My dad, Joe Mackey, was a caring and affectionate father who enjoyed having his six children and 18 grandchildren around — and always found a way to share a lesson that would serve us well in the future.
We didn’t always know it at the time, however. Once when was I home from college an old boyfriend showed up unexpectedly. I did not want to see him. I figured I’d just sit this one out. So I stayed upstairs, hoping someone else would ward him off.
Nuh-uh. My father’s shadow darkened the doorway and I remember the look on his face.
My father’s shadow darkened my bedroom doorway and I remember the look on his face.
“Your friend is here,” he said.
“Tell him to go away,” I said.
“That’s something you need to do,” he said. Pause. “And I’m sure you’ll find a way.”
He didn’t yell, judge or criticize, but I remember having the unmistakable impression this was my issue to tackle.
The doorbell kept ringing; the dog kept barking. Finally I went downstairs, opened the door, found a way to be gracious at age 18 — and ended up having a decent conversation with a guy who just wanted his old girlfriend to know he was doing OK.
The nerve-wracking incident was soon over and he was gone. I had survived. All these years later, it seems so silly, but Dad’s guidance and direction taught that teenage me a lot about taking care of your own business and holding your head high in the process.
My two sons and two stepsons have learned so much from him over the years. Though he’s been gone a year now and we miss him terribly, his gemlike lessons taught with kindness and love linger on:
- Try new things without fear. Take a risk now and then. You might happen upon a favorite sport, hobby or passion.
- Articulate yourself clearly and stand behind your words. Say what you mean and mean what you say. With my dad, if you weren’t clear about something he’d ask you to clarify yourself. And for an important message from a child or grandchild, he had all the time in the world.
- Set a goal, work toward accomplishing it, and use what you learn from it for the next goal.
- Pray. A lifelong practicing Catholic, Dad went to church every week and often more than that to work on his personal relationship with Jesus, he told me. He read the Bible at night and carried verses in his wallet. Every so often he would take them out and read them. At family gatherings, he led prayers to God before every meal at every special occasion. We learned the value of prayer from his example.
- Be fit and stay fit. Dad played college basketball on a scholarship and went on to be a winning grammar school coach in northern N.J. He believed in exercise that was fun and naturally integrated into the course of the day. As kids we swam, went hiking, went fishing, rode bicycles, played tennis, golfed, played kickball, ran, did gymnastics, threw any old ball around and just did something. There was very little sitting around twiddling thumbs. He knew the value of moving around before it became a thing.
- Be a good friend. You’ll have good friends in return. Dad often picked up the phone to see how someone was doing. People were always surprised by that. If a friend of his had a favorite meal, movie, song or expression, he remembered it. He was kind, funny and made people feel good. If someone needed help, he was there and would enlist others in the cause. He never expected anything in return. It was just part of his everyday thinking.
- Show you care by being there. My father’s one-on-one relationship with each member of the family spoke volumes. Is this the kind of characteristic mentioned in a personal bio? Probably not. But at a time of 24/7 work, a ubiquitous Internet, cell phones in every hand and a million and one other distractions, if you were in my dad’s caring crosshairs – you never forgot it. Thank you, Dad!