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Ten Lessons I Learned from My Dad, Ken Kipnes

Happy (belated) Father’s Day! My day began like many others.  I woke up before everyone else, and read the paper on the internet. I watched with a chuckle as the kids woke, groggily gave me a kiss, turned on their computers, read on ESPN website that it was father’s day, and then smiled sheepishly to wish me a happy one. Five great cards (one from each child; two from my wife) with heartfelt messages. I read on my new Kindle, the Father’s Day present that – with my wife’s permission – I bought myself last week.  Dinner at a sushi restaurant.

Then waking the day after, realizing I neglected my new Mother’s/Father’s Day ritual: writing the Top Ten List about my parent (See my 10 Lessons I Learned from My Mom, Linda Kipnes). So here goes. By the way, that’s my Dad, Ken Kipnes, on the left, with my mom Linda and our three children.

Ten Lessons I learned from My Dad, Ken Kipnes
(not in order of importance.)

  1. Tease, tease and tease some more. My dad can be silly and is a master teaser. There was the time he tried to convince them that he hunted and shot the turkey they ate for thanksgiving.  The time he dyed his goatee red just so he could be a redhead like 2 of my kids (the joyful look on his face when he saw the look on their faces was priceless).  Of course, the only thing that gives him more pleasure than being able to tease his grandchildren is when they become so smart that they won’t fall for his teasing (and tell him so). 
  2. There is a difference between being Aged and being Old. Your age is a chronological number that starts at birth and gets bigger as you live. Old is a state of mind. You can have a high age, but still feel young (or younger). But if you succumb to the number, or to life’s disappointments, you can quickly become angry, bitter, crotchety and “old.” Though he didn’t say that, he surely seems to illustrate it.  My dad has age (born in 1936, he just turned 74).  But he (and my mom) have shown an amazing ability to remain young – traveling, entertaining, rolling with the challenges that life brings them. And even as they slow down a bit, they continue to inspire me with their relative youthfulness.
  3. Ahavat Yisrael – Love Israel. My dad loves Israel. He loves learning about her, studying Hebrew (he learned in an Israeli ulpan once and practiced with his Israeli born grandchildren), supporting her. He worries about her like he worries about his 4 children; he kvells at her successes too!  If he had his druthers, I think, he would live in Israel a few months a year. Though his heart ached all those years that my sister and her family lived there, I know he reveled in the ability to spend extended periods of time there. Dad and Mom took us to Israel after my sister’s Bat Mitzvah service, and though having me away for a year pained them, they allowed me to spend my first year post-High School on a Reform Movement leadership program year in Jerusalem.
  4. When you have an important worthy cause, explain it to people, be brave, and ask them to support it with their tzedakah.  Whether the temple, Israel, or his current favorite – camp/Israel scholarships for kids, my Dad never shied from dreaming big and articulating those big expectations.  He was amazingly successful in encouraging others with the means to fund those dreams. (Perhaps that’s why I am comfortable raising funds for Congregation Or Ami, for the CCAR, for Federation and more.)
  5. Take it as it comes. One of my dad’s stock phrases whenever he is faced (seemingly regularly) with the challenges life brings, these words express an outlook on life that seems healthy. It is also easier to say than to live. Though life may get us down, we have no choice but to take it and live on.
  6. Sometimes have Candy for Breakfast, Ice Cream for lunch, and Cake for dinner (though not all on the same day). When I was young, my folks took us to Kimball’s Farm for Sundae’s for lunch. When my kids were young, my dad kept a drawer filled with candy bars. He would gleefully show it to our kids and, as only a grandparent could, told them them this was theirs until it ran out. Now he makes fudge and bakes delicious strudel and Mandelbrot (my mom makes the most tasty brownies and seven-layer cookies). When he arrives at our home or we at theirs, the sweets come out immediately so we just have a taste (or three). Where did it come from? Perhaps from his mother was a master baker and his dad – who owned a bowling alley – who always had a box of huge chocolate bars on top of the fridge or, when they visited us, in the car.
  7. Youth are our future. My dad was a tireless supporter of our temple youth group and NFTY youth movement. He believes that you put money, time, and effort into sustaining our youth so that they grow up to become the committed Jewish leaders of the future. He still administers the Camp/Israel scholarship funds down on Cape Cod, where they give merit scholarships to young people toward these formative Jewish experiences.  
  8. We can reinvent ourselves. I saw my dad go from the accountant in Duddy Tires Company, to owning his own optical shops, to being an accountant, to owning his own accounting firm, to partnering with my brother in the firm, to working with/for the guy to whom he sold much of his practice.  He has shared successes and disappointments and failures. He showed me that we are more than our work, that our success is in family and community. He showed me that we can always begin again. 
  9. Hearing a loved one’s voice sometimes is all you need. I discovered sometime my college/grad school years that what I told my dad was less important to him than the fact that he got to hear my voice. So I call him now regularly (often daily), just to say hi and so that he can hear my voice. I learned that I too inherited the “I just want to hear your voice” need. These days, I struggle sometimes that intensive texting with my kids sometimes supplants their need to speak by phone. See my Did You Call Your Father (or Mother)?
  10. Distances shrinks when you work hard at creating relationships.  We can create relationships even through the phone. On holidays, birthdays and just whenever, my Dad would call his parents (Grandpa Eddie and Grandma Esther, and great grandparents Bobie and Papa) and then hand us the phone so we could say hi. He created those connections through the phone. I worked hard to do the same with my kids and their grandparents. Moreover, today, my Dad spend inordinate amounts of time calling his grandchildren (all over the world) so that they know he loves them and so that they remain connected to each other.  It also keeps him young…

 Over the years, my dad taught me important lessons about love, perseverance, centrality of family, forgiveness, taking responsibility, balancing finances, finding joy with whatever your kids love (or at least faking it), loving being Jewish, and more.  My dad Ken Kipnes is the best dad of all.

Dad, I know you will read this eventually since Mom subscribes to my blog! So Happy belated Father’s Day!

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