It's been a month since Pops died. At times that month can feel like a year - or an hour. I still feel disoriented, discombobulated and generally stunned. Folks are kind and loving and offer their support. I wish I knew what to tell them when they ask how I am doing and if there is anything they can do. Usually a shrug and a sigh and a half-hearted smile are all I can muster in response.
But there is one question that I can answer. Everyday I ask myself, "what would my dad do?". Fortunately, I have a lifetime of data collected in the form of stories, memories and pictures to answer that question. Although his siblings did indeed call him "Saint John", my dad was far from perfect. He was stubborn and could be obtuse when it came to really hearing views that conflicted with his own. He never let his kids or grandkids win at anything. He was a terrible tailgater in the left lane - or any lane, really.
So, my dad wasn't perfect. But he was a good man with a good heart who did good in this world. And I will have lived a fortunate life if I can create half of the joy, love and goodness in the world that my dad has. And so I ask myself...
...what would my dad do?
1. Work hard. My dad worked hard - no matter the job. Whether leading his troop in Viet Nam, lawn care on a Saturday, managing logistics for the DOD or a family car trip, repairing/painting houses in underserved neighborhoods with his church community or creating a spreadsheet to equitably and precisely share costs between multiple families on vacation together.
2. Be reliable. Can your family and friends and neighbors count on you? Are you true to your word? You had better be.
3. Be present. Dad kept it pretty simple and clear. Work hard and do your best (see #1 & #2 above). After that, don't waste your time worrying about X if there wasn't anything you could do about it. He wasn't intentionally Zen but he was very logical. (After all he was an engineer by training and a natural math nerd.)
4. Tell your people you love them. Dad wasn't a fan-fare kinda guy. Even with 55 years of marriage, there weren't elaborate love letters to my mom expressing his undying love for her - though he sent several dozens of letters from Japan and Viet Nam to my mom talking about the food and weather and what they would do when he returned to the States. Not romantic in topic or phrase but deeply loving in quantity and faithfulness of sending the letters. (Again, see #1, #2 & #3 above.) But dad frequently and easily told his people he loved them*. It wasn't anything declared in any sort of special way - just a "Love you, Gal." "Love you, Bud." "Love you, Kid." (Kid was reserved especially for Mom.) And it was always accompanied with a hug a and kiss. And you knew he meant it.
[ *My sister tells a great story about our dad. He and our mom were tucking Amy into bed when she was about 3 years old. They said prayers and said goodnight. Our dad turned and headed for the door. Amy said, "I love you, Daddy." She says he stumbled out of the door like a deer in headlights. Could a dad say "I love you" to his kids? This kind of fathering had not been modeled for my dad. The very next night the scene was set just the same, Amy tucked in bed, prayers said, parents leaving the room and Amy says "I love you, Daddy." Dad hesitated for only a moment before he said in a somewhat awkward voice, "I love you, too, Amy." ]
5. Keep learning. As was mentioned earlier, my dad was stubborn and nearly always sure he was right (annoyingly he frequently was right). But there were times when it was shown to him that there might indeed be a better way. (See the *Amy story * in #4 above.) Going through my Dad's paperwork and mail, I found a printed off article with bullet points and explanations how to recognize one's own white privilege and how to become an ally to people of color.
6. Enjoy life. Whenever possible - laugh. Dad loved laughing with his friends and families. He loved sharing group emails with jokes/cartoons. He had a well stocked library of "Dad Jokes" and would gladly share his favorites frequently. He was a smart ass who truly appreciated those with a quick wit and a salty tongue. As I write this, I am picturing my dad laughing and smiling and the smile on my face is spontaneous and reassuring.
So, to those who knew my dad, to those who love my dad, and especially to the 7 Grandkids of Grand B and Pop Pop, do yourself a favor. When in doubt, ask yourself, what would Pop Pop do? He wasn't perfect but he was pretty darn close. And he wouldn't steer you wrong.
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