Monday, June 20, 2011

Remembering Dad

Yesterday's celebration of Father's Day was bittersweet. It was wonderful to be with the family to salute my husband and brother. Both have been active fathers in their children's lives and incredible nurturers, role models, mentors, and supporters of their families. I love them both.

But it was sad as I thought about my own father, dead these past 14 years, and my father-in-law, who I knew way too briefly, dead for nearly 23 years. They, too, were both incredible nurturers, role models, mentors, and supporters of their families.

My father, a junior high school principal, was a teacher throughout his life—not just to his students and faculty, but to my brother and to me. He certainly was the first one to teach me to write things down. As I mentioned in an earlier post, he was known for his lists, all written in his scratchy handwriting on index cards that were in every pocket of every suit he owned. His lists guided him in his daily and weekly chores and helped organize his thinking. I know that my own lists—written daily on the nearest scrap of paper—help keep focused as well.

My father taught me to be punctual. He valued people's time and wanted to make sure it was spent wisely. I don't know if he was always that way or if it was something he learned as a captain in the army, but it was certainly a trait that stayed with him until he died. A 3:30 staff meeting meant you started precisely at 3:30, not a second later. He was known for locking the door to his office to bar latecomers from entering and disrupting the session. He rewarded the people who were on time, not the people who were tardy. At a memorial service for him, many of his faculty came up to me and repeated the same words: "I didn't want to disappoint him. After I was locked out the first time, I was never late again." Family occasions, too, called for promptness. He left early to allow for any unforeseen traffic or an accident, so if an invitation called for noon, we would leave the house after breakfast, generally arriving at 11:00 (or earlier!). That either meant sitting in the car for an hour waiting or ringing the bell and startling the not-yet-ready host. There were many times that Doug and I were caught dripping wet from the shower as my parents walked in the door, early for yet another family gathering.

My father taught me to make my own decisions. Unlike my mother (sorry mom), who always gave direction and told me what to do (not that I always listened and obeyed), my father let me choose what action to take. He would outline the options and knowing that he had taught me right from wrong expected I would make the correct choice. Like his faculty, I didn't want to disappoint him. When I erred, he never retorted with an "I told you so" or "Why didn't you." Instead, he let me face the consequences of my actions and then gently guided me to the better choice. (I wish I were more like my father and less like my mother; unfortunately, I, too, like to be in control. I'm sure my children wish it too!)

My father taught me to apologize, even if I was not wrong. What kind of lesson was that, you ask? It taught me that life is about teamwork; you don't go through it alone. Whether the other member of your team is your parent, your spouse, your children, your co-workers, sometimes to move past an impasse, you say you're sorry; you admit to a mistake you did not make; you let others shine and take credit for your idea; you learn to compromise; you give and take.

My father taught me when to let go. This was the hardest lesson, because it was taught on his deathbed. He had been in and out of the hospital with complications since his quadruple bypass surgery. During his last stay, the nurses kept putting in a breathing tube, which he kept pulling out. He had made his decision; enough was enough. He waited until my brother, mother, and I were all in the room with him. He appeared to be in and out of consciousness. We talked about his options; he appeared agitated. We started to reminisce about better times together; we laughed; we joked; he let go.

So, note to my older self: Be proud of the family I've built and nurtured, of the friendships I've made, of the things I've accomplished and created, but when it's time, have the courage to let go.

I love you and miss you Daddy. Happy Father's Day, forever.

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