Two days ago my dad died.
But just as I live the rest of my life, I know that there is nothing too serious for cartoons. So here is a set based on the lessons I learned from my dad.
It’s not his full story. It’s more a handful of lessons I have taken to heart, and cartoons inspired by those lessons.
1. What you do is not who you are.
My dad was a chef, trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York following his tour of duty as a Coast Guardsman in Vietnam. And while his career started in restaurants, soon after his family started to grow.
He made a choice and went into dietary for Maryland corrections, where he would then stay for the rest of his career retiring in a supervisor role.
My dad coached my little league teams and he coached my soccer teams. He was also my Webelos leader. When anything special happened in my life, he was there.
It’s not that my dad wasn’t a chef, he was. He made really good soups and could efficiently debone a chicken. With a love of locally sourced food, he continued working in and around the profession his entire life. But if you were to ask me who my dad was, I would tell you he was a man who loved his family and showed it every day of my life.
Now, as a father and husband, my biggest motivation is my family. You won’t usually find me jet setting around the globe. That’s why I charge a big premium anytime my work takes me away from home or makes me give up precious evening time with my wife and daughter.
2. Creating and sharing things is a great way to leave a legacy.
My dad would dive headfirst into lots of creative things. Things like woodworking crafts, canning, carving, gourds, antiquing, and painting. And even though he sold some of his crafts from time to time, most of his work was given away.
All around Westminster, and in the homes of family and friends, you will find my dad’s creative work. From little wooden gingerbread men to gourd penguins, Christmas was one of his favorite times to share.
When people ask about my cartoon licensing policy, I tell them that they’re free to use anywhere and for anything. I’ve always said that it’s because I didn’t like the licensing business model. But truthfully, I think it has more to do with this idea that sharing creative work for free has always felt right to me, even if it that makes it harder to draw an income.
3. Pursue diverse interests.
Outside my parent’s house there is a big garden filled with vegetables (my pop was a master gardener) and a greenhouse filled with exotic trees and heirloom tomatoes. He also always liked to fish, something he connected to his childhood by the ocean in Rhode Island.
But sometimes it seemed like each year he had a new hobby. Something very different from the year before. Something he would probably give up by the next year.
My Ukrainian grandfather was like this too. He built houses, owned an ice cream shop, worked as a fireman, became a lobsterman, and we even found old pictures of him as part of an acting troupe.
So if you ever wonder how I can be a designer, evaluator, coder, entrepreneur, sociologist, and whatever else I become, this is how.
4. Give your time and yourself.
Being generous does not require vast wealth. My father worked for the state and my mom spent much of my childhood either taking care of us or working in family literacy (where she is herself leaving a legacy, home visit after home visit and program after program).
But my dad gave his time and himself through a variety of channels. Volunteering with the Optimist club, playing santa clause, supporting organizations he believe in, pulling together events, and flinging pizza to fundraise.
Out of anything that I could do to make my dad proud, helping other people would be number one. Thinking about the people directly around me, and acting to personally make some kind of difference in their lives.
Our world is changing and more digital than ever, but people are people, and I try to embrace this lesson each and every day.
5. The best sources of information are walking all around you.
I remember heading to the Chesapeake bay with dad and our boat to fish. Each and every time we would stop by the bait shop on the way. Yes, bait helps catch fish, but it was more than that.
During those stops my dad would always engage with the often a surly bait shop owner on what was biting and where to fish. Yes, there were fishing reports. But my dad always trusted direct conversation with people more.
Sitting in the Frontier, my co-working space in the middle of North Carolina’s research triangle, I follow my dad’s lead. I’ve learned more about business, nonprofits, and the transition we are taking into the digital age, from talking to the people around me than I ever could from a course or a book.
6. Big things are built one conversation at a time.
My dad started a fishing rodeo in our town, 30 years ago when I was 7. Each year, over the decades, he would drive around to local Westminster businesses asking for donations and door prizes.
- Every kid would get a hot dog
- Every kid would get free goodies.
- There would be prizes and trophies for the winners, and door prizes throughout the day.
- The pond would be stocked with fish specifically for the kids to catch.
With a red catfish hat, colorful suspenders, and megaphone my dad would walk around the pond helping all kids have a fun day.
Every kid could fish, even if they never picked up a rod in their life. Even if they had no money, or fishing equipment, or parent there to help them do it. My dad would find a way to get them help.
After my dad died and we were wondering what we could do in lieu of flowers, my sister had an idea. Why not put money towards making sure the fishing rodeo can keep happening?
Last year, for the first time ever, Carroll County Parks and Rec (not my dad) planned the Westminster fishing rodeo. It went well. But there is never a guarantee they will keep it going.
So we setup this fund, and with it we can help keep the fishing rodeo alive. And help kids continue to enjoy free food, fun, and a day of fishing in honor of my dad.
If you’d like to donate you can do so by visiting: