he morning of my Dad’s funeral dawned as another sunny day in Tucson. I had gone out for a walk at 6 am to write his eulogy in my head as I walked. When parents move to another city to retire, it is as though they join the witness protection program. All that they were, all that they accomplished, all the ways they were known, vanish. And they become known simply as the guy who plays golf at 7 or the woman who lives in the house at the corner. I had always wondered if I could give a eulogy for a parent. In that moment I knew that I could not have people who barely knew my Dad say good-bye to him.
As I was walking back, a woman walking her German Shepherd was coming toward me. I stopped to comment on her dog and learned the dog’s name was Bella. Bella was an important name to me. Bella was the name of “uncle’s” dog. Both “uncle” and Bella were gone long before I was born. I was fascinated by the stories my Dad would tell me about Bella: she understood only Yiddish, she grieved so when “uncle” died, no one knew how to console her. Meeting a dog named Bella the morning of my Dad’s funeral was like a sign from my Dad.
For the next few months I ran into many dogs named “Bella”. If I did not have some witnesses to the numerous Bella sightings, one would think I made them all up. I met a Bella at the Mall. I met a Bella at the park, a Bella in NYC, a Bella in Puerto Vallarta, and a Bella in Cleveland. Every time I met a Bella I thought my Dad was telling me he was OK. Every Bella sighting reminded me of my Dad and a story he had told me. The realization of the treasure trove of stories my Dad had told me was just beginning to germinate.
For 25 years my Dad and I spent 6 nights a week, 9 months of the year in the barn. Six nights a week I worked the two show horses. My Dad was always there to help me mount up. Like magic he then re-appeared 45 minutes later when I was ready to dismount. He was always there to hold the horses while they were bathed after a hard work-out. At the time, I didn’t think about how he just appeared, materializing out of seemingly thin air whenever I needed an extra pair of hands.
It was not until after he died that I began to remember all of the verbal jewels he had shared with me. Now in some small way you too can benefit from each and any of Herbie’s Hints. Six years ago I started writing Herbie’s Helpful Hint in my monthly newsletter. A collection of these hints have become my second book. Each hint begins with a story and ends with a lesson learned.
The story could be about his trek to the Ohio State v Michigan game as a young child. Or it could be about his experiences in Europe during WWII, or hiring the first African American salesman in the ’60’s. The hints span his refusal to let me keep a kitten to his evolution to making a heat activated box for a stray cat to live.
The lessons learned are always followed by a question to prompt the reader to apply my Dad’s hint:
- What is it not too late for you to do, to say, or to learn?
- Do you hold yourself to a “never give up” standard?
- Are you waiting for perfection or are you moving forward?
- How often do you give people the opportunity to fail as well as succeed?
- What do you make yourself do that you don’t really want to do?
Someone else’s Dad asked me how I remember so many things my Dad told me over the years. Perhaps I remember because of the amount of time he spent with me. My Dad didn’t just tell me. He worked with me, he coached me, he videotaped me riding and showing horses, he cheered me, and he held up an honest mirror to me.
Whether it was my Dad running behind me as I learned how to ride my bicycle without training wheels, or running behind me at a horse show with a towel and a hairbrush (for the horse of course). He was always behind me.
I have gathered from the reaches of my memory the tips he had bestowed upon me over the years. Now in some small way you too can benefit from each and any of Herbie’s Hints.