My father died in January last year. As I noticed this past week, he still has a major influence on my life. What happened, or more importantly, what didn’t happen was that a friend of mine was walking by when he tripped and started to fall. I grabbed him and held on until he regained his balance. Then he continued on unscathed.
The non-event was not the stuff of headlines or the lead for a national news broadcast. Even you may be wondering why I mention it. Now for a little context; my friend is 95. He is still getting treatment for pain from an automobile accident he was in about three months ago. From helping my father after his mobility became limited I learned the first principle of help was to hang on and not to let him fall. As my mother put it, “Whatever you do, don’t drop your dad.” In the instance I described, I didn’t stop to worry about what my friend would think. I didn’t consider societal norms about grabbing another person, the idea of personal space or the setting. I reacted quickly to respond to the primary issue.
My father operated that way. For example, when he joined the board of directors of an organization, he discovered that the board had spent nearly all of the reserve funds that had taken many years to accumulate. He refused to sign the annual report which correctly noted the organization had no debt and the directors had made significant [expensive] improvements to the grounds and buildings. My father did not believe honesty meant avoiding falsehoods. He believed, and I believe, honesty means telling the truth and giving context to statements. The directors had spent almost all of the organization’s financial reserve. The next unexpected major expense would push the organization into debt. The efforts of previous boards to minimize spending and gradually accumulate money for the proverbial “rainy day” had been completely undercut without the knowledge of the members.
Although he was the newest member on the board and against strong resistance by other board members, my father wrote a letter explaining why he refused to sign the annual report and detailing the current financial situation of the organization, as he understood it. The other board members got angry with my father. Most members of the organization got angry at the board of directors. A few took the directors’ side and became angry at my father. It wasn’t his intention to cause problems and set member against member, but he believed concealing the problem with true but limited communication to members would be dishonest.
My father was not known for his tact.
Since his death many people have written to my mother to express their gratitude and respect for my father. Throughout his life he had an impact on those around him. I think he would have been surprised by the number of people who responded to news of his death and to the esteem they had for him.
Thanks, Dad. I’m still learning from you.