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Zero Tolerance

Charles Joseph Slavis was one of the best toolmakers on the east coast. For sixty years he poured his heart and soul into Slavis Cutter Works. Many Black Hawk helicopters flying since the 1980s owe their stability in flight to the zero tolerance of the rotors he ground and that zero tolerance extended into the rest of his life. Like Ted Koppel, Dad never went to college. As a result, he demanded nothing short of perfection of himself for fear of falling short. Dad didn't want his children to question his values. He lived out his life hoping we would do things his way, never realizing that his persistence and courage are things we carry within us. The lasting legacy of his achievements is that we can be different. We can take more chances because we have more opportunities. We stood on his shoulders even as he warned me not to break curfew. Dad's hard work made that possible for all of us.

You can subscribe to the theory that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down or you can be the hammer. Dad chose to be the hammer. It is easy to sail a ship in clear waters. The true test of a sailor is how well he navigates when the Coast Guard notifies him that his sailboat has sunk in the mouth of the Housatonic River. Dad's response was, "Now it's a submarine!" They didn't care what he called it! He had to get it out of there-a task he insisted upon doing himself by floating barrels for several days to raise it at low tide. He didn't define himself by limitations, especially in his later years, but rather by his ability to reach beyond them. He surrounded himself with what he loved-work and family.

Dad liked to tell us how he worked for pennies a day during the Depression and why he didn't get into college--because he couldn't parse the word "that."  During holiday dinners, egged on by my husband, Dad would give a riveting performance on how I gave up smoking. Even though I've never smoked, I've heard that story so often that someday I may believe it.  Dad was absolutely certain there was nothing good on TV (even though he had no cable) and he believed that if you could wiggle your ears, you would never lose your hair. If you were lucky, he would give you a demonstration.  Dad put in a garden every year. He couldn't resist ads promising tons of fruit from only one plant. Some of us invested two dollars apiece in his Tomato Corporation. When absolutely nothing was forthcoming, he stuck a tomato onto the vine. I actually believed we were getting somewhere until my brother, Ed, pointed out the scotch tape.  Who could forget his annual debacle with the cherry tree? Dad always forgot to put nets over its branches. The moment the cherries were ripe, birds would pick the tree clean in a feeding frenzy. Dad would shake the trunk madly in attempt to scare them off while they frosted him like a cake with purple droppings.

Dad detested paperwork. He received a government form asking how much steel and other metals he had used in making tools. He threw it out. Weeks later, he was handed a duplicate form with the promise of a hefty fine if the information was not forthcoming. With no record of what he had done, he submitted figures using boxcar numbers copied off a passing train. The only thing he hated more than paperwork was being wrong. Once he had reached a conclusion, he never let the facts get in his way and he refused to be backed into a corner when he didn't want to answer a question.

     "Can I stay out all night after the prom?"  

     "The question is one, not of abstract right but of policy."

     "I know-- but can I stay out all night?"

     "That's from Burke's conciliation speech..."

When he wouldn't give me an answer, I was the child who would take one which explains why I was grounded the rest of that summer.

It's very hard to do without your right hand man, your go-to guy. Dad used to say they broke the mold after they made him. If you asked how he was, he would say, "Perfect!"  If I could have two more minutes with him, I'd tell him how much I appreciate all the good things he's done and how much I'll miss him.

Author David Sedaris asks, "What do you do when life reshuffles the cards? When your plane goes down, where do you find the black box?" It takes courage for those who love you to walk that final mile with you, sharing their knowledge of what can help keep you strong. One of his closest friends, Dr. Allen Schlein gave Dad extra time this summer when he secured the amazing, talented hands of Dr. Nabil Atweh, Chief of Surgery at Bridgeport Hospital who performed

life-saving surgery when no one else could or would. Dr. Kenneth Dressler kept Dad's spirits up while keeping his PSA down and Dr. Nicholas Bertini tried to keep the quality in his life.

Dad loved and trusted his doctors. We are truly thankful for their kindness and commitment to him every step of the way.

No one person ever replaces another. When my mother, Janice, died, Dad felt his life was over. He found new reasons to live with Jean.  My deepest appreciation goes to everyone in our extended family, especially my stepmother, Jean, who was the best partner she could be to Dad and is a loving Mom to all of us. Dad repeatedly said he was lucky to have had two great marriages.

In the end, it's all about the love we share and give. I am grateful for your life, Dad. Most of all, I am grateful for your love.