Today marks 9 years that my father passed away. Nine years is a long time. When you’re talking about missing someone, 9 years is a very long time. At the time, I was serving a mission in Salta, Argentina. One of my biggest regrets in life is not coming home from my mission to see him buried and to mourn with my family. This past month, I read Francis Lee Menlove’s The Challenge of Honesty (if you haven’t read it yet, do it. Now. It’s worth your time, I promise). In her essay titled “Gratitude: A Contagious Guide,” she writes:
Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the university of Pennsylvania, devised what he called a gratitude visit, which works like this: you think of a person in your life who has been kind to you, but whom you’ve never properly thanked, and you write a detailed “gratitude letter” to that person, explaining in concrete terms why you are grateful to him or her. Visit that person and read your testimony out loud. according to Seligman, it is a powerful ritual. “Everyone cries when you do a gratitude visit,” he says. “It’s very moving for both.”
Mike wrote a very moving tribute to the lessons he learned from our father last year; this year to go along with Thanksgiving and Francis’ and Martin’s suggestion, I want to say thanks.
I don’t remember the last words that you said to me, nor what I said to you. I remember trying to call you while I was in Dallas on a layover to Argentina and not being able to get a hold of you, but our last words were probably something like “see you in two years.” I wish I could remember those last words, as I’m sure it would have added to the many memories I have of you. Thank you for making those memories. For trying your hardest to be there for events that were important to me. Sporting events, choir performances, piano recitals, scout projects; the list goes on. Thank you for taking time off to take your rowdy kids camping on a spontaneous long weekend. You being there is ingrained in my memory. There is only one time I can remember you not being there at an important event; it was at a wrestling tournament my freshman year of high school. I hadn’t won a single match the entire year and it was a two and half hour drive one way. You opted to stay home (I forget what for – probably a honey-do list or a busy Saturday at the office) but gave me your cell phone to call home and update you on how I was doing. I called after weigh ins and let you know I had made weight and that it was single elimination; I joked that maybe you could come pick me up and we could have lunch. You laughed and said something to the effect of “we’ll see; I hope you make it longer than lunch.” I wrestled my first round and won. My first (and turns out only) win that season. I called you probably the second I stepped off the mat. I remember how happy and proud you were, but something you did stuck with me: you never missed another wrestling match in my four year wrestling “career,” even though it was a terrible, terrible career.
I remember when I was in high school, I got started in web design. One of my projects was to design a website for a local business. Since you owned and operated your own business, you signed up. You knew that it was going to be terrible looking, but you did it anyway. When I was frustrated with playing piano – one of my passions in high school – you came and worked through the piece with me and showed me different techniques to use to be able to hit hard-to-reach notes. I still use those, even though I’m lucky I get to play 4 hours a month compared to 4 hours a day like I did in high school. Thank you for believing in me, for thinking that I could do it. Thank you for giving me confidence. You always pushed me to be my best self, to be just a little bit better. I wouldn’t be who I am today without that pushing. I still suffer from self doubt and uncertainty and sometimes low self-esteem, but thanks to pushing, I’m able to work through many issues. I don’t remember any coddling, but I do remember firm guidelines and expectations.
When I needed help figuring out an Eagle Project, you were there to show me how to strip paint off wood, sand down old stain and varnish and how to protect it against the environment. You helped me line up donations. You taught me to change oil, spark plugs and brakes on cars. Thank you for a DIY attitude. It’s saved me countless dollars in my life on projects from my car to doing things in my house. More than that, it’s added to my independence and has taught me more than I imagined. It’s given me an eye for the process, as anyone who has refinished a desk knows that that the first step of removing the old finish is one of the most important steps. Thank you for teaching me to study “the process.” It’s led to a love of learning new skills and of stretching myself.
Thank you for letting me work. I remember getting a paper route in 6th grade. I don’t know how I convinced you to let me get a paper route that young, but I loved it; it let me be “just like my brothers.” You let me be your “secretary” at your office during the summers. When I turned 16, I didn’t have my paper route anymore but you made me go out and apply for jobs. All of this has taught me not only the value of work, but to work hard at what I do and to be and do the best I can at every position that I have held. It’s let me take care of my family, save and be independent. Above all, having a career – one that you encouraged from the beginning – has given me direction.
Thank you dad, for being a dad. You weren’t perfect; in fact that “golden rule” you made up and I hated – the one that said “do what you say, not what you do,” showed me that – I just didn’t realize it. You had faults and mistakes. You did things that hurt and harmed others. But you loved me as best you could, and that was enough. I’ve spent more than enough time demonizing you and pointing out your mistakes, flaws, imperfections, short falls, your shortcomings. It’s time for me to look past that and see the man that not only you wanted to be, but the loving father that you were.
I love you. I miss you.
I lost my father about two months ago, and I began to write him a gratitude letter, which I never finished, but I made sure I told him the most important things he did for me before he pressed on. He was my bishop when I left Brazil to serve a mission in Utah, and now I know that my homesickness was not even close in intensity to his joy for having a missionary son. And that excitement has shaped my adult life. May God bless you and all of us who, in this Christmas season, will miss a the companionship of a loved one.
This is beautiful Jon. I didn’t realize he died while you were on your mission. What a tragedy.
I don’t know that it helps any but the decision to come home wasn’t yours to make. I was told that missionaries only come home at the insistence of the family and I wasn’t insisting. I’m sorrier than I have words to express that I didn’t give you that option. But I was also told that if you came home, you probably wouldn’t return to Argentina. I knew that the Lord had called you to Argentina, knowing that your dad would die. I believe that there were people there that you needed to influence and so I chose to leave you there. Please don’t hate me, or hate yourself for not being able to be with us. I’m so sorry. I love you with all my heart. Mom
Chareine – thank you for those words. Parental decisions are the toughest.
Jon – I have nothing like your grief, but I have many people who I haven’t thanked who have passed. I am starting my letters tonight. Thank you for sharing yours so publicly. God bless your pain and healing.
thanks for the share…
Thanks for sharing that with I hope one day my kids can see that in me