When I was 12 years old, some friends and I decided that we were going to skip school. I was a somewhat rebellious pre-teen who figured a day without math and history was no big deal. We did what most dopey kids did back then. We listened to records (those of you over the age of 35 know what I’m talking about), smoked some cigarettes and looked for excuses to use as many swear words as possible in our riveting conversations.
As the day wore on, I knew that there was one task that I would have to complete to pull of this incredibly intricate and complicated caper. I was going to have to forge an absence note from my mother to bring to school the next day. Luckily for me, my mother had very little imagination when it came to such things. Since any of the Noonan kids had started school, my mother wrote the exact same absence letter every time.
“Due to illness, [insert child name here] was unable to attend school yesterday. Sincerely, Joyce Noonan”
Her handwriting was very conventional and not difficult to forge (even with my sloppy chicken scratch) so I felt confident that I could pull this off. I grabbed a notebook and began practicing. After about a dozen tries, I felt like I had the perfect note. I put it in one of my school books and was good to go.
That next day, I presented the note at school and went about my normal day. It seemed as if I had pulled off this epic adventure and no one would be the wiser. However, later that day, when I got home, I noticed my father’s car in the driveway. This was not a good sign. My father was never home during the day. I walked in the house and my father was sitting at the dining room table. He took one look at me as I walked in and calmly said “Have a seat”.
I sheepishly slid into a chair and looked across the table at him. Somehow I knew I was busted, but when you’re 12, you hold onto hope that maybe this was something else. Maybe he was going to surprise me with tickets to a ball game! My Dad then reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a dozen or so pieces of notebook paper. He slid them across the table toward me and simply said “Do you want to tell me about these?” I opened up the first folded sheet and there it was – my “practice notes” that I had worked so hard on the day before.
“Do you know where I found these?”, he said. “Your mother found them in the back pocket of your pants that you put in the laundry last night” (okay, I was 12 and admittedly an idiot; go easy on me).
He continued “I’m not pissed that you skipped school. I don’t even care where you went or why you did it. I’m pissed that you were stupid enough to leave these notes in your pants and then put them in the laundry.”
“That tells me that you’re not using your head. And when you’re not using your head, you’re likely to do something really stupid. Something that could get you hurt or killed. I can’t stop you from doing stuff like skipping school. I would just hope that in the future, you’d be smart enough to protect yourself”.
He then doled out my punishment (2 week grounding if I recall) and left me at the table. I’ve never forgotten that story and have told it countless times since that day. It clearly had an impact on me. But that was my Dad. He was more concerned with turning this incident into a life lesson that would hopefully make me a better man and help guide me through life.
This past week, my father passed away after a long battle with Cancer. We were fortunate enough through the extraordinary services of Hospice to have him at home and to have his family with him. I know that he died happy and loved. Through it all, he never lost his sense of humor and never stopped caring about everyone else’s needs more than his – that was just his way. In the end, it all happened very quickly and peacefully which was a blessing really. For those of you who weren’t able to get here in time to be with him – it’s okay, he knows how much you loved him and believe me, he loved you right back.
My story is not a unique one. If you talk to anyone he touched in his life, they would tell you a similar story. While sharing these stories with friends and family over the past several days, I suddenly realized; he may not be on this earth anymore, but he truly lives on within all of us. He always taught me that you can earn all the money, buy all the possessions and visit all the places in the world, but in the end, you can’t bring any of that with you. All you can hope is that you’ve given something of yourself to the others in your life. If you do that, you will live forever.
Suddenly it all makes perfect sense. I now feel very comforted by the fact that he really hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s right here with us all and always will be. And the best way I can honor his life will be to try as hard as I can to impact others as he did. When I think about it, he was a big inspiration in developing our company mission statement – “Be Kind, Do Good, Give Thanks”. These three simple phrases summed up how he lived his life and how I’ve always tried to live mine.
So thank you Dad for embedding that in me. I love you, I miss you, and I’ll never forget you. Everything I am today is because of you. Thanks for all the adventures and all the laughs. Thanks for encouraging me when I needed encouragement and for kicking me in the ass when I was an idiot. Thanks for always being there, any time, day or night when I just needed someone to talk to. Thanks for supporting me whenever I had some crazy new idea. You will live forever in me and in the hundreds if not thousands of other people you’ve touched. Have a safe journey and save me a seat on the other side, I’m sure I’ll have a lot of fun and crazy stories to share with you when I get there.