My father transitioned over seven years ago yet I’ll forever feel his vital presence. I have decades of wonderful memories. Unlike many dads, when asked for advice, mine was less prone to insist on the strictly logical decision. Sure, he’d talk sensible fatherly stuff about work issues and finances when appropriate, but in my memory he was more likely to reframe the issues at hand in terms of one’s feelings. Always in the end evoking in me the sense that whatever I chose to do would work out, so long as I followed my heart. Coming from a challenging depression-era upbringing, and being a WW II vet, with minimal formal education, this was remarkable in many ways. His intuition had guided his rich life along a magical path, and so by example he taught me to listen to mine
Like many, sometimes I stubbornly liked to convince myself I was an independent being, and that we’re all just solo travelers, plowing ahead on our own. I liked clinging to the idea we can control our journey. Yet when crisis hits we are often humbled by reality and the falseness of such an inflated ego. I reached out to my dad for guidance over the years, and even after his passing I find myself doing so when in perplexing or challenging moments. Recently, after following my intuition in a relationship, on several tearful nights I questioned having followed my open-hearted compass; in response, I felt his calming, patient presence. It somehow reminded me that engaging in a genuine compassionate life is never about directing anything or anyone, or being in control, but always more about kindness and trust.
My dad loved people of all ages, classes and types. Despite my often self-protective, make my-own-way through life attitude, I’ve come to understand that a most profound aspect of being human is the trust we earn through being connected to others. Naturally slightly introverted, I’ve also learned the hard way that at times my avoiding communication or action was based on a fear of not being able to fully control an outcome. Contrarily, this aim to control only perpetuates or exacerbates the issues at hand, inevitably stifles growth.
My father was small of stature with a huge heart. He routinely “took chances.” Love requires a dose of courage and a willingness to be vulnerable, a stepping out of our falsely-protective shadows. There is an inspiring beauty in how genuine love melts fears in the warm light of open honesty and acceptance. Admitting our imperfections nurtures us. Still, as we all are evolving within our own time frame, I’ve also come to accept we’re not always all strong enough in the same given moment to shed the armor or coping masks we adopted for protection. Fortunately the potency of love is not constrained by time, and essentially is ever-patient. In every case, we all grow best when we’re showered with it liberally from infancy into our senior years.
My father was the most patient man I’ve ever known. He was passionate, and vital, yet I recall him getting really frustrated or upset on only a couple of occasions; even more rare were the instances when he was angry. My son generally shares the same temperament. I think to all three of us, anger seems a foolish waste of energy. There always seemed far better ways to use our time and gifts.
There is a magical quality in offering the gift of genuine love. Unlike a material gift, it’s not something one can own. Receiving and giving love can not be about measuring or ownership as if it’s a static commodity. It’s a process involving a fluid, vitalizing energy, and sharing in it is participating in the process of life in a way that allows us all to grow. At times some of us have more bountiful harvest to share, or others are more in need, and others may be more able to receive. Trust builds and evolves through such sharing.
As infants we trust and participate in love instinctively. Like experiencing sheer joy, to love is to openly reveal our selves in a process of engaging with others. When we are overjoyed, we don’t try to hold back. It becomes harder to love this way when we are adults, but it’s possible. Hopefully we retain or can recover some of our childlike trust and temper it with some wisdom borne of experience. It seems to me mature love is a conscious awareness of, and felt safety in, exposing our full vulnerable self with another, knowing our courage will be honored. I like to see it as an ongoing reciprocal process: gently assisting each other toward becoming our best selves.
The act of loving can only be lessened by demands and diminished by expectations. Rather, I feel mature love neither dictates nor has anything to hide. I think there are many conspiucuous qualities between people sharing such love: sincerity, a sharing of pleasant and unpleasant feelings, tolerance, gentleness, deep listening, and respectful desire to understand (but not change) the other. Love expressed toward others can be likened to nurturing the unseen beauty of a unique flower, helping it grow and blossom, without restricting what form or colors it will present. We may never taste the fruit, yet we happily accept that it will in turn vitalize and nourish others. And, as in the photo above, in the process of cultivating love, it’s also crucial not to become too serious; even better to exuberantly share being silly! “Have fun!” was one of my father’s most repeated mantras.
Twenty five years after this photo, my son Anselm, the no-longer-curly blonde, has become a remarkable young man. Always wise beyond his years, he’s taught me things constantly his entire life. Nowadays I get the unique thrill of knowing he truly knows more about many things than I — the heavens, science, physics, and engineering for starters. Since a very early age he had a way of asking those “Big Questions.” All kids do, but he seemed to have more of them, and in his own quiet way, he retained and carried answers forward. Now, at 26, he acknowledges how much he doesn’t know, and in that as well reveals his wisdom. Recently he was offered a hard-earned promotion in his first career job. [That old guy giving him blow-kisses above would surely be busting his buttons bragging to everyone in the world about his grandson!] Despite a demanding job, he remains an avid reader on all sorts of topics and also manages to stay active (IE having taken up mountain climbing!). His courageous initiative has nurtured the habits of a life-long learner, and his young heart is strong and generous and quietly joyful.
Which is extra cool too, and very much like his Dzia-dzia (grandpa) above. Despite having achieved his high school equivalency around age 40, my father made a point of happily taking us kids to the library, and importantly also brought home a pile of books for himself to read. My siblings and I all benefited immensely by this family routine. Although “only” the manager of an appliance warehouse, many late evenings included him reading for an hour at the kitchen table, often over a bowl of cornflakes, pouring through the books from which he so enjoyed gleaning new ideas or insights or understanding. I’m now happy to acknowledge the chubby-cheeked infant above continues the tradition (sans the flakes) and usually has a pile of books (or lists on audible) from which he’s eager to grow too.
The concepts of self-made “success” and independent individuals “going it alone” feel blatantly false to me. On the other hand, our interdependence seems conspicuously palpable. I’ve been blessed and encouraged by my parent’s viewpoint that generally sees “problems” as temporary challenges. It pervades my outlook. It seems to have been interwoven into the DNA of the two in this photo. They each discovered and expanded their own interests and knowledge, and each merged it with sensitivity, caring for others, and kindness as well. They’ve also both at times managed to balance heart and head in admirable ways, something that I feel embodies true wisdom. Life will always have sorrows, my wise father knew the terrors of war and like us all, loss; he also taught us we need to create our joy to counter this. I learned as early as my infant son in the photo that joy is exponentially enhanced when shared—one of many precious gifts he passed to us both.
We are all connected. I look at this wonderful image, the loving bond between these two beings who, for whatever magical reasons I’ve been honored to be able to live between, and feel so very fortunate and grateful in all ways. These two souls (as well as everyone I have met) inextricably molded and enriched my life, and for this my heart overflows with gratitude and love worthy of the most joyful celebrations.