My sister and I are deeply touched by all the expressions of love, praise and respect for our father that have come from everyone and around the world. He has clearly left a deep impression. You tell us he is present in your thoughts, prayers, and even your dreams. We read an email from Chinatsu in Japan, who said she felt sad upon hearing of his passing, but knew that his soul is now free and most likely traveling the world. She also said Dad has now become a star, and she plans to always ask him if she’s not making mistakes, if she’s on a right path, and to watch over her and NADA Japan. This is a beautiful way to think of him—and a logical one. Traveling the world untethered by the rigors of airports is definitely something he would want to be doing. And watching over his friends and family as a star even more so.
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My father was not a typical doctor. He always introduced himself as “Mike”, never “Dr. Smith”. He only showed off his credentials if he felt they could lend assistance, as in giving “credibility” to an article or a program with his name on it. As he often said, “if all the administrators need is bullshit to keep ‘em happy, then give ‘em the bullshit. No big deal.”
He wore ties only when those administrators said he had to, and a whole suit and tie only on very special occasions—receiving an award, giving an important speech, going on television, my wedding. Eventually this changed, and even TV got the same windbreaker and khaki pants he wore everywhere. He was always scruffy, but as he got older my dad got scruffier. His goal was never to impress—to talk, yes. To lecture, to travel, to meet people, to work, yes. But he didn’t care about titles or labels.
In general, he distrusted other doctors (although, he was like most doctors in that he didn’t think he needed one) and he barely tolerated hospital procedure. “The chart is sicker than the patient,” he liked to say. Atypical of an MD, he never let med school go to his head. One of his greatest talents was his perspicacity—he could see straight to the heart of any problem or any intention. What might offend or outrage others, would not do so to him. He was able to see what was needed, as opposed to what was desired, and was always happy to help if he could. He did not convince himself he was anybody’s savior. Rather, he gloried in results, in patients who wanted to come back, in programs that became able to survive on their own. He abhorred details and the onerous middle man. His most well-known motto was, “Keep it simple.”
So, no. A typical doctor he was not.
In many ways he was not a typical father either. When my boyfriend, Tom, decided he wanted to pop the question, he made the mistake of asking my father’s permission first. “I want to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage,” he says when he calls him on the phone. “Well,” says my dad, “that’s not my decision to make. That’s up to Jessica.” This baffled Tom, and so he asked again, like, just in case he’d heard wrong. But my father’s answer was the same. As it happens, Tom is just as stubborn as my father, so at last my dad gave up and said, “Oh alright. You can have my permission if you really want it.” Later, he told me he’d relented because it seemed Tom had probably just needed some moral support.
Clearly, my father was not a traditional one. Phrases like, “Daddy’s little girl” made him cringe. He was not the protective type. Although, this is not to say he did not protect his children—he did. Every conversation, lecture, debate—usually taken place in the car, at restaurants, or on the couch on Sundays when the football game had gone to commercial—had the same hidden lessons: defend your opinions but keep an open mind, understand where others are coming from, speak up if it is needed, learn to think for yourself. Thanks to our father, my sister and I have never gone through this world unprotected. It has never occurred to us to be other than who we are, to be intimidated, to assume that what we have to say is not important. You can’t gaslight a Smith sister. Her mind is her own. You can’t tell her that she is not smart, or interesting, or loved. Sometimes—maybe unfortunately—she is even a little scary. When learning that both sisters will be present at a dinner party, for example, the response is often, “Oh, boy…” Ultimately, this is not such a bad a thing. It’s just another example of our father’s gift to us. He leaves us in this world prepared and sturdy, but kind.
Our dad’s training came in all forms—acupuncture, addiction recovery, counseling, community, love. Anyone who has studied with him carries something everlasting within, something that outlasts hardship, bureaucracy, intimidation, and—my father’s number one enemy—bullshit. If you’ve worked alongside Michael Smith, you’ve been given a gift. You have a way to help others, not through needles or beads or bravery or social justice, but through understanding and sympathy. Your programs will be prepared and sturdy and kind. All of us are his trainees and all of us are his family.
And, if what Chinatsu in Japan says is right, in the stars we now have a friend.