Endings. They’re inevitable, and often horrible.
Because we don’t want things to fail. We don’t go into something new thinking, well, this is definitely going to end with at least ONE party being unhappy about it.
And it’s good that we feel that way. How many of us would try anything if that was our mindset? This goes beyond being anxious or overwhelmed about a new project or relationship…that’s just normal. I simply mean that if our focus was always on the conclusion rather than the process of the journey, life would be a lot less fun.
Ugh, Christmas NIGHT? We’ll have all that wrapping paper to pick up and dishes to do and everyone’s leaving at once and where are we even going to PUT all those presents? Let’s just skip the whole thing this year.
So it is that we often don’t think about things…until we can’t change them. Things we should have said, or done. Regrets. Chances we didn’t take because we were scared or busy or whatever reason we tell ourselves later, at 3 a.m. when sleep is once again eluding us and we’re twisted in anguish because our last words with someone were angry, or because we never did take that trip we’d always talked about, and now it’s too late.
We recently lost my father-in-law, who truly, and I mean TRULY, was one of the most purely beautiful human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. My husband, who is another one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, lost the man he looked up to the most. And it is absolute bullshit.
I also have a father who is a beautiful human being. And I just don’t tell him enough. We’re not wordy like that. He’s a coach, and a CPA, and a person who intensely dislikes the limelight. He’s always deeply within his head, so if you want to connect with him, you need to be well-versed on any one of the following subjects: politics. Sixties music (bonus points for British-invasion-style). And sports, specifically baseball and softball (but you could get away with KU basketball or ‘Huskers football, too).
I spent my childhood following him. I went to his games. I sat in countless dusty ballparks and watched raptly as he and his tanned, wisecracking teammates shot the shit between dingers.
I went to his office during tax season and made my own “office” in the space under his desk.
When he decided to buy the town’s shuttered and outdated old movie theater, I was there as often as I could be throughout the process. After we opened, I did everything I could to help. It was mostly cleaning. But it was something.
I quickly realized that I could connect with him if I played sports, too. Once he saw that I was serious about softball and basketball, he stepped in…and began to coach.
Although he is quietly successful at everything he does, my father truly shines as a coach. I watched all of my teammates fall in love with him and wish that he could be their dad. I grudgingly shared him, but I always recognized the pure joy that coaching gave him.
Another thing my father did was to quietly teach me life lessons. He would frequently do this through song or movie quotes, but when he did offer those words, I listened. His words, reserved and rare, carried that much more weight as a result. Jim Novak chooses his words carefully, so when he does use them on you, it’s important to listen.
For those of you who aren’t lucky enough to know my dad, here is a Top Nine list of the things that he has taught me. Nine is my favorite number. It was my softball number. It’s the number of players on a baseball team. To me, nine is the answer to everything.
Those of you who do know him, especially his team members throughout the decades, have probably heard most of these before.
9. TCB. This stood for Takin’ Care of Business, a song by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Any time I had to throw one more strike, or rush the net one more time, my dad would simply tell me “TCB.” There was no need for a motivational speech in these situations, because frankly, there wasn’t time. Just be takin’ care of business, every day. And be takin’ care of business, every way.
8. Ain’t got time to bleed. This line came from Jesse Ventura in PREDATOR, and was very timely given that I was starting team sports in earnest that same year. I can’t tell you how many times he has told me this, first as a way of reminding me to shake off acute injury, but later…to remind me to stand up and keep going when it was my heart that had taken the beating.
7. Life sucks, get a helmet. Denis Leary in his stand-up days. This was reserved for those moments when I was in my own head, throwing the grandest pity party for one that I could mentally construct. Dad often said this one with a little laugh, to soften the blow, but there was never any doubt he meant it. I credit him extra for grasping these words and using them, because I think it caused me to examine my early dramatic tendencies and look at things in a more detached, practical way. Don’t get me wrong…I absolutely react to things. But I make myself pause first and wonder how important it will be in a year. And then, how helpful it will be to act like a child in front of someone. The answers are typically that it will NOT be important, nor will it be helpful.
6. Pick up for yourself, plus one more. As we traveled from ballpark to ballpark, motel to motel, both of my parents came down squarely against littering. While my mom’s mantra was to leave a place better than we find it, my dad’s was to pick up after myself, then pick up for one extra person. I do that to this day, and it’s so much muscle memory that I don’t always realize it’s happening.
5. Ask not for whom the bell tolls…the bell tolls for you. This originated from a sermon by John Donne, and was reserved for moments of self-doubt and comparison. It remains the hardest lesson for me to take to heart. My dad spent countless hours teaching me to be mentally tough…we even had a VHS tape on the topic. When I picked up tennis, a sport he knew nothing about, he bought those mental toughness tapes and a couple of books, and then taught me how to re-center myself after every point, whether good or bad. While I do still catch myself veering off into the abyss of fear and loathing all. the. time…I can also still mentally go through the steps of re-centering frequently, and proceed with a fresh outlook.
4. The look of surprised disappointment. I feel like one of the most important lessons the man with few words taught me was that of the zero-word reaction. In the awful time that was puberty, I became a real asshole. Most of my general teenage shittiness was directed at my poor mother, but my father always called my attention to it with a series of facial movements conveying surprise, then absolute sadness mixed with a vague disdain. It was terrifying. While this expression didn’t really continue past my first miserable failure of a semester at college, I find myself questioning some of my less-than-stellar actions by wondering if they would earn the Jim Novak Face of Disapproval. Whether I decide they would or wouldn’t, I try to automatically adjust my behavior accordingly…because if I have to ask, it probably means I suck as a person in that moment.
3. Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friends. This is from one of my favorite Beatles songs, “We Can Work it Out” and is probably the quote my father has reminded me of the most. He has offered it to me in my hottest-tempered moments, and in times when I haven’t talked much about a conflict, but he knew it was on my mind. His gentle delivery has always had the biggest impact on me.
2.If. This beautiful piece by Rudyard Kipling hung in my dad’s office lobby for years, and I had it memorized by the time I was 13. It speaks to who my dad is, and I watched him prove his mastery of these lessons through many times of turmoil in his own life.
If you can keep your head when all about youAre losing theirs and blaming it on you,If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,But make allowance for their doubting too;If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;If you can meet with Triumph and DisasterAnd treat those two impostors just the same;If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spokenTwisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:If you can make one heap of all your winningsAnd risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,And lose, and start again at your beginningsAnd never breathe a word about your loss;If you can force your heart and nerve and sinewTo serve your turn long after they are gone,And so hold on when there is nothing in youExcept the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,If all men count with you, but none too much;If you can fill the unforgiving minuteWith sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
1. Don’t Quit. If I’m being honest, I have a lot of quit in me. I’m hard on myself, and I blame me for everything. My tendency is to say, well, you screwed this up, best get on your way. What initially kept me going, and keeps me going still, are these words. My dad drilled them into my head early and often, and gave me a framed print of this that I’ve kept on every bedside table I’ve had since. It followed me after my failures, and it followed me after my successes. And it taught me the most important lesson that repeats in my mind through every tearful, doubtful moment: rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a failure comes about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.
In learning these life lessons, however, I have acquired enough inner poise and outward composure that I find it difficult to reach out to my dad as an adult. He’s busy, either lining up a softball dynasty for generations to come or slogging through another six months of all the stages of tax season.
I miss him being my coach…and I miss him being my dad. In the past 25 years, we haven’t had the relationship we did for the for the first 17, and I know that a lot of it is because we’re basically the same person. Neither of us is great at the grand gesture, the emotional reunion. I’ve wanted him to be proud of me, but in my mind, I haven’t given him many reasons to be proud. So…I’ve stayed away. But, well, life is very short.
I didn’t become a coach (officially)…Christian covered that one. I didn’t become an accountant…none of us did, and I think it’s because we saw the horrible toll it can take on a person’s mental strength. Hug your accountant, people. Just kidding. Do not do that. They are mostly introverted and don’t want the attention.
But I did go into the movie business. When my dad came and visited me last December, and saw an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for the first time…I felt for the first time that I had made him proud.
Thank you, dad. Please know that every day, I carry your words with me. Please know that every day, I love you. And please know that every day, I’m still the girl with the long, tangled hair who wanted to be just like her amazing father.