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Five decades plus, and still learning Dad’s lessons

He taught me directly or indirectly most everything I know. Just like Mom, only different stuff. Like tossing a baseball. And punting a football. Shooting a puck. Paddling a canoe. Even sleeping in a canoe (to avoid pesky bears in a Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness camp).

Dad taught me how to drill a hole, read a level and hammer a nail. How you check the oil, then how you change the oil — and, yes, the filter, too. And how to check the tires and read a map. Dad is very good at folding maps. But this he couldn’t teach me. I was incapable of learning this. I thank God and believe Dad goes along in thanking God for GPS and iPhone Google maps.

He taught me how you grow up. How so much of growing up is about how you get out of bed every morning to go to work. And how you have to work really hard at working for something, so everything at home can work well. Dad taught me how to be a husband and a dad, hopefully for the good of my wife and our four kids. He showed how much of being a dad is about simply showing up, being there. And in watching Dad move about so simply, I now know that showing up and being there is not as simple as it looks and sounds.

Life: the sum of choices
Dad taught me all this and much more across my 52 years. I love Dad beyond words. Mom, too. A lot of my life has been lived pretty well because Dad and Mom taught me well — their primary lesson in life being about the life that I live is mostly the sum of choices I make. And most of my choices have turned out OK, chiefly because of all I learned from Dad and from Mom.

It wasn’t until Mom died that I learned the greatest lesson from Dad. And, yes, this lesson also comes from Mom, too, though she’s now gone from this world.

The night of Mom’s birthday in this past March, Dad was sitting at the supper table amidst us kids, and our spouses and grandkids. This was Mom’s first birthday during which she wasn’t among us to mark the day, the first time Dad celebrated this day alone with us and without his beloved ‘Mac.’

Dad wanted all of us to know that Mom and he had many visits about this very moment, when this time in life would arrive in our family, time when one of them would move on in death without the other. When one of them would depart, leaving the other behind. When you’re married to someone for 53 years, I thought, this must be must be the rawest of conversations.

Not quite there yet
I don’t know this kind of conversation just yet. My wife and I have not had one like it so far. I suspect we’re not quite there yet on our journey as husband and wife, as mom and dad, even though we’ve been on this journey ourselves nearly 30 years. Truth is, it still seems like yesterday when we were having those soul-lifting conversations about making life together, the joy and anticipation of it all.

I wonder if that sense of time-running-in-place ever changes. If it’ll still seem like yesterday when my wife and I are having the visits Dad told all of us that he and Mom had over recent years. I suspect it will seem like yesterday, the days when life was ripening. And then, boom! Somehow, suddenly there’s awareness that life has toggled you ahead, unconsciously on fast-forward. How you’ve zipped along to those raw and poignant moments that sink way deep, when you realize that all this long living is closing toward the end, even though it still feels as if life just began.

How much deeper can two people go than when they chew on the end of the loaf together; chew on all that life and all that living they have shared together; chew on the end of life and of lives together, at least, as they have been known, kneaded and knotted in and by this world?

“Your mother and I committed to one another that, when either of us dies, life here would continue for whoever’s left behind,” Dad said to us. Though rooted in rich, deep and countless memories, Dad said, “Mom and I committed to each other to carry on living life to the fullest extent possible for the remainder of our days when something like this happens. So, you know, that’s just what we’re gonna do now.”

Sun and baseball
For Dad, so far so good. Sixty days after Mom died, Dad made his way to Florida for 10 days this spring. He soaked up sun, and the Minnesota Twins, and spring training baseball action. Oh, my! For Dad, life doesn’t get any fuller than the Minnesota Twins and spring baseball.

Greater than anything Dad and Mom taught me over the years, far greater, is what it means to work toward, and what it looks like to become, and what it sounds like to live together as perpetually hopeful people in an enduring relationship; two lovers who loved to live, and who lived to love in such a way as to see their lover live life to the fullest, in pursuit of their dearest desires, in pursuit of all that life has to offer, and to desire and pursue this even in the aftermath of one or the other dying. You wonder what that kind of living and loving sounds like?

To me it sounds like the words in the poem “Ascension” from Colleen Cora Hitchcock, a poem Dad read to all of us the night of Mom’s birthday just as we gathered for supper. Words Dad and Mom read to one another in times before, words which they believed spoke well of love and of life, and of love of life after life:

And if I go
While you’re still here…
Know that I live on
Vibrating to a different measure
Behind a veil you cannot see through.
You will not see me,
so you must have faith.
I wait for the time when we can
soar together again
both aware of each other.
Until then, live life to its fullest!
When you need me, just whisper
my name in your heart …
I will be there.

Tim Morin is an executive at Four51, a Bloomington software firm, and a blogger at FRIDAY’S POST.

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