He might be the man I most admire. He is certainly that among the men I’ve actually known. And he’s a model for us all.
My dad, Frank D. Berry, MD, turned 91 last Fall. His four children are in their 60s and 50s. He still plays tennis twice a week, and golf on occasion, and he’s on the web every day, watching the business news, political news, discussions, ideas, and the world. He voted for Goldwater and Reagan as a middle-aged conservative, and for Gore and Obama as an older liberal. He’s always had the ability to change his mind. He put up with me being a hippie in the 60s when he was a conservative. He puts up with my brothers being conservatives, now that he’s a liberal.
He hasn’t lost his razor-sharp wit or his intellect, but he’s lost his quick reflexes, and most of his hearing (except on the phone), so he compromises with his limitations. He plays triples in tennis instead of doubles when he can, because he hits everything that he can reach, but he can’t reach like he used to. He settles for shooting in the high 40s for nine holes now, even though he used to shoot 70-something for 18. He drives a steel blue mini-cooper when he drives, but he doesn’t drive much any more, just back and forth from his home — the same one I grew up in, and I’m 63 — to the club, and to the corner store, and sometimes the video store.
He never smoked. He has always — except on nights before surgery — had a drink or two before dinner. He has never stopped getting regular exercise.
My dad has been a quiet hero for a lot of different people at different times. At the height of his career as an Ophthalmologist, people flew from all over the west, up from Los Angeles and down from Seattle, to have him do their eye surgery at El Camino Hospital in Mt. View, California. He was one of the first in his generation to do lens transplants. He was the first chairman of the first committee to create El Camino Hospital.
He was a straight-A student who went from a small mill town named Milford, in Massachusetts, to Holy Cross and then Tufts medical school. He was also the starting guard in high-school basketball (he scored 32 points in one game), and second baseman on the AAU team that won the state championship in Fenway Park. That was back in the middle 1930s when baseball was the national sport and the state championship put little Milford on the map. He was an army doctor during World War II.
He quit his medical practice at 65 to care for my mother, then his wife of 43 years, who died of cancer when he was 69. And now he’s caring for Liz, his wife of 22 years, now 87, struggling with the skeletal effects of aging. He was 70 when they married, and she was 66. We thought it was one of those December romances because they met a few months after their respective spouses had died. If so, that December’s been a long one.
My dad is the model of teaching by example. He’s always given his best at whatever he does. He loves competition, but he honors winning with quiet dignity and losing with grace. He’s never booed an opposing team, and he’s never lost a game on purpose, because that would disrespect the opponent. He tells the truth, he listens extremely well, and — only if you ask him to — he tells you exactly what he thinks. He made his own career out of skill and intelligence, and when he could, as he gained stature, he focused on the parts of Ophthalmology that he liked — the surgery — and left the rest for other doctors.
Today, on Father’s Day, I’m thinking about an important lesson my dad has to teach me and every father.
He has always given advice the way everybody should. His advice has no baggage. You take it, or not, and he’s okay with simply having shared what he thought was best. He gives it truly like a gift, meaning that once given, it’s yours, not his, and there’s no hard feelings about what you do with it. I love that. I wish I’d always done that as well as he has.