a picture of a man and two children with a birthday cake
My dad, Paul Rickert, with his favorite child, left, second favorite child, right, and favorite German chocolate cake.

My dad was born in the land of fast horses and smooth bourbon – no, really, my Nana’s maiden name is Beam. When people ask me to describe him, I always said he is the picture of relentless hard work for the good of his family, and the picture of humility in light of his enormous career accomplishments managing the finances of what is now a division of FujiFilm. I always knew about his love for theater, his kids, movies and cooking, but this hour-long sit-down may stand as the coolest conversation I’ve ever had with my dad.

Growing up in a household with six kids, I learned early on that we all had to pull together with our own responsibilities. Later on, our different backgrounds and skills helped us take care of our mom in different ways. I also learned that I was never alone – and that’s both a good and bad thing. I was a junior in high school before I even had my own room.

I learned that I should have had lunch with the Pope. In 1974, I traveled to the Vatican with a boys choir, and Father Medynski, our director, chose Franny Morales to represent North America at a lunch with the Pope, because he thought it was good that Franny knew Spanish. But ever since then, he says he should have picked me. It was the first thing he said when he met your mother 20 years later. Two years later, I got to conduct a boys choir on the stage at Royal Albert Hall in London – I think that was partly in compensation. Editor’s note: My dad to this day has an engraved mug from our family saying “I should have had lunch with the Pope.”

My mother was deeply rooted in her Catholic faith. She would discuss it with us, and a lot of my values came from that. Not because the Catholic church said so, but because she taught me the underlying reasons why. I go to church, not because I have to, but because I need something to fulfill my life and remind me about the right behavior, especially with how easy it can be to not be fair and respectful to people.

Growing up in a family that loved music and show tunes, I learned that music always made my life happier – even when your Nana made me perform in front of relatives like the Von Trapp kids. Your cousins are saying, “oh, you have lovely voices,” but you know they’re thinking “what a bunch of geeks.”

Starting work at the same company as my dad, Olin Corporation, people would tell me stories about him, and I learned that I wanted to be like him at work. He wasn’t boastful, he was calm, he was quiet, he was humble, and he’d listen to people fairly and come to a conclusion.

Staying at that company for 40 years, even as it’s been sold and changed names, I’ve learned that finding the right company is about always getting the opportunity to try something new. I’ve done accounting, budgeting, auditing, financial management, HR, IT and business acquisition. I tell people that I’m not that smart, but I worked that hard to figure things out.

Losing my father when I was 18 taught me to be self-sufficient. Your Nana provided us a place to live and did so many things to help us, but at the same time, all my brothers and sisters knew too that we had to help each other out.

When I proposed to your mother, she changed her mind and said “no” twice before we got married. I learned that some things you have to be patient and understanding for, and know that it’s worth the effort. But the third time, I told her SHE had to propose to ME.

In almost 35 years of marriage, I’ve learned that the keys are selective hearing and selective amnesia. Know when to say “Oh, I didn’t hear you say that.”

In all seriousness, I’ve learned that marriage is about love, but it’s also about working hard every day at it. And that’s true, but being with your mother hasn’t been all that hard work.

Having you and your sister, I learned that having kids felt like such a natural extension of your mother and I’s lives. I also learned how truly gross childbirth is. 

As my kids grew up, I learned for the first time what the saying “my heart stopped” feels like, because there were three instances where I legitimately thought “I just killed my child.” I also learned the word “hereditary” doesn’t cover everything, because you guys could actually play sports without me passing on ANY genes. 

Watching you makes me think about how you never meet anyone you don’t want to talk to. I learned to think about that as I approach people, because I can be very standoffish. You also give me hope for learning new skills, because whatever it is, you go to YouTube and learn it.

Talking to your sister teaches me more about handling issues at work. We have a lot of the same problems, and they’re things that we learn together. And most importantly, she, and the whole family, keep me laughing.

Watching my kids as adults has shown me the best and worst about myself – both the lessons I’ve learned and the lessons I’ve missed. You’ve taken risks in your life to follow your dream career that I didn’t take, because I knew I wanted a family. Those made me anxious because you’re on a different timeline than I was, but I was also a little envious. And your sister works so, so hard. I can always justify it to myself, but I want both my kids to enjoy life.

Alex Rickert
Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.