In Exodus 20:12 and again in Deuteronomy 5:16, you gave us the following commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother.”
Fortunately, you blessed me with parents who made following that commandment easy. My life has turned out pretty wonderful. I have been blessed with a good marriage, a successful career and good friends. I owe that in no small part to having a good upbringing by parents who were loved and respected by the entire community.
But this holiday season is the first that I will be facing without either Mom or Dad, except in my memories. So I’d like to take the time this Thanksgiving to offer thanks for their lives.
As a child with disability issues, I had problems in school, especially with other kids. In those days, diversity was NOT considered beautiful, and I was bullied pretty relentlessly. Compounding the problem was the fact that there were no good services 50-60 years ago – no IDEA, no Individualized Education Plans. Parents and their special-needs kids were pretty much on their own, and my parents just had to do the best they could without the help parents and kids can take for granted today. Despite these obstacles, they raised an honor student who graduated in the top 10 percent of her class.
It’s amazing how a small gesture can change a person’s life. When I was in junior high school, and didn’t have much belief in my abilities, I showed Mom a poem I had written. Without telling me, she sent a copy of the poem to Carol Burnett and it wound up getting published in a book. Then Mom gave me a typewriter, even though it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas or anything, and said, “You could be a famous writer someday.” Okay, so maybe the “famous” part didn’t happen, but I did grow up to be a successful professional writer. I even managed to win some writing and journalism awards. And it started with someone believing in me and telling me I had talent.
I appreciated my parents’ sense of humor when conveying life’s lessons to my sisters and me. Instead of lecturing us extensively about the need to avoid peer pressure, they’d simply say, “If 10 of your friends jumped off the top of the Empire State Building, would you do it too?” Once when I was complaining about a mean boss, Dad said, “You know, you can learn as much from a bad example as you can from a good one.” I took that advice to heart, actually, as I progressed through my career. When I became a boss myself, I thought about the bosses I’d liked, and analyzed what they did right. But I also learned a lot about what not to do from the bosses I didn’t like so well.
Mom and Dad took just about the right approach when I ran into problems. If I found myself in a situation that really and truly wasn’t fair, they were my best allies, and more than once they went to school to help me straighten out misunderstandings with one teacher or another. But if I got into trouble and was guilty as charged, they allowed me to experience the consequences rather than bailing me out the way some parents would. I can still remember when I got into a water fight with a classmate in the home-ec room, and our punishment was staying after school for 10 afternoons to clean ovens. When I complained that the punishment seemed excessive, I didn’t get much sympathy, but was told, “The exercise will do you good.”
But perhaps the best gift they gave me was their example.
My parents showed me what a good marriage looks like. I’ve now been blessed for 34 years with the kind of marriage they had, and I know it is possible to have a relationship with someone who loves and respects me and treats me well.
They showed me how to overcome adversity. I was not a happy camper when I got diagnosed with diabetes. But Mom had it for 60 years, and showed me how to live with the condition and accept the dietary restrictions with good grace.
They showed me it was possible to disagree without being disagreeable. One of my favorite memories was of Dad and his brothers arguing about politics, for two or three hours at a time. But they’d all be smiling while they argued, and they’d still be smiling when they got done.
Mom and Dad taught me to be generous and to give back to our community and they walked the talk. Whether it was serving on the school board, teaching Sunday School, or donating $1,000 to help a family at church, both parents were generous with their time and money. Helping others has been a big part of both my career and my volunteer work, and I learned that value from my parents.
Their generosity has extended to hospitality. Pete and I are both grateful for how nice my parents were to my mother-in-law, making her feel like part of the family after her husband died. They made sure she felt welcome and loved.
And the community loved my parents back. During their funerals and visitations, I was blown away by the outpouring of love and respect from everyone who knew Mom and Dad. Literally hundreds of people lined up to tell my sisters and I what our parents meant to them. Here are just a few examples of the comments:
“Sweetest lady ever!”
“He’d give the shirt off his back.”
“So special, kind and caring.”
“Always so nice to everyone.”
“They changed my life.”
Finally, my parents taught me by example to count my blessings. On my 50thbirthday, I remember joking, “Now that I’m finally mature enough to listen to my elders and believe them, what advice would you pass on? If you had one thing you could do differently, what would it be?” I remember Dad, who was 75 at the time, saying, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” I only hope I can say the same thing when I’m 75.
So now I try to remember to count my own blessings, and I definitely count my parents to be among those blessings.
With love and gratitude,