13 December 2013

My Father's Love Affair...

(Thank you so much to everyone for all your incredibly kind words about my father’s death. My father loved my Causes & Effect blog —we had so many great conversations about it over this past year— so I’ve decided that I will continue it until the end of the year as a way to honor him—Melinda)

My father, who died two days ago, had an irrational love affair with Radio Shack.  Everyone else in my family was at a total loss to explain it. No disrespect to The Shack— we all liked the chain just fine— we just didn’t understand Dad’s undying devotion. 

When I was little, Radio Shack had its own proprietary brand, Realistic. I knew that any electronic gadget I asked for-- whether it was a turntable or a tape recorder or a radio-- would be a Realistic. It didn’t matter if I wanted a more fashionable or more upscale brand, like a Sony or even an RCA. Realistics were solid and reliable, my dad said. Even our batteries came from Radio Shack. 

Here’s how much my father loved Radio Shack: One year when I was in college or thereabouts, my father, who had his own very successful financial planning and insurance business, worked at the Radio Shack near us as part-time help during Christmas.  We didn’t need the money; that’s just how much he loved the store. I remember my mother being less than thrilled about this development since it meant he would go straight from his own job to Radio Shack and work until closing and he worked most weekends. It seems like something out of a sitcom now that I look back at it. He probably spent his paycheck on new Realistic toys.

His devotion to Radio Shack never waned. My father and I had a very long tradition that I cherished greatly of going shopping together a few days before Christmas. We’d pick up last-minute things for the rest of the family, we’d eat at the food court of whatever mall we were going to. It was a special time for just the two of us. 

As he grew more infirm and even using a walker was growing more difficult,  our Christmas shopping trip one year consisted of my pulling up to the curb of Cary Towne Center, a huge mall down the road from Glenaire, the residential care community where he and mom lived, and getting him out of the car — he waited for me while I parked (handicapped parking was even too far for him to negotiate). We went into the mall to Radio Shack, which was maybe three stores from that particular entrance. That was our Christmas shopping excursion that year, which I think was the next to last shopping outing. 

But his lack of mobility didn’t stop Dad. He made sure he knew the manager at the local Radio Shack closest to him and he would call the manager whenever he needed something (because it was my father’s way, there was no doubt that he also knew the manager’s spouse’s name, the names of all the kids, pets, etc. and he would always ask about them). He may not really know for sure what he needed, but he would describe what he wanted and see if the manager could help him. Sometimes it was something that didn’t necessarily exist, like a wall-mounted phone of a certain type or a radio with very specific features, but the managers always did their best, in part because my father could be tremendously persuasive and he was never rude or demanding, but he also seemed to feel like his requests were absolutely not out of the ordinary. 

My father was internet savvy— when I was visiting him over Thanksgiving two weeks ago, a package arrived from Radio Shack with four pairs of ear buds that he’d ordered online — but he preferred the human touch, especially if he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted. 

So Tuesday night, the night before my father died, there was a knock on the door a little after 9 p.m. We answered and it’s someone my sister and I didn’t recognize until he said his name. It was Rick, the manager at the Cary Towne Mall Radio Shack. We figured he must have heard about Dad’s rapidly failing health somehow, but that wasn’t it. At some point last week, before my father took his very rapid turn for the worse, he’d called Rick and asked if  Radio Shack had a small portable radio with very big digital numbers because Dad couldn’t see the numbers on his current portable radio very well as his eyesight failed.

Rick had found just the perfect thing —he had Dad’s credit card on file so he'd bought it — and he decided to hand deliver it, as people often did for Dad (again, he had a way of getting people to do things most of us would never even ask and they never seemed to resent him for it). 

Rick was, understandably, a little freaked out that instead of dropping by just to hand off Dad’s latest request, he’d stumbled upon a death scene and he was suitably flustered. He gave us the backstory, handed us the radio, and told us if we came into the store with Dad’s Radio Shack credit card (of course Dad had one), he’d be happy to take the item back. And he got out of there. He didn’t want to say goodbye to Dad, who was fairly unresponsive by then, he just wanted to get on his way.

Since my father’s death, I’ve spent a good deal of time hearing from people who loved him and it was, in part, because he did ask about them and their spouses and families. Up until the very end, he never forgot anyone’s name...ever. Or the name of their grandkids or pets. Sure, it was what helped make him such a great salesman for so long, but this continued long after he quit working. He honestly cared about people and made them feel special. How many of us take the time to do that? He had the best stories in the world, but he also knew how to listen and remember and follow up. He made people feel truly valued because he really did value them. 

I think people responded to that essential humanity and kindness, so while it often seemed incredulous to my sister and me that people from Radio Shack, Staples, Best Buy, the local jeweler, etc. were seemingly all too happy to make house calls to Dad’s room in the skilled nursing wing of Glenaire —and do so without resentment—it was probably because Dad never made them feel obligated to do so and they knew just how much their kindness was appreciated. 

I’ve written this before, but one of the biggest lessons that has been reinforced to me over and over during the course of this year through My Year of Giving Daily is that kindness matters perhaps above anything else. It feels really good to be kind and to receive kindness. My father knew that all along, even though he couldn’t buy it at Radio Shack.

*(I’ve given to them before, but it’s a charity that Radio Shack supports).

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