A Father's Generosity -- On Steroids

05/21/2015 11:56 am ET | Updated May 21, 2016
Gina DeLapa

My dad says going to college taught him to say, "That's incredible!" instead of "No sh*t!" By the time you read this story, I wouldn't blame you for saying either one. May it inspire you to believe in minor miracles and go after them with all your heart.

Back in March, on the last day of my parents' visit, my dad asked if the two of us could have coffee. I knew something was up, but it's hard to tell with my dad. "Let's have coffee" could mean anything, from "I need a favor" to "So-and-so's got a new girlfriend."

As we sat down with our coffee at an old wooden table for two, my dad said simply, "I need a project." He thought he could generate a few sales of my not-yet-released book, Stuff You Already Know: And Every College Student Should. But first he wanted my permission.

Um, yeah, of course, Dad. Wow. Thank you!

He said he had two friends in mind who would probably be happy to buy a box or two. Great. That could mean around 30 or 60 books.

Try nine hundred seventy-two.

Fast forward to about two weeks ago. What started as a couple of phone calls had turned into a one-man national campaign: 80-year-old Jim DeLapa had called high schools all around the country, then friends and family advisers, first cousins and first family members. I don't think anyone turned him down.

People I've known my whole life and some I've never met bought one box or several, and had the books donated (via my father) to their favorite high schools.

I learned all of this after the fact.

In some cases, I think the donors did too. As in, "Mr. Principal, I've got a local donor lined up to send each one of your graduating seniors a copy of my daughter's book." Next call (to the unsuspecting donor): "Joe, I need a favor."

And while it all makes for a wonderful story, I can tell you now with humor in my heart that the whole thing nearly killed me.

For some of these schools, the end of the year was less than a week away, which meant getting a newly released book delivered in large quantities at warp speed -- no small task when it involves a distributor and wholesalers and protocols that don't know from Jim DeLapa.

Picture your phone lighting up to messages like, "SORRY THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE PLEASE REFER TO MY E MAIL OF A FEW MINUTES AGO."

That's incredible! That's my dad.

This went on for three solid days: crisis management to the highest pitch, especially when you consider no one was dying. But my dad cared deeply about the donors, as did I, and he was determined to make their generous gifts go off without a hitch. So we dug in and did what it took: not only my dad, but my publicist and me, and all the other people involved in the distribution chain.

And while three days might not sound like much, the point is none of us knew when and where this was all going to end, or how. Oh, and all during that week I was coughing constantly from bronchitis and wheezing from asthma -- while preparing for my first TV interview in nearly a year. (I know. Cue violins. But when you can't catch your breath no matter what you do, it wears you down and scares you a little.)

More than once, I prayed for a miracle. More than once, I gasped a private, surprisingly vigorous blue streak.

Somewhere in all of this, the miracle happened. Jared, my mountain-moving publicist, called to say the Barnes & Noble at Woodland Mall (a few miles from my parents) would have the first wave of books by Friday or Saturday, days ahead of when my father needed them. Barnes & Noble came through. My dad and I rejoiced, and I made a mental note to call the Vatican on Jared's behalf.

Miracle No. 2: Susan, the ever-patient Barnes & Noble store manager, worked hand in hand with my dad to ship out the remaining books to high schools all over the country--twelve schools and about 800 books.

Just now as I wrote that, I caught myself whispering That's incredible, though not in those words.

Postscript: At my father's suggestion, I sent copies of Stuff You Already Know: And Every College Student Should to my alma mater, Lake Michigan Catholic High School--a drop in the ocean compared with the contributions of others, but still a decent start.

I will happily spend the rest of my life paying forward that kind of generosity, not only from my one-of-a-kind dad, but from all those he called on. You know who you are. By the time you read this, a more fitting thank-you will be well on its way.

Oh, and that TV interview? That was Miracle No. 3. Not only did I keep it together on San Diego's Fox 5 Morning News, the station asked me back for the following week, and the week after and the week after. As of this writing, you can catch my second interview here: Remedies for a Rough Week.

"It was the best of times,
it was the greatest of times."

-- seen on a greeting card