Shakespeare once wrote: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” With all due respect to the Bard, I believe that the good that people do lives on as well.
Thirteen years ago, at the age of eighty-one, my dad died quietly in his kitchen while making his morning coffee. My dad was an average guy and a wonderful dad. Soon after his death, I would learn something that would change how I was to remember him and how I would live the rest of my life.
The story begins in the 1950s when I was ten. My entire life was the New York Yankees. On rare and exuberant occasions, Dad and I would head for Yankee Stadium for a double header.
Down the street from me—and a world apart—lived another Yankee fan, Stanley. Stanley was from a family of six who lived in a converted garage. His dad was blind, his mom was overworked yet always had a warm smile, and Stanley was always in and out of trouble. One day he surprised everyone by winning an essay contest, and the prize was tickets to a Yankees game. Because none of his family members could take him to the game, Stanley began asking every adult he knew: his teachers, his principal, his priest. No takers. When I mentioned Stanley’s quandary to my dad, he said, “Let’s do it.”
Mind you, Stanley and I were not close. We were in the same grade, and once or twice we might have played catch or sat in his garage loft to study his autograph collection. But mostly we ignored each other. Yet we went to that game.
Soon after arriving at the stadium, Stanley set off on his own to explore. My dad loved Stanley’s spirit. “Is that Stanley over there in the bleachers?” It was. Near the end of the game, when we wondered if Yankee Stadium had swallowed Stanley alive, we heard the stadium announcer summon security to the Yankees dugout. Stanley was leaning over the roof asking players for autographs. After reuniting with Stanley at the stadium office, we rode the elevated subway back up to the Bronx, exhausted and happy.
And I forgot about Stanley and that day for the next forty years, until the evening of my dad’s funeral.
The director entered the parlor and whispered that I had a phone call. It was Stanley. He had seen notice of my dad’s death and wanted to pay his respects. He recalled vividly that Saturday forty years ago, a day that would remain with him through juvenile detention and longer incarcerations. He told me, “Your dad believed in me when no one else would.” He said he’d had some tough times, but eventually finished college and earned a master’s degree in social work. “Now I counsel kids who are in trouble like I was. Every day I try to do for someone what your dad did for me.”
I hung up and sat there, my dad lying in the next room—an average guy, a wonderful dad, and someone who taught me the power of those little acts of goodness that live on after us.
Following a twenty-five-year career as a summer camp director, Howard Miller retired to Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, New Jersey, to fulfill a dream as a science teacher. Deeper into his retirement now, he plans to help young people catch fire for science in his new home of Charlottesville, Virginia.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.