Today it has been one year since my father-in-law (FIL) made his transition to eternity. My wife wanted to spend the day at the city zoo because that was one of the places he would meet her and the kids during the day for outings. I took the day off of work, gave the kids the day off of school (reason, 32,499 to homeschool), and dedicated this as a memorial day for his life, especially because it has been a year after his passing.
Make Your Own Family Holidays and Memorial Days
Monday, my main hustle gave us the day off to honor President’s Day. I decided to work and take today off instead. First, History.com describes Presidents day as, “Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, it is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government. Traditionally celebrated on February 22—Washington’s actual day of birth—the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers.” Personally, I’ve never been a fan of celebrating someone who would have me working on the plantation as a slave if they were alive today, and my family does not celebrate many of this nation’s holidays because they really are not for us. It is said that Mr. Washington “owned” over 300 “slaves” at the time of his death. After he died, I’m sure he had a good reason before the Creator of Man how he could own something that he did not create, and whether or not he treated them justly as human beings. Therefore, we ignored this day (notice that as with most “holidays” as well, honoring the person isn’t the primary reason, but monetary gain to the nation), and decided to give a day to someone who really meant something in our lives.
I would like to encourage all of the Furious Fathers to consider doing the same. First, consider some significant days in your life or the anniversary dates of impactful moments and people in your life. Maybe it’s the birth/death of your parents or friends that are no longer with us. Maybe it’s the anniversary of a significant family event or for some men, just taking their kid’s birthdays off would be a great start. Whatever you can find, I encourage you to give it a try. This is a great time for the family to come together in the evening for a meal, and reflect on why the day is special, handing down memories and lessons from the one honored or from an event, all with the intention of helping shape your family’s present and future.
Seven Lessons from My Father-In-Law
On that note, allow me to share with you seven lessons that I learned from my father-in-law, as I reflected on our relationship today.
- If the Good Lord woke you up, it’s a good day – In the final years of his life, as I think he began to see that he did not have the energy and ability to do what he once did, I would ask my FIL how he was doing and his response was always, “The Good Lord woke me up this morning, so that makes it a good day.” How we love to “wake up on the wrong side of the bed” or immediately allow ourselves to get swept up in the cares of a day and thinking life is so miserable, never just being thankful that if our eyes opened, the day is good. That certainly doesn’t mean that we smile with joy when bad things happen or life does not seem to be waiting like a towel when we get out the morning shower to not dry us off, but add more water, the last thing we need. That just means that if you have the mental ability to know that it is another day (and not all people have this ability), it is off to a good start. This is truly a glass-half-full mindset. My FIL had an apartment in one of the more swanky cities in the area, known for being liberal, having a small downtown to party in, and trendy restaurants, but he lived on the 11th floor and could see above the city’s tree line and would not move from that location. He had his view to see the sun come up in the east, and the ability to go sit on the corner and people watch, and he had seen that town change so much in all the years he lived and worked in the same area. He found contentment in the “little” things we often take for granted, the real treasures that make each day a good day.
- You are never too old to change – When my FIL first heard about this so-called Black guy dating his daughter, he put down an edict that still has ramifications to this day. He said I was not allowed to come over to his house. I guess he felt superior as a hard-working so-called White man that the thought of his daughter being interested in someone Black after having her born and raised away from Black people, and the fact that this guy was working a dead-end job and already had a child, didn’t help as well. Needless-to-say, the latter two I’d have a problem with if my daughters were dating someone in the demographic. But over the years, I guess as he saw I was still in his daughter’s life after many years and was not afraid of him in any way, he seemed to change. Now this change wasn’t (at least outwardly) the usual go-along-to-get-along because my FIL never seemed much like that, but one that seemed genuine after his ideology was challenged and what seemed like some introspection on his part. Obviously, the fact that I am blogging about him right now says much, and after a few meetings, we quickly become quite close. I think he respected me and knew I respected him, even if we disagree with each other’s position on a topic, more we also discovered that we had so much in common and, as most father’s learned, his daughter may have married a man just like him despite being completely opposite in skin color. In the last decade of his life, my FIL and I grew pretty close, and at family events, we talked constantly. When he stopped attending those, I pretty much did as well! Our relationship was then built outside his immediate family, and sometimes he would call and we would talk for minutes (cause y’all know ole dudes don’t stay on the phone for hours) and when he came the kid’s games and over for holidays, we would talk more than he would talk to my wife…even about race! Perhaps it was having grandchildren. Perhaps it was God. I’m not sure what is was, but this guy seemed to do a complete 180 and it has taught me that some leopards do change their spots, even at an old age.
- Attend Every Game – One reason our relationship strengthened so much was because of the amount of time we spent together. This was not a planned meet-up, but because he always wanted to be at my kids’ ball games to support them. He was at the baseball games and basketball games, even the dance recitals which no man wants to sit through! I can’t recall a time he left early or arrived late, he was just always there. During that time, I heard many stories, and I loved the sports stories the most, as he was alive to see Willie Mays (and my FIL was a serious baseball fan) and Ted Williams. When he said Ted Williams was his favorite player, but Willie Mays was the best player to play the game, that statement had weight to me. When he criticized today’s players and spoke of problems in the game, I knew it was with the knowledge that would match any ESPN analyst with Google right at their fingertips to do research. He would often tell me that he knew the starting line-up of the 1957 Detroit Tigers, but not what he did last week. A feeling I now know very well, as I can name the starting line-up of the 1983 California Angels but struggle to nearly everything else in my life as well. When he attended, he just wanted them to know he was there and he never criticized their game, just that they were playing hard. After every game, regardless of the outcome, they came over for their high-five and “good game!” I don’t think they will realize the effort it takes to have that kind of attendance record until they have to make the effort to go watch their kids and grandkids play, no matter you feel or “meaningless” the game.
- Always Be Teaching and Learning – Whether it be a game, family gathering or phone conversation, my FIL was always learning something and teaching. Looking back, like many men of his generation that did not complete his high school education, he never made it to high school. So I think he made it a priority to always be learning something new to cover up any lack of knowledge people might perceive that he had when speaking to him. He seemed to know quite a bit about nearly anything and if he knew I was into a particular topic, we would see each other the next time and he had some info for me. He was always teaching some lesson or sharing how some event from the past will visit us again in the future. But he could be in this position because he was always learning. For his birthday, he loved to get a gift certificate to the bookstore. He gave me boxes and boxes of books that he picked up from the Salvation Army for $1.00 or less, and the topics consisted of sports, philosophy, religion, reference material and on and on. He seemed so proud that we were homeschooling the children and even more proud of what we were teaching them and the people they were becoming. No one on either side of my family was as much of a champion for my kid’s education than he was, and he was so optimistic at their future because they were out of the system.
- “Live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later” – Dave Ramsey said it, but my FIL truly lived it. If you would have met my FIL and heard of his shopping habits, you’d think he was an elder man that was barely getting by. Quite the contrary. Where did he shop? The Salvation Army or any second-hand store that had deals. He’d bring bags over all the time with nothing but the free stuff he received from the drugstore with coupons. Some items had expired, some we still have, and some we gave away, but he viewed it as, “Hey, it’s free, so I figured someone could use it.” He drove around so long in a plain white rental-car-looking Ford Focus. He put approximately 2,000 miles a year on the odometer. Now, it wasn’t that he didn’t like or couldn’t afford a more flashy car, as he always wanted to have an Audi R8 and lamented often how he had to get rid of that ’67 Camaro with a stick because my wife’s baby seat was on the floor next to my MIL and he couldn’t drive it without hitting her seat. But he kept saying, “I cannot see paying that much money for a car I’d never drive. I can take the bus if I really need to go downtown, and the car I have takes me anywhere else I need to go just fine.” He loved to chat about the press cars I’d bring home and would give me car mags he bought from the store with good articles. But if it did not make fiscal AND practical sense, there was no purpose in him parting with his cash. So he kept that flip-phone till the end.
- Being alone for a man is not something to fear but embrace – My in-laws divorced shortly after my FIL retired. Many men I know at my age cannot stand to be alone, let alone a man that had been married for three decades. But he seemed to take pride in being a bachelor, with his “pad”, frugal life, and discovering new dishes that he could make and eat in his crock pot. Sometimes as men, I think that we avoid and fear of being alone after many years of marriage, so we jump right back into another relationship for more security. However, I think he was an excellent example of how to be content with one’s own thoughts, failures, and dreams. Dr. Robert Glover of No More Mr. Nice Guy says that we as men need to know that no matter what, we will be okay and we can handle it. It is a lesson I’m still learning.
- We all have to die someday – In a few weeks, it will also be one year marking the time my FIL and I were to meet again. I saw him in January of 2016 when visiting the old neighborhood and I honestly thought that due to the short notice, he would not meet with me. My FIL took each day as it came, so if he wasn’t in the mood to chat and chill, it’s a no go. Surprise visits were even worse, as he has always been an early to bed and early to rise guy. But turned out, not only did my short notice not matter, he really wanted to see me. It was like he knew it was the last time we would see each other. When kicked it in his place for quite a while and even though I knew the doctor’s opinion was that his months may be numbered, his spirit and zest said otherwise. When I asked him how he was doing, he said that, “You know, this is tough, but hey, we all have to die someday.” I then asked about his relationship with God and he said he was at peace with his Maker, knew where he was going and was ready to go. During his battle with cancer, knowing that we had to die someday seemed to make him appreciate just one more day so much more. He said, “That Good Lord has given me a lot of years and a great life, great kids, great grandkids, a job I enjoyed, you know, what do I have to complain about?” I left his place saying that I would be back in March when I had to return to speak at an event. He said to definitely come back by and see him, but I didn’t know if he would make that meeting myself. I left his presence with tears in my eyes and basically saying to him how much I appreciated all of the things you get to read about right now. As a man who admitted to making many mistakes in his life, and some that he paid the price for till the end, I wanted him to know that our finish after a horrendous start is something I will never forget and truly shows God’s grace to the two of us. Ever humbly accepted and agreed, and encouraged me to keep doing what I’m doing, because it’s my kids show that it is working. But I told him that he played a huge part of that as well, and it was one of the few times the old guy got speechless. I think we both parted ways unsure if that meeting, just less than two months away, would ever take place. I left having nothing unsaid to him, as who knows, I could have died instead. He at least seemed to be relieved at our honest exchange. All hearts were clear because we all have to die someday.
I don’t know.
Now I wonder, what DO I have to complain about?
That’s why we honor my FIL today and it’s good to think about the wisdom he passed down to me.
Other meaningless holidays come and go, but tomorrow, I’ll wake up thinking, “Thank you Good Lord for waking me up, and giving me a good day.”