Raising Successful Kids

My dad passed away 10 years ago—he left me these 6 rules for a happy life: 'Come home for dinner'

Photo: Christie Daley

My dad was a successful banker and Army veteran, and he would have been 82 this year. 

He survived cancer for more than 25 years, before ultimately passing away from it in 2012. As I grew up, I watched him carefully prepare my four siblings and I for a future without him.

Even though I only got 27 years with my dad, he's still very much alive in my heart. When I'm faced with a difficult decision or just need a little motivation, I think of him.

Some of the most memorable things he taught me centered around his favorite topics: family, working hard and being smart about money. Here are his six rules for a happy, meaningful life:

1. Quit whining and get the job done.

My dad always focused on being constructive rather than complaining about things that were beyond his control.

Part of his perspective was shaped by his journey with cancer. He worked throughout his treatment, and planned chemotherapy for Fridays so he could rest and recover over the weekend. 

Photo: Christie Daley

His expectation was that we never give up when faced with challenges. It makes me smile to think of his voice, sometimes harsh, encouraging me to keep moving forward.

You could call it tough love.

2. Take your time to give thoughtful responses.

Despite his objections to complaining, my dad never dismissed my feelings or concerns.

He always enjoyed hearing about my early-career stories over dinner. Each time I came home from work and vented to him, he'd listen quietly and attentively without immediately responding. I knew that I would never get a snap reaction from him, but that was okay.

Often, he'd stop by my room hours later and suggest how I could handle a situation I'd mentioned earlier. I always appreciated that he put so much consideration into my concerns.

That overshadowed having to wait hours or days for a thoughtful reply.

3. Don't be penny wise and dollar foolish.

Although he was a conservative spender, my dad never complained about the cost of basic needs. I'm sure he'd have a lot to say about inflation today, but he knew that being smart about money meant looking beyond those day-to-day expenses.

When I graduated from college, he encouraged me to find a job with good health insurance. He advised that in the early stages of my career, health coverage and growth potential were more important than salary.

And when I started working, he showed me his bank accounts and how he contributed to high-yield but lower-risk investments, like brokerage accounts.

I can't imagine how he'd have been able to support our family as the breadwinner without making the most out of what he earned.

4. Come home for dinner.

My parents had five children over the course of 20 years. We all remember our dad coming home for my mom's home-cooked meals every night.

As he climbed the corporate ladder to his final role as senior vice president and corporate loan officer, he always set aside sacred time for his family. After the table was cleared, he'd take out his briefcase and catch up on tasks he put aside earlier.

Knowing how to balance his time was how he found happiness in life.

5. Build credit responsibly.

When I went off to college, my dad handed me my first credit card in my name. I was only allowed to use it to buy books and a few essentials.

Every month, he would pay off the balance completely. By the time I graduated, I had a strong credit score and the ability to open a card with points. Building credit enabled me to get approved for a loan for my first car in my 20s.

It was his way of introducing me to the world of credit and loans without entirely handing over the keys, both figuratively and literally.

6. The best way to remember loved ones is to love others.

Sadly, my mother lost her own courageous battle with cancer six years before my dad passed. They were married for 42 years.

He needed a distraction from the grief, so he volunteered at church and in the community. With his friends, he established a nonprofit to send care packages to troops overseas. This was dear to his heart, as he was a second lieutenant in the Army in the 1960s.

My dad also started a scholarship in memory of my mom. To honor their legacy, my siblings and I have kept this going. Each year, our former high school selects a graduating senior to receive a $1,000 check from our family.

It's likely only enough to cover a few books, but I hope that, in my dad's honor, the recipients will use the money wisely.

Christie Daley is the director of digital analytics for NBCUniversal News Group Research. She lives in Westchester, New York with her husband and two sons.

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