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Donations in John's memory may be made by clicking this link: The INN.


What Dad Would Want

August 20, 2020

I wasn’t going to prepare anything for today because talking about Dad right now is hard, so, so hard. But then I thought, “What Would Dad Want?” And he would have wanted me to have something prepared to say today. I know this, because even before 2002, he would always be handing me things to say, a few paragraphs here and there, that I'm sure Adele, who had been typing things for him morning, noon and night for over 30 years, typed up, "just in case" someone asked me to say something. And when he'd hand me these pieces of paper, I mean, I'd take them because I knew he had thought about good things to say, but I also knew that I was unlikely to be asked to say anything. But he was right, his speeches often came in handy and were always well-received. They reflected well on me, and I have him to thank for that.

So "What Would Dad Want?" He'd have wanted to know he did his job and that I came with something prepared with say today.

What Would Dad Want is a thought I’ll now have for the rest of my life whenever making decisions, hopefully mostly big decisions, but probably smaller ones too.

And it’ll be a lot of smaller ones, like, when I go to Dunkin' Donuts, it’s going to be impossible not to think of What Would Dad Want. He’d want a French Cruller and coffee with just a *splash* of milk. And I’m happy about that because I like French Crullers too and I can get one and think of him.

But I’ll also think of him when I make a sharp turn on the curve between our house and the light before JFK school, and how his coffee would splash all over the console in the Mitsubishi 3000GT, and how mom would not be happy about all the coffee stains. And about how when mom was getting treatment for cancer and he took over all the duties of making us PB&J sandwiches for lunch in the mornings and taking us to skating and where we needed to go before he went to work. Then there were different worries and mom would no longer care about the coffee stains.

I’ll think of him when the weather turns to a brisk temperature in a few months, how his mother Ada, Grandma, would say this was her favorite season, the perfect time for a sweater. It was the time he’d get so excited that Parkwood was opening and he’d be able to watch us all skate: me, Emily, Matt, Alex, Natalie, and now Charlotte playing hockey. Those days were some of his happiest. And he’d play there at night there with his buddies, buddies like Barry Segal who also moved from Toronto to Great Neck, buddies he’s had for the past 30+ years. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go to Parkwood and not think of Dad. When we first started going there over 30 years ago, there was an outside area between the lobby and the rink. I don’t think Dad ever spent time in that area because he was always so eager to get on the ice. He loved doing "stuff," he loved all the kids doing "stuff." We always had to be doing "stuff." But being on the ice was one of his favorite things to do, some of the BEST "stuff," especially with his family. When Natalie and Alex were born, he’d lace up his skates and teach them to skate out there. I think it reminded him of his own childhood in Canada, a country where he remained a proud sole citizen of until his 70th birthday, even though he’d lived in the US since he was 17.

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, he’d take me skating on weekend mornings, with my mom taking on more of the day-to-day oversight of my skating. I skated pretty often back then, but I was also just a kid who didn’t always want to work hard. We’d always get Dunkin' Donuts on the way to the rink on these weekend mornings. Mom would get bagels after we skated, but Dad would get the donuts before. It was a different mentality. On one particular weekend morning, Dad and I went to the Port Washington Skating Academy, then still called Brian Trottier, as usual. And I didn’t feel like skating, so I sat with him in the viewing area, ate donuts with him and watched the other skaters. Later, when mom found out, she was SO mad. She was mad that they paid for the ice and I didn’t use it. So she found another session that day, at some rink farther from us, drove me there and had me skate. She wanted me to understand that if they paid for the ice, I had better skate. But Dad didn’t care about that then.

Later, their roles reversed, with Dad managing much of my skating career, but back then, he didn’t mind having me sit next to him and watch the skaters, just us hanging out in a rink on a weekend morning, eating donuts. No one who has ever worked with him will question his intensity, but he approached everything he cares about with that same intensity, and that includes time with his family, even when his wife got mad later. To be honest, I think that was the only time something like that ever happened in my life, and I’m not sure if it’s because it was me or Dad who was more scared of how mom would react.

He always did what he felt was the right thing and taught me about having integrity. I also like to do the right thing. It can be hard in a world that can value and prop up people who cheat and lie to get ahead. But he led a life he was proud of, with his friends and a family he loved more than anything else in this world, and he did it without taking anything he didn’t feel he deserved and always doing the right thing. It made me feel like it’s okay to do things the right way instead of the way that would look the best to the outside, when those two things conflicted.

And you can see it in the choices he made when managing my career. I wasn’t the most famous skater, and I’m still not the most famous skater, but when we looked at the options available to me and the careers of my skating peers, Dad and I both knew that path wasn’t for me. We didn't choose every opportunity, but instead did deals with meaning. He loved that I was only the second spokesperson NBC had, the other being Ronald Reagan and would love to tell people that. He loved the Heroes for Health program we co-created with General Electric. He loved the Labels for Education campaign with Campbell Soup. Dad had a lot of pride, in himself and his family, but he wasn’t a bragger, about his kids or about himself. And so without a publicist or agent, that also probably impacted the promotion of my career at the time. But I never doubted how much he cared. He always, always thought about his kids. Everything for the kids. When I went to the ESPY Awards, there was only one seat next to me, and Dad thought Matt was the perfect fit. Naturally, Matt was the right choice. I’m sure Dad never even considered it to be Dad in that seat.

And it seemed, everywhere we went, not only was he involved, but people would know him. When I gave a speech in Arizona for General Mills at a corporate event, he knew the guy running it from their college hockey days. He was proud of the path I was forging and that I wasn’t only sitting on a tour bus, going from skating show to skating show, that I was having more of an impact on society. He would always tell me how important it was to “make a positive impact on society.”

Of course, what I wanted to do at that age was be on SNL, which I successfully lobbied SNL for and got them to write a sketch for me. I was not as successful in lobbying Dad, who vetoed my SNL debut. Of course he was right, but back then I was bummed about it. He’s also the only manager I know who turned down Will Ferrell when Will called Dad to ask me to make a cameo in a movie. But that was Dad. He stuck to his principles and it didn’t matter who he had to say no to about it.

He knew I wouldn’t be happy or fulfilled in my life pursuing that career nonstop for the next several decades, but even with us both knowing it, there wasn’t a clear path ahead for me and that was challenging. Peers who had similar experiences to me were not necessarily excelling in a 9-5 job and I know Dad had doubts about me pursuing a career that branched out from the skating and entertainment life.

Anyway, this brings me to my original thought of “What Would Dad Want?” After taking almost 6 years to graduate from undergrad, I knew I wanted to go to Law School, but in between undergrad and Law School, I was going to take a few years to get back on the ice and do some skating shows, made-for-tv stuff and work with Kingsbridge, a project Dad loved. I was also getting more involved with the Women’s Sports Foundation and meeting with members of Congress to work on getting more access to sport for girls and women, and helping them with Title IX compliance. So during this time, I was making speeches and preparing remarks, and sometimes I’d call to run ideas by him. And I remember, one day he called me and I was rummaging in my closet, figuring out what I would wear while giving a speech. And he said, in that frustrated way that he can get, “I don’t care what you’re going to wear, I care what you’re going to say!” And at that moment, I was so proud of him.

Because here is this guy, who grew up in a different era. And with me, he spent decades in a sport which still has somewhat arcane rules, questionable costumes and he had heard a lot of feedback from the skating community on my career, some that had nothing to do with the actual skating, that I’m sure he never imagined he would hear. But at that moment, I really felt like we were on the same page - what I was going to say was more important than what I was going to wear. What I had to ay mattered. And he wanted to remind me of that.

And yesterday, when I was thinking, what will I wear to this graveside service, that day from 8 years ago or so popped up in my head and I thought, maybe I should start thinking about what I’m going to say instead of what I’m going to wear. So this is it.

My plan was to go to Law School after spending a few years doing the things I had wanted to do before undergrad but hadn’t. He wasn’t totally in love the Law School idea when I told him, but he told me to do what I want, I’d just have to do it myself because he wasn’t helping me with applications and whatever else needed to be done. Which as I’m sure you guessed, he was always available to talk Law School stuff whenever I’d ask him something about it. I mean, his knowledge on Law School was outdated by 40-something years - same with Law Firms interviews - but he was still helpful. And he loved including our growing family in anything any of us were doing, whenever he could. He loved how Amit was a resume whiz, taking my 5+ pages or whatever I gave him and trying to make it look like something concise yet coherent that would be more manageable for me to work on for applications. Originally Amit said he’d be able to do it in like an hour or something, but I’m not sure that’s something Amit would say today, after being Dad's son-in-law for almost 3 years, faced with the same task. When Amit said, “Took a lot longer than I anticipated,” Mom, Dad and I burst out laughing because we knew Amit was still getting broken in to the ways of the Hughes family back then.

During 1L, we had a Parents Day. Dad took the train to Philly, had breakfast at the Law School, came to my Contracts class and met some of my Law School friends. He was so proud of me. And I couldn’t have been more excited to have him there. Of course, he worked nonstop on his own matters in the downtime there that day, but during the class, he was interested and put down his work and just listened. That was Dad, intellectually curious. I know that’s What Dad Would Want. He’d want me to continue to be intellectually curious.

I’m lucky. I got a lot of quality time with Dad. I don’t have to wonder what he would want. I already know. Some of the things, he told me straight. But others, he led by example.

One day, we were talking about life. He said, “Sarah, life is about two things: relationships and experiences.” And in the past two weeks, those are two things he spoke to me about when we talked about things he hoped I would have in my life, my life here without him leaving me voicemails that start with, “Sarah, this is your father.”

He wanted me to continue to make and strengthen my relationships and experiences. He wanted me to go out and be part of the world, to be bold. He wanted me to share more of myself with the world. And again, he is right. I’m lucky. I know what dad would want. But I’ll still miss him.

Donations in John's memory may be made by clicking this link: The INN .

John W. Hughes

February 13, 1949 - August 18, 2020

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