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The B+ Story: A Thank You to Dad

Updated: May 14

Hello again. Thanks for joining me. 

It’s been a while. It’s good to see you.

A lot has happened since we last caught up. 

Grab your favorite mug. Take a breath. 

Let’s share this moment.

I’d like to begin with a quick note of gratitude. 

To the reader, supporter, and friend: thank you. 

There are so many individuals who have supported this journey, and there aren’t enough words to share the depths of gratitude that I hold in this chapter of life. 

Some of you may know that my father, mentor, and “leader of the band” - Gary James Fiegel - recently passed away in March. Much of his story and legacy is shared in a previous blog post, the obituary, and memories shared by family and friends; however, today, I would like to share this personal story: the B+ Story. 

Please take what you like, and leave the rest.

A vintage playful photo of a father and baby on a couch

Photo: Gary & Chris in a staring contest during the prime baby years.

It begins with a question: what does good enough mean to you?

Nearly nine years ago, Dad, Mom, my sister Faith, and I sat down to the dinner table for one of Mom’s famous “pork chops & applesauce” meals, inspired by Dad’s love of the iconic moment in The Brady Bunch (1971).

At the time, I was beginning my undergraduate studies as a bright-eyed 19-year old at Penn State Lehigh Valley, working as a part-time bellhop and Sunday Brunch pianist at Historic Hotel Bethlehem, and coaching football as an Assistant Coach for Saucon Valley Middle School. Mom was a couple of years into the world of retail at the hotel’s boutique gift shoppe while my sister was at the start of her senior year in high school. Because of ongoing heart health issues, Dad worked a variety of part-time positions - including an optical delivery driver, volunteer service, security advisor, and artist development consultant - while he & Mom continued to perform as a singing duo at a variety of venues in the area, later earning special recognition in the Lehigh Valley Music Awards for their artist development programs, Lehigh Valley Idol & Pocono Idol.

I consider us lucky. According to the American Time Use Survey conducted from 2003 to 2023, approximately 50 - 60% of families in the United States on average have regular family dinners. At our family dinners, we often caught up on the events of the day, citing the accomplishments and challenges while looking ahead toward future plans, schedules, and goals. Inquisitive questions and passionate debate were often a regular part of the kitchen conversations, and they frequently led to different perspectives on serious subjects (i.e. life lessons, social & cultural development, professional ambitions). 

A family photo of a father, mother, son, and daughter

Photo: The family: (left-to-right) Gary/Dad, Linda/Mom, Chris & sister Faith (excl. older brother Stephen & his wife Emily) in the early college years.

At this particular dinner, we were talking about the intrinsic value of grades. Having butchered - and recovered - my grades in my junior year of high school (we’ll talk about that lesson later) while now excelling in college, I understood what grades meant to our family. Grades weren’t everything, but they were part of the reflection of your character: a representation of the virtues in perseverance, integrity, and growth. One of the axioms Dad used to live by was prevalent in many of these conversations: tell the truth, always.

On this night, Dad was under an unusual amount of stress, and, in alignment with the topic of conversation, he raised a spontaneous and interesting question: “taking everything into account, how would you grade me as a father?”

“A+,” Faith said without hesitation. Mom agreed. Dad turned to me. 

After pausing for a moment to even consider this question, I responded: “B+.”

You could feel time stop in that very moment.


Have you ever screwed up so much that you instantly knew it but didn’t know how to fix it? That was me, right then and there.

The conversation that followed my response was a heavy-hitter. You could see the disappointment in everyone’s eyes. It was futile, but I tried to explain my reasoning: everyone has areas of improvement (a lesson I learned from Dad over the years) but that doesn’t make them any more - or less - human than their peers. The emotional punch was too much. Like trying to pick up and put back the pieces of a 1,000-piece puzzle knocked onto the floor, every word out of my mouth seemed to widen the gaping hole I just created between myself and Dad. Mom was shocked, Faith was flabbergasted, and it felt like any semblance of warmth was frozen by this one comment. After pressing pause on the heated conversation, the dinner ended with an unnatural retreat to our respective corners of the house. 

Thankfully, this wasn’t the end of the story…

Over the next several weeks and following the initial sting of such a challenging response, Dad and I actually worked on what this meant for us. For the most part, no father - or parent - wants to be told how their imperfections may have impacted the perspectives of their kids, nor does a son wish to disappoint the optimistic and supportive efforts of his father. We talked. We were honest. We were vulnerable. Conversations weren’t constrained. We apologized. We took breaks. We found a way.

We agreed that, often, we tend to judge ourselves harshly on the successes and failures of our own endeavors. We might sometimes feel like we are the "B+" ranking in different ways, but it doesn't negate the ways in which we learn and grow as a result of those experiences. A high standard of excellence may cast a shadow on the moments when we fall short of this standard, so it's important to understand balance. The verse from the poem "Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann (1927) characterizes this thought:

"Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here."

Dad’s love for me was never in question, and, even with this slight, he never made me feel left out or unwelcome to approach him. I knew the depth of my love for him stretched beyond what I could even understand; at the time, I couldn’t fathom how one could come close to honoring the love and countless sacrifices made by a parent like Dad. He was the first to acknowledge his faults & mistakes and the last to boast or let ego drive his decisions. He was human. Dad was painfully aware of his shortcomings while simultaneously - and courageously - demonstrative of his strengths. 

He, like many others, felt the same fear: am I good enough?

Over the years (yes, a few years), Dad and I found our way in healing that wound bit-by-bit. In many ways, that “B+ conversation” was the catalyst to a new level of complete transparency in our daily communication for the next nine years within our family unit. We addressed past hurts, misunderstandings, and improved areas of support for each other through these types of conversations. I am lucky. These moments could have been marred by bitterness and resentment, and the conversations were not easy. They were difficult and messy, but, at their core, they were met with love and truth. 

I learned that, when faced with an either/or problem (e.g. either you answer the question honestly or lie to avoid hurting the feelings of another with the truth), there is always a third option in our response to the challenges of life. 

A father (Gary James Fiegel) and his son (Chris Fiegel) on the golf course

Photo: (left-to-right) Chris & Gary out on the golf course, one of his favorite spots.


Since Dad’s passing in March, this story and its lessons have circled in my head. Grief has an indelible effect on the past, present, and future. So many times, I shared my love and gratitude with Dad, humbly acknowledging the truth: he was both the B+ and A+ father in my life. I think Dad would appreciate sharing this story in the hopes that someone may help another friend travel on through these kinds of learning experiences in their life. 

Some of my key takeaways:

  • Always tell the truth, even when it’s hard.

  • Be kind. Pause when needed. You can work through the hard things in life.

  • You don’t always know the best move, but you can figure out the right one.

  • You may get knocked down. Keep getting back up.

  • Words matter. Strive to be mindful of your own vocabulary.

  • There is always hope. Don’t give up.

  • Love can be everywhere. Keep your heart open, and trust your gut. 

In my life, the B+ Story is part of the greater collection of lessons gifted to me through experiences with my father. Thank you, Dad, for everything. 

In closing, let’s revisit that initial question: what does good enough mean to you?

Like nearly every other person that I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with in this lifetime, Dad oscillated between the assurance that he was enough and questioning if he could ever be good enough. Good enough for what? For a home? For that job? For a family? For a community? For a connection? To love another, or be loved by another? 

For me, that answer is somewhere within us all:

we are - and will always be - good enough. 

As always, thank you for your time. I appreciate you. Be kind. I’ll see you next time.

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