My Dad’s Guide to Living a Rewarding Life by
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This is what I read at my Dad’s funeral in 2001. It sums up many of the life lessons I learned from him.

My dad was a teacher, and like many outstanding teachers, he never took time off from teaching. Sure, there were vacations and summers, but he was always on the job. If no students were around, he always had my sister and me.






I have put together some of his most important lessons into a set of guidelines that I call “Sam Elkind’s Guide to Living a Rewarding Life.”

First, stay connected. Pick up the phone, write a letter, send an e-mail. Don’t put this off. It’s just as important as the other things you’re doing. Call for no reason, just to check in and say “How ya doin’?” He always did this, which is why his network of friends goes back to junior high and high school and extends to all corners of the world.


Treasure your friends and your family. Tell them you treasure them, using your own words.

Keep moving—physically, intellectually, and spiritually.

Read something challenging, try to understand it—and then talk to people about it. And don’t just talk to people who think the way you do. Mix it up a little.

Sit in the sun.

Take a nap.

Or, better still, combine these two things with a baseball game—but don’t necessarily follow the game. Go with friends or family and use the time together to talk about life and the arts and other things.

Lose yourself in music, any kind of music. Dance whenever you can. Teach your children to love music and how to dance. Consider it an honor to dance with them.

Be patient.

Retain a sense of wonder. Never cease to be amazed at things.

Keep an open mind an open heart.

Be a good student.

When you screw up, admit it.

Keep someone’s legend alive. Tell the favorite stories over and over and laugh until you cry. Repeat as necessary.







Wear your heart on your sleeve. Tell the people you love that you love them. Look them in the eyes and tell them. And not just on special occasions.

Be a devoted brother, a good uncle, and a surrogate father to anyone who needs one.

If people do a great job and you are proud of them, tell them. Say, “You did a great job and I’m very proud of you.” Someone else’s success does not diminish your own.

Be generous with compliments and praise.

Eat with gusto.

Try to look good and keep your shoes shined.

Find the joy in simple things: a nice walk with a friend …a perfect, clear day…a great knish.

Be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you.

Be there for someone. Be the person that people can talk to. Keep your door open.

If you have been lucky enough to find your passion, pursue it with all you have. Keep the passion alive by challenging yourself and setting new goals. Don’t rest on your laurels.

Plan your work and work your plan.

Always thank your cast and crew.

See the world and fall in love with new places, but always leave your heart in San Francisco.

And when you find that you can’t keep moving anymore, and you can no longer eat with gusto and it is time to rest on your laurels, then reflect on a life well lived. Tell your family, your caregivers and your many friends how much you love and appreciate them.

Give them a chance to say goodbye and thank you.


And finally, leave wonderful memories and your own legend for everyone to keep alive.

Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. What wonderful words from someone who was obviously a wonderful teacher and friend and father, lucky you Risa!

    Every one of Sam’s guidelines sounds worth pursuing, even the knish!

  2. Marian says:

    This is awesome, Risa, what a tribute to your father. Good lessons, from connecting with people to being true to your teeth. Love it!

    • Risa Nye says:

      Thanks, Marian. He lived a good life, but missed out on so much: weddings, great-grandchildren, many stage productions…he would’ve loved seeing what’s happened in the theater in recent years. But yes, he did stay connected!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Those are wonderful pieces of advice from a loving man who must have been a great father, Risa. I can relate to many of his words (some so funny – like “be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you”), some just lovely, honest and true. I’m sure you loved him and miss him. May his memory be a blessing.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Your father’s guide to living a rewarding life is very wise. I definitely agree with the principles by which he lived. Your tribute was/is beautiful.

  5. Wow, Risa. What wonderful advice, and so beautifully articulated. Do you mind if I print your father’s wisdom out in pocket format and keep it handy?

  6. Suzy says:

    Risa, thank you so much for sharing with us what you read at your father’s funeral. He sounds like an amazing man! I love all the photos too, especially the third one where you are both laughing at something very funny!

    • Risa Nye says:

      Suzy, we were telling Grampa Mike stories (my father’s father, and quite a character). We loved to hear those stories over and over again. Never failed to make us laugh until we cried!

  7. Susan Bennet says:

    Amen, Risa. So much wisdom in one person. I’m glad he was your person. And by the way, teachers rock!

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    As others have said, wonderful advice for life! He must have been a great dad. If what you give is returned several-fold, he was well-loved by many, and an inspiration.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    Your Dad sounds like someone I’d have loved to spend time with, Risa! And my Mom used to say the thing about teeth.

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