This isn’t the blog post I was going to write this week. As a matter of fact, I spent all week not writing that blog post about goals. You’ll see it on Tuesday. This morning I realized why I hadn’t written it. I didn’t need to talk to you all about goals. Nope, I need to talk to you all about memory and appreciation.
My dad died a year ago this week. He was 80 and almost 3 months. We had a blowout birthday party for him on his 80th – something like 86 people attended. He died 2 months later. I’m pretty sure Dad’s goal had been to make it to 80. You see, in January 1997 Daddy had a heart transplant. And, through incredible intelligence and stubbornness, he survived 17 ¾ years with somebody else’s heart in his body. Intelligence because he knew when to buck traditional cardiac care – much to his doctors’ dismay and then their eventual approval – to extend his life and stubbornness because no matter what was going on with his health, he kept going. Oh, it’s important to know that Dad’s a Marine (they never die, so I say he is a Marine).
So, inevitably, Dad’s been on my mind all week. I possess a lot of his finest traits (and some of the not great ones). Dad was always determined to live life on his terms, and he was creative in the way he approached his life and career, particularly for a guy born in the 1930’s in Atlanta.
My first realization that my dad was different from most dads is when he left his really good engineering management job with a top notch technology company and decided to sell insurance. He did this when I was 14, just before the child #6. He and Mom weren’t afraid to take that risk. Mom says choosing to work for himself instead of toeing a corporate line extended his life. Dad always liked to do things a little differently, employing strategies others would never dream of.
His organizational skills were unbelievable – and this was before computers. He had this amazing index card system for scheduling volunteers, tracking opportunities, and tracking the money they raised. Dad volunteered with our high school band for almost 20 years, through all 6 of our band high school careers. He was at every game; he coordinated annual band trips; he figured out unique fundraising opportunities, set up the volunteers and schedules, tracked them, and passed them on.
The popular chaperone
Dad was also the chaperone that every student wanted on the trips. Other parents would say we should have a 10:00pm curfew. Daddy would pipe up and insist on 1am. They would always compromise on 11 or 11:30pm. Everybody knew he was a Marine, so that gave him extra authority, which he wore lightly. Didn’t help me when a guy wanted to ask me out, though! Dad’s sense of humor lightened up many a bus trip and was the outward manifestation of his extreme love of people.
He could do all this, plus participate in various civic organizations because he was in charge of his time and in control of his life. He could do all this because he took the risk to travel the unconventional path and claim total responsibility for his own future.
I don’t know what kinds of internal struggles Daddy endured as he worked to raise 6 kids, create a business, and stay involved in civic life. I’m pretty sure he suffered some of the same doubts I have today. Have I risked too much? Will this work out? How will it work out? Can I really survive this? Can my family survive this?
And I’m positive that he responded, “Absolutely, I can and will do this.” He was stubborn, determined, and confident. I remember that he and Mom read some of the great motivational titles at the time, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, and Maxwell Malz’s Psycho-Cybernetics. They’d get us older kids to read them, too. He would tape inspirational quotes to his bathroom mirror (before post-it-notes). He even enrolled all of us who were the right age – I think it was 3 of us kids, Mom, and him – in Evelyn Wood’s Speed Reading. We’d head down to Buckhead across the street from Lenox Square once a week to learn how to read faster and better.
Improved productivity! More books read/day! Doesn’t get any better than that! I use the skills I acquired in that Speed Reading course to this day. I also carry that thirst for knowledge and improvement with me. My podcast partner, Diana, and I are always kidding each other about how many motivational books we buy and how many courses we sign up for, buy, and never quite get to!
The Baby Whisperer
As I mentioned earlier, Daddy loved people – all people. He particularly loved babies. He always loved to work the baby room at church; he was, til the day he died, the baby whisperer. He could settle the most fractious babies. He’d pick them up and they would just sigh and settle down. I have a gift for that, too.
He wasn’t afraid to horse around either. He’d get down on the floor with toddlers, horse around with teenagers (he taught a Sunday school class that was all teenage boys), give sage advice when needed (of course, I never needed it or heeded it – but that’s another story), and just generally live out his love of people everywhere he went. He was a charmer.
So, this past week, when I’ve seen 4 clients back-to-back, done last minute work for others, found time in my schedule to coach a coach, and fit in a fundraiser for the organization that has always nurtured me, I know I’m living into my essential Joe-ness. I know I’ve moved past all those fights Daddy and I had when I was a teenager (my sibs have stories to tell), those days of pushing against his authority, and those days of wishing that I was just somebody who wasn’t tortured by always seeing a different way of doing things, a different way of being, and always, always trying to do more and do better.
Leading by example
Instead, I have reached the point where I get to own those traits that Daddy and I shared. I get to celebrate that I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who supported me, even when I couldn’t see it. I get to love people just the way they are, to volunteer to do too much, to take gigantic, crazy risks because he did it first, and most of all, I know that I get to support others because I was supported unconditionally.
At his memorial service, I talked about Daddy’s adherence to the Marine Corps principles (honor, courage, commitment); their motto, Semper Fidelis (always faithful), and their core value, Ductus Exemplo (lead by example). As I talked about how he lived out his life as a Marine, I realized he and Mom had raised all 6 of us to do the same thing. So, this week, as I go about my life as a coach, showing commitment and courage, being faithful to my core values, and always, always, always leading by example, I will remember Daddy and know that I am one lucky woman to have had such an amazing guy as my father.