An 80th Birthday Toast to My Father.
“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone can give another person. He believed in me.”
- Jim Valvano
Last Sunday, my family came to Boston from all over the country to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday.
The original David Knies. The OG, as the kids would say. The reason I’ll always be a Jr.
As the oldest of 4 children, my mom asked me to give a speech / toast. As I wrote my speech, I realized that it sounded more and more like a eulogy. And no one ever wants to hear their own eulogy - especially when you’re turning 80.
But as i wrote myself into a corner and read a bunch of eulogies online, I realized that most of them were full of things that people wish they had said to the eulogee (did I just invent a word?!?) while they were still alive.
So why not do that?
I thought about all the things I wanted to say to my dad, and they all came down to one thing - saying thanks. Many times. For everything. And for always believing in me.
(In the interest of full disclosure - this is the speech that I wrote and planned to read, but I couldn’t get through it without choking up and not being able to speak. So I used version B, and still barely made it through. I’m not crying, you’re crying.)
I have some giant shoes to fill.
Dad grew up in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, which is now the opposite of gentrified. His parents both worked at the local A&P supermarket, meaning the only blue blood in my lineage would be from the A&P meat department that my grandfather worked in. (My wife + daughters, however, have the blue blood of French royalty and English nobility. So i’m the lowest ranking member in my own home.) From them, he inherited an incredible work ethic that was passed down to us. Even if I didn’t activate it until age 22, i wake up everyday and tell myself that if I don’t work hard, someone else will (its the lock screen on my phone).
He put himself through college, eventually getting a PhD (while never really telling anyone) and went on to become CEO of a boutique consulting firm that did all sorts of cool, top secret government and technology work, which enabled him to put 4 kids through top colleges (Villanova, Dartmouth, Dartmouth and UVM) and private schools on Philadelphia’s Main Line, without saddling us with any student loans. As a tuition-paying parent now, I can’t imagine doing this for 4 kids.
It’s often been said that children never comprehend the sacrifices that their parents made for them until they become parents themselves. Truer words have never been spoken. I have no idea how he did all of the coaching, Phils / Eagles / Sixers / Flyers / Villanova games + Palestra tripleheaders, many on weeknights. Extra “help” in all the STEM subjects, rides after school, watching every game, no matter which meetings he needed to miss. And so many other things.
All of this was to put us in the best possible position to succeed. Which has always been his #1 focus.
In the words of Paul Simon, “when I left my home and my family, I was no more than a boy” of 22 and moved to Germany with a couple suitcases, a degree from Villanova and a one way ticket to chase my dream of working in the sports industry. I would have lost patience with me during the 18 months of bartending and carousing that it took me to get the job, but I never once had anything but positive reinforcement.
And many, many other stories + anecdotes that I won’t bore you with.
A few years ago, I was asking one of my daughters to do something and I thought to myself, “God. I sound like my father. I’m becoming my father.”
As my dad turns 80 and I realize what a great life he’s led, I hope that I am lucky enough to become my father someday.
Happy 80th Birthday, Dad.
These words can never express my thanks for everything you’ve done and for always believing in me. (But at least they’re not a eulogy.)
XO - Davy.