It is September 3, 2018 as I write this, what would have been my father’s 100th birthday. I think about him every day, but because of that milestone birthday (which he was only six and a half years shy of when he died), he’s been on my mind even more than usual and I couldn’t let today pass without marking it in an intentional way. He’d be both surprised and embarrassed to be the topic of my blog this week; he didn’t consider himself remarkable in any way.
He was completely mistaken about that.
The third of eleven children born to my grandparents in the years between 1914 and 1938, he graduated from eighth grade, but never got to go to high school. He went to work instead.
He was quiet, unassuming, reserved. Unless you were immediate family or a close friend, you’d rarely hear him utter more than three words. He resisted applying for V.A. benefits for years because he didn’t want to take what seemed to him to be “more than his share”. My son (also a Veteran) finally convinced Grandpa that he wasn’t “taking” anything; he was merely collecting benefits he had already earned during his four-year stint as an M.P in the US Army during World War II.
His life was “eventful” but not often in a good way. He endured The Great Depression, serious major health issues, decades of Cubs losses, multiple financial disasters, burying two wives, and more. He had plenty of reasons to be bitter, angry, and resentful, but he wasn’t. He never complained.
During the Care Plan meetings at the skilled nursing facility where he spent his last days he was regularly asked if there were things that could be done to improve his quality of life there. He refused to mention anything (but the food). At one of the last of those meetings, the staff social worker and his Hospice RN questioned why he didn’t speak up for himself. That’s when I heard, for the very first time, the reason behind his silence. After some not so gentle prodding, he finally said “…My father always told me that it was better not to say anything bad about anyone or anything. That way, I would never have to worry later about trying to take back unkind or hurtful words…” And he didn’t. Only once in my entire lifetime did I see him lose his temper.
He wasn’t “successful” by the world’s standards. When I was growing up he worked at least two, often three jobs to make ends meet. Nor was he perfect (and he would be the first to say so). What defined him – what people remember about my father - is the way he lived his life and treated others: with love; dedication; commitment; loyalty; integrity; honesty; kindness; generosity; common courtesy; hard work; laughter; quiet faith. Priceless commodities money can’t buy that are in woefully short supply these days and mean more than ever.
Those of you who knew my father know all this. For those of you who didn’t, here’s why telling his story is important:
Our world is a big and complicated place. It can be dark and scary and cold and cruel. Life is not always fun or fair – for any of us. There is more than enough pain and suffering and vitriol to go around, and the last thing any of us should be doing is adding more. One sharp word, one eyeroll, the barest hint of intolerance, rejection, belittling or disrespect can ruin someone’s day. Enough of those small things can ruin lives. Conversely, it only takes one small thing - a smile, a wave, a hug, kind word, taking just one second to check your ego at the door, a moment to think before speaking and choosing not to say that potentially hurtful thing - to make someone’s day, and enough of those things can make someone’s life.
My dad never made a big splash in the world; he just did all the small things that showed how much he cared. Regardless of how inconsequential your life may seem to you, regardless of how little influence you think you have in the grand scheme of things, how you live, what you say and do, and the way you treat other people matters. All of it.
What small acts of kindness and love will you offer the world today?