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For the first time in my life, I'll celebrate Father's Day this year without my dad. The man who had the most influence on the man I became passed away on April 14. Jack was 79.
It has been said that the loss of a parent is one of life's most traumatic events. I now know the devastating truth of that statement. I've been told that, in time, the hurt will fade, only to be replaced by positive memories that soothe the soul. Already, I can feel that happening.
Maybe it's because my father and I had a simple and loving relationship. He was a remarkably good man, like many of the inspiring role models and mentors who frequently appear in Fast Company's pages. Like them, he was a person of devotion and integrity, a man who understood a hard day's work. Yet, unlike most of them, he never had the advantage of a college education. He worked pretty much his entire life in two places: a dye house and a post-office sorting facility.
His core accomplishment was family. And as his only child, I was the lucky beneficiary. My father poured vast amounts of love and energy into me during my most formative years. That is why I measure his life in the warehouse of photographs and movies he created for me. It is why I measure it in the size of his hands. Because what I remember most about my father are those sandpaper-rough hands, made rugged from factory work. From my earliest days, he took my hand in his and we discovered the world together.
With his hand in mine, we walked through New York's Times Square. We went to Tad's Steakhouse, where you could get a T-bone, a baked potato, a hunk of garlic bread, and a tossed salad for $2.79. We went to my grandmother's house on Saturday afternoons for endless games of gin rummy, Parcheesi, and Chinese checkers. We went for long hikes on Sunday afternoons, through the nearby woods. We hitchhiked together. We played music together -- he on a keyboard, me on a drum kit. We strolled the railroad tracks together in Paterson, New Jersey, laying pennies on the rails and waiting for the train to pass so we could use the flattened coins for guitar picks.
We fished together, in rowboats, off riverbanks and bridges, in rivers and lakes, with worms and fish eggs, and lures and flies.
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And I remember these things as if we had done them all last weekend -- because we did them again and again and again, his outstretched hand leading me everywhere. I remember my times with my father as vividly as a great piece of music where you know every word, every note, every solo taken by every member of the band. You know it until it becomes part of you, until it becomes you.
He did that for me, and because he did, we will always travel together. As my father neared death, I put my hand in his as often as I could. I wanted him to know that I was with him on his final journey on earth.
The loss of my father has been painful, yet also strangely reaffirming because it has made me ever more aware of the rewards of our wonderful partnership. Perhaps the most consoling words came from a Fast Company colleague who has known me for less than a year: "Think of the legacy he left you -- a curiosity about life, a hunger for knowledge, a passion for the outdoors, an example of a life whose riches owe little to money, a sense that anything is possible if you work hard, a model of what a father should be. Those are all great gifts."
As he lay dying in a hospice bed, his last conscious words to me echoed my last words to him.
"I love you."
The words were spoken just days before his death, a beautiful and a complete ending to a remarkable relationship.