Tuesday, June 30, 2015

10 Life Lessons From Grandpop

You’ve probably never heard of my grandfather, Morton Ceaser. And that’s pretty much how he likes it.

You see, although Mort is one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met, he was never one for the limelight.

With interests as diverse as science, art, and politics, Mort could have been anything he wanted. Heck, the man probably could have invented his own religion if he tried!

Picture of a random pensive gentleman I found on Google Images.

But that just wasn’t his style. Over his career in human resources and in his daily life as a husband and father of three daughters, Mort was never one to flaunt his intelligence. Reserved and mild-mannered, in group settings he often let his more loquacious wife, Gloria, do the talking. 

One-on-one, however, you could always count on Mort for insightful and often profound reflections on the past, present, and future states of the world -- and a delicious corned beef sandwich (on rye) to boot.

Over the 25 years that I’ve had the pleasure of calling him “Grandpop,” Mort has imparted some important lessons that I intend to hold near and dear for the rest of my life. Here are ten of them.

1. Exercise often.

Even into his eighties, Mort exercised at the gym several times per week, both with weights and treadmill walking. He also took the stairs whenever possible. As a result, Mort never needed any sort of assistive device to get around and was always able to shower and dress independently. If you can still cut your own toe nails, you’re doing all right, he would say.

2. Keep up with the times.

Mort recognized the importance of the Internet early on. To keep up, "Micro Mort," as he dubbed himself, invested in his own desktop computer and wrestled with AOL for e-mail and Excel to track his finances. He showed that even an old dog can learn new tricks.

3. Develop a good regimen.

To stay on top of a complicated medical situation, Mort stuck to a tight routine. He exercised and ate pretty much the same thing most days. It may sound boring, but to live to 89, he must have been doing something right.

4. Read and share information.

Mort was always reading (mostly non-fiction). Whenever he came across a newspaper or magazine article he thought one of his grandsons would enjoy, he clipped it. At every family gathering, each of us grandkids would receive a thick envelope of articles uniquely tailored to our interests.

5. Think for yourself.

Mort was constantly questioning what he read and heard. Although he was raised Jewish, he later became a Humanist. But he never pushed his beliefs on me; instead, he encouraged me to think for myself and challenge what I was taught to believe.

6. Have a sense of humor.

Mort was never one to sweat the small stuff -- or the big stuff, for that matter -- and he was always quick to smile and share a laugh. I suppose he had to be that way, given that he shared a house with four women.

7. Choose a compatible partner.

When my brother and I reached our teens, Grandpop shared with us a short document he’d written on the characteristics to look for in a partner. The advice was so good, I shared it with many of my close friends. (If you’re interested in a copy, I’m happy to share.) 

8. Serve your country.

Mort falsified his papers in order to enlist in the Navy at 17 years old. Talk about cojones.

9. Look presentable.

This one is the hardest for me to get behind — I love my gym shorts and t-shirt. The fact is, I never saw my grandpop anything but clean-shaven, with his shirt tucked. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to look the part.

10. Don't eat too much candy.

Don’t eat too much candy, Grandpop told me from a young age, or you’ll get diabetes like me. I’m not really sure Grandpop got diabetes from snacking on candy throughout the work day, as he claims, but it’s still sage advice.

At 89 years old, Mort has been through and seen some stuff (World War II, having three daughters, open heart surgery, a stroke, etc.). Along the way, he's also shared some seriously solid advice. Currently receiving hospice care, I celebrate him by passing along these life lessons so that others may benefit. Mort was never one to boast, but I'm happy to do so for him.

Update: Morton passed away the morning of July 11, 2015, surrounded by family. Before he went, my mom got a chance to read my words above. His response, in classic Mort fashion, was "My most profound idea was about choosing a partner, and I appreciate the other nine points."

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