If you’ve been following along for the past two years you have definitely heard me talk about my father. I think my most vulnerable post was about the last three weeks of his life. I wrote How My Braids Saved Me to share my thoughts on grief and to document my experiences during the most challenging time in my adult life.
But last week in my poetry class I had a bit of a revelation. I realized that I have spent so much time grieving the loss of him over the past two years, that I had reduced his great big life to that heartbreaking but rather limited moment in time. After recently seeing my How To Be Graceful post pop up on another site (which was an ode to my grandmother) I thought it might be time to celebrate his life by sharing the good things I learned from him too. After all, it’s been said that big grief is just a reflection of an even bigger love. So here are the things my father taught me.
1. It’s not about what goes wrong but how you handle it-For many years when I have been asked to list my favorite word I’ve always written Integrity. I don’t know why that word means so much to me, it’s not as all-encompassing as the word Love or as action-oriented as Advocacy which are two other words that make the top of my list, but it has always been my favorite.
When I really sit back and think about that, it’s most likely because it was the trait that my father embodied. The thing I learned to emulate. It didn’t mean that we didn’t make mistakes. We both did and lots of them to be honest, but what I learned from him was that it was so important to own your mistakes and that what really mattered and what people would really be looking for wasn’t the debacle, but how you handled yourself after the dust settled. My father was so real and dignified and if something went wrong he made it right and not just with words, but with his actions too. I learned that while it’s important to try to do the right thing when you do fall short its how you handle your business that says a lot about the real you.
2. People will still love you even if you speak your mind-So many people I know are afraid to say what’s really on their mind. Many out of fear of being disliked or being worried about how their message will be received. My father was not one of those people. He was the most confident person I knew. The funny thing is that most people really really loved him despite his frank and direct manner. There is something genuinely likable about someone who isn’t afraid to share their thoughts or stand up for something bigger than them. One caveat is that it was never a personal attack. People trusted him and his opinions because you always knew where you stood with him. He could tell you that he didn’t agree with you and you still knew he loved you. He always showed up as his true self and never hid behind niceties. But he wasn’t this new age of speak your mind cruelty, his frankness came from a place of good intention when sharing his thoughts which made him so much fun to debate.
3. The secret to happiness is to keep your childlike wonder-if you didn’t know my father then by my descriptions you’d think of him as a very serious maybe even stoic man and in some ways he was. If you needed something done, he’d do it right away. If he was going to an event he was dressed to the nines. But while he was certainly a grownup by every definition of the word, he kept his boyish ways. He loved to play and entertain and he never met a train, remote control car or model plane that he didn’t love. When the Cabbage Patch doll craze was at an all-time high in the early 1980’s he waited patiently in line before the crack of dawn with my giddy self and at least 100 other sleep-deprived moms, dads and daughters for a chance to find 25 dolls (for purchase) hidden in the aisles of our local store. And I’m certain that he was almost as excited as I was! Which leads me to my final point-the very best thing he ever taught me about being a grown-up is that the key to stepping into adulthood wasn’t discarding your youth but finding a way to embrace the two.
These are the biggest lessons my father taught me. I’d love to hear what lessons a loved one taught you.
Until Next Post,
xo Tonya Parker