground. The man whose voice could startle you into attention, but whose whisper you would strain to hear.
This man grew up in the Midwest in the early 1900s. A harsh environment, with snow storms and winds that could stiffen the soul. Like many households in that era, he and his sister were expected to be seen and not heard. His father was his lighthouse- a highly regarded lawyer who had high expectations of his peers and family. The paragon of hard work and dependability would be reflected in his son for decades to follow. His mother was a strict disciplinarian that enforced her will upon her little boy and girl with a firm hand, but a warm heart that would take the chill out of the bitter air just often enough to counter the shadows of the burdens she held so deep in her soul.
This man followed his father’s footsteps and became a lawyer and ultimately a judge. In the early days of his career, he went to Nuremberg, Germany to prosecute those who had committed some of the most historically evil atrocities in history. He fell in love with that country. I am sure that is the origin of his love of beer! He later became a judge. I had the privilege of observing him preside over a courtroom where he commanded respect and I was a witness to glimpses of the ghosts of his childhood. I was excited and proud to be in the courtroom, to see my dad in action. He started the trial by sternly stating his rules. During this case I found myself shocked at the way he reprimanded a young attorney-his tone and inference was one I knew and only reserved for the most heinous infractions-a line had been crossed. He later explained that the attorney was a brand new lawyer and was extremely unprepared for the trial. I am sure that whoever he was, he would never be unprepared again. That’s the kind of lessons he taught-the kind you never forget.
Most of what I learned from my dad was through his example. His methodical way of approaching everything from complicated projects to eating a meal was frustrating to me, the impatient little girl. He was deliberate in every action he took-and it frustrated me. I now find myself taking pride in the way I strategize different areas of my life. His role as a judge was a perfect fit, as I always found him to consider all aspects of any situation. He was a great debater, who could be intimidating, but taught me to choose my words carefully. He lived his life as a true gentleman and a devoted family man. The ghosts of his harsh early days softened with the influence of my mother’s loving Italian family. Through them, I am sure he learned to embrace affection and recognize the deep devotion that was extended to such a large constituent as a blessing.
Some of my favorite times with this man were spent on his sailboat, which he named after me. I would go with him more often than anyone, as my mother suffered motion sickness all of her life. The preparation was tedious (of course), but to watch him as captain of his little vessel is when I saw him at his happiest. I will always remember being out on the water, navigating the course he had charted while he taught me to take advantage of the changes of the wind. I can still picture him with his hat and sunglasses and can still see pride all over his face. Sailing with him taught me that we can make the best of adversity and that the smallest change in direction can muster some of the biggest results.
His moral compass had no leeway. There was only one way to live-by the Christian foundation and commandments that were his guide. As a child of the sixties and seventies, I know that parenting had to be challenging-his children were getting the wrong signals from society and the harsh heavy hand would be needed to keep us moving in the right direction.
He left too soon. I was just beginning to finally grow up. I had had such a tumultuous decade prior, that I’m sure he worried that I would never learn and embrace all of the life lessons he had imparted on me. He never met his granddaughters-and they never had the privilege of knowing him. Along with his great grandchildren, these next generations will know him only through the cherished pictures and stories I share. I hope that I can honor his legacy by living as an example of who he was, and to share life lessons through my example that will be carried down for generations to come.
I am this man’s daughter. So proud of being able to say that some of my best qualities are reflections of those beacons of truth that I was lucky enough to learn from such a great man. I am so grateful and honored to have been loved by him.