My Dad peacefully passed away a couple of weeks ago at age 91.
His character was forged in the Great Depression and World War II. His personality reflected the traits of his generation: tough, smart, stoic, calm, hardworking, loving, funny, and patient.
I haven’t really come to terms with his passing yet, but as I spend time thinking about the interweaving of my life and my Dad’s life, I realize just how much I learned from my Dad and Mom that helps me in my own life, every day.
Growing up with three wild brothers meant wild times. Yet my folks handled our craziness with a degree of patience that in retrospect seems almost saintly, especially when compared to my own impatience as I deal with the challenges of my own children.
As my brothers and I gathered after Dad died, we began to tell stories. Each of us could remember hundreds of times when Dad had helped us, disciplined us, consoled us, or counseled us, but each of us could only remember literally one time that he lost his temper, even though we gave him good reasons to be upset almost every day.
We wrecked cars, offended neighbors, and raised snowball throwing to a high art. We dug 15-foot deep holes in the backyard to bury stuff that we scavenged from around the neighborhood. We made a “swimming pool” by the garage so that we could jump off the roof—but ended up cracking the garage walls…and then practiced technical climbing by hammering pitons into the newly cracked wall. We filled the backyard with hundreds of old Christmas trees to build a “fort”…a mess that took weeks to clean up and left not a single blade of green grass in the yard.
We were on a first-name basis with our family doctor…countless stitches, broken bones and minor impalements. We built homemade cannons fueled by cherry bombs, lit on fire almost anything that would burn, routinely put fishhooks through ourselves and each other, smacked wasp nests with sticks (duh!), and on and on. The police would bring us home after more serious infractions…but those were simpler days and family discipline always served as an effective corrective intervention.
Dad’s quiet response: “That’s about enough, kids.” Calm, patient, clear, loving.
And we would learn.
It must have been incredibly challenging. Patiently and calmly, Dad and Mom would redirect our careless, frantic, often destructive energy. They put us to work in the family greenhouse business: shoveling dirt, planting seedlings, waiting on customers, hammering nails, putting up drywall, fixing the plumbing, framing walls, moving rocks, repairing vehicles, and yes, taking care of things that we had damaged or undone. Slowly, we learned to build, to renew, to share, to give back, and to care.
So, as I think about my dad, I realize that I have deepened my understanding of just how my folks created a world for my brothers and me to explore, discover, and create; to become fiercely independent; and yet eventually mature into caring, compassionate adults. And the work I’ve chosen as an adult takes good advantage of all that priceless childhood experience—both destructive and constructive—to try and make our world a little better place to live.