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Missoula musician John Floridis' first album is called "This Year."

Not "Next Year." Or "Last Year."

It was 14 years ago and Floridis was at his father's home in Atlanta watching the NFL playoffs, something of a father-son ritual for the football-crazed family. Only that year was different: Ronald George Floridis, just 60 years old, was dying of lung cancer.

John, a virtuoso guitarist, had, at that time, worked in lots of bands and was a professional music therapist. But that day, at age 31, what he really wanted to do was record his own music. Make an album.

So as the Vikings-Giants game moved on, the son threw out that possibility to his dad, who'd spent his professional life as an estate planner.

"My dad was pretty stoic at that point, pretty focused on his battle with cancer, I imagine, his mortality pretty much in the forefront of his thoughts," John recalled. "When I brought this up, he was staring at the TV watching the game, and he said, 'As I recall, you said that last year.' Kind of deadpan. Matter of fact. I smiled and laughed a bit, knowing that he was right. I had said that last year, and I still hadn't done it."

A few weeks later, R.G. Floridis was gone.

"It wasn't until after he had died … that it occurred to me that he was saying something to me on a much deeper level, one that I imagine comes from knowing that your days are coming to an end," his son said. "Perhaps a message to not put off something you really want, or in this case, need to do. Perhaps a message that you don't want to have regrets left when you are at that place my father was in at the time."

The lessons our fathers teach us aren't always spoken. And sometimes, even when they couldn't be voiced more clearly, we don't hear them.

We're too young, too stupid, too arrogant to listen.

Some lessons have to percolate, over weeks, years, decades. And some we just bear witness to - a father weathering a storm at work, a crisis at home, the loss of his own parents.

And some fathers, just in their very being, serve as cautionary tales, examples of what not to do.

Mae Nan Ellingson, a Missoula attorney and the youngest member of the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, had a difficult father. He drank, got violent, took things out on his family.

He worked his children hard, often late into the night at the family drive-in. He hadn't graduated from high school, and constantly told his kids about the importance of an education.

Time after time, he'd say: "You gotta make something of yourself."

Viewed charitably, that's perhaps not unreasonable. But what Mae Nan heard when he said those words were two lessons: "The good one was that I did need to work and study hard so I would have a better life; but the other was that I did not really amount to much as I was. So only by working, studying would I be OK."

Today, Ellingson's fingerprints are all over Montana and Missoula. She's done good deeds wherever she's ventured. But her father's lesson took a toll.

"I am glad that I had much of that incentive and direction, but there has been an emotional cost over the years - an overwhelming need to prove myself, to actually be somebody."

Susan Hay Cramer's dad John was just the opposite. He was always there, always upbeat, always optimistic.

"My dad has always been the 'glass-half-full' sort of guy," said Cramer, chief executive officer of United Way in Missoula. "He always encouraged me to see the world that way, and it's always served me well, no matter what the obstacle."

At 82, John Peterson is still working as a stockbroker. His love for his daughter is steadfast, almost comically so.

"He told me once that if I became a serial killer, he'd have to figure that those people had it coming," Cramer said with laugh. "Now that's love."

Yes, sometimes the wisdom is delivered with wit.

Todd Frank, owner of the Trailhead, remembers his father's advice about consorting with the opposite sex.

"He always told me that if he ever had to meet a girl I got pregnant, her name better be Mrs. Frank," Todd recalled.

Ray Frank, who ran Western Ranch Supply in Billings, had some other straightforward advice for his son.

"When I was off to college, he told me to treat it like a job," Frank said. "Show up, be there on time and try hard. He said I didn't have to be the smartest guy, but I had to be there. The world is run by people who show up, and that's a fact."

Then, when Frank was considering buying his business, his dad said this: "Get a good banker. That's going to be the most important relationship you have in business. Turns out that was right, too."

Now, whenever Frank hears himself talking to his 12-year-old, he hears something of his dad.

"I know there were times I didn't hear him, but the things he said stuck with me," he said. "So I'm going to keep talking and figuring that one day he'll hear me."

Albert Borgmann, a professor of philosophy at the University of Montana, grew up in Germany. His father Karl was less inclined to give advice and more inclined to simply encourage his children. Instead of challenging his children, he nudged them toward a life lived fully.

"He and my mother showed us how to live a life based on family and celebration," Borgmann said. "They pioneered that for us and established a culture that all four of us have adopted and adapted to our children and our lives."

And Karl did have one word of advice for his son when Albert married the future Nancy Borgmann - "Never let the sun set on your quarrels."

"That's worked very well," Borgmann said.

Glenn Kreisel, a Missoula software designer, picked up his often-gone father's wisdom from afar.

"My parents were divorced, but my father was a big influence in that he was an adventurer," Kreisel said. "He was a professor, and every summer he'd be off to sail the Atlantic, or climb some mountain in Europe or going to Antarctica."

When Elmer Kreisel came back home, he always treated his kids to a slideshow of his journeys, an evening son Glenn always looked forward to.

"We didn't see him very much, so these times were very exotic, like he was back from some amazing place and we were just thrilled to hear about the trip," said Kreisel, who has developed his father's wanderlust.

But unlike his own father, Kreisel is an attentive, present father to his young daughter. And slowly, Glenn's fatherhood has had an effect on his own dad.

"It's gotten a lot better since we had Ren," Glenn said of his relationship with his father. "It used to be that I would talk to him every six months, now it's every couple of weeks."

The lessons of fatherhood run both ways.

Rosalie Sheehy Cates' father, John Sheehy, is a Montana legend, a former state Supreme Court justice who had an effect on nearly every aspect of daily Montana life.

There was much to learn about decency and goodness simply by watching him live and work.

"Dad has had a life of political involvement in the most important things - social equality, dignity of the individual, the environment," said Cates, executive director of the Montana Community Development Corp. in Missoula. "You think of him as this serious guy with involvement in all this really important stuff."

But what John Sheehy has been telling his 11 children in his later years holds a seriousness of a different sort.

"In the past few years, what he emphasizes is joy," Cates said. "He tells us to be joyful, and to have joy in this day. I really feel like I remember him telling us we all need to lighten up. Have more joy. Now he just says it over and over, and it's been a great addition to what he gave us genetically."

Work hard. Wander the planet. Be free. See the world as a place awaiting your good works. Have joy. Have it today, not next year.

This year.

The music career that John Floridis launched that day in 1994 is still alive. It has been fraught with hardship, full of surprise and wonder and rich with moments of magic and doubt.

Sometimes, it's a career that doesn't seem to make much sense, conducted as it is here in Missoula, far from the bright lights of musical success.

Still, with his father often on his mind, Floridis sticks with it. His steadfast determination traces back through the years, the miles, the football games of his boyhood.

Traces back to a day maybe 40 years ago when he and his dad were in the family's yard in Cleveland, playing some football.

A Cleveland Brown to his core, Floridis listened intently as his dad told him about the Browns' star back, Leroy Kelly, number 44.

"He told me of Jim Brown and how he had been the best running back ever, and that Leroy had followed him and that though he was not as talented as Jim Brown, he had a great talent for second and third effort," Floridis remembered. "When defenders thought they had him down, Leroy Kelly never gave up. Even when he thought he might be down, he found in himself the strength to keep going, and when he thought the third defender had him down, he found a third effort."

So today and every day, Floridis wakes to a life of phone calls, trying to schedule appearances in some faraway town, lining up another chance to play his music. It doesn't get any easier, but R.G. wouldn't want him to give up, to punt the ball away, if just a little more effort might be all that's needed.

This year, boy. Right now.

"I've never forgotten that, and at times I question whether I am calling on that strength or just being stubborn in not giving up on things, like my career, but ultimately, I know that is where I first learned of that strength to keep going when I thought and others may have thought I was down."

Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or at mmoore@missoulian.com

To watch a video

of Missoula dads remembering their own dad's advice, go to this story on Missoulian.com.

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