Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lessons from my father

I apologize in advance for what I am sure will be a long entry.  Bear with me.  I have had a month now to digest what happened a month ago today.  Being an introvert, I simmer on my thoughts, slow cooking them.  I filter them through my beliefs, my knowledge, and my feelings.  It occurs to me that I had not just learned lessons from my father over the last month, but over my lifetime.  My dad had not become in his last month of life something that he was not before.  Perhaps I just saw it in its purest form.  Like a pupil whose teacher stops suddenly, I feel a bit lost in fleshing things out, but, flesh them out I must.

My dad taught me many lessons, some were easy, most were difficult.  Many he spoke of frequently, most his actions spoke most powerfully.  Many were consciously listened to, most were subconsciously taken in and molded who I am.  I write this to distill a few of those lessons.

Lesson 1: Who you are is determined by the sum of your choices.  Dad never could have been called a racist, a homophobe, a sexist, or a elitist.  He did not pretend to understand all there was about the human person, but he did know that their choices and free will actions showed the kind of person individuals were.  We were never taught to be suspicious of a person because they were different than we were.  WE were taught to differentiate the person from their failings.  He would be disappointed when people made decisions solely based on one aspect of the person ( race, gender, etc)  Dad did not believe in collecting antagonistic relationships.  Life would present enough of them on its own, there was no need to seek them.

Lesson 2: Playing politics is never worth the rewards gained.  Dad hated politics.  He hated the duplicity.  He hated the back-stabbing, manipulation, self-serving relationships, and deceit necessary to play politics well.  I am not speaking of merely politics as in governance, but more to the point, office politics.  Getting more money was never worth selling out his beliefs.  He was there to do a job and do it to the best of his abilities.  He believed in advancement by merit alone.  If that meant he got passed over for a raise or a promotion, then so be it.  Integrity mattered more than status.  It would have been easy for him to sell out and use the excuse that he had a family to provide for.  He didn't.  If he got a promotion or raise he wanted to know it was because he had earned it.  I always respected that about him.

Lesson 3: Sometimes the bad guy wins and how one deals with that says a lot about the individual.  I never heard my dad say that life was unfair.  He detested the concept of fair and unfair because it was always a subjective thing.  Fair or unfair by whose standards? By what criteria?  Sometimes you could do everything right and still get screwed.  Because you play by the rules does not mean your opponent will.  Sometimes their deceit and machinations gave them the edge.  Sometimes they won the job, the promotion, the raise, and so on. As dad found it more important to be able to look at himself in the mirror than be admired for something he wasn't.  It meant that he got up, dusted himself off, and kept doing the right thing. Sometimes you lose.  The true test of the person was whether the person could walk away with their integrity and dignity intact.  It meant many harsh lessons.  It meant giving up temporary advances and advantages.  It meant not being afraid of failure.

Lesson 4:  It is only stuff.  Dad had great attachment to people and animals.  He loved nature and was fascinated with the outdoors.  People came before things.  Always.  Taking advantage of people to get more things made no sense to him,  Despoiling the world to get more things made no sense to him.  Things were not worth it.  He didn't need copious amounts of stuff.  He lived comfortably and simply.  He could have lived much higher and simply chose not to. He wasn't cheap.  But he didn't spend money for the sake of spending money.  His taste were simple.  He could go overboard, say, on vitamins and supplements.  But for most all else, simplicity of life was what he desired.

Lesson 5: You'll not find nor create heaven on earth.  Heaven was when we died, not now.  Our task here was to be the best we could be.  We were to use God's grace, be detached from material goods, be honest, friendly, and competent.  We cannot change anyone else but ourselves and only hope that our way of life might attract others. Here, people would be dishonest, greedy, envious and power hungry and other people will suffer for it.  Accidents happen, disasters happen, sickness happens, death happens.  That is the nature of the material world.  Fighting it was futile and maddening.  It was we approached these disasters and disappointments that mattered.  He stayed positive even when there seemed no reason to be so.  He did not expect perfection here so it didn't throw him when he didn't get it.   

Lesson 6: Faith matters.  For dad, faith wasn't a set of beliefs treated like a family heirloom to be trotted out for special occasions; it was a daily lived experience.  It was what drove him.  I could go on and on about this but I think it suffices to say that if you read the other lessons, you can see how faith permeated all those lessons.

My dad was not a perfect man.  He would correct me for saying otherwise.  However, it is fair to say that he tried to be the best man he could be.  That was all that could be asked.  I assume, like myself, that when he stood before God, he wasn't asked "why weren't you as good as so and so"; he knew the question would be "what did YOU do with what I gave you."  Allow me to be  a witness for the defense and say, he taught his children what was important, how to face life as it is and not as it should be, and to never allow the drive to get ahead to diminish our loyalty to God or to those he places in our lives.

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