Friday morning my dad passed away after a bout with cancer. The thing about cancer is that it zaps you of your strength long before it kills you. My dad’s world shrank as his illness progressed, confined first to the city, then the hospital, a wheelchair, and finally his bed. What never shrank was his spirit. And what will never shrink was what he left with me.
I learned many things from my dad. Little things, like my love for the piano and the music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin. And big things, like the value of education. To be sure, not all the lessons he taught me stuck. A devout Catholic, he wanted to teach me his faith and his love of it more than anything else. But that one lesson didn’t stick with me, any more than did his love of opera or boxing.
Like the main characters in The Lives of Others, my father was a flawed man, but deep down, he was also a very good man. There are many ways I will remember him, but the way I want to remember the most is by remembering the big lessons he taught me.
The most important lesson was simply this: Do the right thing. My dad never expected others to do right by him, but he always tried to do right by them. And doing right was not a matter of karma or good will. It was simply the right thing to do, its own reward.
Something else I learned from him was to accept what we could not control, and to do it with class. We all have to face adversity at some point in our lives, and how we do so is important.
Even more important is how we deal with success. When my dad moved to Houston, he was polishing up his resume one last time. It was typewritten, and my mom asked me to help him with it, to bring it up to the computer age. I was absolutely shocked to see what he had accomplished. I knew he was a physician, and a good one. But I didn’t realize quite how good he was until I read what he had accomplished in medicine in four different countries and two completely different specialties. But that wasn’t the sort of thing he would go on about.
And that success did not come easy. That was the last lesson I learned from my dad. I remember when he was switching specialties. He would come home from work, and he would sit in his study, surrounded by piles of thick medical books. I didn’t realize then how rare it was for an adult to do something like that. But that was my dad.
Years later, I was applying to graduate school at the University of Texas. I had been out of school for a couple of years, and I was afraid I had forgotten much. So I studied. I came home from work, and I sat in my study, surrounded by piles of thick computer science books. Others have remarked that I am a “complete” computer scientist, someone with a broad knowledge of the field. It all comes time to that time with those books, a lesson I learned from my dad.
And that’s how I want to remember him. Oh, I have other memories of him, memories of traveling to Europe, Disney World, Hershey Park; memories of Christmases and birthdays; memories of Lincoln Center; memories of him, playing Bach’s Italian Concerto on the piano; many other memories. But the one I want to hang onto more than any other is my memory of him, probably around my age right now, sitting in his study with those books and working on his second career as a physician.