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Things I Learned From My Dad

Dad and me, 2011

Me and Dad, 2011

I’m sure I’ve learned many things from my dad throughout my life, but the lessons that are most clear and feel like the most important are the ones he has taught me in the days since he passed away.

1. Make the most of time spent with your loved ones, because you never know how much you have left. When I visited my dad in February, part of me knew it would be the last time I saw him, but I was in denial. I didn’t take the opportunity to tell him all the things I wanted to because I knew that by acknowledging the fact that he was dying I would have to deal with it, and I wasn’t ready. I was too scared to speak the words in my heart, and I took for granted the fact that I would see him again. I don’t believe in living with guilt and regret, but I’ll always wish that I had spoken up during our last visit and taken that opportunity to tell him everything I wanted him to know.

Me and my brother Bobby

Me and my brother Bobby

2. Never judge others because they’re not doing what you think they should be. They’re probably doing the best they can, just like you are. We as humans tend to be judgmental, and I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else – probably even more so. As my dad began getting sicker, I was so frustrated with him for not dealing with his health the way I thought he should. I was literally mad at him. Thankfully I was able to keep it to myself (mostly) and it didn’t drive a wedge in between us, but looking back I’m ashamed of myself for many of these thoughts. I wasn’t in his head, and I didn’t know how he was feeling or what he was thinking. I know now that he did the best he could: he fought to stay alive as long as possible and ultimately that’s all that matters. I also spent a lot of my younger life disapproving of my dad’s lifestyle but with the wisdom of age comes the realization that it truly does take all kinds, and just because he lived his life differently than I lived mine doesn’t make him wrong. Other than his failing health, my dad actually had a pretty great life! For more than a decade he’s been married to a wonderful woman and had so many amazing friends. I was lucky enough to meet some of his friends and in-laws last week and I don’t have the words to tell you how kind and giving and loving these people were towards me! I love them all for what they did for my father, and now for Patti and my brother and I, and I consider them all to be family.

Things I Learned From My Dad

Me and Patti’s mom, who we all just called “Mom”

Juanita and me... she was like a sister to my dad

Me and Juanita… she was like a sister to my dad

3. Always keep your heart open. My dad was a big ol’ guy, and had the heart to match. If you needed help, he was there. He put his own life on hold many times to help others, and was always willing to lend a helping hand to those who needed it. He was very generous with his family, friends and neighbors and I really hope this is a trait that will live on in me. In all of us, really! If everyone did just a little more to help those around us, think of what a difference that would make.

Allagash, the prettiest little pitbull girl ever!

Allagash, the prettiest little pitbull girl ever!

4. It’s never too late to change for the better. My dad went through many phases of his life, and they weren’t all positive. I don’t feel like I’m dishonoring his memory by saying this, because he would’ve been the first to tell you that he made some huge mistakes. The thing is, though, rather than sitting around and regretting his mistakes, he changed his life! He dedicated himself to becoming a better person, and I believe he was successful. He had a wonderful marriage, he become closer to his children and his extended family, and he was truly happy. I think this is a wonderful lesson, as we all have things about ourselves that we could improve (see #2! Although my dad would probably have told you that I’m perfect just the way I am πŸ™‚ )

Patti and me

Me and Patti

5. You’ll never regret the things you did, but you might regret the things you didn’t. When my step-mom Patti called to tell me my father was in the hospital, I tried to decide if I should jump on a plane. I kept rationalizing that this wasn’t the first time he had been hospitalized and he always ended up back home. In the time I spent trying to make up my mind, my dad lost consciousness and then I thought maybe I should wait until he woke up… but he never woke up again. Looking back, I wish I had flown to Florida to be with him. Even if I had arrived after he was unconscious, I still could’ve sat by his bed and held his hand. I know if my dad were reading this right now he’d tell me that he wouldn’t have wanted me to see him that way and that I shouldn’t worry about it, but when I think about the cost of a plane ticket versus a few more hours with my dad it seems obvious that I should’ve gone. This isn’t something I feel guilty about, but I’ll always wish that I had gone.

Dad and me on top of Pikes Peak, 2011

Dad and me on top of Pikes Peak, 2011

6. Family is the most important thing there is. My dad was estranged from his own parents when they passed away suddenly, and I know he never completely got over that. He also went through long phases of estrangement from some of his siblings but rebuilding those relationships was a huge part of his later years. He came from a large catholic family and had 6 brothers and sisters, and he really did try to bring everyone back together, and was mostly successful. And as sad as his death was for all of us, it was wonderful to see so many of my aunts and cousins last week! I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen in 20 years, and I believe in my heart that those connections will hold this time. That will be my father’s legacy: Bringing our family back together.

From left: Cousin Laura, Patti, (Third!) Cousin Brock, Me, Cousin Donna

From left: Cousin Laura, Patti, (Third!) Cousin Brock, Me, Cousin Donna

My dad and his (big!) sister Sandy

My dad and his (big!) sister Sandy

Me and Cousin Shavonne

Me and Cousin Shavonne

 

Me and my little cousin the future cruise ship captain!

Me and my little cousin the future cruise ship captain!

There are so many other family members that I’ve reconnected with who were camera shy (I’m looking at you, Aunt Wendy!!), and just because they’re not pictured here doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re wonderful, cause I do. And speaking of wonderful, can I just say how great everyone was about feeding me during all this!? Shavonne went right to the kitchen and started cutting up raw veggies for me, her husband James was always on hand to open my bottle of wine, Juanita adapted her pasta salad recipe to make it vegan, and Patti and Laura smoked a ton of veggies for me! And don’t even get me started on how willing Donna was to keep my glass full of gin… The point I’m making is, my family is fantastic and I’m so grateful to have reconnected with them.

I’d say I wish my dad had been there to see it, but I’m pretty sure he was.

Sunrise over Daytona Beach the morning of my Dad's funeral service

Sunrise over Daytona Beach the morning of my Dad’s funeral service

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{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Heather May 2, 2013, 6:07 am

    Your Dad sounds like he was a pretty amazing guy – thank you for sharing your family with us, they all seem pretty wonderful πŸ™‚

  • Cadry May 2, 2013, 6:30 am

    This post really choked me up. I didn’t know your dad, of course, but now I feel like I did. He sounds like an exceptional person. As sad as it is to lose someone we love, it can illuminate the important things in life, and it certainly seems to have done that for you. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • JL May 2, 2013, 7:06 am

    Barb, this is a lovely tribute to your father and real gift to us, your readers. Recalling our recent lunch conversation I can read how much you have reflected on love and loss and unconditional support. Thank you for sharing this. Wishing you warm, wonderful memories and comfort.

  • Jamie May 2, 2013, 8:49 am

    Sweety, your post made me cry. As others have said, a beautiful tribute. I look up to you for being so forgiving and caring, and want to adopt some of your important-list especially as I have some of my own forgiving to do. I don’t know how your heart is so big after everything you’ve faced, and that’s part of why I love you so much. I’m proud to be an adoptee-member of your family. πŸ™‚

  • Aimee B. May 2, 2013, 9:54 am

    Wow, what a beautiful and loving tribute to your amazing dad! I’m sitting here in tears as I think of my own dad. He taught me the same lessons.

    My heart hurts for you in your loss. Your dad will most definitely live on in those who love him and I can see that is a GREAT many people. what a lovely legacy!

    Love and prayers for you and your family. And thank you for sharing this post with all of us. It truly touched my heart! (((Hugs)))

  • Melissa @ Food and Loathing May 2, 2013, 2:43 pm

    Thank you for this post. My mother died in 2003 when I was 20 and, at that time, I did not have the emotional maturity or ability, even, to make sure that I was there for her completely and say the things that needed to be said before she died. It was hard because she couldn’t really talk, and I wasn’t yet prepared to take control over any kind of a situation and make sure that she knew I loved her. It’s definitely my biggest regret in my life so far. This post definitely got me teary thinking about the losses we all suffer.

  • Somer May 2, 2013, 3:35 pm

    What a beautiful insight into your family Barb. You are glowing in those photos and I can see how much you loved your dad. Take care friend. Still sending lots of love and hugs. xx

  • Lisa May 2, 2013, 7:40 pm

    What a beautiful post-your family looks like so much fun! πŸ™‚

  • Frugal Vegan Mom May 2, 2013, 8:04 pm

    Hi,
    I am so sorry to hear about your Dad. Mine died suddenly from a heart attack nearly a year ago and it has been a really rough year. Your things you learned list was so thoughtful, you are so right about an experience like this making you appreciate your family more. Feel free to e-mail if you ever want to talk, we look like the same age, and I was one of the first of my friends to lose a parent so it left me feeling especially….older.
    Best,
    Kelly

  • Tinya May 2, 2013, 10:13 pm

    Beautiful post Barb. You are amazing.

  • Connie Fletcher May 3, 2013, 5:15 am

    Barb, I am so very sorry for your loss, and I wish I could be there for you…so, please know I am there in spirit..with both my arms wrapped around you for support. In your post, you said that by mentioning your dad had some difficult times and that you felt like you were dishonoring his memory by saying that…that, my dear, couldn’t be further from the truth. We all have challenging times, but like your dad, we all try (most of us) to do better. We all do the best we can with the knowledge we have, and when we know better, we do better. It’s a credit to your dad that he did better!! Not everyone gets there… God bless you, Barb. You and your wonderful family!!

  • Annie May 3, 2013, 8:39 am

    Barb, I found this post so touching and it really hit home for me. Everything you’ve said is so very true and it’s all so easy to forget or let go as the details of life take over. I know that it also probably helped you to write all of this down and I’m glad you shared it with us. Hugs.

  • Angie May 3, 2013, 10:26 am

    What a beautiful tribute to your father, it definitely got me emotional. I am glad you learned so much from your dad and I know he was/is very proud of you.
    Losing a parent is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with, please let me know if you need anything!

  • Gabby @ the veggie nook May 5, 2013, 10:37 am

    This was such a lovely post Barb. The part about not judging because we never know what someone else is going through really rang true with me. This is something I always try and remind myself. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man, what an amazing tribute. xox

  • Thang May 6, 2013, 9:11 pm

    What a sweet family ! Thank you for sharing such beautiful photos of your family with us.

  • Epicurean Vegan May 8, 2013, 3:04 pm

    This is really beautiful. I lost my dad too soon as well. Thanks for sharing your heart and photos of your amazing family. (One of the many reasons I nominated you for the Sunshine Award)! http://epicureanvegan.com/2013/05/08/sunshine-award/

  • Wendy May 9, 2013, 5:33 pm

    You are beautiful and hit the nail on the head
    Love you and one day you will get a picture
    Wendy

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