I have many role models, some famous, some not. Most of them are women. Especially after I became a mother, I looked to mothers with different kinds of jobs and different kinds of philosophies as examples as I figured out my own path. But, if I had to choose one role model, there is no doubt it would be my father.
His work ethic is enviable; his modesty even more so. He doesn’t need public praise or external validation. In fact, he wouldn’t like it if I told him I was writing this essay. He never talked about working hard to us, his six kids, but he did not have to. We all knew. We knew that the comfortable life we had was in suburban Long Island because of that hard work. My father lived the American dream, or North American dream — he is Canadian, after all. He climbed the socioeconomic ladder though his hard work in a way that is lamentably rare today.
He was born to working class parents in a suburb of Toronto. It’s hard not to describe him as an overachiever, skipping two grades, valedictorian of his class. He played on multiple sports teams but it was hockey where he really excelled, catching the attention of the Cornell hockey coaches who traveled north to recruit him. There was no money for college. He and his brother had scholarships and multiple jobs. My dad waited tables at his fraternity in exchange for room and board.
He was playing in the training camp of the Toronto Maple Leafs when he decided he wanted to be a lawyer, and not a professional hockey player. Again, there was no money (by now his father had died of a heart attack) so he researched scholarships and worked his way through his JD/MBA at Cornell, making his way to New York City afterwards.
He worked a lot when I was young (and still does) but I never felt neglected by him. In fact, the strong bond I have with him has eased my fears during times when I was not seeing my kids as much as I would have liked.
I have seen each of the six of us seek his counsel on major and minor life decisions. It’s not just his approval we want, but we enjoy having him with us as we choose our paths. All of us now live very near him in New York — five in Manhattan and the youngest at his house in the suburbs, a testament of sorts to the bond we all feel to both my parents and to each other.
My father wouldn’t mind if all six of his kids and his three grandchildren lived in his house. The more the merrier may be a cliché, but it was his motto — my mom says they did not have six kids on purpose, but I know that my dad would have loved to have even more. We frequently had friends around the house to add to the chaos; at one point we even had two teenaged Russian hockey players living with us as exchange students. When we have dinner together now, if most of his kids are there, he is wont to remark, “We have five out of six here!” And if there are all six, that’s a bullseye. “All the kids are here, Amy,” he will tell my mom. (Usually she’ll say, half seriously, “Maybe we should take a Christmas picture.”)
In 2004, when I found out I was having twins weeks after graduating law school, I was pretty upset about it. Where would I fit them in my apartment? How would I handle two kids at once? But my dad was thrilled. “Twins!” he said. “How wonderful! You get to start with two!”
My third daughter, two-year-old Charlotte, was a little slow talking, but she was definitely listening. She heard me, my siblings, and often my mother, call my father “Dad” in person and on the phone. One day, around her second birthday this February, she just started calling him Dad, like we do, as distinct in her mind from her own father, Daddy. We tried to tell her it’s Grandpa John (which sounds a bit like “Ganka Don” when she says it) but she mostly sticks with “Dad.”
Just the other day, my father came over to my apartment for dinner. Charlotte looked up from her blocks, saw him and let out a shriek of joy. She ran towards him and stretched out her chubby arms. He picked her up and embraced her, and she patted his back. She looked over at me and said, “It’s my Dad.”
Yup, that’s our Dad.