There is a time in our lives when our view of our parents changes and they are no longer simply defined by their role as Mom or Dad. They become fellow human beings and we begin to see them as whole people. Granted, this usually doesn’t happen in one day—it’s often a gradual process—but there is great value in it, even though it requires us to adjust our thinking and perhaps change how we relate to them.
My father has been gone for 8 years now, but Father’s Day often reminds me of the lessons I learned from him and it helps me to remind our Midnight Sun family and friends about celebrating the time you have together.
My father taught me many things, not the least, how to be self-sufficient (a great Alaskan value). In our family, we learned to care for and do for ourselves as much as possible. I learned to be a good enough plumber to do my own plumbing; a good enough electrician to wire my own electrical; a good enough carpenter to build what needed to be built . . . but I also learned to see when something was beyond my capability and to ask for help.
When I was younger, my admiration for my father also dwelled in his ability as an entrepreneur and a man of the community. He worked hard and involved himself in many initiatives—serving as a leader for local non-profits, helping to found the Soldotna Days Rodeo, running a successful insurance business, etc. I used to sit in his office and admire the plaques on his wall. I particularly noticed the photo of him with the Governor and the plaque with the gavel on it that he received in honor of a leadership role he filled.
I think now about how I challenged my father while I was growing up, how I sought his acceptance and simultaneously presented him with disappointments. Yet, he never succumbed to the “crap” I threw at him. I did what I thought I needed to do to win his approval and love, but eventually I realized, that he loved me unconditionally. When we’re young, we don’t see that for what it is.
So much of what he taught me became very clear when he was dying of cancer. In the last months of his life, I really had the chance to see him for the man he was. Even as he needed help and support, he took charge of the things he could take charge of: He made a point of spending time with all of us children together and individually. It was one of the most rewarding and beautiful things I’ve witnessed in life, to talk with my father and receive validation, encouragement and advice from him about how I was living my life.
It was also amazing that my father still stuck to the lesson he taught me at a young age: he asked for help when he needed it. He was always seeking his own spirituality and in the end, he turned to his children, who had professed their own faith, to learn more and help prepare for his own journey. It seemed to me that he found his own spiritual path in those last few days.
As I sit in my own office, thinking about him, I am looking at the plaques on my wall. There is a photo of me with the Governor. There is even a plaque with a gavel on it. Despite my youthful perceptions, when you get down to it, my father and I weren’t that much different from each other. I am grateful for what he passed onto me. I am proud to be able to provide stability to my loved ones in life—while I am still here. I remember what it felt like when my lifelong home phone number was disconnected after my father passed. It really sunk in that home is within me, and as long as I have it to give, I will.
But, don’t take home for granted. Relish the precious time you have with your father. Honor him by looking for the whole person in him and celebrating his accomplishments in life and the lessons he’s shared with you. Be grateful for what you have and in the wry words of my own father,
“Don’t screw it up. You can be right back where you were, with just a little less effort.”