What I Learned From My Father

May 21, 2012

Dad and all of us kids. I was Mozart's age -11


Father's have a profound affect on our entire lives. Scores of research studies have documented the positive effects of involved fathers and we know it in our hearts. 

I've always enjoyed  that my Father's birthday lands a few days away from Father's Day and I usually send him two cards with photos ( I don't think he has ever seen this blog), but he will have to celebrate his 83rd birthday in heaven, because he just passed away in Texas.

I will dearly miss this handsome, charismatic, six foot four, tender-hearted dynamo who had a most profound affect on my life. If I am too wordy here, skip to the list in the bottom for what my father taught me.

He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it. ~Clarence Budington Kelland

Mom and Dad wedding-1

As I deal with another layer of grief here in Asia, ( not long ago, we lost my Step Dad and my husband's Father died suddenly when we were in Spain ) it's hard to sort thorough all the memories and thoughts to share a tribute and something that might also be of value to you. Again, I find myself procrastinating because facing grief is painful and hard to put into words.  My father was an extremely unique individual and our relationship was complicated, so hard to do it justice in this short space.

When he was in his last days ( it happened quickly after a sudden diagnosis that asbestos from his work led to metastisized lung and bone cancer) I got to talk to him via Skype. After he passed, I posted this photo (on his wedding day to my Mom when he was just twenty years old ) on Facebook and Twitter. I am so grateful for your many prayers and kind words.

This photo is one of my favorites and you can tell why people compared them to Jackie O. and JFK in the sixties! Yet, it's also painful as my parents divorced suddenly and unexpectedly when I was 17, early during my senior year, which changed my family of origin forever and deeply hurt my Dad and each of us. Hard to grieve for my Dad, without grieving the loss and break-up of a family and the potential never reached. Still I understand the perfection of it all too.

He would have been shocked to know people around the world were praying for this lovable and fiesty, iconoclastic man who lived on his own in a very remote, rustic ranch for the last 40 years in Arizona. He had a good transition, surrounded by loved ones, comfortable in his own bed at my brothers because he moved in about 8 months ago, which we're so thankful for. My brother's Dutch/Indonesian wife is one of the sweetest people on the planet and was his main caregiver along with hospice workers and my brother. My sweet sister and brother-in-law flew in from California to say good bye in person. All kept me abreast of the daily progress.

We always worried so that he would die alone, as he lived with no phone in a primitive place, far in the boonies and it was quite an ordeal for my brother and sister to take turns driving about 18 hours each way to check in on him a few times a year, but he wasn't willing to leave his beloved land until recently. Fiecely independant types as elders can be a challenge for their children who love them dearly. ( I hope I remember this when I am 80). Still, you can't help but admire their spunk!

Dad as a young boy, I can see my face and Mozart's in it

Yet, God always has a perfect plan and my heart weeps in gratitude that it unfolded so sweetly as he deserved it. He even had a full church of mourners at his funeral as my Sister-in-law is very active in her church there. That and all your prayers probably has him chuckling in Heaven and gives us peace of mind.

As much as I loved him, I was never a Daddy's girl. When I was 12, I enjoyed watching my little sister be a Daddy's girl and always admired the deep devotion between my Father and his first born son and namesake. I am so grateful that they could reach him in ways I never could.

He wasn't a perfect dad and I wasn't a perfect daughter, we were simply human with our good and bad points and some how God's love always bridged the gap between the love we gave and the love we needed. I've always been very proud of him and he is proud of me. We both knew our love was strong, it just wasn't very compatible.

I've shared before about my "father wound" and how that has impacted my life, the man I married and even this travel lifestyle so that my child has more time with her tender, wise father and me.

"Finding the best possible father for my child was very important to me. Probably because I had my own father wound. My father is truly a great man, but we never managed to have the kind of relationship either of us wanted. Perhaps we are too much alike. We've always loved each other from a distance." Jeanne Dee

I've just turned 60, and from this perspective, some of the things I am most grateful to my Father for are some of the experiences that caused me inner pain, because they strengthened me, expanded my thinking and helped me clarify what I did and did not want in my life.

We had planned to visit my Dad on our USA road trip, but alas, it wasn't meant to be due to both of us having too severe health issues when the time came. I feel at peace with his passing, ( we made that peace a long, long time ago when I was in my twenties), even being at a distance here in Asia and glad I got to tell him one more time how much I loved him over the phone days before he died. What more really needs to be said? He was ready to go and obviously finished what he came here to do.

 In a way, it seems apropos that even in death, like in life,  we loved at a distance. He truly was the perfect father for me and I am eternally grateful for all that he gave to me. Despite the distance we are always deeply connected and that will not change even in death. We are part of one another and he lives forever in my heart.

We're a family that is pretty practical about funerals and such, not expecting anyone to spend a lot to come to a funeral. When my brother died at 40, my out-of-state sister, brother and Dad didn't come, not because they didn't love him to death, but because it wasn't practical and we know one can mourn and say good bye where ever you are.

"It's only when you grow up, and step back from him, or leave him for your own career and your own's only then that you can measure his greatness and fully appreciate it. Pride reinforces love". Margaret Truman

Dad 1985

As I grieve, reminisce with family members, watch home movies ( yes, it was my Dad who instigated that and made sure we had these lovely keepsakes starting in the early 50's...amazing that I can show my child these as we roam the world  in 2012 including live footage of 4 of her great, great grandparents!!),  and remember all the happy times, I can't help but think of all the profound things my Dad taught me by example. Here are a few:



My father is the ultimate example for being true to oneself and doing life HIS way. For that alone he was the perfect father for me as I don't think there is a more important lesson to teach.

"to thine ownself be true"

“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.” — Friedrich Nietzsche


Without my Father, I doubt I'd ever do all the "impossible" things I have done in life from being a model and actress, to running  a marathon without training at 36 to living this dream travel life with my family.

I am so proud that my father was a dreamer, who dreamed big and made them come true. From his BMW motorcycle in the 50's ( he used it to commute between Michigan and Chicago where he went to school), to his Chevy 409, or boat or ranch. He always found a way to make his dreams come true.

"Man, alone, has the power to transform his thoughts into physical reality; man, alone, can dream and make his dreams come true." Napoleon Hill


My Father constantly demonstrated that there are no limits in life. He did what he wanted to do and didn't give a hoot what anyone else thought. Not very many people would live in the boonies by themselves in thier 70's and 80's in primitive conditions in the heat of the desert,  but it was actually pretty typical for Dad.

"The only rules and limits are those we set for ourselves" - Tim Ferriss


My Father always included his family in his dreams. He didn't go off with buddies, he brought the whole family along. He shared his love of camping, boating, motorcycling, traveling, reading etc with us and exposed us to so much by doing that, which left a huge impact.

" In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future" Alex Haley

"Family is the most important thing in the world." Princess Diana


Education was very important to my Father and Mother, but family came first. It is not surprising that two of his three Grandchildren were educated differently. My Dad would often pull us out of school for learning vacations like heading to Florida in the cold Michigan winters. No one else did this in the 1950's, but we did and I have fond memories still, including the forts and things.

I was the star in my third grade play, and the most expressive reader, so that the teacher had me regularly read out loud to parents and visitors. But this was the 1950's and she did not like my tom-boy ways like tackling the boys on the monkey bars who were torturing and tackling the other girls. I was little but spunky, and she didn't think that was lady like, so set off to shame me by making me stand in the hall.

I thought that was totally unfair, and since I lived only 2 blocks away, I decided to heck with this shaming stuff and just walked out the door and went home. Some parents might have scolded me ( my parents were both not home and working during the day). But both my parents came with me back to school in full support, backing me up the next day on how unfairly I had been treated.

"The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family." Lee Iacocca


We were never rich, yet in many ways we lived a very rich life because my Father was a dreamer who saw no limits and knew how to make the most of experiences like camping, farming, boating, ranching, traveling, museum going etc.

My Father instituted "austerity" times when we were saving for a big goal or life was particularly challenging. I remember one of our most challenging times was when I felt most rich. We were in a very large rented old house that felt like a castle to me with beautiful old flower bushes. I remember the beautiful bedding and curtains which were hand me downs from my Father's Mother for my bedroom, made me feel like a princess. My favorite birthday gift that 10th year was a hand-me-down from my fashionista teen aunt which my Mom had lovingly stayed up late to hem by hand to surprise me.

"it is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is, not according to what he has."  Henry Ward Beecher


My Dad had great enthusiasm for life and saw it as an adventure. That mind set is contagious!

"A large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life, by him who interests his heart in everything." Lawrence Sterne

"Adventure is a state of mind - and spirit" Jacqueline Cochran

"Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same." Francesca Reigler


My Dad was always willing to learn new things. He knew that part of fulfilling a dream was to learn about it, plan and prepare. He taught himself endless things by reading books, so demonstrated how to do that. He didn't know anything about boats, ranching, or farming before he got into them, but learned by doing and reading.

"Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune." Jim Rohn


Both my parents loved to read and that passion was one of the best that they passed on to me and I have passed on to my daughter. Reading can teach you anything and everything. It is one of life's great pleasures.

He loved poetry and one of my fondest family memories was reading poems from his book that he had from the time he was in boarding school in Canada. He loved that book then and shared it with all of us as we took turns reading the poems out loud together.

"The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries." Descartes


Despite having a limited budget and two full time working parents, we always did a lot of traveling as that was a priority in our family. Many of the family movies are about places we visited. Even a visit several states away to visit one of my great grandmothers or over the border to Canada to visit other great grandparents, were reasons for adventures along the way.

My father chose an executive career through much of my childhood, that had us doing lots of moving, sometimes as frequently as every 6 months. We all really enjoyed that adventure and exploring new places.

"I decided that adventure was the best way to learn..." Lloyd Alexander


My Father loved museums and history. When we lived in Baltimore for a short time, I think we went to the Smithsonian museum every weekend we were there. We didn't just go to museums, we devoured them. I am still doing the same thing with my child and museums, for this addiction was catching.

"Most convicted felons are just people who were not taken to museums or Broadway musicals as children" Libby Gelman- Waxner


My Dad had several different careers, and so have I. Every life has many phases, so it's enjoyable to explore different parts of ourselves through career. He was a great example to let me know you don't just have to be one thing for life.

This will be the norm for our 21st century kids, but my Dad was just ahead of his time. His adventurous heart let him try many things and he even chose to retire early as I have to follow yet another dream.

" A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both." Chateaubriand


My Father was a calculated risk taker his whole life. Some times things worked out better than other times, but observing how he went about taking those risks and then going to plan B,C,D, etc when needed, was an invaluable lesson that has served me well in life.

"Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down." Ray Bradbury

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." Robert Kenned


My Father had great wisdom that he knew instinctively or got from books or through life's experience.

As example of this is he wanted and persuaded my Mother to breastfeed her children which simply was not done in the early 1950's. He was absolutely right, but alas, my Mother tends to want to fit in and did not find it comfortable when no one else was doing it, so she only breast fed her first child for a few months. Understandable, as even today there is not enough support for nursing and then it was non-existent.

My Father also took on homesteading in the sixties buying a Jersey cow and learning to milk it ( we all learned and loved the cream and raw milk), buying a steer to raise for meat and other such undertakings. We were a bit of a "Green Acres" kind of family as we'd always been city or suburban dwellers, but a new fun adventure for us all.

When all families would just go to the ski resort to ski, my Dad insisted that we first just go out to a bare mountain and learn the hard way, herringbone up the hill to earn our reward of coming down. I hated it then, but now see the wisdom and I am still good at that herringbone move.

"Life is complex. Each one of us must make his own path through life. There are no self-help manuals, no formulas, no easy answers. The right road for one is the wrong road for another...The journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit, and it has no road signs. It is a rocky path through the wilderness" M. Scott Peck


Nobody loved his land more than my Dad. He fell in love with the land we owned in Pennsylvania where we all learned lessons about farming and ranching and he deeply loved his land in Arizona and always wanted it to be a place for all of us in the family.

He took great care of his land and loved his animals. That example taught us so much and instilled  a deep love of the land and animals in each of us. Walking the land in many countries on our world tour inspires us and we even manage to garden as we roam.

"Without land, a man is nothing; land is a man's very soul." Joseph Connally


My Father was very emotionally sensitive and laughed and cried easily as I do. I remember him crying at tear-jerking movies like Shirley Temple. This willingness to feel his feelings and be who he was impressed me forever and gave me a guide post on how to handle my own deep emotions.

"Those who do not know how to weep with their whole heart don't know how to laugh either." Golda Meir

"Tears are God's gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow." Rita Schiano

What a legacy of love! My heart is full of gratitude for the lessons from my Father. What are your favorite lessons that you got from your Father?

« previous | | next »


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference What I Learned From My Father:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

wandering educators

Indeed. thanks for sharing this awesome glimpse of your dad. love his life lessons!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

So appreciate that Jessie!

Margaret Sch.

How very generous you are with very personal insights. (Well, we already knew that.) How awesome that you truly can sift the wheat from the chaff and cherish the savory good stuff in spite of pain and loss. It strikes me that the distance, even if it saddened you in the past, is part of gave you the freedom to fly as you continue to do. Your daughter's inheritance from her grandfather is the lifelong quest that she lives with such gusto and gratitude. Thanks again for this "lesson by example" for anyone who reads it and ponders the underlying lessons therein that can apply to ANY important human relationship, near or far. (Let go if you need to; appreciate; learn; trust.) I'm so thankful on your behalf to know that the plan for his final days worked out much more perfectly than you could have planned if it had been left up to you. Great photo of him as an older man. Great that he put roots down in some land that he loved. May he rest in peace.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks so much for your kind and wise words, dear Margaret! I always love the insights you add.

Melissa Read (readontheroad

What a wonderful tribute! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on paper as you work through your grief. I lost my Dad in my early 20's, still miss him but both my parents encouraged us to travel and dream big, I am so grateful to have been their child.

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner