Last Friday my father passed away at the relatively young age of 63 from complications following an emergency double-by-pass surgery. Many of you already know this, but I wanted to share this post with you to honor his life and legacy, as I did when my mother passed a couple of years ago.
Those who knew my father know that he was the consummate optimist. He was famous for his proclamations during massive rain storms that he was seeing blue sky beyond the clouds, all in hope of getting back out on the golf course quickly.
With that in mind, I choose not to worry about his shortcomings, but to concentrate on what made him the remarkable person he was.
My father came from humble beginnings in post WWII Germany. He was born on March 18, 1946 in Eastern Germany and fled with his parents over the border when he was still a kid. After an intermediate stop, they relocated to Mainz, where his father worked as a contractor and his mother stayed home with him.
From an early age, his exceptional work ethic and smarts were obvious. He skipped two grades in middle- and high school and graduated early. All the while, he worked summers in the local concrete factory in Mainz-Weisenau. This was back-breaking labor, but he always told of his experience with a certain sense of nostalgia and appreciation.
After he had graduated from high school, he enrolled in University and studied Journalism, making him the first member of his family to go to University. He got called into national service and served 18 months in the German Army. Upon his discharge, he chose to switch majors to Economics.
He chose to become a financial planner for an American multi-national, which turned out to be a turning point in his life. For one, he was analytic, talented, and hard working, and he quickly succeeded in his new profession. Also, during this time my father developed an affinity for anything American.
At the peak of his career, my father was a successful Executive and Senior Portfolio Manager with a number of big-name firms in Frankfurt, Germany, but the recession of 2001/2002 ended his career in financial services.
Apart from being a very bright and hard working man, my father was also an exceptionally generous individual. When sacrifices needed to be made for the family, he didn’t ask any questions, but simply made the sacrifice. He donated for many years to support a village in Asia to help it build a school and hospital. He never advertised this fact…he didn’t want the recognition. He only wanted to help.
My father was a very talented athlete. Before there was professional basketball in Germany, he played for a top tier basketball team while attending University, and wasted no time picking up the game of golf in 1980 after watching Jack Nicklaus give a golf clinic at the Frankfurt Gold Club. Within a handful of years, he had learned playing golf and dragged us kids and our mother out to the golf course.
Despite his rugged, competitive and driven persona, my father had great appreciation of art. His massive collection of music, art, antique furniture, and books are just one hint of that. Cooking was another “art” he practiced. He was an amazing cook that was as comfortable making sushi as he was cooking French, Italian, and Middle Eastern food. He never needed a cookbook. He was naturally gifted and creative in the kitchen and could have easily opened a successful restaurant if he had wanted to.
Throughout his life, whether in professional or personal pursuits, his indomitable drive, competitiveness, perseverance, and generosity gave him the gift of instilling all the same values in those around him.
After my daughter was born, and after my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, I believe my dad re-discovered his spirituality, and showed a side I hadn’t seen in years. I know that he loved his grand children and that they meant everything to him. He wasn’t afraid to show this at all.
I am frightfully similar to my father in so many ways, and I can only thank him for making me the man I am. I will always be thankful for all the big and small things he did that influenced my life.
It’s with great regret that I think of my children never having the privilege to truly get to know their grandfather and to benefit from his life experience. His memory lives on, however, in my brother and I, and I will carry this banner proudly, just like I know he would want me to.