By Rick Lingberg
I found it in my folk’s old safe. It had been stored in my basement since my parents moved out of the old house in 2007. I rarely opened the safe, but Mom had me on an expedition to find her Social Security card. I didn’t find the card, but what I did discover took my breath away.
It was in an old, yellowed envelope. On the outside, it said,
“Rick’s at graduation time from 12th grade.”
Inside was a letter typed on onionskin paper. It was dated May 24, 1971, the day of my high school commencement, and the letter was from my dad.
Whatever happened to the past eighteen years? Before we got a chance to talk to you about the birds and bees, you could tell me – in Latin.
I’ll be honest—I was a Catholic altar boy; however, aside from a few memorized Mass liturgy responses, I knew very little about the ancient language of the early Church and even less about the “birds and the bees.” But I was eighteen an age that marked the epitome of my perceived intelligence. If I could only know a tenth of what I thought I did then, I’d be ten times smarter than I actually am now. I think Dad knew that, and even though he wrote that letter on my graduation day for my enlightenment, he may have thought better of it and put it in the vault for safe-keeping for a time when I’d better appreciate it. As it turns out, that would be 45 years later.
As a teenager, I’m sure I figured my dad didn’t know much about anything, but apparently, all that time walking around on his mail route (28 years as a city letter carrier) gave him time to ponder a few things. Some of those ponderings made it into the letter:
Get up when you fall down. To a quite naive youth, that simply meant that, if you trip, stumble or fall, don’t just lay there, get up—dah! Actually, what he wanted me to know was that life would knock me around a bit but that this wouldn’t make me unique or abnormal, just human. It’s just a part of living—get on with it.
Do what your own ideals demand and seek what your heart desires. Dad once had our house jacked up off its foundation, dug out a basement and “hired” his buddies, compensated with all the free beer they could drink, to lay cement blocks. When he got an idea in his head, nothing would stop him from getting it done. He wanted me to know not to let a little dirt get in the way of accomplishing my dreams. By the way, those basement walls ended up being miraculously straight.
Find work that interests you and stick with it. He did, walking 15 miles per day delivering important letters and packages to mail patrons through rain and sleet and…well, you know the creed. Me, I’ve been telling stories for 41 years. Message received.
Have strong convictions but don’t deny the other fellow to have strong convictions, too. Time is going to teach you patience, even with impatience…tolerance, even for intolerance. If nothing else, it’s gotten me through this year’s presidential debates. Apparently most of the candidates didn’t get their letters.
Don’t drink or smoke too much, [and] leave the dope for the insecure. Life has a way of overcharging a fellow for overindulgence. No truer a lesson could he have taught than he did that night in 1977 at Nick Farley’s Lounge (NFL) in Dallas, Texas. Me and Dad, throwing darts and drinking too much tap beer: overindulging at the NFL really overcharged us the next morning. Lesson given—lesson learned.
Even though it took 45 years to get the letter, I somehow knew every word of what he typed on graduation day in 1971. You see, my dad didn’t just write those words; he lived them and shared them every day by his actions, character, humility and good humor. He was the letter.
Dad died on June 18, 2010.
The letter: best Father’s Day present ever.
If you wish to read the (original) letter, click here.