It is 15 years since I last saw my father. But 15 years ago is not how I remember him.
In his prime, my father stood tall, energetic and proud. A big man with a sparkle in his eye. A loud and contagious laugh. A leader everyone wanted to work for.
Everyone, it seemed, admired and loved him. I know this because they told me so, time and again. He cared deeply for everyone who worked at the family business, and they felt it and cared for him in return.
When he walked through a department, people stopped and watched him pass by. His name was Stu. No one but his secretary called him Mr. Paddock.
To them, he was the company patriarch. To some, he was Papa Stu. To me, he was Dad.
It happens every Father's Day. We all take a few moments to reflect -- the bond we had, or have, or don't have with our fathers; the learning moments, the moments that change who we are or who we wanted to be.
More than I can count in a year, I remember moments with my father.
At his memorial service in April 2002, I wanted so badly to honor him. To finally and publicly thank him for all the years we were together and for the bond we shared. So inside the large church with standing room only, I said my eulogy:
"What has not been documented is my father's compassion and love for family, friends and employees. Where the employees and associates of the Daily Herald may feel blessed for having known and worked for my father, his family, which is a cast of very many, marveled in his benevolence, his compassion, his warmth and his acceptance.
"His love was unconditional. Whether it was buying a piano for a granddaughter who was taking lessons, supporting a daughter and grandson because they could not support themselves, or not giving up on the son he saved from almost certain death, my father's love was tireless and determined. With four great-grandchildren, 23 grandchildren and 10 children, you would think a man might get tired."
This father-son bond we shared did not come easily. My parents divorced when I was 5. My mother moved and took my sister and me to Florida to live near her parents. I saw my father only six weeks every summer. Those summer visits were filled with fun trips and visits to the family business.
That changed when I was a teenager. I moved in with my father when I was a sophomore in high school. He and I were both bachelors at the time, and I certainly was a handful of trouble.
In fact, my father was my age today when I moved in with him. As an empty nester today, the thought of raising a teenager all over again is too painful to think about. Having not raised children himself or without help, my father had no idea what to do with me. I was soon a typical teenager oblivious to anything but myself; he on the other hand was trying to raise me and run a business. He was always seeking the advice of other moms and dads before giving me any advice himself.
Like most restless, lost teenagers, I tested and pushed the boundaries. I wanted to make him angry, push me away. Time after time, all I got in return was all the love he could give.
His patience with me was boundless. No matter what I did, he looked at me with love and a patient understanding that would make anyone melt. No matter how bad a situation I got myself into, he never wavered. Ever.
About that time and still not really knowing who my father was, I started working for the family business. This was the realm my father knew best and he excelled.
As owner/publisher of the Daily Herald, my father was fully engaged and always looking forward, aggressively growing the business. Long days turned into evenings. Before the days of cellphones, my dad could not drive two miles without stopping alongside the road to make a pay-phone call to someone about an idea or a question about the business. Department heads or his secretary could get calls well into the night with a top-of-mind topic of discussion. With no one but me to come home to, my father, I noticed, had no real personal life.
I quickly realized that if I truly wanted to know my father our common ground would be the company. I was working in various departments, learning the business from the ground up.
Whenever I mentioned anything company related, my dad would perk up. He was genuinely curious about my experiences, thoughts and opinions. He would ask engaging questions. He would let me know what he was thinking and what really mattered to him. He would share his vision for the company.
He was mentoring me.
As we sat in the same restaurant, night after night for dinner, our conversations were meaningful and thought-provoking. I felt loved, included, important and listened to. He made me confident.
After a few years, we understood each other very well. As I was going off to college, I was so glad when he remarried into a large family who all loved and adored him from the very beginning. Those would be his happiest years.
Today, I miss so many things. His smile, the laugh, the strength, the fortitude, the perseverance, the patience, the wisdom.
I can only hope some piece of him is within me. As he loved, I too love my family. As my family needs me, I will be there for them. All of them. I too have the patience of a saint. Or so my wife says.
If my dad were still here, I would have so many questions, all leading to: Am I doing OK? Am I making the right decisions?
In all things, I try to look forward and act with compassion. Just as he did. And the company? We are looking forward with the same energy and enthusiasm he instilled in all of us.
He would indeed be proud of how far I have come; how far his family has come; how far his business has come. If he could only witness how all the employees are working so hard to make this the best newspaper, the best media company and corporate citizen it can be.
And now, it's Father's Day 15 years later. To him, I say: Dad, I miss you all the time. All who remember you, miss you. Joyously, we collectively say: Happy Father's Day, Stu. May you rest in the warmth and passion you once lived by all those years ago.