What is the Greatest Lesson My Father Taught Me?
A parent is always a parent, no matter how long they–or you–live.
A wise parent knows when to stop actively parenting and just BE a parent.
Family was everything to my father. Sure, he loved his sports, his work, traveling. But his true love was our Mom and us five kids. He worked hard to provide a comfortable life for his family. Clothes. Camping. College. As his success increased so did his free time. Instead of giving that time to himself, he gave it to us.
I left the nest first. As each of us kids flew off, every year our parents provided us a way home. They were united in their commitment to keep us kids close to them and close to each other. Vacation destinations were offered as loving bait to bring us back together. As our individual families grew, so did the variety and size of accommodations they provided us. Our parents could have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in a well earned, self indulgent way. Instead, they took 14 of us on a Caribbean cruise. Their marriage was sacred but their family was equally sacred.
Phone calls from them always included, “Have you talked to your sisters? Do you know what’s happening in your brothers’ lives? Keep in touch with them. That’s the greatest gift you could give us.” Advice on how to live our lives started tapering off as we grew older. But the admonition to keep close to the family never ended.
My Dad stopped actively parenting me after my 31st birthday. We were visiting my parents and Dad asked me to clean and prepare red and white grapes for a fruit salad. He got out 2 bowls, and offered to show me how to remove the grapes from the stems and place them in the bowls–one for each color. I stared at my Dad, open mouthed. He was looking at me not like I was an idiot but as if I was still his little girl. You know, like the car commercial where the dad sees a little girl driving but it’s really a young woman.
“Dad, I’m 31 years old. I’ve been married for 10 years. I retired from a marketing job at a Fortune 500 corporation to raise a new baby daughter. I KNOW HOW TO REMOVE GRAPES FROM THE STEMS!”
He shook his head, as if to clear his eyes and see who I truly was, then apologized profusely. From that moment on, if my Dad started parenting me without me asking for his advice, I would simply say, “Grapes” and he would stop. I am sure my siblings have their own stories about when Dad realized they were mature enough for him to let go. One by one, Dad got the opportunity to just BE a parent.
Except for the youngest. Our Sis #3 died before Dad truly was able to stop parenting her and just BE. Truthfully, she needed him longer than the rest of us did. We all had stable, loving spouses and she had not quite found the love and stability she or he wanted.
That did not stop him–or my Mom–from being the parents of 5 children. That is how many children he carried in his heart until the day he died.
Since then, he has continued to BE my parent. He speaks to me in my dreams. I think about him when I have difficulty with my children or my hubby. I ask him for help when I am scared or overwhelmed. I can’t feel his arms around me, but I can feel his spirit. He is as much in my life today as he was when I was a child.
My Dad taught me how to, as a parent, let go, never stop loving my kids, stay in the background, and be ready to jump in only when requested. He will be my Daddy no matter how old I become or how many grapes I prepare without his supervision.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.