Bye For Now: Lessons from My Father’s Life

September 10, 2022
The Congregational Church of New Canaan
A Service of Celebration for the Life of Mike Davidson

My father used the same three words to end almost every conversation of his life. “Bye for now.”

He would say it to friends, family, and loved ones. To work colleagues. He would say it to house guests, like the hundreds who attended our Christmas Party each year. He would say it to flight attendants when getting off a plane. He would say it to sales marketing callers. He would even say it to wrong numbers.

And, though the words may sound trite, to me they embody the greatest gift my father ever gave me.

Our father gave us so much. He brought us to America and gave us everything we could have wanted. But the greatest gift was something he passed down to me: his optimism.

My father’s optimism defined him. As he was about most things, he was stubborn about his optimism. He was determined always to look on the bright side. He would magnify our successes and minimize our failures, or ignore them altogether. It made him prone to superlatives. The gold star on the quiz we brought home from school? He had never seen anything like it. The gold was more gold than any gold had ever been gold. He once explained to us our role in the career he was building, and quoted a favorite author who said: “You need the rock to plant the lighthouse,” and then he told us that we are the strongest of strong rocks.

This was not hyperbole. It is genuinely how my father saw the world: through his lens that filtered out the bad and illuminated the good.

His optimism came from his gratitude for the miracle of life. My father was so grateful to be alive, so grateful for the joy of living, that he refused to allow something as arbitrary as the day’s events to take away that joy. He was in control.

To him, optimism was such an obvious way of living that he would seek to spread it to others in the world. “Bye for now” was one way he did so. Each listener, whether a loved one or a wrong number, heard the same message. All is okay, his words assured. This is not the end. There will be more.

My father was so determined to find a bright side in everything that he practically made a sport of it, sometimes scrambling around like an old man looking for his keys. “It must be here somewhere!”

In the rare instance when he could not find one, and reality forced him to confront an undesired outcome, he would move past it – and help others move past it – with three other words he liked to say.

Can’t be helped.

Those words contained the greatest life lesson he taught me: no matter what happens to us in life, the only thing over which we have control is our response. No matter the circumstance, each time we have a choice. We can respond positively, make the best of it, and help spread joy in the world. Or, we can let life’s circumstances control us.

To my father, the choice was clear. He was a mathematician, and to him this was the simplest equation of all. Over the course of your life, the more often you choose to respond positively, the better your life will be.

And so, his words were like magic. His own serenity prayer packed into three little words.

Didn’t get the job you wanted? Can’t be helped.

Sports event didn’t turn out how you hoped? Can’t be helped.

Someone treat you unkindly? Can’t be helped.

Get in an accident? Can’t be helped.

When fate dealt cards that would cause some people to dwell in despair over their misfortune – or even worse, exaggerate its extent – my father would help you move on with just three words.

“Woe is me” is the mantra of many, but my father was on team “can’t be helped.” In fact, not once in the 47 years I knew him did I ever hear him complain that fate had treated him unfairly.

At a time when victims are in vogue and pessimists plenty, the world needs more people like my father, not fewer.

And so, as we gather today in tribute to my father, my own tribute is the life I live. And how I live it.

My father’s optimism was infectious. His spirit touched everyone in this room. His optimism became our optimism, and then ours became others’, and so on throughout the world. Though life left my father’s body last month at a hospital room in Florida, his spirit lives on in the optimism he spread to us, and we spread to others.

And so, death be not proud, my father’s spirit will continue to live on so long as we continue to do as he did: recognize the things that can’t be helped, so we may focus our love and attention on the things that can.

If we do this – if we do carry his spirit forward, if we do meet the world with his optimism, with his gratitude for the miracle of life, then he will remain with us. And if he will, then we may find solace in my last words to him in that hospital room in Florida.

Bye for now.