The path we follow through life is a funny thing. And it’s been on my mind these past couple of weeks with the very unexpected news that my father had been taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a rapidly-progressing terminal illness. And so I went to New York to see him one last time, and he passed away peacefully just 4 days later.
My dad’s road was different from mine – his was straighter. Although he had no formal education past high school (he’d received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, but his family insisted he go to work instead), he had a voracious appetite for learning, far more common sense than most, and a genuine talent for mechanics, electronics, and photography. And so he spent his entire career working for the same medium-sized newspaper in southwestern New York, in spite of job offers from around the country.
Growing up with him was a real experience. He surrounded me with opportunities to learn. The house was full of not only tools and equipment – we had a well-equipped wood and metalworking shop, an electronics shop, and a darkroom – but of publications such as Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Popular Electronics, and Science & Mechanics. Family vacations nearly always consisted of trips to science museums – the Ontario Science Center, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the Smithsonian, Boston’s Museum of Science. But more importantly, I lived with a man who took my frequent “whys” and “hows” seriously, and made every effort to give me complete and accurate answers regardless of the subject.
Perhaps the best lesson of all, though, was his general outlook on life. My father never spoke of “success” as having anything to do with how much money or property someone had. For him, it was a combination of love for what you do, pride in a job well done, and a willingness to share what you have with others. And according to that definition, I have to say he was the most successful person I’ve ever known.
My father also loved poetry, so it seems fitting to finish up this very brief tribute to a fascinating man with one of Robert Frost’s most notable poems –
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.Robert Frost
You, indeed, have made all the difference for me, Dad, and I am eternally grateful for it. You never took the easy road yourself, but you paved the way for many others to have a safer and easier journey. You inspired and equipped me to pursue my own path, and I am the better man for it. I’ll miss your smile, your generosity, and your wealth of knowledge on a great many subjects you were always so willing to share. I truly hope we’ll meet again some day – perhaps on the other side of Frost’s yellow wood…