Monday, January 5, 2015

My Dad's Wisdom

When you write a book, especially one about your parents, it occurs to you what a terribly mediocre writer you actually are. In one sense I'm quite proud of Finishing Well, but in another I'm disappointed. There was so much more I could have said, should have said about them. Reading back through the finished product is an exercise in frustration. How could I have possibly not mentioned my Mother's beautiful alto voice, the way it would carry through the house on hot summer evenings? How could I have failed to pass along all of the little pieces of advice my Dad gave me along the way? But what's done is done. Many of you have bought a copy and for this I am grateful.

Still, over the past week or so I have had cause to think about Dad. My son and I have had a couple of long text message discussions recently about various things and it has occurred to me that Dad and I never had  a similarly long conversation in our entire time together. Perhaps it was a generational thing. Men born in the 1920's weren't big talkers for one thing, so Dad and I had short, terse exchanges mostly, until the end when he was sick and would talk for hours. But when he did speak to me about important things there was always a distinctly different quality to his voice. He would clear his throat and look off into the distance before offering some piece of advice like, " no matter how bad a day you've had, everything feels better after a hot shower."

There were lots of those one line nuggets of wisdom. I haven't talked to Donnie about this but I'd be willing to bet that he heard the same ones I did:

" Anything worth doing is worth doing well."
" You always feel better after a hair cut."
" Shaving is like working. If you don't do it every day, you're a bum."
" It's not how you start a thing, it's how you finish that counts."
" There's nothing worse than a quitter."

Then there were the surprising, out of nowhere asides that he would offer, many of which would stagger me. I remember once when Kaitlin was just a baby, he was over the house for some sort of gathering and he sat next to me on the sofa where I was giving her a bottle. He very casually leans over and says, " you know that Kaitlin will learn how to be treated by men by the way she sees you treat her Mother." Whoa.

I so wish he had said more, but that wasn't him. It wasn't his generation. I much prefer how Patrick and I talk about practically everything. But there's a problem with that too. I want to pass along wisdom to my kids, not just opinions and jokes. I want the stuff I say to them to count for something. I want them to remember me for something besides wit, sarcasm, and a libertarian streak. I don't want them to remember me as merely a theological Christian, but one who actually lived a life that more closely resembled the Sermon on the Mount, than some Roberts Rules of order version of doctrine. In other words, I want them to think of me as I think of my father, as a wise man.