My Father

For six years my father is battled cancer.

In the very near future, that battle will be over.

Over the last few months, I’ve come to understand why cancer survivors don’t say that someone has lost their battle with cancer. I’ve watched my dad be more courageous in what we have long known was a fight with an endgame we did not want to face. He has battled the whole time with dignity and grace and strength and humor in ways that have made me respect him and learn from him and love him all the more.  And even now, as we approach the hardest days, he has remained uniquely him, powerfully him, in ways that have left those of us who love him most in awe of his strength.

When it is all said and done, my dad will not have lost his battle with cancer, he will have simply have run out of time to fight it.

Anyone who has ever heard me give a speech or even just talked to me for any length of time, knows how much my father means to me. He is, simply put, my hero. Sid Lehmann spent his adult life in service of working people. Professionally, he was a union lawyer; his clients were teachers, police officers, custodians and more, and he spent his working life making their lives better. My dad is one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, and he chose a life of service. And more than that, he had a fundamental and powerful respect for the people he served.

My father’s intellect was really only matched by his humility. It didn’t matter how smart he was, he respected the gifts and the intellect and the lives of the working people he served – and really of all the people he met. One of the many lessons I learned from him was that you should never use your own intellect to make others feel less smart than you, but as smart or smarter than you, and if you respected the ideas and perspectives of others, you could and would learn from anyone and everyone. My dad believes that whatever gifts one was given, they had to be spent lifting others up, not putting them down.

My father learned from his mother the idea that you should never intentionally try to hurt another person. He had a fundamental and abiding respect for all people. While I think the delineation I made years later about how there was a difference between “nice” and “kind” — and what one should shoot for was “kind,” came from both of my parents, the idea that kindness could be created writ large in the work you did in the world came from him. You felt it from him, and his work as a union lawyer came from a few deeply held beliefs. One was the idea that the purpose of life was that you should try to leave the world a little bit better off because you happened to live in it, and the other was that every person had a right to dignity and a fair shake at life.

My father’s kindness has been tempered by true steel in his spine. He didn’t back away from a fight, and in my house, if you wanted to argue, you were taught to bring your A-game. I remember when I was in college at U. Penn – and probably a little more (a lot more) full of myself than I should have been. I was questioning a lot of my beliefs about unions and working people and what people “deserved.”  At the time, the New York Daily News was on strike, and it was looking like the paper was going to go under. My dad and I got into an argument about it. I’d call it a discussion, but in my family, we argue. I was arguing that it made no sense for the unions not to give in and I said something about the paper not really “belonging” to them anyway. My dad replied by saying, “You know, maybe the union would be better off if they were run by a bunch of [expletive] Wharton MBAs, but that doesn’t mean that working people don’t have a right to a say in their own lives, and you should remember that of land, labor and capital, only one of the three is sentient.”

That was over twenty years ago, and I’ve used that argument ever since. No one has ever made a better one. And for the record, no one – I mean no one – can curse better than my father.

I have so many friends who cannot talk to their parents about politics or the way of the world because what they believe is so different from what their parents believe, and I have never been able to fully grasp what that must be like. I remember back in the mid-90s when I was working in DC, something happened politically – probably the Clinton health care fight, actually – and I answered the phone where I worked, and there was my dad on the other end of the line, “Jesus, Christopher – it’s time to storm the [expletive] barricades – can you believe this?” Suffice to say, I come by my passion honestly. And his never abated, as the many conversations we had about the election this fall showed.

But he has been so much more than political. He also loved the life of the mind, and there was nothing more fun than great passionate debate. Another college memory was when I was home from school shortly after having gone to a pro-choice rally in Washington, DC. My Dad – who was and is pro-choice – was arguing with me about the politics of the rally, and I finally got so angry that I said, “You don’t even believe your argument right now!” And he replied, “Yeah, but I just really love to debate with you.” Funny thing was I knew even then what an incredible compliment that was. That love of the give and take of a debate — that willingness to learn from others while you were debating, even if it meant you didn’t “win,” I learned that from him. It was from my dad I learned how you can argue to learn, not just argue to win.

The list goes on and on… my dad was my baseball and soccer coach when I was a kid. He embraced Ultimate Frisbee when I fell in love with the sport, even learning to throw a forehand, just so we could have a catch. He has been my moral compass. And as my life and my career has become what it has become, he was my best advisor and strategist. In one of the great joys of my life, over the past decade, I was able to be a strategist and sounding board for him as well. And he has been the most amazing grandfather to Jakob and Theo and my niece Amelia. He is one of the truly greatest men I have ever known – and likely ever will.

There’s a black and white photo of my father on my wall that I took when I was taking a photography class in graduate school many years ago. Dad was fifty years old, and we were down the shore on vacation. He’s sitting, shirt off, on the rocks on the beach, ocean behind him, looking slightly up and out, away from the camera. I took the shot from slightly lower than he was, because I wanted that kind of iconic frame to the photo. I look at it now, and I realize that it captures both who my dad is, but also who he is to me. The values I hold most dear about the way the world should be – and the obligation we have to try to create that world – have their roots in what he has taught me.

This post isn’t really meant to be his eulogy, although I’m sure this will form the start of it. I have to admit that if my dad could read this, he would probably be a little embarrassed by it. He has a laugh that everyone who knows him knows well when he thinks something is a little ridiculous or embarrassing or just when he is a little bit in disbelief about the world. I have no doubt this post would have provoked that laugh a few times, but he would have read it anyway. It’s on his son’s blog, after all, and what I learned over the past few years is that he had my blog bookmarked, and I’m pretty sure he read just about everything I wrote here.

My family is in the thick of the hardest time now. My father’s fight is ending soon, and my family will have to begin the process of figuring out our lives without his physical presence in our lives day-to-day. My dad is sixty-seven years old, and he deserved more time than he will have gotten. He deserved to see his grandkids grow up, and my mom and my dad really should have had the chance to grow much, much older together. But in the time that my dad has had, he made a profound difference in the world, and an incredible difference in the lives of the people he knew. The world is – without question – a better place because Sid Lehmann has lived in it.

Thank you, Dad, for being the most incredible father I could have ever wanted. Thank you for making me want to make the world a better place and for, along with Mom, showing me a path to do so. Thank you for making sure that I have known I was loved every day of my life.

I love you, Dad, and I’ll miss you more than I can say.

59 thoughts on “My Father

  1. Pingback: My Father | Cuppa |

  2. What a lovely tribute to your dad. I wish your family peace as you navigate these last few days and weeks with your dad. I know from having lived through them with my own dad that they are both heartbreaking and a gift.

  3. God bless you all. A beautiful tribute to a great man who raised a great kid. Thinking of all of you at this time.

  4. Mr.Lehman, you and your family are in my prayers. Reading this brought back memories of watching my father fight the same battle years ago. He has given you and the family what you will need to survive and trust me he knows how you feel even if you think he can not understand/hear it, he know ans it gives him the strength to make the transistion. Again, you are in my prayers. By the way, this is Taylor’s grandfather. If there is anything that I can do please let me know.

  5. A beautiful story of a life well-lived. It sounds like he has already won. Thinking of you and your family and most of all your amazing Dad.

  6. And I’d like to add that he didn’t just make a difference in the lives of those who knew him, but he continues to make a difference in the lives of those who don’t, who learn about him and of him through you. I don’t think I ever met your dad, but I definitely know a lot about him and have immense respect for him. You have my best wishes through this difficult time, and thank you for writing this, it was beautiful.

  7. Your words reflect very well a verse from Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. Yes, your father has done well.
    You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  8. My dad also ran out of his time battling cancer four years ago. You will never fully recover from this loss. But I don’t think we’re meant to. The empathy, the hindsight, the gratitude that we receive from losing the people we love is the last gift they give us.

    You have all my empathy and prayers.

  9. Thank you, Chris, for sharing this heartfelt post about who you are and where that comes from. I am so sad for you and your family, but very glad to know that you have these last bittersweet days together. Helping a loved one to pass on from this world is a series of priceless moments, very alive with spirit. You, your dad, your mom, and all your family will be in my prayers.

  10. Chris,
    My prayers are with you and your family. You have been blessed by a wonderful champion and role model. You have been endowed with everything you need to lead the next generation as your father did.
    This poem was read at my dear friend’s service a few weeks ago. It provided solace and perspective.
    I hope it provides the same for you.
    Warm regards,

  11. Chris, thank you for sharing a little bit of your father with us – his passion, his kindness, his influence over your life and the continued influence that will have on the lives of your children through you. If we can only all be as significant and influential in the lives our children… My heart breaks for you all as you deal with the inevitability of this. Blessings.

  12. Chris, I know exactly how you feel about your dad. I had that same relationship with my father. I am so sorry that this is coming to pass. I’m sure you know intellectually, but you’ll know to your core, that he won’t have gone, he just won’t be touchable. He must be amazing, because you are. Love to you and Kat and Jakob and Theo and your mom and sister and everyone he touched the lives of.

  13. Chris,
    I watched my mother die of breast cancer over 35 yrs ago. The pain fades but the memory that you choose of them stays forever. I also lost my father a few years ago – I felt about him the way you feel about your Dad. I got prostate cancer myself 3 years ago, and never saw it as a battle. It was part of me, and will be if it ever comes back. I hate it when people talk about a battle, because some people survive this and others don’t. It usually has nothing to do with their actions, just genes, luck and fate.

    This is a very moving tribute, Chris. I’ll be thinking about you.

  14. What a wonderfully inspiring post. Your father has left an indelible mark on me forever.

  15. Such a special man – thank you for sharing his story with those of us who never had the privilege of meeting him! My father’s time ran out 7 years ago, and the last few days were very hard. But I would not trade for the world the good fortune I had to spend those days with him. I’ll be thinking of you, Chris.

  16. Thank you, Chris, for sharing this beautiful testimony. The love, admiration and respect you feel for your father is revealed in every word. I know he draws strength from you, as you do from him.

  17. You don’t know me – this was shared by a mutual fb friend – but I intrude for one reason. Comments left are full of sorrow for you, none of which I share. I am simply overwhelmed by the irrevocable gift of life and love and wisdom and engagement and humanity your father has apparently given you and your family over the span of his life. These riches inform and deepen and support and animate every path in your life, and you have the generosity and ability to recognize this. He will be with you til your last breath. You’re right – he should have more time with his partner, and with his grandchildren – but his legacy as it is is greater than most people could aspire to. I’m so profoundly grateful for people like your father. You are much much luckier than anything else. The best to you and yours.

  18. Thank you for sharing this, Chris. This is the wonderful young man I grew up with so many years ago.
    Donna Marsicano Applestein

  19. A quote by Mitch Albom that I find comfort in when I have lost someone close to me…”Death ends a life, not a relationship”. You have an amazing relationship with your father that will forever be in your heart and soul. Thank you for sharing…

  20. Chris, What a beautiful tribute to your wonderful father. I had no idea that Sid was ill at all. Your blog makes me want to be able to talk politics with my CA kids who think and feel very differently from Peter and me. You remind me that talking things out, even though you think differently, helps you understand someone’s point of view better. We are sending love to your family and pray that Sid leaves you all peacefully. We know he will leave you with great memories! Love, Joyce (Heisen)

  21. What a moving, loving, touching and sweet tribute to a wonderful person, dad, friend, husband, grandpop. You are all in my thoughts . Joan McCloughan

  22. My late husband Steve and I always enjoyed the times we spent with Sid and Janice. Steve passed away in February so I have some idea what you are experiencing.
    These 2 Rutgers guys were/are the best husbands and fathers…and grandpas a person could wish for.
    You have written a wonderful, thoughtful tribute to your Dad. Thank you for sharing it in this way.
    Adele Ben’Ary

  23. I’m have to admit… I’m in tears as I type. Your love for your Dad runs deep, and I’m sure he felt just as lucky to have you by his side through a lifetime of memories. I’m gonna call my Dad right now to make sure he hears the same from me. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, especially your father. May he have a heroes welcome in whatever comes next.

  24. Chris, thanks for sharing this. Your dad sounds like a great man, and as I read this, it was easy to feel the love and respect you have for him. My prayers are with you and your family as you go through this. Enjoy your remaining time with him, as there will be plenty of time to miss him later.

  25. Chris, Prayers for strength to walk the path set before your family with the dignity you all have within you. I am struck at how much you look like your Dad!

  26. Thank you for posting this wonderful tribute. A neighborhood friend from many years ago in Vineland evokes many wonderful memories.

  27. I am very sorry to learn of the lose of your father. We were friends as children and I always thought of Sid as someone who was smart but also caring and thoughtful of others; also a good basketball player on the dirt court on his driveway on Delsea Drive. He is someone I thought of from time to time but unfortunately I failed to make the effort to get acquainted. My loss. Thank you for your post and condolences to the entire Lehmann family.

  28. Christopher, I think of all of you daily. Your father is absolutely one of brightest, funniest people I have ever known. There is a saying “all will be well in the end. And if it’s not well, it’s not the end.” I can assure you, from experience, Sid will be with you forever. Jim

  29. Beautiful, Chris. Sending you love, and holding you and your family in my heart at this time. – Jessi

  30. Thank you for allowing me to have a glimpse into a marvelous life. This wonderful account made me feel somehow acquainted. It is refreshing as wellas heartwarming to hear how powerfully you have embraced the inevitable and embodied the hospice concept in caring for your father. My heart breaks for you as you prepare for his loss. My spirit rejoices with you as you prepare to celebrate his freedom from suffering and pain. Cherish these difficult last moments, as in time they will help to bring you peace. You will continue to be in our prayers.

    • All my love and prayers to you and yours Chris. Thank you so very much for sharing his life with us.

  31. Chris, this is truly a wonderful testament to a gentleman and a gentle man. I lost my father in 1996 to cancer as well….. I remember going through all the emotions you are now going through. My prayers are with you and your family. I can tell you it was a very hard time for us …..but now when I think of my Dad, I smile more than I cry. God bless for sharing.

  32. Your description is right on. Sid hasn’t changed since I first met him in 7th grade in Vineland. Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts.

  33. Thank you for writing such a beautiful testament to a father’s love. It was touching.

  34. I didn’t get a chance to spend too much time alone with Sid, but every conversation that we had exhibited his kindness and intellect. Your family is blessed to have had him as a member. He will be missed by many. – Boots

  35. Thanks to everyone… Dad is still with us, although we are clearly getting close to the end. I apologize for not responding personally to everyone, but my family and I are reading everyone’s comments and please know how much of a comfort it is to all of us. It is really wonderful to see so many people from so many different parts of our family’s life take a moment to leave a comment. Thank you all so much.


  36. A beautiful read. Thinking of you and your family, Mr. Lehmann. Your father sounded like a wonderful man.

  37. Chris,
    I started to read this post the other day and wasn’t able to finish it. My own mom is very ill and only two years older than your dad and it struck too close to home. Reading about your father’s untimely death today, I wanted to give due thought and prayer to you both. This is an incredible tribute to your dad, beautifully stated in a heartfelt and genuine manner. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us–thoughts that celebrate the core of who we are, family.

    Thoughts and prayers are with you and yours,


  38. Chris, a little bit or more of your father is being incarnated in and refracted through every child who passes through SLA, through every moment you spend with them and through the very design of the environment. Thank you for sharing him with them, whether explicitly or just by being you. You are fortunate to have had such a fine, funny, and feisty person in your life for so long, and I’m positive he felt grateful to have you in his life, and his grandchildren, and to see both his genes and his ideals passed on..

  39. Chris, Your dad had to be an amazing man and role model because he raised a phenomenal son. He raised a son that is passionate about public, urban education. A son that believes that every child should be given a chance, A son that loves other people’s kids as his own and who shows that passion every day in his work at SLA. Your dad will now live on as your guardian angel…his legacy will far outlast his time on earth and he was able to let go knowing that he was surrounded by family, love and laughter. I still have both my parents, but lost my grandmother almost three years ago very suddenly. I had a wonderful and amazing relationship with her and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her, wish I could pick up the phone and hear her voice just one more time. Time does make it a little easier and keeping the memories alive makes her a part of every day. I know you will do the same with your father. Please know there are lots of us out there thinking about you!

  40. Pingback: My Eulogy for My Father | Practical Theory

  41. Dear Chris and family…I went to high school and Rutgers with your dad.He was, as you well know, a bright, funny, and all around great guy. I was very moved by your tribute and concur with your estimation of his character and impact on those lucky enough to have known this man. As i wrote in my facebook note, I will always remember your dad wrapped in towels, sitting in the “sweat box” in our high school gym,trying to lose the last few few pounds, to make his weight class and wrestle for our high school. He was not a happy camper and if you wondered how he learned some of those swear words….My condolences to you, your family and friends…He will be remembered and missed.

  42. Such beautiful words about a wonderful person. The journey ahead is a rough road. Hold your memories close in your heart with each bump and curve. His warm smile and tender ways will always be remembered. I think of him and a smile comes to my face as I walked the halls of Vineland High and chatted with him. Always a positive word and encouragement as we faced the world after high school and on to embracing life. Peace be with all of you and your love can help you face the future.