Thoughts of Dad

Me and Dad circa 1952

Me and Dad circa 1952

Today is the 7th Fathers Day since my Dad died but not a day goes by when he doesn’t enter my thoughts in some way, however briefly. My Dad had the ability to enjoy things in a childlike way, which could annoy me at times but, I came to appreciate it as a special gift he had. He loved Christmas the way a child does, not for the religious meaning but, for the food, gifts – especially gifts for him – music and decorations. He loved his birthday and thoroughly enjoyed celebrating it – in fact; he celebrated it starting on the actual date, May 3rd, all the way through to Father’s Day!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my father’s influence on me and, the influence of fathers in general. As a girl, and an only child, I was a “Daddy’s girl”. I don’t mean that in the icky way it has come to be used because my father didn’t spoil me or fulfill my every whim or dote on me in an unhealthy way. Even though he could enjoy himself like a child I always knew who the grown up was! As a young child I loved to spend time with him. He made a little seat for me on the front of his bike (this was in the days before children’s bicycle seats and safety helmets!) and we would go for long rides all over town and out into the surrounding countryside. He told me I liked to go to the railroad tracks with him and watch the Flying Scotsman go by and, even though I don’t remember that, I have often wondered if that was how I became enamored with trains. To this day, I love to watch a train go by or hear the lonesome sound of one in the distance late at night. Dad used to tell me stories and make me laugh or cry, depending on the plot. He was fun to be with. He liked to sing and whistle and seemed to always be happy. He gave me a love of animals and taught me much of what I know about taking care of them.

I always felt safe with him and never doubted that he knew everything and was always right. I’m sure most children feel that way about their fathers and its hard when you find out it’s not true – Dad is just a flawed human like the rest of us – but, I can remember the exact day that happened for me. One day, when I was nine, I found out that Dad was not infallible. He took me to the home of a friend of his and there was a dog behind a fence at the end of the driveway. I loved dogs and was never afraid to greet them, even those I didn’t know, but this dog was barking directly at me and I started to feel nervous because I thought she had a mean look in her eyes. Dad knew the dog and was talking to her as we approached. He told me not to be afraid and he opened the gate. The dog seemed to fly past him and attach herself right onto my arm! All I remember is the movement and the flash of teeth. Dad yelled at her and had to kick her to get her off my arm and she flew through the air again. I had a bad bite that required 13 stitches. It was a deep, jagged scar because a piece of flesh was actually torn out. I didn’t know it at the time but, in hindsight, I realized that something changed for me that day – besides the appearance of my arm. Somewhere in my young mind the seed of knowledge was planted that my Dad couldn’t protect me from everything and he wasn’t always right.

My Dad was a good man in so many ways but I don’t make the mistake of idealizing him in death beyond what he was in life. He was a loving father but, once I passed childhood, he was uncomfortable with physical demonstrations of affection and he didn’t verbalize his feelings very well. He used teasing or humor to express his affection but, as a teenager, I was often hurt by that. He wasn’t one to offer compliments or flattery and, in fact, could be so bluntly honest at times as to be insensitive. He didn’t say “I love you” to me until the last year of his life when he was in the hospital, but I never doubted it for a minute. In fact, it is through him that I learned that it doesn’t matter how often someone says they love you if their actions say something else. It’s a shame that I didn’t appreciate his honesty and integrity more when I was a young woman but, ironically, I have matured into a person who is a lot like him. Personal freedom and personal responsibility are very important to me. Like him, I detest hypocrites and phonies and can usually detect them a mile away. I abhor false flattery but I do try to temper my honesty with more tact than he did. I can express my feelings when I choose to but, at times I hide them behind humor. Dad was always confident and comfortable with who he was and didn’t care about the opinions of others and, although I spent too many years struggling with that, I did finally reach that acceptance within myself. Overall, my father influenced me in many positive ways and I recognize that many of my best characteristics are from him – I just wish I had a little more of his childlike ability to enjoy life! What good things did you get from your father?

I’m enjoying some fond memories of my Dad today. If you still have your father be sure to give him a big hug and kiss and, if not, spend a few moments remembering the good times you shared with him – for some that might feel like a challenge but remember, even in the most difficult relationships, there are moments of love. If you’re a father be sure to create those moments of love for your children to remember when you’re gone.

Happy Fathers Day!

December 2010 011

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Balancing Act

My June birthday card

My June birthday card

“Being disciplined enough to not do what you don’t want to do, even if everyone around you (and that voice inside your head) is telling you that you should.”

This quote is from a book I’ve been reading called “Supercoach: 10 Secrets to Transform Anyone’s Life” by Michael Neill. I don’t think there has been a time in the past 20 years when I haven’t been reading something inspirational, motivational or from the “self-help” genre and, although there is a lot of repetition, I always learn something new or see something in a new light. Trying to be the best possible version of myself and also play nice with others is something of a balancing act at times. The above quote really hit a personal note with me because when I retired two years ago I made a solemn promise to myself. I promised I wouldn’t spend anymore time with people I didn’t like or do anything I didn’t want to do. I never thought of that as “discipline” but it is actually as much a discipline as any of the other ways we take care of ourselves and protect ourselves from harm and, like any other discipline, it takes practice to achieve. This is the discipline of trusting yourself to know what is best for you and consistently choosing inner knowing over external forces.

Obviously, there are responsibilities and obligations in all our lives that we feel we must do, but, in reality, they are important choices we have made that reflect our core values. On a deeper level they are things we really want to do even it doesn’t always feel that way. Earning a living, contributing to society, raising children, caring for elderly relatives, being a supportive friend, being true to your word and fulfilling your promises, are examples of choices that require self-sacrifice but also offer immeasurable rewards. On the other hand, there are dozens of choices that have nothing to do with your core values and offer no rewards but, depending on what you decide, could contribute to your own happiness and well-being if you simply take a moment to ask yourself these questions: Am I doing what I want or what others think I should do? Is it really important if I don’t do what others want me to do in this situation? I believe that after you have fulfilled your obligations and taken care of your responsibilities, your most important responsibility is to yourself. Nurturing your emotional health and happiness will benefit not only you but, everyone in your life, and those who understand that are the ones you want to keep close. You should surround yourself with people who respect what is important to you, even if they don’t always agree with you. Just as a test, ask yourself what choice you would make in each of the following situations:

You have been working extra hours on your job and dealing with a stressful situation with your teenage son. Your son is spending part of the next weekend with your parents and, for the first time in months, you will have a whole day and night all to yourself. You want to relax, retreat, pamper yourself, and start reading a book you haven’t had time for. A friend calls and invites you to a home sales party she is having on your planned “me” day. You don’t like home sales parties and don’t have the extra money to spend on something you don’t even want but your friend says several people have canceled and she is afraid she won’t have a good turn out. What do you decide to do?

You have a good friend who is deeply committed to a charitable organization. You respect her dedication and have even helped her out with a couple of events. She asks you to join her as a volunteer board member and become involved in fundraising but you know your heart is not in it. What do you decide to do?

You are in a committed relationship with someone you care deeply about. He has a passion for sailing and, although you don’t share his passion equally, you do enjoy it and have spent many weekends on the boat and even helping with maintenance. There have been several times when you have turned down invitations to do other things so that you could spend your free time on the boat with him. You are invited to attend a concert and have dinner at a new restaurant you’d like to try but your partner wants to go to a boat show. What do you decide to do?   

Of course, if you spent years as a people pleaser, overly concerned about the opinions of others, you can’t change overnight but I encourage you to take the first step by becoming more conscious about the choices you make and the reasons behind them. If you are doing something out of love or kindness or because it feels right, then you’re on the right track. If you always ignore your own desires in order to gain “friendship”, love, or the good opinion of others you will eventually feel resentful toward people and think they are taking advantage of you but, the reality is, you’re not being true to yourself and that’s why it feels wrong. You might think I’m exaggerating the importance of these choices but, believe me; they can pile up and diminish your sense of self, happiness, and your enjoyment of life. On the other hand, if you’re getting something out of playing the martyr – carry on!

Stella achieves a fine balance at the ocean's edge

Stella achieves a fine balance at the ocean’s edge

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

A Fine Romance

In SympathyAfter so many years of meeting the deadlines, dictates and expectations of others it is pure luxury to spend my time any way I please, which turns out to be mainly wandering from one idea to another. I realize now that this has always been my nature; I just didn’t have the freedom and time to follow it. As J. R. Tolkien said “Not all who wander are lost.” This week I have wandered into the meaning of romance. I am writing this for all of you who are without a partner and feel like less of a person because of it – I have felt that way in the past and I’m here to tell you it just ain’t so. You are whole and perfect as you are.

I have started doing some life coaching and, during a recent session, someone described themselves as romantic. It started me thinking – I’ve heard many people describe themselves as romantic but, what does that really mean in today’s world? I researched it and found that there are several words with the root “Roman”, among them romance and Romanesque and by the middle of the 18th century romantic was in common use as an adjective describing appreciation of the wonders of nature such as, sunsets and spectacular views. Gradually it was also used to describe a style of literature, music and visual arts. In fact, the period from the mid 18th century to the late 19th century came to be known as the “Romantic Era”. I gather that it was not an easy movement to define but, simply stated, it seems that it embodied the elevation of nature and validation of passionate, unfettered human emotion and creativity. It was actually a revolt against the scientific rationalization of nature. There was also a renewed appreciation of the high-minded medieval ideals of chivalry, heroism, and pure chaste love.

From a serious intellectual movement based on passionate feelings about the beauty of untamed nature, artistic creativity, individualism, and the idealization of chivalrous codes of conduct we have evolved (or perhaps devolved) to a very different definition of romantic. Today it is strictly used within the context of a love relationship between two people. It is the cliché of the single ad – “I love a romantic candlelit dinner and a long walk on the beach with that special someone”. (Did you ever wonder why the beaches aren’t crowded with droves of couples walking up and down?) Romantic means flowers, chocolate and a card on Valentine’s Day. It means a sappy love story. It means “our song”. The Romantic Era was a complicated philosophical and intellectual movement that affected not only the arts but also education and politics and we have boiled it down to a Match.com adjective!

Jane Austen, who was one of the important authors of the Romantic Era, wrote an interesting book called “Sense and Sensibility” about two sisters who have very different viewpoints regarding romantic love. It’s interesting because, now that I know a little bit about the philosophy of her era, I see that she was using her story to pit romanticism and rationalism against each other. The word sensibility was used at that time to describe a person who was ultra-sensitive and, therefore, more aware of beauty, moral truth, and the emotions of others. Supposedly, this type of person felt things more deeply and was, therefore, superior in some way. In the book Marianne “falls in love” with a man who affects her sensibilities with his handsome appearance, charming personality, and romantic gestures but he turns out to be all show and little substance. Today we might refer to him as a “player”. She is so swept away by her romantic feelings that she loses her sense; her objectivity. She mocks her sister, Eleanor, for not showing her feelings, implying that they couldn’t possibly be as deep as hers if she could keep them under control all the time. Eleanor had developed deep feelings for a man who is not quite as handsome, confident and charming but who is a person of honest character whose feelings are equally as deep as hers, although he is awkward and hesitant about expressing them. Jane Austen uses the characters to show us that all is not as it appears to be and, in fact, we can have very deep feelings for someone without losing our sense. She makes the case that romanticism and rationalism are not mutually exclusive. In other words, you don’t have to be irrational to appreciate romance. I have been the sensibility sister in past relationships and, although I enjoy romance as much as anyone else, if the situation ever presents itself again I want to be the sense sister next time. As always, when I think of a good relationship my parents come to mind – two people with lots of sense and enough romance thrown in the mix to still be holding hands and slow dancing alone in the garage in their 70’s. No drama, no flash, no histrionics – just deep love, respect, and lots of laughs. Until the day he died my father always introduced my mother as his bride. Now, that’s what I call romantic.    

Even though the word romantic has become linked with relationships, the Romantic Era was not about relationships; the movement focused on artistic imagination and the individual, and it prized intuition and emotion. It promoted a strong belief in the importance of nature, particularly its effect on the artist when alone and surrounded by it. Those feelings of awe and wonder and the connection to your spirituality that you feel when you observe the sunset or a beautiful natural scene are romantic – and you can enjoy them even when you are totally alone! The emotions that stir in my chest when I look at a great work of art or the Grand Canyon are romantic. My teary-eyed, lump-in-the-throat response to the “Star Spangled Banner” and the sight of our flag billowing in the wind is romantic. No doubt there is great enjoyment in sharing these things with someone you love but don’t fall into the trap of thinking romantic feelings are limited solely to a relationship. What if you never have another love relationship? Does that mean you will never feel passionately romantic about anything again? Life is full of deep, passionate, romantic emotions so don’t dilute them or suppress them just because you’re a “singleton”. Enjoy!

 Romantic: marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of the heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious or idealized; appreciation of external nature

Stella chillin' in the great outdoors

Stella chillin’ in the great outdoors

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions