Got a letter recently asking me what I thought the writer (a dad) should focus on leaving his son. He was wondering if the focus should be things, memories, or what. I contacted the guy and we talked about what kind of a dad he wanted to be remembered as – a provider, an inspirer, or a shadow who worked a lot.
It’s an important thing for a man to consider – the legacy he will leave behind.
My own father died in ’06, a week after his 90th birthday. He was in great shape up until he broke his arm in a silly accident nine months before that, then he just went downhill at a steady pace.
My reaction has been sort of roller coaster-ish. Dad and I had a horrible start. He was a drunk who fought with my tea-totaling mom often – every time he’d come home schnockered he’d light into her … and her mother … and her sisters … and every other woman he could think of. I spent a great deal of my youth crying for them to stop.
Many years later, and especially after my mother died in ’00, Dad and I got closer. I learned that he was a funny guy who liked to laugh and have fun. We actually became friends the last few years of his life. My wife tells me that I have a lot of my dad in me – the funny, outgoing, never-met-a-strange-waitress bits, not the drunk bully bits.
It’s really very complicated for a man looking back at the man who begat him. I find that the longer he’s gone, the more I remember good things I’d forgotten about my youth. I remember weekend drives into the mountains when the three of us would walk around lakes only Dad seemed to know about. I’ve learned that he didn’t really want another kid – my sister was 15 years older than I was. He was ready to retire when I accidentally came along. I guess he didn’t handle the surprise and additional burden of me well. At least not until I was grown and on my own, out of his sphere of responsibility.
Good guy/bad guy. Dad was like most of us, a little of both. And I, I’m learning, am a lot like him.
Don’t let your death be the first time your kids stop to really consider what kind of parent you have been. Think about what you want them to remember, but also welcome the opportunities to talk to them about yourself and your relationship to them now, while you can. Too late comes too soon.