What Is Your Legacy?

Father’s Day. At this point in my life, it is admittedly a little bittersweet. My children are mostly grown. I have two younger and very dear to me step-sons, but their top-notch biological father is very much in their lives. My own two “kids” are 22 and 18 and are rightfully moving on to their own lives. My father and grandfathers have all passed away. In fact, today marks the two-year anniversary of my father’s passing. For this Father’s Day, I’m going to focus on legacy. What is the legacy we’re leaving behind as it stands right now?

Stephen Covey made this concept very popular. One of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he called it “Begin with the End in Mind.” Covey’s concept doesn’t have to pertain to the finality of life, it could simply mean “think about what this project will look like at the end” or similar. But today I’m focused on the legacy we leave behind. I also want to be very clear that this has nothing to do with money or accomplishment. I know the word can get tied up in “legacy funds” or buildings with people’s names on them to commemorate their legacy. Rather, the legacy that I’m considering here is, “what mark are you leaving on those around you?”

As I remember my father today, I think of what his legacy is for me. While a few bullets would never do it justice, here’s what I’ve got:

  • My dad taught me about politics. I don’t mean the silly show that plays out 24-7 on the hyper-media loop and twitter-sphere. I mean real life working with people. I still need reminders from time-to-time, but Dad helped me understand the imperfections of the world around me.
  • He taught me about the merits of hard work. Dad finished his college degree while working as a janitor in an office building. After he got the degree, he got hired on at GTE (later became Verizon) and had a long successful career. As our major bread-winner, he worked to give my sister and me a nice home and a great start to life.
  • Dad also inspired me to fight my own demons. Dad helped me see that we’re often our own worst enemies and that the single best thing to do in life is to come up with a method that works for us. For that, I couldn’t thank him enough.

Unexpectedly, I was blessed with a rare quiet moment with my 22-year-old son this morning. He lives at home and commutes to college, but he also works almost full time and has his own set of friends so I don’t get to see him that much. I warned him that I was going to put him on the spot with a deep question. He inhaled as if to say, “Oh crap.” I then asked him what is my legacy for him? I also asked him to not sugar coat it; give me the bad with the good. As a people, we’re capable of being very direct, and that’s what I am looking for. However, things have been quite smooth for a while and we’re sitting in the same room, so I readily recognize that there will be a positive bias. But alas, I’ll take what he gives. Here’s what he offered up:

  • You are always available when I need help
  • You taught me determination
  • You taught me how to think for myself
  • You taught me how to find my own happiness

As my family woke up or stopped by home, I continued to ask the cringe-worthy questions. Here are the subsequent answers proffered. In all cases, I asked for the “yeah but” or the “what should I be working on?” Again, I recognize the unlikelihood that a younger person would be so bold. But it honestly is how I parent. Give it to me straight gov’na.

From my 18-year-old daughter:

  • Fantastic Dad
  • Funny; you consistently spread the joy
  • Wise; really good at framing life lessons
  • Supportive
  • You taught me the importance of finding my people

From my 12-year-old step-son:

  • Good guitar player
  • Understanding

From my 10-year-old step-son:

  • Good soccer player
  • Pretty great person

From my better half, wife, life coach and zen master:

  • You’re my favorite person to spend time with
  • You embody Continuous Improvement – as in, you’re always trying to get better. And I don’t mean that you’re trying to grapple for what’s next; I mean you’re always trying to be a better person, a better role model and help others get better too.
  • However, your attitude toward Continuous Improvement can make you come off as judgy. You do great with people who are striving to get better, but you can be impatient with people who feel stuck or trapped.

Obviously, I’m flattered. Given that I get to run around in my own head all day, I wouldn’t be so universally positive. I also think my wife was spot on. I need to work on my ability to be patient with people who aren’t ready to develop. But instead of focusing on that at the moment, I’m taking what I’m given because that’s what people offered up.

As I wrap up this post, I’ll ask you some of some of these same questions.

What is your legacy as it stands today? What would the people close to you say about you?

Or if you’re more inclined, please let me know what my blog says about me? What impressions has it made on you? And please, feel free to give me the goods, gov’na. I won’t get better unless I hear it straight.

I close with gratitude and a genuine wish for a Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there!

 

My Mother is My Hero

My lovely Mom and me

My mother is the nicest person I know. She has kind words for everyone and she would give away her last loaf of bread. But she isn’t a pushover either. She’ll probably blush if she ever reads this, but one of my fondest memories of my Mom is this: After some completely unreasonable lady was yelling at her for something completely silly in the parking lot of our local soccer fields, my Mom flipped the lady the middle finger and spun out in the gravel parking lot. As a frame of reference, this had to be 1980 or so and my Mom would have been in her late 20’s. As we pulled away, she paused and said to me, “That wasn’t very nice. I shouldn’t have done that.” Oh, but the memory was sealed. She’s a sweetheart, but no pushover.

My mother is wise. She is discerning and knows when something isn’t right. But she chooses her words carefully to deliver the right message at the right time. There are so many examples to list, but I’ll pull from a more recent conversation. After the dust had settled from my Dad’s death and some of the hurt had started to subside, my Mom and I went out to dinner in a lovely little town of Delaware, Ohio. We met up and went to a local pizza shop for an absolutely fantastic dinner. This was an adult conversation about the past and the state of things today. When the conversation turned to Dad, Mom and I were both kind but realistic. Simply put, Dad didn’t have the tools to deal with his demons. We both articulated our understanding of this fact in our own way with all due respect. We both know that all of us have our burdens to bear. Neither of us blamed Dad for reacting in the way he did – even if we didn’t agree with it at the time. With complete and unconditional love, we celebrated my Dad that evening while looking out at life without him. I had always known that my Mom was wise, but that evening she showed me the depth of her human wisdom.

My mother is quietly confident in her faith. My mom was the backbone of our family’s adherence to Christian virtues. She took us to church when we needed it most. More importantly, she took herself to church when she needed it most. She became a Sunday school teacher, she stood up in front of a large congregation and sang her heart out, she taught my sister and me right from wrong; but treated us with kid gloves when we didn’t get it quite right.

My mother is able-bodied. Now a widower, Mom has bought her own condo, moved herself in and continues to chip away at the unpacking. She recognizes that she’s got a long life to live and a lot to contribute. Instead of throwing in the towel and pursuing her own interests, she serves her family, her community, and her church.

My mother just wants to help. If something needs done, Mom will be there. It doesn’t matter what she has going on or how she feels, service comes first. She gets value and purpose out of helping. Although I ask her not to, she still wants to give money to people on the street. She helps my sister with her school-aged children. She helps me with my not-so-school-aged children. She’s happiest when she’s helping, so give her something to do.

My mother gets buyer’s remorse before she buys something for herself – and then puts it back. My dad was the one who pointed this out. She will go shopping and buy for others happily. On occasion, she’ll find something she likes. It might go into the shopping cart. While she wheels around the store, her wheels are turning. Before she goes to the checkout, she puts it back. Its a sight to see. Dad used to – on occasion – go back and get the item and make the purchase himself. Now that I’m somewhere like her in my own ability to shop. I don’t think its actually buyer’s remorse. I think Mom is happy and she recognizes that stuff is just stuff. She recognizes that getting new stuff is a short run satisfaction at best and that in the long run, what really matters cannot be found on a shelf at a department store.

My mother is a saint. During my dad’s darkest times, he was tough to live with. In my own words, his behavior bordered on self-torture from the inside out. That came with health ramifications. Even when my dad wasn’t in and out of the hospital, there was a lot to clean up after. My mom handled it. I honestly don’t know how she did it. I went through a period of darkness in my first marriage and I wasn’t able to see it through. But Mom is tougher than me and that’s why she’s a saint.

My mother isn’t perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I know Mom isn’t perfect. She had and has her foibles just like all the rest of us. But if anything, that’s another reason to put her on the pedestal on this Mother’s Day. She accepts herself for who she is, she contributes with everything that she can, and for that and everything else that I’ve listed, my mother is my hero.

I love you Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.