A Man And His Word On Valentine's Day

About six years ago, my father passed away. I still think about him almost every day, but especially this time of the year when his birthday, February 14th, rolls around.

With my sister and brothers, I will sometimes reminisce about the small idiosyncrasies that made him our dad. The bulging pants pockets, filled with keys. The wallet held together with 3 elastic bands (this despite the drawer full of new ones we had given him over the years as gifts). The baseball hat perched atop his head (never on his head), reflective of his time in the military. His distrust of anything resembling a main road (his old trucks weren’t bred for the highways).

He was, like many of his generation, a man of few words. But when he did speak, it was usually to impart some wisdom or practical piece of advice. As I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate many of his great aphorisms, which remain lodged in my mind like an old song. With this Valentine’s Day upon us, I thought I’d share some of his “greatest hits” which may help you in setting your priorities.

Keep The Faith: Instead of saying “goodbye”, this was how my father would finish any conversation. He would literally say, “Keep the faith.” He was a religious man who attended church every day, but I believe in his case, it may have had wider meaning. Nowadays, I take it to mean keep the faith…in you. If you’re striving to build a business, keep on trying. If you think you can help out your neighbor, keep on knocking. If you’re attempting to get back on your feet financially and do the right thing by your family, keep showing up for work. If you dream that you can accomplish your goal, don’t stop moving forward. It is in this spirit of “keeping the faith” that we keep on believing in something, even when we live in the shadow of doubt.

You Gotta Laugh: For most of his adult life, my father worked two jobs to support the family. Both jobs were physical in nature and it was often backbreaking work. He was exposed to the elements in winter and summer. In order to keep it light, he would often tell me that he made certain that he and his workers laughed at least once per day. Imagine if that were a mandatory line within every company’s mission statement: “We take laugh breaks seriously.” It would likely reduce stress in the workplace and increase overall morale. Although the concept was simple, I think my dad was onto something here. Take time out for joy. Laughter not only makes us feel better in the moment, but there are well-documented health benefits as well.

Slow Down: Once I got my driver’s license, my dad would often scold me for pulling out of the driveway too fast. He didn’t believe in rushing anything. If I launched into dinner too fast, he’d have me put my fork down to say a prayer over the meal first. If the flame was too high on the stove, he’d advise turning the knob back to decrease the gas. He believed in taking his time, and tried to encourage this in his children. My father liked to think about a situation before leaping ahead. For the harried times in which we now live, this seems especially prescient. When my clients complain of burnout, I often tell them to try “mono-tasking” for a change. Do less. Breathe. Slow it right down and be present to what you are actually doing in the moment. Chances are, you’ll get more done.

Love One Another: With five children, I think one of my Dad’s greatest concerns was that we stick together over time, that we’d watch out for one another. I know this because whenever he and I spoke, he’d always ask: “When’s the last time you spoke to your brother? When’s the last time you saw your sister?” He wanted to be sure that we would never lose touch. This is a natural instinct for any parent, but time and distance make this a real challenge for some. I feel blessed that I am close with all my siblings, but sometimes I need to remember the importance of reaching out too – even when I don’t feel like it, or I’m too bothered by own concerns. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will. What you share in common is greater than your differences. So stay in touch.

After my father had passed away, I was tasked with cleaning out the contents of his truck. Among the many items that I found there was a stack of cards on which were written the words: “Patience and Humility Does Away With Anger And Fear.” Oddly enough, this was one statement that my father never actually uttered. But I believe he found this phrase helpful and as a result, he carried it with him wherever he went. If he never spoke it, he certainly lived it.

Like all of us, my dad was far from perfect. He had his own failings of which there were many. But he lived by a simple personal code of Faith, Perseverance, Levity, Safety, Patience, Humility and Unity. And by the manner in which he lived out those words, he made a lasting impression on all who knew him. This February 14, maybe we should think more about our own personal code – our internal motivation.

What is your good word? And how will it be remembered?