3 Parenting Lessons I Learned from the Life & Death of My Father

Today marks the 15th year since I sat in a room with my father.  In some ways, it is hard to believe that 15 years have passed since his death.  When I look at my boys, however, it is entirely believable.  My sons were young when he was diagnosed with cancer and only 7 & 3 years old when he died.  They are 23 & 18 years old now.  They are men.  My father did not live to see his grandchildren grow up or his daughter raise her children.  I believe that there is something to learn from everything – even events that are untimely and sad – and I did learn so much about parenting from my father’s way too soon death.  I pay tribute to his continued influence on my life by sharing the most important parenting lessons I learned from the life & death of Leonard Maloff:
  • Children remember the tiny moments.  We went on trips.  We celebrated events.  It is, however, the seemingly tiny moments that are most vivid in my memory.  I have such sweet memories of my father singing show tunes with me after dinner.  I was a very young girl who knew all of the lyrics from “The Sound of Music” and “Fiddler on the Roof” thanks to Dad.  I remember when he drew a smiley face on his thumb and sang “Thumbelina” for me.  I remember what he whispered to me as we danced at my wedding.  I treasure those moments and I learned that my own children will define their childhoods by the sweet moments and not necessarily grand gestures.  I learned that all moments with children can matter.
  • The influence of parents is infinite.  My father’s propensity to feel proud of our accomplishments, his sense of humor and even his beliefs about morality live on.  I don’t wonder what my father would have felt, done or said in any situation.  I know.  I know how proud he would have been of my boys.  I know that he would have been so pleased about the course my career is taking.  I know what advice he would have offered when I have to make difficult decisions.  That voice that guides my life decisions is, in part, his voice. I quote him often – “Respect is earned”  and “If you don’t like it, then do something about it.”  I remember him advocating for tenants’ rights when we lived in the Bronx and today I advocate for children’s rights. I learned that the messages I give my children will be with them forever so they need to be carefully crafted, conveyed and morally sound & consistent.
  • Forgive so your children will forgive you.  I don’t know if my father was particularly forgiving but I certainly learned about the need to forgive from his life and death.  My father was a heavy smoker who died from cancer.  He had a cough my whole life but kept smoking.  By the time the cancer was diagnosed, it was in his brain.  They did scans to discover that it originated in his lungs. My father always had a cigarette in his hand and it killed him.  If only…..If only he would have never smoked or quit or gone to doctors for check ups.  If only he was strong enough to stop a behavior that was so self-destructive.  But he did and he didn’t and he wouldn’t.  He wasn’t.  What he was, however, was human and I forgive him.  I forgive him his flaws.  I learned that there is no purpose in eternal anger or bitterness because it changes nothing.  I want my children to forgive my husband and me for our flaws so I have to be an example of the power of forgiving parents. 

I dreamt about my father recently.  It was the first time in a long time that I dreamt of him.  He was standing in my childhood kitchen. He was the daddy of my own youth.  Young and healthy, he turned to me and smiled. It was so nice to see him again.  I awoke, sighed and tucked him back where he’s been for 15 years – in that special place that parents stay in the heart and mind.

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