James F. Toto passed away Dec. 27, 2011, leaving behind two sons who carry with them his parenting legacy. Dad didn’t make millions or accumulate property to pass on to his heirs. He led by example, quietly teaching my brother and I to be the fathers we are today.
What greater gift could there be?
The best way to honor Dad today, then, is to recall the best lessons he passed down to me through the years.
- PDAs 24-7: My Father loved my Mom, and he showed it in so many important ways. What stuck with me is how physical they were, right up through their Golden Years. No, it’s not what you think. My Dad would give my Mom a quick pat on the behind, a squeeze on her shoulder, or simply sneak in for a stealth hug. I know married couples who go about their daily routines and never show such affection. Never. It doesn’t take much effort to connect with your wife in such small but significant ways, and it’s something I try to do every day with Mommylibrium. A happy, connected marriage makes you a better parent, period.
- Forgive and Forget: I drove my Father crazy sometimes. As a boy I’d cry at the proverbial drop of a hat, and I was extremely lazy when it came to chores. Don’t get me started on how finicky I was come meal time. So it was inevitable that we’d fight. Minutes later, I’d see the love come rushing back into him for me, no matter how harsh the feelings expressed just minutes ago. That forgiveness floods my memories every time I punish my own boys or find my blood pressure rising from their high jinks.
- Traditions Matter: I’ve written at Daddylibrium about how I’ve started my own family traditions with our boys, like calling “cheers” before gulping down Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It started with my Dad, who would read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” to us on Christmas Eve when we were young, one of many little moments we looked forward to as young boys.
- Talk It Out: Dating is one of the hardest challenges we face as young adults. My Father made it just a little easier. He was always easy to talk to about matters of the heart. His own dating games wrapped decades ago, but he understood what a fella should do to win a gal over. More importantly, his door was always open to those conversations, and we never felt uneasy about asking him hard questions other fathers would have handed off to their wives. I’m not rapping with Eli or Ben about girls yet, but I make sure they know they can talk to me about anything.
- Be Your Own Man: My father came of age at a time when men were stoic and reserved. They didn’t share their emotions, they simply provided money for the family and changed the oil on the car as needed. Not my Dad. He was warm and witty, a man who fused the best aspects of his generation with those of the late 20th century. More importantly, he did what felt right to him, and he never questioned whether it met with anyone’s approval. That gave me the freedom to choose my own path, make my own friends and lead a life based on my passions rather than ape what the culture expected me to become. He made me free, a sense I’ll undoubtedly share with my boys as they reach their teen years.