Thursday, April 3, 2014
lessons from my father
My dad's birthday is in a few days.
He would have turned 61 years old.
If he was alive and I was home, my family would get together at my parents' house, eat bad Chinese food and watch some stupid movie. It would be perfect because we would all be together and laugh and have a good time.
Now his birthday takes on a totally different meaning, one that doesn't feel a whole lot like celebration.
One that instead feels a lot like reflection.
My father's death was completely and utterly unexpected and sudden.
The one comfort I have is that he was a great man who lived an amazing life and showed me daily what it meant to be a good, decent person. These lessons I carry with me and in them I get to carry my dad with me too.
My dad was not about lip service.
His favorite come back was: I'll believe it when I see it [mostly in reference to me assuring him that I would indeed clean my room... just, later].
He did not talk to me about being a decent human being, he showed me through example how to:
My dad was a stickler for punctuality. He thought it was the epitome of disrespect to say you'll be somewhere at X o'clock and then show up 30 minutes late. And you know what? He ingrained this lesson in me and I am Miss Punctuality. He taught me that you show someone respect by honoring their time and your time together.
My dad showed me the meaning of the word compassion, not with people so much but with animals instead. He was such an animal lover and would stop to scratch any dog. He would even get down on the ground and let them crawl all over him [and lick him too]. He loved it. So do I. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with my dad after seeing an adorable stray dog. I said something along the lines of how the dog deserved a home and how cute and adorable it was. My dad turned to me and said that every dog, even a butt ugly one, deserves a home and love. And he was right. Now, living in Taiwan, I frequently feed the [often butt ugly] stray dogs that live near by and constantly stop to pat them down and give them a scratch behind their ears. Every time I do this I think of my dad and smile.
I didn't know what this word meant until my dad explained it to me when I was in middle school. I did something wrong at school, I can't remember what, but I didn't get caught. I was troubled and for some reason confessed my wrong doing to my dad. He told me that the best thing I could do was confess and apologize without making excuses. To simply suck it up and declare: I did it and I am sorry and it will not happen again. I think this is so important because it stresses doing the right thing even when it is hard and it encourages forgiveness because if you've had to do it yourself you understand the guts it takes to do so and respond to that shared experience.
My dad was the one who kept encouraging me to move abroad. It was not an easy process. There was a lot of road blocks and disappointments and tough things to figure out. After a bad first go, I said I was done. He took me aside and said that I should never say never and that as long as I keep trying I had not failed. It was due to his encouragement that I gave it a second try and here I am.
When I worked in Seattle, I really, really wanted to quit my job. My dad kept encouraging me to see it through. I think part of it was honor and part of it was testing strength. Sometimes we don't know our own capabilities until they are tested, and I was being tested. Now I know that I am a lot stronger than I thought I was. If I had simply quit, I never would have discovered that facet of myself.
If you knew my dad and wanted to conjure up an image of him in your mind, he would probably be wearing running shorts with holes in them, a self made tank top, ratty shoes and a cowboy hat and sunglasses. My dad was himself everyday, no matter what. He had his political bumper stickers and Jesus action figure and Celine Dion CDs. The man liked what he liked and no one could persuade him otherwise.
My dad worked hard but he also played hard. He traveled. He kayaked. He hiked. He had hobbies and he actively engaged in them on a daily basis. He showed me what it means to work to live and not live to work.
Plan for the Worst but Hope for the Best
I always thought this was a little pessimistic. But my father's death in and of itself really drove home this message. My dad was not ready to die but he was prepared and had been prepared for years. He had a Plan B for my family in case anything happened to him, and that plan made a truly miserable time a lot less miserable than it could have been had his finances been completely out of order or nonexistent at all. He gave my family a cushion to fall back on and that cushion was a really big deal.
And while I miss my dad like crazy and cannot believe that I have not seen him/talked to him since December 10, 2012, I still feel like he helps me make important life decisions because I know him so well from the example that he set that I know what advice he would offer me and I can ever hear his voice in my head offering it.
And for that, I feel like an exceptionally lucky daughter regardless of the fact I cannot celebrate my father's birthday with him this year with bad Chinese food and a stupid action flick.
[If you would like to read more about my dad and his life, click here]