He was a hard-working, laughter loving, hippie-flower child. And he was my Dad. He was so full of life that an entire book could be written on how he viewed the world.
The scope of this post is much narrower: 12 lessons I learned from him.
Much of the wisdom was imparted during hundreds of car trips on our way to my tennis tournaments in Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine.
We spent thousands of hours the car talking, laughing, fighting, crying, in silence, you name it. I remember on one trip we listened to the entire Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill sexual harassment hearings; many lessons came from that spectacle!
I learned even more lessons working side by side with my Dad on his construction crew and on the tennis court.
Without further ado, here they are.
#1: “How Many Times Do You Have To Get Hit In The Head With A 2×4 Before You Realize It Hurts”
Don’t worry, my dad never hit me in the head with a 2×4. Not even close. This lesson is actually from the tennis courts. Unforced errors are a killer of momentum and success in a tennis match.
I liked to hit every ball as hard as I could growing up. So I, probably committed a few more unforced errors than are recommended. Every time I got off the court after a particularly high unforced error count, My dad would be sure to say: “How many times do you have to get hit in the head with a 2×4 before you realize it hurts?”
Basically he was asking me when I was going to learn I didn’t have to hit a winner or the between legs hero shot all the time. There is a time and a place for both, but pick your spots.
This lesson works in life the same way it does on the tennis court. Pick your spots, be patient and put yourself in the best position to win before going for the kill shot.
#2: Keep Your Eye On The Ball
Another one from the tennis court, clearly…see ball, hit ball. There’s more to it than that, though. It’s not just about watching the ball as YOU hit it. You have to watch the ball from the moment your opponent hits it, watch the spin, the angle and the speed at which the ball is coming at you.
This started very early in my tennis career and was a staple throughout. Somewhere along the line this morphed from the tennis court to life. Keeping your “eye on the ball” is the equivalent of staying focused on the task at hand. It applies to, pretty much every area of life. It certainly applied to me whether it was graduating from college, going through my divorce, job hunting, and more.
#3: The “Move Your Feet” Lesson
This is the last one from tennis. Promise! Of the most important things in tennis footwork is at or very near the top of the list. A large part of the time you spend training off the court is dedicated to footwork. Without good footwork you will out of balance, constantly find yourself out of position- too close to or too far away from the ball, not getting to drop shots or lobs, and hitting the ball late. These are all recipes for disaster on the tennis court. Translation to real life: do the “footwork.” Stay balanced and get yourself in position to take your best shot, whatever that may be.
#4: The Birds and The Bees
I remember exactly where I was when I got this lesson. Driving down a country road in Vermont in my dad’s beat up old F-150 Morris Construction truck. I hadn’t even had sex at this point. He turned me and said “You know Sammy, you’re never going to have enough sex in your life. So when you meet a girl you think you might like, think about spending 8 hours in a car with here and if you’d still like her after that roadtrip.” The older I’ve gotten, the wiser these words have gotten. This is some of the best and truest advice I ever received from my dad.
#5: Love Your People
Whether it was family or friends, my dad always managed to surround himself with great people. The friends he had were all lifelong friends. This wasn’t an actual lesson where we had a talk about befriending the right people, it was more something I just picked up on throughout my life. Surround yourself with really good people and love them, laugh with them, and take care of them.
#6: Have Some Fucking Passion
This was another non-verbal lesson. My dad was passionate AF! About everything. Whether it was how he did his job, how he coached me on the tennis court or later in life how he would fight with the cable company, HA! I kind of feel for the customer service reps at Comcast sometimes. My takeaway from this observation is just care about your life; it’s the only one you get.
#7: Don’t be a Jack of All Trades and a Master of None
As I got older and into the high school years I enjoyed playing a lot sports; baseball, golf, basketball and skiing were all my favorites. He never discouraged me from or pushed me towards any of them but he did drop this little nugget about picking one: “Sammy, you don’t want to be a jack of all trades but a master of none”. Deep down we both knew that tennis was my first love and this was just the push I needed to really commit to it and get very good at it.
This lesson has followed me through the years in my career and hobbies. With commercial real estate you have to pick a specialty multi-family housing, retail space, or office building)s to be successful. As a personal trainer and life coach I’ve created my approach and philosophies and mastered them.
#8: Do A Good Job, Always
Since my dad had a construction business, he was responsible for putting a roof over people’s heads. He didn’t take this lightly. He used to tell me that he always wanted his customers to feel safe, and that the roof wasn’t going to blow off or collapse during a snowy Vermont winter. His philosophy was that every house he built or renovated was his house. He would imagine he was building that house for himself, who would want to live in a half-assedly constructed house.
#9: Laugh A Lot, Mostly at Yourself
One of my dad’s favorite sayings was “What a hoot!”, Mike Morris speak for one hell of a great time. I can still picture today his big smile, laughing at something he said or did. It reminds me to not take most things, especially myself too seriously. Doing that is most definitely not “a hoot”.
#10: You’re Going To Be Ok
My dad saw me through all the struggles, big and small, in my life. Whenever I would be there, broken he would just say “you’re going to be ok”, like it was a matter of fact. It was so comforting to hear this. . As I sit here writing this I’m in a pretty good place, evidence that he was always right, I was ok. Maybe not right then, but I made it through whatever struggle I was experiencing.
#11: You Can Choose When You’re Ready
My dad passed away suddenly on August 11th, 2015. I remember exactly the piece of concrete I was standing on in San Francisco when I got the call from the Asheville Police Department. The feeling that shot through me is nothing there are words to describe. I giant hole was created in my life and my soul. That hole didn’t last forever, in fact it didn’t even last 48 hours. I flew to Asheville that night to meet my sisters at his house. The instant I walked into his house is when that hole filled back up. The best way I can describe what happened is that I was overcome with a sense of peace and I knew right then that my dad had absolutely chosen this moment. He knew his three children were ok and that meant it was ok for him to go. His health was declining, his body hurt him everyday, his job here was done and I felt that immediately, I was ok.
#12 Follow Your Heart
This one is last for a reason; it’s the best. The best thing my dad ever did for me was not to make big decisions for me. His advice was always the same; “Sammy, just follow your heart”. It sounded new, mind blowing and so soothing every time. This is one of my absolute favorite thing he ever said to me. Just hearing those four words would bring so much clarity and direction to whatever decision I was facing at the time. Of course, to this day when faced with a doozy I harken back to these words and I get the same effect.
So there it is, the 12 best things I learned from my dad. It’s amazing to me that now that he has passed and I can’t call him it’s actually easier to get the advice I would get when he is alive. His words are always right there waiting for me.