Dad says he’s glad I haven’t mentioned his name in my column because he wants to avoid “guilt by association,” but the example he has set for us is worth sharing. As my best friend put it, “People deserve to hear about amazing people and know there is a different way to face life.”
I can’t think of a better way to describe him. Dad is truly an amazing man who has found a different way to face life. He has met life’s challenges head on and with a sense of humor. Mom often tells me, “I don’t know how he does it, but he doesn’t let anything keep him down, and he just keeps on going.”
I’ve learned a lot from Dad. He has always taught more by example than with words, and one of the first things I learned from him was to never let others set the standard for me to live by. He taught me to choose the path that is most fulfilling rather than the one that pays the most. While others sought material things, Dad always valued a different type of treasure.
Too many times, when we are forced to choose between our families and our careers, we will make the practical choice of our careers. Often we tell ourselves this is a temporary decision, but when we constantly choose our careers first, our priorities are set.
Dad has worn a multitude of labels – bus driver, math teacher, carpenter, electrician, television repairman and turquoise dealer – but the ones he took most seriously were “father” and “husband.”
I suppose I could complain about being poor when I was growing up – and to be honest, I often have – but I never doubted that Dad loved us more than any job that he ever held. While others sought material things, he gave us a treasure that is much more valuable – his time. And while we may not have had the nicest clothes or the newest toys, we never went hungry and we had the things that really mattered. We learned to value the thought behind gifts more than the price tags. Even more importantly, I have memories of Dad always being around when I needed him, and I never doubted his love.
Dad taught me to believe in myself. When I first announced that I wanted to be a writer, most people cautioned me that I would probably never be able to make a living writing. Dad brought an application to Rod Serling’s Famous Writers School and helped me fill it out. I knew that he believed in me and would stand beside me no matter what course I chose for my life – and he always has. He has often told me, “All of the money in the world will never substitute for feeling good about yourself.”
I also appreciate the lessons I’ve learned from watching how Dad treats Mom. “Your Mom could have had any man she wanted, and sometimes I wonder why she picked me,” he once said. “It always makes me want to be a better man so that I can deserve her.”
I’m not saying they were always the perfect couple, but if they ever fought, it wasn’t in front of us. I do remember Mom telling him once, “Why don’t you ever tease me, Leon? You tease everyone else.”
“Because you’re my wife, and I always want to treat you with respect,” Dad answered.
Mom insisted that she already knew he respected her and said she wanted to know that he liked her, too. I don’t think Dad’s quit teasing her since, and it always makes her smile.
Last January, we were convinced that we were going to lose them both, and were trying to prepare ourselves. Dad had been sick for several months and was steadily getting worse. He was in Intensive Care in Alamosa. On her way to see him, Mom had fallen and suffered serious injuries. She was in the hospital in La Jara.
We walked into Dad’s room on the day of their 60th anniversary, and he could barely move his head. It took all of the strength he could gather to whisper, “Where’s your mom?” We explained that she had fallen and was in another hospital.
That was all it took. Mom needed him, and Dad wasn’t going to let anything keep him from her. In a matter of days, Dad was on his feet and his health had improved enough for him to be transferred to the same Long-Term Care facility that Mom was in. Now they are both home and doing well.
So, thank you Dad for teaching me about what really matters in life.