Lessons from my Dad
My dad had this beautiful way of endlessly believing in me. I wanted to be an Astronaut for years growing up, and it wasn’t until I wrote a speech on these space superstars in Grade 4 that I realized I wasn’t cut out for it. Floating weightlessly in space became less appealing when I realized I’d have to leave Earth for weeks or months at a time, with the possibility of never returning home, due to some mechanical failure. My dad pushed all the space books and movies he’d bought me aside when I revealed my conclusion to him and he expressed nothing but excitement for what was next. I went through dozens of other professional fantasies in my youth before settling into the idea of journalism. Once he knew I wanted to write and communicate and express myself, my dad headed out to the book store and bought me journals, how-to books and inspiring documentaries about those who’d succeeded in the field before me. He wasn’t just supportive of my professional decisions and goals, he stood behind every choice I made–that is, until he passed away.
It was May 10th, 2007. I still look back on the day my dad passed with pain in my heart, but I have a new-found sense of peace knowing he’s truly resting. He passed away from cancer after a long and painful battle with the disease. I couldn’t believe he was no longer there when I saw his lifeless body in his bed 7 years ago and it took me lots of time to make peace with it. It’s been years since he passed and I haven’t had the courage or enough distance from his death until now to write about it. We all lose people we love, and some leave a space so large in our hearts that it feels it’ll never be filled, but it will…slowly, with patience, compassion and surrender.
His picture sits on my writing desk, and I look to his steady face for guidance when I’m lost in an article or feeling down. As a grown woman now, I’ve reached many milestones in my life that my dad wasn’t able to be there for. Scholarships, graduation, landing the ‘dream job,’ the career change, my Grandad’s passing, my new apartment in a new place and much more…I’ve wanted him there every step of the way. My dad may have not been physically present for these major events in my life, but I always felt him there, with his arms around me. A few months ago I got a tattoo of words he had written to me in his last letter (pic below), saying “wherever you are, always imagine that my arms are around you.” He is now, truly, always with me. I remember the lessons he taught me as a little girl, and there were many. So, I share these pure and powerful insights from a past life with you.
Do What You Love
Although some family members may disagree, my dad was a hippie down to his core. Some people attach negative meaning to that word, but I celebrate it. He did not care about being the richest man in the world, having the most ‘things,’ or leading the most glamourous life. My dad believed in following your heart, doing what you love and ignoring what the peanut gallery has to say. As a tiny girl I’d climb downstairs to hangout with my dad in his music room, as he wrote songs, mixed beats and let his creativity shine. It was clear what he was passionate about and he didn’t care what anyone else thought about it. It’s the same unapologetic, impassioned approach I take to yoga. Yes, I sometimes twist myself into a pretzel, meditate on a pillow and chant Sanskrit mantras….and I love it!
Face Your Pain
My dad was a prolific writer, especially near the end of his life. He wrote my sisters and I countless letters, fearing he’d run out of time to say all that he needed to say. One of his last letters to me still turns my tummy when I read it. He wrote about how he saw sadness in my eyes, the same kind of sadness that had plagued parts of his life. He told me how important it is to acknowledge your feelings, speak about them and then let them go so they don’t rule your life. He encouraged me to always face my pain and fears so I could be free from them. Thank you for this extremely powerful lesson, Daddy.
When S*&% Hits the Fan Play Music!
As I mentioned before, my dad was a huge music lover. As a young man he spent time in California with long hair and a beard, playing his guitar on the beach and living a simple life. In his adulthood, my dad continued to write and play music in a band with my uncles, and jammed on his own time pretty much daily. He used it as a way to cope with pain, express himself and open up the doors to a new light. If one of us was home sick or uncharacteristically grumpy he’d throw on the B-52’s and we’d be Love Shackin’ it in the living room with blankies and nighties flying all over the place. Music was, and in many ways still is, love in our family. He played everything from Queen to Nirvana to The Beatles and Beethoven. I got a music education growing up and this lead to me being in a cover band as a singer in highschool and learning and playing different instruments as a kid. I still sing these days, although more so in the shower than on stage (any bands that needs singers? hehe).
Be Grateful for Your Body
This is a big one for me. I took after my dad as a young girl and was very athletic. I did cross-country running, soccer, volleyball, cheerleading, rowing and more. My dad was an amazing long-distance runner in his past and often shared his story about loving the ground so much that he’d run barefoot on it. It was a testament to his passion for it, but also the reason he had intense knee surgery in his 30’s. After that he was taken out of the running game and went on to live vicariously through his active friends and family. I have one very distinct memory of him running alongside me at one chilly and intimidating cross-country meet when I was about 9 or 10. He could only run so far within the boundaries, but his smile and love were enough to keep me going.
Years later he developed squamous cell cancer in his mouth, which eventually prevented him from eating and moving. I was diagnosed with anorexia around the same time and he made sure I knew how lucky I was to have the choice to eat and move. In one angry exchange he said I was crazy for choosing to eat less than I needed, as he helplessly starved. I was so hurt and frustrated with him at the time because I thought he didn’t understand what I was going through, but he did. He just told me something that was true and that I didn’t want to hear. The conversation was enough to propel me towards treatment as a teen, which is why I’m able to live as a health and wellness professional now! Things come full circle.
Love with Your Whole Heart
I started out writing this for me, as a way to celebrate a part of my life I’ve been mourning for years. But, I also hope it resonates with those of you who’ve lost parents or partners, friends or co-workers, and who are stuck in the thick of grief. It has the ability to blind us from all that is positive, but in order to heal we must first feel. I hope it helps you, as it has helped me, to look back on times with your loved ones fondly, acknowleding the gifts you have been given by these relationships. As my dad taught me, love fully. Love with your whole heart. Love not only those who are in your life now, but those who have passed away or moved on. Most importantly, love yourself enough to let go of the pain and suffering attached to death so you can heal, and in return, share your love with the rest of the world.