compassion, learning, lessons, metaphor, pairadimes

A Giant Teaches Me About SUCCESS: a “what are your secrets to a successful life” meme

I’ve been tagged with a “what are your secrets to a successful life” meme by Kelly Christopherson. To be honest, I was dreading being tagged by a meme… I knew it was going to come eventually, but my writing process, my flow, seldom lends itself to creating lists… they are too linear for my big picture-right brained thinking process, and they often come out very contrived. However, Kelly dedicated his post to his Grandmother, and this reminded my of a special list related to this topic that I have already written.

So I dedicate this post, (my portion of my Papa’s eulogy), to my grandfather, Leon Bernstein, March 24th, 1924 – December 4th, 2000. He really is the best role model for success that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Papa B. is a Giant!

Like many of you, I know this because he told me so.
Papa wasn’t boasting when he said this, he was just
telling you the way it is. If you were to measure a
man by the legacy he leaves behind Papa would come as
big as they get. In this way he is still a giant and
always will be.

Five children, 13 grandchildren, and a growing number
of great grandchildren, currently at 5 and a half,
make quite a legacy for Papa and Granny. Papa called
his great grandkids his Third Crop. Just on Sunday he
told me, “Boy, if I knew my Third Crop was going to be
this much fun, I would have had them first.”

We all miss Leon Bernstein, Mr. B., Dad, or Papa. But
our lives are so much richer from knowing him. Like
many of you here, I never really thought of living
without him in my life before now. Yet, I feel sorry
not so much for us, but for his Third Crop, for my
daughter, who will not get to know him. I speak to you
today to share with you some of the wisdom Papa has
taught me: some wisdom that needs to be passed on to
Papa’s Third Crop.

So here are some lessons or rules that Papa lived by,
rules that made him the Giant we all know.

Rule #1
“Don’t wait for it to completely break before you fix it.”
Papa would walk into your house and see a loose tile
in the kitchen. Two days later, he would show up with
his tools and mend it before it became a problem.
There is an old saying that says, “Kill a snake when
it is small”. Papa never had to deal with large

Rule #2
“Stuff happens, just move on.”
Papa never dwelled on bad things, he would just move
on and, “Call that Wally”. I can not remember Papa
being mad for more than five minutes. He knew there
were much more important things to focus on. Like his
favorite sports team, or making sure everyone saw the
beautiful sunset from his balcony. Or just playing
with his grand and great grand children.

Rule #3
“Don’t waste time on stupidness.”
This rule could also be called, “I look stupid to
you?” or the “What de-yass is dat?” rule. Papa didn’t
have time for stupidity. On this topic, Papa was very
expressive. He always used his time and never wasted
it. On the same note, Papa was always fixing things
and if there was a smarter way to do things, or a
short-cut to use, Papa found it. It was usually just
after one of his time saving discoveries that Papa
beamed, and would say, “Man, Papa is a Giant!”

Rule #4
“Enjoy everything you have.”
For Papa, nothing was too small to be appreciated. He
made it an art to celebrate the little things in life.
From his morning coffee and jumble puzzle to a
handmade birthday card from a grandchild, Papa
appreciated all that life had to offer.

Rule #5
“Business is business and pleasure is pleasure.”
Papa had the amazing ability to put on and take off
his business cap. He never mixed the two. He had the
knack of being small town friendly and big business
savvy without ever letting one get in the way of the

Rule #6
“Be small town friendly.”
I remember going to a shopping plaza early one
morning with Papa. A woman walked pass us as we got
out of the car and she said, “Good morning”. Papa
replied, “Good morning,” and then said, “You’re from
the islands.” The woman stopped and looked up oddly at
Papa wanting to know why he thought she was from the
islands? Papa replied, “Because you said good morning,
in a big city like this, people don’t talk to
strangers in parking lots”. Turns out she was from
Trinidad. Papa loved to get to know people. From a
sales clerk, to a door attendant, to a doctor, to a
President, Papa was a magnet that people could not
help but be drawn to.

Rule #7
“Never retire.”
This is what kept Papa young and fun. He didn’t
retire…He became a tiler, a carpenter, a chauffeur, a
landlord, a banker, a fund-raiser, a board member, a
baseball coach, a plumber, a jack of all trades. He
continued to learn and to grow. He did all this
without spreading himself too thin. He did all this
keeping his family a priority, after all his main job
was as a loving husband, father, grandfather, great
grandfather, and a true friend.

Rule #8
“Smile…a lot.”
With us, his second crop, and his third crop too,
Papa could often be found, laying down on the carpet
with kids playing on and around him. His smile would
light you up. He would nap on the floor in a crowded
room, wake up and pretend to be mad for 10 seconds or
so because his grandchildren put hair ties and clips
on him. We would laugh and then you would see a glint
in Papa’s eyes and a smile that was contagious. Papa
was happiest around family and that happiness was
contagious too.

Rule #9
“Take care of your family.”
If I had to rank these rules, this would be number 1
with Papa. From fixing your toilet, to helping you at
the bank Papa was always looking out for you. As I
look around this room, I think I’d be hard pressed to
find a single person that he didn’t do more for than
they did for him. When it comes to family and friends,
he is the best role model anyone could have.

Rule #10
Always remember… “Papa is a Giant!”

Papa B's Crop

Papa B’s “Crop”, July 2007. His third crop count is now 10… and will continue to grow.

Originally posted: April 14th, 2007

Reflection upon re-reading and re-posting:

It occurred to me that some of the rules such as #3 and #6 deserve a little background knowledge. My grandfather fled Poland with his Dad, Uncle and their families as a boy… they ended up in Barbados and my Papa developed a very strong ‘Bajan‘ accent. He had a great lilt to his speech and he could make a swear word sound like the melody of a song. If he said “What de-yass is dat?” it would not come off as swearing.

Also, in Barbados #3’s title, “Don’t waste time on stupidness.” would actually be said something like this: “dow-wase na-time-pun stupidness”. I always say that English is both my first and second language. When I moved to Canada absolutely nobody understood me. My sister’s accent was so strong that her teacher wanted her to go to ESL.

One final note. My Great Grandfather (ol’ Papa) and Uncle Sol tried to talk the rest of the family into joining them when they fled Poland… their response: ‘We are in the sweater business, what are we going to do in the Caribbean? The answer turned out to be ‘LIVE’! Most of the family that remained in Poland were killed in the second invasion.

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Comments on the original post:

  1. What a Papa! How lucky to have such a treasure in your life!

    A  couple of whispers from the family:

    ‘Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul.’

    If you fall, remember to pick something up.

    Eve on Sunday, 15 April 2007, 18:21 CEST

  2. Dave,

    Awesome. I spent the Easter week at home with my mom. I visited with grandma several times, took her for coffee, spent time at her house, cleaned her walk and did some outside work while my kids were inside talking with her and visiting. I am always amazed at how they pick up so much and how grandma Chris tells her stories and they listen. I think that what you wrote is something that is greater than just success – it’s about life and being human. From what I can see Papa B was indeed a huge success! Have a great week Dave.

    Kelly Christopherson on Sunday, 15 April 2007, 20:44 CEST

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Do you have a special Life Lesson, Rule, or Secret to Success that was passed on to you by a parent or grandparent? Share it with me…

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