I read Tim Russert's Big Russ and Me back in 2004. The following was a review I wrote and sent to Russert shortly after reading his book. That lead to my father being included in his next book, Wisdom of Our Fathers, page 35. Like my father, Tim Russert died way too soon.
“Ideas are important and words matter. What they know you can learn. But what you know, they will never learn. Remember: None of these guys has ever worked on a garbage truck.” Page 261
This was advice that Daniel Patrick Moynihan gave Russert when he was working for the senator. Big Russ & Me is a reminder that street sense, common sense and doing the right thing are fundamental to a successful life. Having a father as a role model of these truths not only helps to make each of us to become successful but also is the hallmark of our father’s life success.
Big Russ & Me was full of flashbacks to memories of my father and reminded me of the love and compassion he gave me. The greatest education comes from life’s experiences not from a college education. To be able to apply these lessons is to make a better life, a successful life.
Russert shares stories of growing up in South Buffalo, New York. Big Russ worked two jobs to provide for his family, setting a strong work ethic. Big Russ on details: you need for a firm handshake, remember names, walk your talk, put your garbage out with care and attention to make it easier on others, do honest work for honest pay and be on time.
The one big difference between my father and Big Russ was security and opportunity. Big Russ sought security. My father sought opportunity. I did not realize how much risk my father had taken back in the ‘60’s when he bought a small business. As he told me, “I’d rather be the head of a herring than the tail of a whale!” Working side by side with my father after getting my college degree was every bit as much of an education as my college experience.
My father made real sacrifices. He taught me how to delegate, how to forgive, how to fail forward, how to tell a good joke and how to practice humility. “He lived his life by the grace of daily obligations.” Page 74
Like Big Russ, my father always bought peanuts before going to the ballgame. I still make it a practice today. A small ritual to pay tribute to times we spent together.
Like Big Russ, my father had a very strong sense of who he was. He, too, had no interest in stepping out of character and becoming someone he wasn’t. (Page 218). I remember a favorite line my father use to say, “If you don’t like my peaches, then don’t shake my tree.”
Russert recalls other great teachers in his life including Moynihan. I too reflect on the great teachers in my life and pause to celebrate what they gave to me, especially their greatest gift - time. Some of those great teachers included: Mrs. Schreiber, my petite, tough as nails high school Latin teacher who taught me the importance of practice; Dr. Fonaro, my college anthropology professor, who taught me to continuously challenge my thinking; and Dave Wise, my high school math teacher, who taught me that learning could be fun.
There is an exercise that I do with groups that underscores this. I ask people to write down the names of last year’s richest person, the MVP of last year’s world series, the winner of the Miss America contest, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Oscar award winner and Pulitzer Prize winner. Most people are lucky if they can name two of the six. Then I ask the people to write down the name of a teacher who taught them something worthwhile, someone with whom they enjoy spending time, and someone who helped them during a difficult time, a hero, and a someone who inspired him/her. Most people get a name for each of these. The reason is obvious. People who touch our hearts are the people we not only remember but hold close.
Russert’s religious faith is an important part of his life. I, too, identify with Russert on the importance of my religious faith. Russert has met the Pope. The Pope’s motto is Totus Tuus – Latin for Totally Yours. Totus Tuss could have been my father's motto as well. I wonder what kind of world this would be if each of us dedicated our lives to being and practicing Totus Tuus?
Happy Father's Day, Dad, I miss you. I think of you everyday. A large part of who I am and where I am is due to you. Thank you for an incredible gift that I hope and pray I'm paying forward!
* Back when CB radios were the rage, my father had one and used the handle "Clean Sweep."