3 Things I Learned (and I Am Still Learning) From My Dad
John Edward Heffernan, III (February 10, 1934 – January 20, 2019)
The first thing I learned from my Dad is to do things you are interested in. I learned many things from, many of which I still do, such as running, cross country skiing, building with wood. He learned all these, many of them also were not popular at the time. And he taught me that if you fall or make a mistake, learn from it, and get back up or try again.
If you go by my parents’ house now, you see his handiwork everywhere – signs, cutting boards, furniture, rock walls, tables, and coasters and I’m sure many of you are proud recipients of these things.
When I think back to my childhood, many memories center around my Dad. Playing catch in backyard is one, which we would do for hours. I realized later how hard that can be after a long day of work. He never pressured me to do team sports even though that was so important to him as a three-season varsity player in high school (baseball, basketball, and football) and a varsity football player in college for Northeastern. Though I was not a big sports kid growing up, now I keep in shape running and coach team sports!
He and my son Aidan were both big sports fan and they could talk for hours about sports. While I am happy to know most of the players on my favorite team like the Patriots and Red Sox, Aidan and Dad would start with the Patriots discussing the pros and cons of different players and what kind of season they were having, then they would move onto other pro teams. But it did not end there! Then they would start on their favorite college teams. Next came baseball and basketball!
I also remember much Dad time in the finished basement on Gordon Avenue with Colleen (before Tim) hanging out playing Rummy 500, eating oranges on paper towels, and eating peanut butter crackers, Dad doing crossword with tattered crossword dictionary at his side, watching TV shows together like Laugh-in, Wide World of Sports, Wild Kingdom, and the Munster’s. It was important time of just being together. Not doing but just being.
So, he taught me to love and just be with your kids. I was reminded of this even more by the photos that I found getting ready for the service. Look at the Christmas photo on second page of the program. There’s Dad just beaming at center of his family.
I had always thought my own vocation of being a teacher was from the teachers on mother’s side, my mother and grandmother, but I realized just now from looking at photos of Dad with his grandkids and me as a kid that it came from Dad too.
Looking at the photos of me and my Dad in France around 1961, that not all dads at the time played with their kids like that at the time. Cousins reminded me today that he was the fun uncle with white hair that got down on the floor and played with them.
When I got a text message (I was both dreading and expecting) to call my sister, I was checking out at the grocery store. A very attractive young women starting to chat me up and I knew Dad was channeling me. Dad was always popular with the ladies. We were amazed how al the nurses treated him and called him “dear” and “honey”. Even the hospice nurses at the end of his life (when he was no longer conscious) would say, “Oh, John, you are so handsome” or “John, your skin is so smooth.” So even though he was a handsome man and popular with the ladies but always loyal.
I was remined of that yesterday, when we observed two bobcats right in parents’ backyard for about an hour, a very uncommon occurrence. They were at different distances from each other but moved together as a couple.
Last night’s when we had dinner at his house, it was hard to see his iconic Red Sox hat nearby and not have him there. But he was there in spirit. Driving home from the grocery store the night he died, I felt an immense sadness but also a great sense of well-being as I witnessed the most amazing sunset clouds as if Dad was telling me that everyone was as it should be and that he had lived a long and full life.
Thank you for being here and I am sure many of you have similar stories and feelings I would love to hear.