Life Lessons I Learned from Dad

I was always closer to Mom, so most of the stories I share are about her. 
This June would have been Dad’s 92nd birthday and it’s been sixteen years since he passed. So it’s time to share some of what I learned from him.

1. Be Clear with Your Lessons

Even though home was on Long Island, our family wasn’t big on trips into “the city.” New York was mainly for class trips, plays, and sports. So I found it odd that, when I was 11, after I had done something very stupid, Dad drove me to the Bowery. We just walked around, looking at the “bums” sleeping in doorways. And then we went home, with no further discussion about the trip. WTF Dad? Was I supposed to learn “this could be you if you don’t shape up” or “always be thankful” or “always be kind”? To this day I still don’t know the point of that trip!

2. Be Kind to Strangers

Dad loved being the cop on the corner of Sunrise Highway and Atlantic Avenue. One day, someone drove up to him and asked for directions to the next town. Dad kindly helped the man. Only thing: The guy had just robbed the bank on Dad’s corner, and then robbed the next bank that Dad helped him find. His fellow cops never let him live that one down! Still, he always helped everyone he could.

3. Live Life Fully

Dad’s father died in his early 50s. So once Dad hit that age, he kinda gave up. He figured he’d die soon, just like his dad. He missed a lot of the last 20 years of his life.

4. Be Humble, But Share Your Stories

It wasn’t until I was preparing his eulogy that I learned that, as a teenager, he had risked his life trying to save a younger boy from drowning. He never said a word about it. And the only way I learned of some of his WWII heroics was by going to his 3rd Armored Division reunions and talking to his war buddies. He never shared those stories either. He had lots more to teach me than what he actually shared.

5. Believe in Yourself

Dad always sold himself short. He always felt circumstances or others were more in charge of his life than he was. Thirty years ago at a party celebrating the opening of my business he asked, “But where’s your security?” “Here, Dad,” I said, pointing to my chest. He just couldn’t comprehend someone believing in themselves that much.

6. Don’t Wait to Say “I love you.”

Dad was never big on the emotions-thing. Even his anniversary cards to Mom were signed just “Don.” Mom died in 1994, Dad in 2000. Near the end of his battle with cancer he tearfully shared, “I miss your Mom.” It took him a lifetime to figure out that showing how much you love people matters. Lesson: Don’t wait. Tell everyone you love them now!

7. Our Values and Our Kids Are Our Legacy

My sisters turned out wonderfully and are great parents. Hopefully, some would say the same about me. Dad may not have believed in himself as much as I wished he had, and he had lots of shortcomings, but he raised three pretty cool kids, who are living the values we learned from a cop and a teacher. Each of us have taken the best of Nana and Pop-Pop and passed that on to their grandchildren.

PS to Values: As I was posting this, I cringed at the photo above: a reminder of how white-bread my 1950s—70s suburban community was. Back then, I knew very few people who looked different from us. And yet all three of us Jensen kids were raised to value diversity and love everyone. That flowed into a life and career committed to total diversity and universal love. Mom and Dad, thank you for that value, especially.

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 — by Bill Jensen 
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Bill’s latest book, Future Strong, is about the five deeply personal choices each of us must make to be ready for all the disruptive tomorrows heading our way.