By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
This Sunday is Father’s Day, a day where dads the world over are supposed to put their feet up, crack open a cold beer, and be catered to by their spouse and offspring. For those of us whose fathers have gone to their great reward, it’s a day that can be bittersweet. For our family that is especially true as we think about how much our dad would have rejoiced in the addition of Addison last week. I’ve thought a lot about my dad these past few days while reading articles by authors extolling the virtues of following their dad’s words of wisdom – “be thrifty, finish college, don’t hit your sister”. Okay, I made that last one up. I thought about things my dad said to me that were lasting – life lessons, if you will. Sadly, the only lesson he sat down to teach me was how to order the money in my wallet. I remember the day, as I stuffed bills into my purse in a slap-dash manner, he took me aside and told me that I should always order the bills in sequence, by increasing denomination. So the one’s went first, then the five’s, etc. Actually, I don’t think we got past the five’s because I was 17 and had no money. To this day, when I put bills in my wallet, I always think about my dad and the lesson he taught me that day.
But lest you think that was the only lesson I learned from my dad, believe me, he taught me more about living a good life than I can possibly relate. He just did it by his actions, rather than words. He was incredibly kind, hysterically funny and a joy to be around. I met a rather new friend of his once and she commented about how great dad was, to which I replied, “Yep, everybody likes my dad”. She gave me a startled look and said, “Oh, no. Everybody LOVES your dad”. But why? A few examples come to mind, examples that have stuck with me all of my life. I recall a time during my first year in college I had a friend whose parents were transferred across country. She was lonely and missed their comforting presence. One day when she came to visit she and I escaped to my room to catch up. When we emerged an hour later Pop was walking in the front door with her car keys. He handed the keys over to her and gave her a big hug. After she left I asked him what he was doing with her car and he told me he’d taken it down to the local service station, filled it with gas, and had the mechanic top off her oil. “Why?”, I questioned. “Because”, he said, “I know that if it were you in that situation I’d like someone to be looking after you”. In that moment he taught me to put myself in someone else’s shoes – it can make for a kinder world.
Pop also lived his life with the utmost optimism. He greeted every new acquaintance as if they were a long-lost friend. Partly his demeanor came from being a small businessman in a small town, where word would travel quickly had he been rude or difficult. But his happy persona was just natural – in any crowded room people always wanted to be around him because he always had a funny story and anecdote to relate. My brothers loved this aspect of his personality, especially as everyone got older and my dad, well into his ’70’s and ’80’s, would continue to attract new friends, especially women. When my brothers were with him in a bar neither of them could pick up a chair, let alone a date, but Pop always had beautiful women gathered around him. He would laugh and joke with them, as my brothers tried to nudge their way in. They soon nicknamed dad “The Chick Magnet”, but really he was the People Magnet. He showed me that if you greet people in an open and friendly way, you will never want for friends.
I also learned a lot about giving back from him. I cannot remember a time that he did not volunteer in the community. For over forty years he served as a volunteer firefighter in Novato. He was so revered that when he died the current fire chief drove a big hook and ladder up to his funeral. He was involved in the school board, water district and the Rotary club, just to list a few. When he retired and moved to Sonoma he decided that he wanted to help kids so he volunteered as a reader at the local grammar school. Every Friday he took his classroom a big plate of treats (obviously well before the current allergy phobias). He loved his “job” and they loved him. One day he came home beaming because a 6-year-old girl had handed him the following note: Mr. Sparrow, When I grow up will you marry me?. He taught me that sometimes the best reward you can get in life is giving to others.
I miss my dad, not only on Father’s Day, but every day. We kids were so blessed to have him as a dad, to have grown up with someone so inherently funny and supportive of us in every way. While I don’t have many “pearls of wisdom” to remember, I have plenty of actions to emulate. So on Father’s Day, and every other, I do my best to live life through my father’s eyes.