Friday, November 21, 2014

It's a Dad Thing

On November 19 – just this week – my dad passed away. Although he had been sick for some time, no one really knew the extent of his illness and the myriad ways he had tried to ‘cure’ himself. Over the past years, during every visit he would inevitably steer the conversation towards our health, what we eat, what we drink, how to be healthy, how to cure anything, etc. As we have been going through all his papers, I discovered what an amazing researcher he was. He kept notes on everything regarding health. He had (literally) bags full of health magazines, miracle cures, books on positive living and much more. As I read some of the many notes he had written, I was reminded of all the times he had given that same advice I was now reading. And I was struck by a universal truth – the best advice my dad gave me was the lies he told me. It’s a parenting trick that worked wonders for him and helped me become the person I am. The first lie was the one he told us on a regular basis – that he was fine, his colon and heart were shot, but he was ok. Within this lie was the advice, “I’m the parent and it is not your job to worry about me.” This is a lie told round the world to every child all the time. As parents we do not want our children to worry, nor should we worry others with our tales of woe. When asked how you are, you reply you are fine. You may be hurting. You could be worried about something. But you simply reply that you are ok. Especially when our children ask. I am not as private a person as my parents. I’ve embraced the current age of social media sharing and I consider myself an open book – willing to talk about anything. But there are limits and I embrace those limits more often than I’d care to admit. If I’m not willing to share information to a room crowded with strangers, I don’t share outside my inner circle. In other words, “I’m fine.” Another lie was that Santa was real. What? Don’t you believe in Santa Claus? I still do! And I still believe because why shouldn’t we believe in magic? Santa Claus embodies all that is good and magical about Christmas. So what if the actual person with flying reindeer doesn’t physically exist. The very thought that that kind of magic is in the world is enough to produce a little bit of hope. One of the many quotes my dad wrote was, “The impossible becomes miraculous when you believe.” I hold this truth born in a lie close to my heart and believe it every day. One of my favorite lies was in my dad’s favorite word – stickiviness. I know, it’s not a real word, at least not until recently when I heard it on a sitcom. He loved this word and used it often to note that when you start something you have to stick with it, through good and bad, to see any results from your efforts. He applied this concept to everything – work, marriage, chores, commitments – once you start, you don’t stop or you’re a failure. The advice coming from this lie is actually two-fold. Yes, you have to finish out something you commit to, whether it’s for a day, a month or a year. If you commit to do something for a period of time, you finish it. I am loyal to this almost to a fault. The other part of this is that I learned that if you finish a commitment and decide not to continue, that you are not a quitter or a failure. You tried and it didn’t work. Period. It doesn’t matter for what reason. It may be something you didn’t like. It could be a relationship that didn’t work. And this is all okay. I don’t believe in staying in something just because you shouldn’t quit or move on. If what you are doing is not healthy, you need to stop and change course. There is no shame. So yes, loyalty and sticking with something can be good, but only if softened by a little bit of knowing when to say the end. Every day all around the world, children are learning the lies their parents tell them. We’ve all done it. We’ve all been raised by it. Is it because we can’t handle the truth? I don’t think so. I think we as parents understand how to gently weave life’s lessons into a vast quilt filled with truth and embellishments. Ancient peoples told stories of their ancestors that were passed down through each generation. Each story had a moral to teach the children a lesson. This is how we learned. As we grew up and matured, we saw the truth behind the story, understood and applied the lesson. We also understood why it was told to us the way it was – to help preserve our innocence while infusing us with the lessons we so desperately needed to learn. So yes, my father wasn’t perfect and I wouldn’t want him to be. He was the perfect dad for me and that’s all I need to know. I will remember his laugh, his stories, his shortcomings, and yes, his lies. For they are some of the greatest truths I will ever know.

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