A Message to My Dad

 

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My parents, Philip C. Holmen and Jeannine R. Calande on their wedding day.

I’m writing this as my father is preparing himself to transition from this Earth into the expansive form of himself.  I called him yesterday in the ICU to tell him how much I loved him.  I could tell by his faint whisper of a voice that it wouldn’t be much longer.  I had asked him several times if he wanted me to see him, and he said it was okay.  I knew that I wanted my last memory of him to be of him smiling and telling jokes, not the frail shell of a man he is today.

I hold those memories close to my heart.  I know I will be judged by my siblings of my decision not to rush to the hospital, but I have to do what feels right for me.  I don’t believe in doing things out of guilt anymore, but doing things because it is out of Love.   I chose to remember all of the things my father taught me over the years and it was because he loved me.

We all have a story to tell about our parents, though some may have a story of why their parents weren’t in their life.  I was lucky to have both growing up.  Being a writer, reflection is my pastime.  I often reflect where I was in my life to understand where I am going.  It’s within these reflections that I have grown.  Entwined in my childhood were the lessons that my father taught me.

It’s a surreal time for me knowing I am here at this juncture.  Knowing this is a normal process;  we all must die.  But to know someone’s time is bridging closer makes it all more clear to me.  Reflecting on our life while living is the most important thinking we can do.  I’m grateful for the times I’ve had to learn a little about this man and little more about me. 

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My father taught me compassion during difficult times.  Compassion towards people who caused me pain.  So many times he would come up to my room where I was grounded unjustly.  I had yelled out into the world and made my voice heard about the cruelties of being blamed for something I didn’t do and sent to my room.  He would lay on my bed with his ankles crossed and his head resting in his hands looking up at the ceiling.  I knew each time he did this he wanted to connect with me on a deeper level.  He would tell me stories of times he felt injustices or to tell me that I was okay and that he knew how I felt.  He told me that he understood it wasn’t fair and that I shouldn’t let it bother me.  Of course, this made me madder, but I understood.  He was telling me he was powerless too.  In order to keep the peace, he had to comply to stop the noise.

Reflecting on our life while living is the most important thinking we can do.

I knew he was struggling with his own self-worth and place in the world.  Years later when we spoke of things of the past, I discovered his stringent upbringing by his Swedish father didn’t allow for children to be heard, only to be seen.  If there was an injustice, there was no court or jury, just punishment for breaking the peaceful silence in the room.  My father only knew what he knew and it was to keep the peace at all costs, even if it meant breaking another’s spirit.  So I no longer blamed him and cast those memories into the pile of Lessons Learned about Compassion.

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It taught me to truly look at the people who caused others pain.  I looked at each family member in this way during many years afterward and grasped the lessons they needed to learn and that I learned from them.  I was then able to understand why they lashed out at me.  Their fears or insecurities were being spilled over to me.  With this new perspective, I was able to see the behaviors of others as a reflection of their inner demons.

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My father taught me humor.  He was always raring to go with a joke or funny story.  He had a certain chuckle I imitate when I recollect a time with him.  He was the dad that would embarrass us (in a loving way) in front of our friends telling them a knock-knock joke or other tale.  When he would see my arms crossed and upset he would try to make me laugh by telling a joke or to look at something funny he would do.  Of course, I would try harder not to smile or laugh, but that’s what kids did when they needed to learn not to take things so seriously.  I learned the trait of humor from him during these times.

As an adult when there was tension or sadness from someone, I would try to lighten the seriousness by saying something to make them smile.  Sometimes that was all that was needed for all to take a collective sigh.  I did the same thing with my daughter when her arms were crossed and pouted. She would break into a smile and her worries lightened. Then we were able to talk about the important things.

When my father called me from his hospital bed from a heart attack scare several years ago, I’d quickly chime in saying he just wanted to get some TLC from some cute nurses.  He would then make a funny remark and the tension and fears were relieved momentarily from the scariness of life.

oldtimeHe taught me to treasure the small moments and to make ordinary things special. Going on a small errand to pick up groceries could be an adventure.  He would tap me on the shoulder and tell me to come take a ride with him to the store.  This meant a treat would ensue.  We would pull up to our local ice cream store, Friendly’s, and order a small cone to be eaten during the duration of the car ride back. Then we would park in the driveway listening to Old Time Radio shows like the Green Hornet or The Shadow Knows.  He would tell me of times when he was a boy listening to these shows in his living room sitting on the floor.

He taught me that the simple things mattered. We would go on car rides delivering flower arrangements for my parents’ florist shop, and we would make up songs to remember the roads we needed to take.  He had a great voice, so it made it that more enjoyable.  He loved to sing and I could always pick out his voice in the church choir. I loved these times with my dad, because he made me feel important to him and that I mattered.

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My dad chuckling at his first Selfie!

There were also the lessons that most fathers taught to their children.  Sailing, fishing, knot tying, bicycle riding, ice skating, swimming and golfing.  I learned how to solder wire, graft a tree sapling, archery, bake bread, learn nautical bearings and chart reading, the Constellations, gardening and how to drive a Kubota tractor and stick-shift.  He figured it was good to know many skills so we could get on in the world and enjoy what it offered.  He was good at everything he did.  Each came with a story he shared about his childhood and the importance of learning new things.  I am grateful for these lessons because they taught me to never be afraid of trying new things.  Many of these skills brought me joy over the years. When something was hard to learn or frustrating, his famous words were always, “It builds character!” with his famous chuckle.

Although I am navigating through these new waters of saying goodbye, I feel a sense of calm knowing I got to know my father as I did.  He knows how I feel about him.  We didn’t let any words go unspoken, although I know he would have said more if he could.

I still hope for a recovery and that this is just a temporary setback, but I also know all things must change and we must grow from it.

I love you, Dad, for all the things you taught me and that I learned from you.

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