Careers (And Life) Are Short; Take The Time To Celebrate

Some days are more memorable than others; some weeks remain etched into our brains for eternity. So, yes, James Earl Jones, memories can be so thick that people will have to brush them away from their faces, especially when they are tied to strong emotions.  That is why my generation so vividly remembers where they were when those planes struck on 9/11, the generation before when JFK was shot, and why kids remember debates, field trips, experiments, and when Tommy threw up in Kindergarten and quickly forget the monotony of dittos, lectures, and work books.  

This week has been one of those weeks for me, a week I am sure I will not soon forget.  It started with the panicked call from my father’s wife on Mother’s Day. Frank was rushed to the hospital, being resuscitated and in grave shape. The news got worse and worse as the hospital staff explained he was septic, had internal bleeding, and was basically being kept alive by the marvels of modern medicine. They prepared us for the worst and celebrated when he made it through the night.

It is no surprise to anyone who has read any of my pieces that I have a complex relationship with my father. He has made mistakes as we all have and I have my grievances that I still hold onto. Yet, you are never ready to see your father, a man who you once saw as invincible hooked up to a ventilator, with a look of terror in his eyes as death knocked on his door. It is an emotional rollercoaster that makes you quickly realize that maybe you should take more time to celebrate the good times, the successes, the lessons, the love given and less time holding onto the errors, the disappointments, and the flaws.  

The calls of concern, the text messages, the friends who visited the hospital and the people picking up the slack for me at work made it much easier, but it didn’t take away the pain, the conflicted feelings, the guilt, and sadness. Why didn’t I celebrate the positives more? Why did I publicize my anger in my writings? Why didn’t I do more to let my dad know that, despite everything, I loved him, learned from him, and wouldn’t be who I am without his guidance, love, and, yes, even his craziness?

My closest friends wanted to know why I was coming to work. My wife and my work mom were annoyed with my stubbornness and insistence to try to do it all. My friend Mike seemed to get it though; work was a distraction, doing what I loved helped give me an escape and a sense of normalcy.  

It is amazing how quickly time can move, a 30 year career over in a blink of an eye, a parent gone before you are ready, and the need for freaking reading glasses all of a sudden. This reality hit me Tuesday night driving home from the hospital. Dad had survived a scare where the raging infection in his body caused his temperature to spike to 107. In the middle of the night on the lonely, nearly deserted NYS Thruway, it hit me I may never speak to my father again.  

I became emotional (for the 100th time this week) and the waterworks flowed, but it also opened my eyes up a bit.  I wanted to make sure I took the time to tell the people I respect how I really feel about them, apologize for mistakes I have made and, most importantly, celebrate the accomplishments and the good.  I had some success and some failure, but hope to do better tomorrow.

Celebrating three amazing teachers who were getting tenure was the highlight of my day. Seeing the look of pride on their faces when future tenure candidates were told that these three educators are what each of them should strive to be was also another emotional moment in an emotional week for me. Yet it was not hard to do because I meant every word of what I said. If the 30 educators in that room are as caring, invested, and positive as Dorothy, Melissa, and Kristen, our District will be a great place for kids for years to come.

Our careers are short, our opportunity to make a difference goes quick. Be sure to take the time to celebrate, to tell people how you feel, to look out for those you care about, before it is too late.

On my long trek to St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie my mood was a little lighter tonight than it had been in a while, not just because I was open enough to speak from the heart today, but because I had received word that Frank’s condition had improved. The ventilator was removed, fever in check, and he was speaking. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. Last night he had a 107 fever; tonight he was holding court with his visitors.  He was as sharp witted and sharped tongued as ever. He talked about himself, how great he was, how many people he helped in his life, and how amazing his recovery was. In the past this would have bothered me; I would have been embarrassed and annoyed, but tonight I just smiled because he is right. He is all of those things and I love him. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to tell him that.

Tomorrow is a new day. It is my goal to celebrate the good, overlook the bad, and tell those who I care about exactly how I feel. I hope you will consider trying to do the same yourself.