In January of this year I wrote that I’m taking a break from blogging, and would be checking back in within the spring.
It’s late spring! I’m checking in! I feel wonderful about the break. It let me be fully present to my Dad, whose physical body died on April 18th, at age 91, as my brother Mick and I held his hands and murmured our love to him. My eyes are streaming all over again as I write, and I feel fine about that, too. The best things in life are worth our tears, and Dad — Mr. John R. Wiley — was and is one of my best things.
This is the first half of the talk I gave at Dad’s memorial service. Second half coming up in June.
My dad was a good man. He was also a flawed human being. I am too, go figure. In particular, Dad was a man who was rich in what matters: community, meaningful work, connection to God and nature, and physical health and vitality for most of his 91 years. Dad taught me to be rich in what matters.
This talk is about the Top Ten lessons I learned from my dad — not because he said them to me, but because he lived them.
1.Go to church.
I started ingesting faith, and the joy it can bring, when I was in utero. Background is that Dad was a preacher’s kid. He forced us to go to church. As an adolescent I greatly resented that. I rebelled. I argued with the Sunday school teachers: “I don’t think it happened that way!”. I went to confirmation class — under protest — and then refused to get confirmed and join the church (this felt so powerful).
Yet, for all of my adult life, I have loved going to church to worship. For me, church is home. I’m grateful to Dad that he provided me with spiritual formation. And I know church is not for everyone. Some of the kindest, most ethical people I know want no part of church. The point, I think, is simply to be connected, and committed to, something greater than ourselves.
2. Enjoy your meals, preferably with others.
Dad, also known as the Big Guy, loved food and eating with others. He didn’t have gourmet tastes: all food was good food. The exceptions were pasta, green beans and peanut butter. If you offered those to him, which we often did for fun, you’d be entertained by his expressions of horror. (You always knew how Dad felt). Desserts had exalted status, and ice cream was sacred in Dad’s eyes.
In his later years, if I’d driven Dad around on errands, he’d always end up saying, “Allie, can I take you out to dinner?”
“Nice idea, Dad, but it’s just 3:30 in the afternoon.”
“Really?!” he’d say. We’ll be coming back to the “really”.
My husband Thor and I embrace this life-lesson from Dad. We love hosting people for meals, also overnight stays.
3. Be physically active – again, preferably with another person, so as to socialize.
Dad played catch and pickle with us in the backyard; he took us on long, energetic walks in the neighborhood. There was bowling; he’d square-dance with me; he’d take me horseback riding. Dad loved to be in motion. When he walked into a room his body language was dynamic, decisive. Until the winding down of his 91 years, the Big Guy radiated physical energy. Dad taught me to be active, lifelong, and I am. This life-lesson has brought me great health and joy.
4. Learn to manage your anger.
I learned this by Dad’s negative example, not by his positive example. I grew up with a Dad who flew into rages at the smallest frustration – spilt milk, lost shoes, you name it. I grew up feeling anxious and afraid much of the time due to Dad’s rages. (I’ll be looping back in Lession 10. to how I healed from that.)
Some years ago, my husband Thor called me out on my own angry behavior.. He said it was hurting him and I had to change. I enrolled in an online anger management class and I learned tools that really do work. I respect Thor for insisting that I grow and be respectful. It’s unfortunate that anger management courses weren’t around in the 70’s.
5. Get the work done first, THEN relax.
Dad virtually never missed a day of work in his 35 years as a probation officer for Los Angeles County. On weekends at home the work ethic played out via yardwork, which we kids called his Gutter Patrol. It was only after Gutter Patrol was complete at the end of the afternoon that he’d THEN relax with a gin cooler. A typical snack was buttered toast, don’t ask me why. The man was easily pleased. To this day, I complete my yardwork before relaxing with a drink.
Dad’s work ethic didn’t involve fixing things; he had zero spatial/mechanical skills. Anything that was broken in our home was met with frustrated swearing. Happily, my older brother Jeff was born with a mechanical gene that came from some distant ancestor. So Jeff was called on for fix-it jobs large and small.
For example, Dad was getting snowy static on his favorite TV channel one day. Sputtering, red face, waving hands. “Jeff, can you help with this?”
Jeff adjusted the channel slightly. Clear picture. “Jeff, you’re a genius!” Dad was always generous with praise and appreciation.
Part II coming up next month. Over to you: what life-lessons have you learned from someone who has passed on?