My dad is a stand-up kind of guy. Well, actually, at 98, he is more of a sit-down, “I’m-tired” kind of guy, but his attitude reflects that of someone much younger. He has weathered business ups and downs, macular degeneration, colon cancer, a daughter who hitchhiked cross country after college hoping to “find herself” and a host of other challenges. But in each situation, he has looked for the silver lining or at least for a plausible reason to keep moving forward.
Dad’s secret is mostly in his positive attitude. When I was young and became frustrated or disappointed by something that happened to me at home or school, dad would offer this advice: “For the same nickel, you can have a good attitude or a bad one.”
After facing serious health problems during the past two decades, Dad’s standard answer when asked how he is doing is “no pain, no complain.” But perhaps my favorite comment came on his 95th birthday, when – after finally having to give up doubles tennis – he wistfully remarked, “Oh, to be 90 again!”
Over the years, I have come to call Dad’s philosophy of living “daditude.” In a nutshell, it is this: Whatever happens to you, at any age or stage of life, you have to follow the “Three A’s Rule:” accept, adjust and advance. Simply put, we have to learn to accept our situation, adjust to the new realities that we now face and advance in order to live life to the fullest.
My father is not a religious man, but I have come to view his way of dealing with life as a form of an ethical will. An ethical will is a lovely Jewish tradition, the origins of which date back to the patriarch Jacob who, from his deathbed, counseled each of his 12 sons. In its simplest form, it is a transmission of the values, life lessons and wisdom a parent wants to impart to a child before that parent dies.
Unlike a legal will which disposes of property and possessions and must comply with state law, an ethical will bequeaths one’s innermost spiritual estate with no formal requirements. Traditionally, it is written in letter form at any time during one’s life. Some ethical wills are more like continuing letters, added to at various stages of life, such as a child’s birth, bar/bat mitzvah, graduation from college or marriage. Others are written once, later in life, incorporating desired, important values and life lessons. Sometimes they take the form of oral wisdom and life lessons, as in my dad’s case.
Daditude is all about living with the right attitude. None of us will ever know what will happen to us or what problems, disappointments or losses will come our way. Though we can’t control what happens to us, we can control what happens within us. We can control our attitude about the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows – and we can remember that, for the same nickel, it is totally up to us to find ways to accept, adjust and advance in the life we are given.
Amy Hirshberg Lederman has written more than 300 columns and essays that have been published nationwide, amyhirshberglederman.com