lessons I learned from Dad

Throughout his life, my father taught me many lessons.

First, I learned good work habits from him. When Dad said, “jump,” we asked “how high” on the way up. He did not quibble about details; we worked those out as we got into the job. I benefit regularly from the advantage of quickly completing a task and having guilt free time to chill when I finish.

Some jobs would not include time to chill – if Dad had not taught me the lesson of the goldenrod. The day of the goldenrod lesson, Dad and his twin brother took all the cousins to a huge field infested with goldenrod and told us to pull up the prolific plant – roots and all – but they did not just say, “go pull goldenrod.” The youngest children were told to pull 20 or 30 plants. The number increased with the older children until some had hundreds to pull. Once, we reported having pulled the assigned number of weeds, they gave us another goal. Incrementally, we cleared that field.

Besides teaching us to work hard, Dad taught us to play hard. He made spontaneous plans for a picnic lunch in the woods, pulled out the Monopoly board frequently, turned the dining room table into a ping-pong court and took us to the swimming hole with a bridge that served as a diving board.

Another lesson from Dad I call “driving in first gear.” After I passed the written test to drive, I confronted clutch, brake, shift gear and the steep hills of New York. Dad recognized my fear of going too fast and let me drive in first gear for miles before I felt safe enough to shift up to second. I did not realize how annoying my safe speed driving felt until I drove my mom and she startled me by urging me shift it up to third and go faster.

I began learning an important lesson the day he picked me up from a teen outing. I came to his car carrying a controversial book with many questions to consider. As we drove home, I talked it over with him and gave him my conclusions. He just listened. Inside our house, I placed the book on the table. My mother saw it and hit the panic button. Dad waved her off, “She’s all right, don’t worry about it.” I’m still working on the lesson to listen completely.

Because I learned to always “obey my parents,” it took time to realize that is not the same as “Honor your father and mother.” As an adult, I had to learn to respectfully say “No” – as I did at a family reunion after I had married. A couple days after we convened at my sister’s house, Dad wanted to go home – and declared we all should leave earlier than planned. I was not ready to leave. I took a deep breath and said, “That’s okay, if you want to go, Dad, but the rest of us have plans to be here.” I think it startled him, but he thought about it and decided he and mom would stay as well.

Years later, with age, illness and his widowhood, he did not take my lack of cooperation so easily. So, I learned another lesson – that even when faced with his emotional outbursts – it was still okay to voice my opinion. The first time I approached him after a vociferous lecture followed by his retiring to his room to watch TV, I stood outside his door several minutes before I could respectfully let him know there were still two sides to be heard and my side mattered just as much as his.

Because his obstreperous moments increased as his abilities faded, I had to continually work on another lesson I thought I had learned many years before: the lesson of the work of forgiving. I had to choose to forgive him, choose to spend time with him when I knew he would be angry at the limitations life had forced on him and choose to act as lovingly as possible.

I did not do it alone. And therein I learned my final lesson from Dad – “it takes a community to care for Grandpa.” Over the years, with his far flung family, his tendency to weary of one place and move to another, we all – his children, sister, in-laws, siblings, cousins, grandchildren and my husband – played a role in ministering to him – as did the staffs and volunteers at assisted living centers and nursing homes in three states. During his last three years at Oakridge Nursing home, I observed respectful care, patience and affection for him – even when he was grumpy. As one of his nurses said, “We are all family and we take care of each other.” Having experienced that truth first hand, I thank each of you for what you did for my father. It blessed us all immensely.





One response to “lessons I learned from Dad”

  1. jottingjoan Avatar

    spring brings new life

    This comment from Sharon Lee about Dad.

    Sharon said she pondered over the way Dad was the last few years. It hurt her to see how much he changed. She was thinking about all that as she drove down for the funeral and finding some beauty in the fall colors when she gained a slightly different perspective on the whole situation. The leaves will fall and winter will set in leaving the trees barren of leaves, looking stark and dead for the next few months. And then one day spring will come – the new life hidden there all along will have a chance to unfold and come out.

    She realized that the past 16 years or more have been the winter of Dad’s discontent and now spring has come for him. He has his new body, his new life, his new creation. And that is the celebration of the funeral, that the old has been left behind and the new embraced.

    FYI: I took a potted plant by the nursing home to thank the staff for their work through the years, as well as a card of thanks. The staff do become attached to their patients of many years, and miss him – even his teasing them when he had to take a bath