Monday, October 17, 2011

Ten More Strokes

My father, Marty Siegel, loved to give advice, solicited or otherwise. He was a talker, a people person, an Amway salesman (much to the chagrin and slight embarrassment of his whole family, but I must say their cleaning products are At the end of his life he sold handheld ticketing machines to police departments and often used me and my early driving/city parking escapades as a sales tool ("My daughter would be so nervous," he would say, "and she wouldn't get away with so many parking tickets!" Hardee-har-har). He got stopped once at an airport because a bomb-sniffing dog gave the sign next to his computer bag; turns out he had been carrying around trace amounts of explosives on his bag, his shoes and his person, courtesy of the Philadelphia police department. He loved to talk, and he managed to talk his way out of that and onto the plane...without his driver's license. And this was after 9/11. And into first class because his wife was a former Delta employee and they were flying non-rev.

One of my favorite things to do for my dad was to ask him for advice. If he was feeling grumpy, or bad or otherwise disgruntled and out of sorts, I would wander up to his office, lean on his desk and ask, "Got a minute?" Often, I didn't even need advice, but the pleasure it gave him to help someone was so apparent that I would ask him questions and seek solutions that I didn't really need. He wasn't ever offended if you didn't take his advice either, a rarity among advice-givers (present company included). His hope in advising was to show another path, to perhaps shine a light in a dark corner.

My favorite piece of advice from my dad wasn't really advice but a story, another of his talents (questionable, groan-eliciting talents). He told the story of a man who was swimming the English Channel, an older man who struggled quite a bit in his life and had many naysayers when he decided to give it a try. After the successful swim, the swimmer was asked in an interview how he did it, how he managed to pull it off. "Well," said the swimmer, "I kept telling myself all I would do is swim ten more strokes. Anybody can swim ten strokes. So I would swim the ten strokes and then think to myself, 'Go on, or quit?' I'd say, 'Ten more strokes, and then I'll decide,' and that is how I made it across the Channel. Ten strokes at a time."

This is the answer to the old question of how to eat an elephant (one bite at a time), but for some reason it struck me, coming from my dad, that that was precisely how he worked. He wasn't always a big-picture guy, but he was dogged, he was persistent, and he did everything ten strokes at a time. Sometimes you just need to put your head down and persevere, reach small goals and then set new ones.

My father died over four years ago (May 1, 2007) on the same day that another highly influential man in my life died in 2006 (Teddy Litovitz), and I miss him every day. At his graveside service, the rabbi asked if anyone had a story or something to say, but I couldn't think clearly enough to relate this story of the swimmer, a final, lasting piece of advice from my father. I wrote it down so his granddaughter will know his words, and I keep them in my mind every day.

Ten more strokes. Anyone can swim ten more strokes.

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