Five days a week when I get up it’s dark outside. It’s always dark because it’s always four a.m., the time my alarm clock has to ring if I’m to make it to the studio in time to prepare for our five-day-a-week Good Morning America show.
Driving through Manhattan’s pre-dawn streets I think of a million different things, but I’m sure of this: As we draw nearer to Father’s Day this year, I’ll be thinking of my dad and the things he taught me, which have made my life so much more exciting and rewarding.
Dad was a Methodist minister who loved life and believed in squeezing the most out of every single minute of it. “God loves doers, not grumblers,” he used to say. “Remember this, David: You’re made in God’s image, and so you have His power in you. Who’s going to waste that kind of power?”
Dad thought that a day used to meet challenges or conquer disappointments was well-spent. When Dad was called to a church in Massachusetts, he thought that he was going to a lively, dynamic church. But on his very first day in the pulpit there were four people in the congregation—and one of them was my mother.
Dad could have gone around wrapped in gloom, but he didn’t. He worked. He went out and met people and talked to them and all but dragged them bodily into the church. Before the year was out he had two Sunday services that were packed with people who came willingly.
Dad refused to give in to discouragement. “God is a part of me,” he’d say. “There’s no separation from Him twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
Dad tried to teach me to handle discouragement the way he did—by facing facts and, if necessary, making a new start with a new set of facts. For example, throughout four years at Duke University, my big dream was one day to fly jets for the Air Force. I was the Air Force’s biggest booster; senior year I was ROTC commander on campus.
After I graduated Duke in 1956, I went immediately to pre-flight training in Arizona, but there were too many people in the class; somebody had to be dropped—and it was me.
Why? I was too tall—six-feet-five.
I was almost in tears when I called Dad. “Okay, David,” he said gently, “it’s not what you wanted to happen, but it’s a fact. So face it and go on to the next thing. The world is packed with things to do.”
Dad believed in the direct approach. Sometimes I remembered to follow his advice, sometimes I didn’t. One time, when I was fresh out of drama school and struggling to get some acting parts, there was one casting director I particularly wanted to see. I made elaborate plots in my mind for getting through his barricade of secretaries.
Then one day, riding a crosstown bus, I asked myself, “How would Dad handle this?” and the answer came right back: “Why not simply telephone the man?” I got off the bus, found a phone booth, put a dime in the box. rang his office and asked to speak to him.
I got through. I told him I was an aspiring actor and I’d like to see him. He said, fine, let’s make an appointment. It was as easy as that! Dad was tickled when I told him.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Dad. It was on my birthday in 1968. He called a few minutes after midnight when my birthday was fresh and new, and the last thing he said in the conversation was that familiar and beautiful quotation: “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
He died, unexpectedly, the following week, so those were the last words he spoke to me.
Sometimes when I’m making my morning drive to work through the dark streets of New York, I think of that candle and the opportunities that God gives each of us, every single day, to light one. When I arrive at the studio, I look down 66th Street and see the darkness beginning to dissolve above the trees in Central Park.
Then I go inside with a picture in my mind of dawn reaching across the Hudson River to New Jersey and on to Pennsylvania and Ohio and beyond. I see people stretching and yawning and blinking at the 16 hours or so of activity that lie ahead of them, and I, remembering my dad’s positive philosophy, think of what he would have said: “Hey, you’ve got a gift of a thousand minutes waiting for you today. Don’t waste one of them. Do something with them. Do something with your life, with yourself.”
In fact, at the end of the show everyday, I sign off by saying to millions of viewers the words my dad said to me so many times: “Make it a really good day!”
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