So many times, we hear people talk of others in terms of what they inherited from their parents… “She has her mother’s eyes…His ears stick out just like his father’s…Her physical build is so much like her dad”.

But truly, it is not only the physical which we inherit from our parents, but also less observable inner parts of ourselves. Additionally, there are some things we get from our parents, which are more caught than taught…things we learn more from modelling than from genetics or even that which they intentionally taught us.

In the latter years of Dad’s life, when it became obvious that he should no longer live alone and there were no real options open for him in the U.S., Chip and I invited him to come to Kenya to live with us. He accepted (brave man of 90!) and we are so glad he did. You see, those last nearly 2 years of his life with us showed me so many things about my own father which I never really knew, simply because we had for the past, then 42 years, living half a world away from each other rarely had time to spend together. I was confident I knew my dad… after all, I had grown up with him. But I soon discovered that I did not know the better, older version of the man who had raised me.

I also realized after he came to live with us, that though I had always thought of myself as being very much like my mother, I am much more like my father than I had ever realized…a half a world apart, and yet so much alike! I am so very grateful to God for providing me these 2 years together to build a closer relationship with my father and to learn to appreciate afresh the person he was.

These are the lessons I learned from my father in the 68 years I have known him:

  1. Anything worth doing, is worth doing right. Actually, both my mother and father lived by this axiom and thoroughly taught it to us kids. Mom taught it intentionally, but Dad taught us more by example. I clearly recall Dad trying to help me write the alphabet, particularly doing the letter ‘a’ over and over again, until it ‘looked right’… or him inspecting my bed after I had made it to see if I had done the ‘hospital corners’ correctly… or his insistence that we children observe proper decorum during family meals together. He was never harsh in his insistence on doing things the right way…just quietly persistent.
  2. If you have a responsibility, you must fulfill it at all costs. I saw this lived out in Dad’s life from the time I was very young right up through his old age. Dad was always responsible at work. He was responsible to his family. He was responsible in his financial dealings. He never broke the law…at least intentionally. He was a life-long military man. He knew duty and always fulfilled his. If I am a responsible Christian and citizen today, it could probably be largely attributed to this man’s example.
  3. Aim for balance in every area of your life. My father enjoyed the occasional beer, but I never, ever saw him drunk. Dad sure loved his desserts, but he never, ever got fat (how??)! Dad had a reputation for being tight with his money, but every so often he would splurge on something completely unnecessary but fun for the family. My father always kept active and fit. Right up to the day he entered the hospital, he continued to climb our stairs several times a day and to walk over to the hotel across the road from us to chat people up and to buy a milkshake. I am certain that my own near obsession with balance came from Dad!
  4. Live frugally but learn to loosen up and enjoy good things at appropriate times, when you can, and don’t forget to help others. As already mentioned, Dad was a very frugal man. Raising a family of 4 children on his yeoman first class Navy salary was quite a challenge and we never had spare funds. Therefore, he was careful to account for every penny spent and not often generous with funds. We kids somehow understood this and rarely pestered our parents for spending money. But every once in a while, it would be announced that the family was going out to eat, or to a movie, or we kids would get a special gift, or the family would go on a special holiday instead of the usual, cheap going-to-stay-with-relatives kind. In addition, especially in Dad’s later years, when his financial obligations were fewer, we saw a more generous side of Dad that we had no opportunity to see growing up. I became convinced that he actually enjoyed helping others out. This was a revelation to me.

And finally…

  1. Family is everything. This is probably the biggest value Dad lived by and was the most obvious his entire life, right up to the day he passed away. It didn’t matter if his son or daughter had screwed something up royally, we knew he still loved us and amazingly, was always proud of us. He was constantly trying to help troubled family members out, however he could, right up to shortly before he died. I recall one evening Chip and I were moaning yet again over our elderly van, which is forever going to the mechanic. Dad, in his innocence offered to buy us a new car…with his retirement income! That was Dad. Family member in trouble? Gotta help! I loved hearing him talk of fond memories growing up with his 3 sisters, or anecdotes about his mom and dad, of adventures with his grandfather, with whom he was very close.

Yes, these last 2 years with Dad taught me much, but mostly that family is irreplaceable, and we need to cherish them as much as we can while we have them with us. We never know when they may leave us, and that so suddenly.

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