Lori Rose (Block) recently lost her dad, Michael Block. Here, she shares some of her best memories and how he influenced her life.
Tell us about your dad:
I’m immediately transported back to around age three, hearing my dad’s soft, smooth voice and feeling surrounded by tenderness as he strummed the guitar and taught me and my sister songs so we could sing together. I also remember taking up watching Mike Tyson boxing as a little kid, even though I had no interest in boxing, because I liked cuddling with my dad so much. That was our time.
My dad’s playfulness stands out as he pushed me way too high on swings, took his skateboard out to accompany me while I roller skated (well, maybe until the time he fell pretty hard on it), and played endless competitive pinball games in our basement on Friday nights, when my cousins would come over. My dad’s only sibling had passed when her two children were young, and his dad passed when I was born. When I was younger, every Friday, my parents had my cousins and grandmother over for dinner and games for as many years as they were able to come.
When I was a kid, my dad worked late hours at a car dealership, so we often had dinner without him and had to go to bed before he got home. I remember laying in bed hearing the front door click open and straining to hear the special time that he and my mom carved out to connect over a meal. I deemed it unfair that I wasn’t included in it. I always noticed, though, the time and intention my parents dedicated to each other. On Saturday nights, my mom’s perfume would gently waft through the upstairs, signaling it was time for them to head on some sort of date or outing with friends. My sister and I, always comrades as young kids, were pretty thrilled with our evening of fried chicken carryout and the Golden Girls (though totally over our heads) entertaining us on TV.
We grew up in a time with no social media, no crafty first day of school signs (just terrible polaroids) and no boasts of children’s accomplishments. As humble as my parents were, and as shy as we were, I do distinctly remember walking into the car dealership to visit my dad and him beaming with smiles and warmth, and his coworkers doing the same in response to his energy.
My dad let everyone know they were his friends. Whether visitors were my childhood friends, boys I dated, or a stranger coming to do a project, my dad would sit down with them and strike up a conversation with genuine interest in their lives. This carried through years later to his grandchildren and their friends, as my 9-year-old niece shared on the phone recently, “Oh, yes everyone knows who Papa is.”
I’m not sure when it hit me how much my dad and I had in common — maybe not until my 20s or even 30s. I remember rolling my adolescent eyes as we waited at community events for my dad to finish a conversation, making us inevitably the last ones to leave. Now, as the room clears around me engaged in tunnel-vision with whomever I’m talking to after my own grown-up events, I realize that that person is now me! My dad and I also shared a creative frugality — I knew he’d be the only person to understand when I needed an innovative solution to prolong the life of an item I could have replaced for $5-10, and if I asked, he’d help me find that solution, too. We also loved laughter and had an internally understood humor, as he could make me laugh hysterically like no one else with a single eyebrow raise or facial expression.
Our chemistry also meant we could grate on each other like no one else, too. We had our share of disagreements and struggles, and sometimes saw things very differently. We never let road bumps have a lasting impact on our bond, though. Through stories and by example, my dad taught me to not let anything petty get in the way of family bonds, strong friendships and real love. No matter what, I knew that he loved and cared for me fiercely, and that I always had a fallback with him if everything else went to crap.
What is your favorite memory of your dad from when you were younger?
I think instantly of my dad teaching me to ride my bike without training wheels. I remember crystal clearly his presence in my left periphery, the secure feeling of his grip on the seat and handle bars, hearing his feet hit the sidewalk with startlingly increasing speed next to me, and the immense awe I felt that he must literally have been running at the speed of light, because that’s how fast we seemed to be going. I didn’t understand how he was keeping up. I remember the shocking and oddly confident feeling of freedom and non-doom that I was pedaling all by myself. It all seemed to happen so fast! It was as if his determination and steadfast presence fueled me to just get it, with no room for doubt.
I tear up every time I think of this memory. Formerly at how precious it was, and recently with extra cherished tenderness and appreciation for my dad, as he passed due to Covid-19 on April 14, 2020. His steadfast love and tenacious care have now sent me flying into the rest of this life/world with no more training wheels. I hold some comfort in contemplating his belief that I was ready.
How did your relationship with your dad change over your lifetime?
I struggled as a teen and young adult (yet, perhaps, who didn’t?). I experienced trauma outside of my home that no one knew about, felt that something was wrong with me, began struggling with mental and emotional health, and my sense of aliveness and drive eventually gave way to unhealthy coping strategies. In hindsight, I know it was tough, painful and frightening for my dad to witness me stumble with issues like depression, sleep deprivation and eating disorders. I realized as an adult that when my dad had difficult feelings like fear, he perhaps didn’t always have ways to express it, and his communication, though founded in care, would come through in ways that were tough for me to receive.
I recently found letters my dad wrote me during college that encapsulate some of what we were trekking through pretty well. Beginning with one of his nicknames, “Hi PeeWee,” he’d check in about my car maintenance, give general updates, and say something silly about the dog in his jovial manner. And then this sentence struck me: “I guess I’m dodging the issue, but your happiness is my main concern right now.” After asking me to get better sleep, he continued, “You have more wit and personality than any ten people I know. I love you and want you to enjoy yourself.”
It’s beyond description how much meaning, understanding and depth can grow with time. Back then I had experienced more trauma, felt alone and don’t remember how I took his words. I’m certain they planted a seed letting me know he was still there. And how priceless these letters are now.
Challenges with my parents’ reactions to my choices and my lack of grace for how they expressed themselves happened throughout my 20s, but I am grateful we maintained a baseline of connection. Things took a turn in my early 30s when I went through a difficult divorce. As my own foundation unraveled, I was vulnerable and completely honest with my parents for the first time in a very long time.
I’d always known my parents were both married and divorced in their 20s before they met. But I never knew, or perhaps had the maturity to hear, any of the details. Our parent-child dynamic started shifting to one of shared empathy. Though I’d never wish what I went through on anyone, one gift of this time was the seeds of friendship sown with both of my parents.
The past 10 years I’ve been able to say the things I hadn’t previously. I’ve spoken with my parents about my traumas, we’ve discussed family tensions, and when I went back to school for sexual health education, we even covered some of those topics, too — Some of them. When I decided to change my legal last name to my middle name of Rose instead of going back to his last name after my divorce, my dad had a hard time with it and said a couple of difficult things. Catching myself during a visit responding to his communication with old shame and shutting down, I instead channeled curiosity and started asking him questions about his family. We ended up speaking about my dad being first generation in the U.S., about his grandfather working for five years before he could bring the rest of the family over, and of stories of many ancestors. Those ancestors included the several who were named Rose. And suddenly, we were back to empathy. Without anyone having to be right or wrong, he understood my desire to honor the family matriarchy, and I understood his loyalty and importance of family ties. From then on, I’m quite sure we spoke about family linkages in some way during every conversation or visit. And for a while, my dad enjoyed leaving voicemails introducing himself by his middle name — “Hello Lori Rose, this is Michael Burton…” It still cracks me up every time I think of it.
I thought of our inside joke while my dad was in the hospital fighting Covid-19. He wasn’t conscious during those two weeks, and of course no visitors were allowed, so in order to get our voices into the room, my sister and I loaded up two voice recorders with messages from us, her children and my dad’s niece. I began one message saying, “Hello Michael Burton, this is Lori Rose…” and then I shared a giggle and an apology that I just had to. To me it meant — I hear you. I see you. And I love you with my whole heart.
I got to say those things over the voice recorders, too. 🙂
How did your dad influence your life?
Through how he lived daily, my dad influenced my values of authenticity, openness, play and connection. Above all, he showed me the importance of extending love and connection to everyone. Since his passing, I’ve found myself feeling less awkward and more driven to revive old or even strained connections with people. My dad showed me how every person matters, and that every life is a pillar holding up innumerable other lives.
He also taught me about risk-taking, resilience and going after passions, and not in a sunshine-and-rainbows, “You can do anything” type of way. We didn’t have the resources to nurture passions or do whatever we wanted, and our family experienced a difficult financial turn after my freshman year in high school. I witnessed how hard everyone worked to get through it and followed suit, working two jobs throughout college to pay for it and passing up anything I was interested in that required money. Each time I visited my family, my dad had a smile on his face and was trying something new to rebound. No matter what he faced, I saw my same, kind dad living a simple and full life and sharing love and support with whomever he could.
In hindsight, I understand why he was concerned when I didn’t choose a typical career path out of college. In addition to our own situation, our DNA remembers our recent ancestors’ lives threatened and taken for having differences from their persecutors. Our family culture was one of needing safety and security.
But something shifted as we grew. My dad saw my hard work, too, and he developed increased understanding for how my passions interconnected and about societal issues I wanted to change for better. By the time I was ready to make a leap in service of greater passions 15 years in to my career, I was floored to realize that I had both of my parents’ support, and that my dad trusted my decisions. A year later I gave a TEDx talk, and I was really scared for my parents to hear it. I didn’t tell them there was a livestream. The video came out a couple of months later, and my fear was proven wrong. I am still learning how many people my dad sent that video to over the past several years. His words from one of our conversations about it run permanently through my mind: “You have a gift. When you speak, people listen.” There is something about, no matter how old you are, the moment it clicks that your parents actually believe in you. It’s not lost on me how many people don’t get to experience this and how very fortunate I am. It’s a gift I seek to extend to as many people as possible, and to this day at the beginning of any talk I give to young people, I tell them with every fiber of my being, “I’m here because I believe in you.”
My dad influenced me to keep working hard, taking risks and trying to do the right thing, with the knowledge that it won’t always work out in my favor either. He reminds me of our shared ability to rise back up again and again, and that at the end of the day, it is our bonds of love and connection with others that far outlast our time here.
What qualities do you share with your dad?
In addition to what I already named, and our mutual tendency to use 1/2 pieces of Kleenex so as to not waste any, I would add inclusion. As I’ve come into my own, I am known for bringing together groups of people that some would call “random.” I’ve learned through recent conversations with my mom that my dad was the same way. He’d learn of someone experiencing loneliness and invite them to dinner with him and my mom. He’d be a bridge in between people who didn’t get along with one another. He wanted everyone to know they were important.
Did your dad have a favorite quote or mantra?
Oh gosh. He had so many! I would constantly laugh with friends old and new about all of his colorful phrases. He’d insert, “It’s not like I just fell off the turnip truck” right in with an everyday story. He and I would laugh (and grate) sometimes about my level of profound thinking, and he liked to tell me with a, “You know what I always say,” how much he stood by the KISS method.
I will say that my favorite quote of his was a relationship lesson he taught me in very few words. While I was opening up about some things during my divorce he said to me, “That’s something I love about your mother — no matter what’s going on, I always know who I’m coming home to.”
I always know who I’m coming home to. To me, that’s become the marker of a true friend, a true heart, a healthy relationship. I always know who I’m coming home to. Someone who sees me and knows my heart, who will honor themselves and honor me, too, with mutual grace. That’s a feeling I want to pass along to as many people as I can. I am endlessly grateful for the dad I was given and for an unceasing love I will forever share.