I am back in Queensland (Australia) as I write this.
Sitting at a table out the back of mum and dad’s place, drinking a cup of tea, and reflecting on my dad and all the things he taught me.
Dad passed away peacefully in a beautiful palliative care hospital a little over a week ago, with family at his side, after having been ill for the last 6-months.
My life (particularly over the last 20 years) has been one of curiosity and deep observation of my relationship with life, so I might learn and grow, and share my lessons along the way.
As I reflect on my dad, I realise a lot of what makes me ‘me’, were great lessons passed on from my dad.
And although dad was a school teacher throughout his working life, it wasn’t through teaching verbally that I learned most from him. It was how he acted, behaved and showed up in life, where I learned my greatest lessons from dad.
I realised too, as I write this, that he not only ‘taught’ me a lot of life skills, but he taught and influenced 1000’s of teenagers (he was a high school manual arts teacher) over the 35 or so years he was teaching.
Nice one dad!
So let me share with you, what I feel are his greatest gifts and have most influenced the building of my character.
And before I get into my ‘list’, I was chuckling to myself, that dad never drank, smoked or swore, and on this one I might have gone a slightly different direction, and have the bumps and bruises to show for it. I never got into smoking, but I am not sure I can say the same for the other two.
A mini Bio
I thought I would add a short Bio, so you would get some context.
Dad was born in 1942. His mum was a dressmaker and his father did many things which included being a drover (an Australian term for ‘cowboy’), a bare knuckle fighter (I think this was for fun and not professionally) and he even cracked a whip in the circus. His dad was quite the character, and a handful, in equal measure. My dad was a school teacher through his life, and was married to my mum for over 50 years and had three kids. Me, my older brother and younger sister. Dad was always active, rarely sat around, went to bed early and got up early (usually about 4am). He used to workout each morning throughout his life and loved to be busy. Forever adding some extension to the house, or fixing what needed fixing. He never travelled outside of Australia, but loved meeting people from different countries and cultures. He also loved dogs, and would cheerily say hello to everyone when he was out and about for a walk. I could say more, but let’s see what else his life reflected outwards.
The main lessons I learned from Dad
There are many, but these are the ones that stand out most.
Honour Your Word. I think this was a defining feature of my dad. If he said he was going to do something, then he would. He would always keep his word. It was an admirable quality and a great virtue to have. My only modification on this lesson from dad, was that I found that sometimes it was of benefit – for all parties – to go back to the negotiation table, as sometimes circumstances change and it is useful if we revisit our promises and see if they are still valid, or need an upgrade.
Be Honest. Dad was one of the most honest people I have known. I went through the military academy and one of the virtues we were taught was about integrity. I already had observed this in action over the course of my life through dad. He would be the person who ALWAYS returned the money if someone gave him back too much change in a transaction. He never took advantage of anyone, and always showed up in his dealings with honesty and fairness. This is another great virtue to bring into your life’s work. It is one of the ways we can ‘feel good about ourselves’ when we look in the mirror at our reflection. We need to respect what is being reflected back to us?
Leaning into Discomfort. Dad loved to keep busy. He loved to work. He loved to lift and shift things. He was a strong man physically and didn’t shy away from hard work, or a bit of grunting and groaning. He was physically and mentally tough and taught me about ‘grit‘ and ‘resilience‘. And was supportive of me do contact sports like rugby and martial arts, which I think built up my foundations of physical toughness, teamwork and the importance of doing the work (i.e. showing up to training sessions).
Discipline. I often have people ask if I got my own sense of discipline from my time in the Army. Nup. Dad taught me the practice of discipline well before then. He got up every morning to exercise. He was disciplined at finishing tasks he started, even if they were not fun. He taught me the importance – through action – of daily consistent action. And being committed to getting things done. Having the discipline to stick with a task to see it to fruition and being less affected by distraction. He also taught me about staying focused on the task at hand, if I wanted it done, and done well.
Don’t dwell in the Past, or overly worry about the Future. Dad slept like a log every night. He didn’t fret and worry about how well he did today, or what tomorrow might bring. He was a “show up and get it done” sort of guy. I think learning from him not to dwell on the past is one of the greatest gifts he modelled for me. The only tuning up on that virtue is that I like to analyse the past for anything to learn, before I move on. And I am yet to master the art of not spending too much of my head space in the future, at the expense of living in the now. That’s a work in progress for me.
Don’t live beyond your means. Dad taught me some great financial skills that have served me well throughout my whole life. Through good decisions, patience, appreciating what he had, and his own sweat and effort (upgrading the houses he owned), he only had a mortgage for about 6 years of his life. As a school teacher, he was paid bugger all, but used his money wisely to provide for the family, and himself and mum when he retired at about 58. For me, dad taught me to avoid excessive debt, don’t buy stuff you don’t need, have appreciation for what you have, and save progressively over time. I think good financial lessons from our parents are SO useful for us in life.
Love. Dad taught me that I was loved, for who I was, not what I was doing, or what I could achieve. He celebrated those things with me, but he also said to me when I was talking about resigning from the military (a well-paid stable job), that he would love me no matter what I did. I felt no pressure to ‘be something’ to get dad’s love. He was extremely supportive, which allowed me to take some risks, knowing dad had my back. There is an amazing sense of safety that goes with that. He respected my choices, even if he did not agree with them. That is a pretty cool thing to not only learn, but see in action.
Skip the Drama. Dad was never one to get caught up in drama’s. He was about getting on and doing things, and skipping the bitching and moaning. He might get angry, and yell a bit (when I was younger), but he also was quick to dissolve that emotion and come back into a calm state. He would also – in a calm state of mind – have a good honest conversation, about why he got angry, so you could see your own part in it. I guess I learned personal responsibility from dad, which has served me very well. Plus just the act of getting on with life. Not getting caught up in what went wrong, but just fixing what needs fixing. This is a HUGE life skill I value greatly.
Joy. Dad was a pretty happy camper. He smiled often. Most people would remember him for his big smile. He had a pretty good sense of humour and was okay if you were trying to take the piss out of him. He could laugh at himself. Even over the last few months as he experienced some dementia, he would still be able to laugh at himself for wheeling his walker in the wrong direction as he navigated the house. He also taught me not to take myself, or even life, too seriously. It is much harder to experience joy if you are too uptight about your self ‘image’.
Don’t care what others think. I think one of the greatest things dad taught me, and has lived by, is not caring too much about what others think of him. He was more about making good choices about how he was going to show up in life and less about meeting others approval. I love this trait. Not living your life based on others desires or approval, but being deeply committed to being the best person you could. Dad did a pretty good job of that and I am forever grateful to him for this lesson, as it is one of the most impactful in my life. If you worry too much about what others think of you and your choices, you may never fully express the true you, or have the tailored adventure that life is offering you.
I could probably keep writing, but I will call a time-out here.
In summary, my dad was an great man, and taught me so much through his actions. He also made mistakes, like the rest of us, but owned them, and did his best to right them, overcome them, and learn from them.
What he (indirectly) taught me after his passing
This was a very interesting observation for me. Dad was never big on funerals, and didn’t attend them himself. So we figured it would be hypercritical to have one for dad. What a great parting gift, as I observed something I hadn’t realised in the past. After someone’s passing, it is really important for those closest to them, to process their grief and in their own unique way (there is no one size fits all). If we had a funeral, we would have had the potential stress of organising a funeral, and potentially put the healing of our grief, on hold, until after the logistics of the funeral are done.
In the military, I learned about ‘critical incident stress debriefing’ and the importance of doing the debriefing as close to the incident as possible, to get the most out of the healing process. So I feel, without the stress of organising a funeral, when you have the least amount of emotional bandwidth for it, it might be beneficial to skip the funeral, or doing it as a bigger ‘gathering’ a couple of months later (when everyone is more at peace and has had time to heal). It was an interesting observation for me (based on my understanding of healing), and one I thought might serve others in the future. Again, no one size fits all, for all people, so be open to a different way of doing things, based on the needs of those most impacted.
My Parting words
My dad was a great man and I am grateful for all he taught me.
His legacy will always live on in the work I do.
And I know as a teacher, he will be remembered fondly, as a man of principles.
Dad and I had nothing left unsaid, and we clearly expressed our love for each other.
Clearly expressing your love is a big thing – particularly from sons to fathers and back.
Men are typically crap at this, so if this applies to you, see if you can do a better job of it.
When I think of dad, he brings a smile to my face (and is exactly how dad would want me to be).
Thanks for sharing this experience with me.
And maybe dad taught you a thing or two along the way.
He would love that.
Have a gratitude-rich day and this week express your love more fully, clearly and openly.
See you next week.