It’s been said that the person we become depends on what our fathers teach us in unexpected moments, even if unintentional. We’re forged by these bits of wisdom. Whether your dad prided himself on teaching you the meaning of hard work and discipline, or whether he unwittingly gave you the courage to be yourself and run your own race, there’s no blueprint of what we’re supposed to learn from our father or when we’re supposed to learn it. We asked six of our friends to share a cherished memory or quality about their father that in some way –– whether directly or inadvertently –– has influenced the person they are today. Here are memories and wisdom they shared.
MAX VON ESSEN
Tony-nominated Broadway actor
FATHER: THOMAS VON ESSEN
CBE, Former FDNY Commissioner
Every once in a while when I was a kid, my dad would look at me –– probably because he could see something in my eyes that showed him I was having a tough time –– and say something like “Hey, you know nothing can ever be so bad that we couldn’t work through it, right? You know you can always come to me and we’d figure it out, right?” It may not seem like much, but on those darker days growing up, it sure helped to know that my dad would always be there no matter what.
My dad also taught me to work hard and prove myself. I’ll never forget begging for a piano and lessons, fully knowing that we probably couldn’t afford them either. But my parents got me a cheap used piano, paid for my lessons and said if I worked my butt off and showed that I really wanted this, they’d get me a really great piano one day. Well, I proved myself, they got me that piano, and my love for music continued to grow.
Actor | Director | Producer
FATHER: SAMUEL GOLDWYN, JR.
The night I made my Broadway debut, my dad started clapping the second I came onstage, which got the whole audience to applaud –– they had no idea what they were even applauding for! That moment encapsulated –– albeit humorously –– my dad’s supportive, enthusiastic and generous spirit. He taught me the value of public service, and how to treat people with respect and dignity, regardless of their age and status. It didn’t matter if someone was 8 or 80, a movie star or a parking attendant –– my dad was always asking about their lives, their families and their dreams.
Actor | Director | Producer
FATHER: SAM BALDONI
I haven’t always viewed sensitivity as something of value –– in fact, it used to feel like a curse. For most of my adolescence and early 20s, I even resented my dad for his sensitivity, and, in turn, my own. My dad is someone who to this day cries when anything beautiful, romantic or inspiring happens on TV or in a film, and he for sure passed that down to me. He’s got this half laugh, half cry that he does, and when I hear it, I know he’s been touched deeply and is about to lose it.
But as I began to take my own journey and dig into my head and heart, I learned that sensitivity and vulnerability are signs of strength and courage –– I learned to value it. Now with my kids I get to explain why Daddy is crying, and that it’s a good thing. I feel so lucky to have a dad who has consistently modeled emotions and sensitivity for me.
Something happened a few months ago that really touched me. Every night I sing Maxwell and Maiya a song about using their hearts. One night my dad was over and we taught him the song. There we were, three generations bonding together over a song about something that I subconsciously learned from my dad. I don’t know if I’ve ever pointed out to my dad how much that moment means to me….so I’m happy he gets to hear it from me now.
FATHER: STEPHEN POSEN
I learned about the creative process from my father, Stephen Posen, who is an artist. Growing up so close to his process –– his studio was in half of our apartment –– I learned about the discipline and concentration that creativity takes.
I also have so many other tender memories with my dad: bike rides through the empty downtown streets of NYC, buying fireworks for 4th of July in Chinatown/Little Italy, and looking at art with him. We spent a lot of time in museums around the world. He took his time with me discussing and deeply concentrating on the works of art we saw, and I inherited his special way of looking at the world (and his sense of humor).
ZAC POSEN’S FATHER’S DAY BBQ SUGGESTION:
SMOKED BARBECUED RIBS
From Cooking with Zac: Recipes From Rustic to Refined: A Cookbook
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 1/2 tsp coarse brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1 1/2 tsp whole black pepper corns, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp dried thyme, 1 tbsp sweet paprika, 1 tbsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground cloves, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp dried mustard
2 slabs baby back pork ribs, membrane removed from the back of the ribs
2 cups of your favorite barbecue sauce (like Sweet Baby Ray’s — I like adding a few drops of liquid smoke for extra smokiness!)
1. Heat your smoker to 150°F following the manufacturer’s instructions.
2. To make the rib rub: Add the cumin seeds, fennel seeds, sugar, salt, peppercorns, oregano and thyme to a spice grinder or coffee grinder and pulverize until finely ground. Add the paprika, onion powder, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and mustard and pulse to combine, then transfer to a small bowl.
3. To make the ribs: Rub the spices into both sides of the ribs and place the ribs on the grill rack, close the lid, and smoke them for 2 hours.
4. Increase the smoker temperature to 325°F. Transfer each slab to a large sheet of aluminum foil and tightly wrap them shut. Return the aluminum-wrapped slabs to the grill and cook until when you peek into the foil, the ends of the rib bones are white, the meat has shrunk, and the bones are exposed, about 45 minutes.
5. Unwrap the ribs and pour off any collected fat from the foil into the barbecue sauce, stirring to combine. Set the slabs meaty side up directly on the grill. Baste with the barbecue sauce and continue to grill until they look sticky and the meat falls off the bone with a gentle pull, 30 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and use a sharp knife to separate the ribs. Pile the ribs and a platter and serve.
Award-winning actress, producer, social activist and philanthropist, National Outreach Director of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
FATHER: DANNY THOMAS
Actor, producer, philanthropist, Founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
When I was just 17, I landed the lead in Gigi in summer stock. My excitement at having such a great opportunity was painfully cut short as the interviews and reviews focused on comparing me to my father. Would I be as good as my father? As funny? As popular? I was devastated. I loved my father; my problem was my father was Danny Thomas. “Daddy,” I began, trying not to cry, “please don’t be hurt but, I want to change my name. I love you, but I don’t want to be a Thomas anymore.” He looked at me and said, “I raised you to be a thoroughbred. When thoroughbreds run, they wear blinders to keep their eyes focused straight ahead with no distractions, no other horses.
They hear the crowd but they don’t listen. They just run their own race. That’s what you have to do. Don’t listen to anyone comparing you to me or to anyone else. You just run your own race.” The next night as the crowd filed into the theater, the stage manager knocked on my dressing room door and handed me a white box with a red ribbon. I opened it up and inside was a pair of old horse blinders with a little note that read, “Run Your Own Race, Baby.” He could have said it a dozen other ways. “Be Independent,” “Don’t be influenced by others.” But it wouldn’t have been the same. He chose the right words at the right time. The old horse blinders were the right gift. And all through my life, I’ve been able to cut to the chase by asking myself, “Am I running my race or somebody else’s?” I thank my father for those, and all his words, that continue to live in my heart.
Since 2005, Brooks Brothers has raised more than $20 million for the hospital in the fight against childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases as part of the hospital’s Thanks and Giving™ fundraising campaign. Created by Marlo, Terre and Tony Thomas — children of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas — the St. Jude Thanks and Giving campaign began as a holiday-focused fundraising effort and has grown into an annual tradition that unites celebrities, media, retail and corporate partners to support the lifesaving mission of St. Jude. For more information or to make a donation, visit Stjude.org/brooksbrothers
FATHER: BRAD FULLER
My dad always chose the right way, not the easy way. My father is just now entering the peak of his career, and at nearly 55 years old, he’s been working in his field for more than thirty years. He has not once complained, and he still relishes the opportunity to grow. He inadvertently instilled in me the value of working your ass off and not taking shortcuts for success. I didn’t truly recognize this value until I got into my early twenties and developed a drive to become successful in my professional field.
One of the fondest moments I’ve ever had with my dad was in 2018. Our family was on our way to SXSW movie festival in Austin, Texas. His movie, A Quiet Place, was headlining Friday night. He had never had a movie in a festival before its wide release, but he knew the movie was good, so showing the world could only help. I could tell he was nervous. My dad is a very stoic person, he doesn’t often show weakness, but I could see his anxiety and nerves overwhelming him that night. He was sweating when we were taking pictures before the movie. It was at that moment that I understood how important this film was to him and his career.
We piled into the theater and sat down in our row. It was packed. Everyone had snacks in their hands. As soon as the movie started, not one sound was heard. No crunching. No slurping. Silence. I’ve never seen an audience so invested. My dad had to walk out of the theater midway to catch his breath. How was this going? He had no idea. He composed himself and came back in. The movie ended and the crowd ERUPTED with cheers. It truly felt like an earthquake inside of the theater. And everyone kept clapping for over ten minutes. A friend of mine later told me they could feel the entire theater shaking from outside of it. That was a magical moment. I followed my dad as we walked toward John Krasinski, the movie’s director. They embraced and my dad actually started crying. I’ve never seen him do that. I was so proud of him. That night is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
Former MLB Yankees First Baseman, World Series Champion, All Star and FSI Analyst
FATHER: STEVE SWISHER
Former MLB catcher and minor league manager
My dad taught me to believe in myself. He gave me the confidence to be whoever or whatever I wanted as long as I worked to be the best. Something I continue to live by to this day. Thank you, Dad; if it weren’t for your encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I am today.