5 Life Lessons I Learned From My Dad
by Linda Croyle March 11, 2015
My father would have been 90 years old today. Robert "Bob" Croyle passed away almost 6 years ago after living with Alzheimer’s for a dozen years. A sweet sadness washes over me as I sit in remembrance of him and the lessons he shared with me and countless others over his 84 years of life as a son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, teacher, coach, mentor and friend.
1) Be A Friend To All
Dad (far left) with 3 of his closest friends from
grade school at their annual Cottage gathering
My father personified the expression “he never met a stranger”. He stayed in the area he grew up in and became a teacher, coach, guidance counselor and vice principal at a local high school for most of his working years, and as result, was fairly well known. And, if he didn’t know you, he would walk right up to you with an outstretched hand, and greet you with a friendly shake and a: “Hi. Bob Croyle!”
Whether my parents were in a store or a restaurant, they invariably knew a quarter of the people present. As kids, we didn’t always appreciate the interruptions, or the length of time it took us to come or go from these places, but I see now how that shaped all six of us to be more outgoing and friendly, and to initiate and cultivate rich and diverse friend and work networks that we might not otherwise have been blessed to have.
2) Be The Kind of Person the Yearbook Gets Dedicated To…Twice (or…Bring Out the Best in Others)
Indian River Central School Yearbook Dedication 1980
As friends and family reflected on my father’s influence on them at his memorial service, they spoke of his very quiet, yet powerful way of steering people toward the best of who they were.
I vividly remember one hot summer night in my teens, when I was pitching in a league championship softball game; I was off my game from thinking too much, and my pitching was getting progressively worse. My father, not one to interject in the moment (though not at all shy about critiquing my performance after the game), walked over to me between innings and calmly and pointedly told me: “This is not who you are. You are so much more than what you are feeling and what you are showing right now. Go back out there and give what you know you are capable of.”
It was a life changing experience for me and not just in that moment, but also for the long term, as it taught me the importance of being a mirror for others when I am in the position to more clearly see their goodness, talent and brilliance than they can see on their own.
3) Have a Place to Go Where You Feel at Peace
The family (minus Jeff) posing at the Cottage circa 1970
When I was two years old, my parents bought a small cottage on a bay of Lake Ontario in Upstate NY about 20 minutes from our home. Summers were hot and muggy in our hometown of Watertown NY, and this quieter, cooler, slower paced location, with its fixer-up cabin and weedy yard was my father’s refuge.
We moved down there the day school let out each summer and stayed there till the day before school started each Fall. Along the way, it also became my favorite place in the world. No matter where I have lived in this country, each summer I return to the cottage on Chaumont Bay to feel that slower pace and sense of peace and home I loved so much as a kid who was lucky enough to have grown up there.
4) There’s Nothing Like the Feeling of Having Done It Yourself
Dad helping my brother Marty install a flag pole in his yard.
My father was the original DIYer. Borne out of necessity from growing up in a family with little money, Dad became a jack-of-all-trades. And while not exactly a master at any, he got points for creativity – give him some duct tape and plastic tubing from an old hair dryer and voila, you have a sink drain pipe!
I was lucky enough to be around for many of the on-going maintenance and home improvement projects – laying carpet, painting baseboards, paneling every room in the house (and I mean every room), taking apart broken radios, you name it. As a result, I am not afraid to fix or build anything.
And while this can sometimes backfire – like when you have to call the plumber to undo the fix you have attempted and this extra step costs $75/hour – the rewards have been invaluable. The pride and sense of accomplishment I feel each time I view something I have created myself is beyond measure. I have my father to thank for that.
5) Exhibit Patience, Love, and Joy at Every Turn
Mom and Dad not taking themselves too seriously
When you have six kids and your sole income is a teacher’s salary (in the 60s, 70s and early 80s), you have a choice to make – you can either complain and focus on how hard life can be, or you can choose to see the good, have as much fun as possible, and make the most of your time here on this planet. My parents chose the latter and for that I am forever grateful.
My father sang and cracked jokes my entire life, even in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. He had his favorite sayings: “I’m ready’s brother” and “vah socks du” and favorite songs: “Did Your Mother Come From Ireland“ and "They Didn't Believe Me" that he would repeat over and over again; I think it brought him peace and a sense of something more stable to hold on to as his world seemed to grow smaller and smaller.
And patience is probably the final and most lasting quality I learned from my Dad. As the father I knew slipped further and further away as his condition progressed, I needed to call upon every ounce of patience and compassion I could, to be as present, joyful and loving with him in those final years as he had been to me and all the people he touched in his life along his journey.
It was this last lesson that I treasure the most.
Happy Birthday Dad!