On his late father’s birthday, a dad ponders on what he’s learned from his father. He looks at his kids, and suddenly, he knows.
It’s my dad’s birthday today. He’d have been 74.
4 and a half years ago he woke up, had a coffee and died in his lounge room with my mum next to him. The ambulance officers worked on him for half an hour before asking if they could stop giving him CPR. What a question! But after half an hour, what is there to do? So they stopped and my dad “died.” No miracle wake up was going to happen. No successful CPR. Nope. Gone. It was a shitty day.
I was 34 years old when he died and I remember in that moment thinking I was too young to lose my dad because I still needed him. And I also remember thinking at the same time that it was stupid to think I was too young at 34. “Hey man, you had 34 years, chill. Lots of people don’t have that long. Selfish bastard!”
But he was my dad and I wanted him to stick around to, among other things, continue to tell me terrible stories.
He and my mum owned a supermarket for 22 years and he cared and looked after many people in his community. The outpouring of grief at his sudden passing was very touching. Strangers would come up to us and tell us things that he had done for them to help them out. We never knew these things, he never bragged. He just did it. He was a good guy.
I remember thinking that my kids got ripped off too. They were only 3 years old and 18 months when he passed. Not long enough to remember “Nonno” really. Only in photographs do they “know” him.
My dad taught me lots. Lots about being a good human and lots about being a good dad (perhaps without even realizing it, or thinking about it). I was old enough to know him as a man, not just a dad. And he was a good man. A good husband. A good father.
I realized only after he died the things that he’d somehow taught me about being a dad. I never remember a conversation where he sat me down and said “Let me enlighten you on something. This is how you be a good dad.” But I knew a whole heap of stuff about being a good dad because I could think back about how dad made me feel as his son.
I imagine it’s because I took him at his actions, not his words. Kids are way more intuitive about what’s going on and it’s almost like they get their intelligence via some kind of mental osmosis! It just somehow seeps into them over the years.
I realized this applies to my kids too.
I never had the chance to ask him, but I suspect my dad didn’t think about being a dad quite the way I do. He didn’t analyze how the rugrats are thinking about things, and handling stuff. I doubt he ever thought about being a “good enough” parent, as I do. I doubt he thought he was a perfect parent, but I’d be surprised if he ever assessed it quite like that.
It doesn’t really matter, because “osmosis” did the trick for me.
I worry about my kids. What if I suddenly die before I’ve had time to give them the opportunity to “osmosis” all the stuff I need them to learn? Where are they going to get it from?
I find myself cramming “lessons” into lots of things nowadays. Which is rubbish because it is in fact actions, not words that they listen to. I still use words though.
What lessons am I teaching them? Am I leading by example? What am I modeling? Am I doing something that I would be annoyed at if they did it? Would I be disappointed if I found out they were doing something “bad” as an adult that I’ve modeled to them in their youth?
The bummer is you don’t really know until it’s all played out. Sure, you get some signposts along the way, but until they become “all grown up” who knows whether they’re really getting their daily dose of Osmosis, or not.
I remember looking at a photograph of my dad and me and thinking “Huh, that looks like a photo of my son in the pool with my dad.” But it was me. I love this picture! I’ve got heaps of me with my two kids that are pretty much the same.
My dad left me with more than a set of photographs. He taught me how to be a good person, and a good dad. I know the lessons he taught me get played out with my kids.
He still has an influence on them even though he’s not here, because he’s still part of what makes me, me.
We’re all shaped by our parents (or parental figures). We’re going to get the good, the bad, and the ugly from them. And chances are, we’re going to pass the good, the bad, and the ugly on to our kids.
My dad, just like anyone else, wasn’t perfect. But he was a damn fine dad. And I love him, and I love my kids because he gave me permission to love.
That is the biggest legacy of all.