Dad was a storyteller. His greatest gift was making people feel comfortable being themselves. He had a story for every situation, every occasion and seemed to be powered by empowering others. He may not have represented this exactly for his immediate family, but he largely impacted a circumference around himself that he surely thought of as his family. After all, our families are who we choose them to be.
I’ve always told stories about dad. Some are true stories, while some are stories embellished by time, memory and distance. Most of these stories certainly embellished his availability to me and my family. Truth is, I always preferred to tell stories that made it sound as if we were a closely knit family, one where his presence was regular. I’m sure he wished it were true, too.
While growing up in the 80’s, dad was a busy retail executive. This meant having dinner without him 98% of the time as, even though we moved around what seemed like constantly, in addition to that he was always traveling to be onsite at this location or that, as the behemoth companies he worked for grew like mad over the course of that decade. We rarely saw him. So, we ate at the dining room table when dad was home but, the rest of the time, it wasn’t unusual for mom to let us eat wherever we wanted.
Before this starts to sound bitter or sad, it is important to be clear. It’s not. Or it may have been at one time but that was long ago. While this setup may not have been ideal from a third-party’s perspective of “perfect family” idealogy, it afforded us, at least me, something rarely admired or valued. While I certainly missed having a dad growing up, what he afforded me in his absence became abundantly clear right about the ripe, old age of 29. (*Note to self – this may be the age our own kids begin to gain some perspective, too, so meanwhile don’t take any of it personally).
As I said, we relocated frequently, which made adaptation the bedrock of my culture as I grew up, constantly learning and re-learning my way around, tooling and re-tooling my identity to adapt to how people in the new town walked, talked and dressed.
Over those years, I constantly reimagined my own identity in contrast to new towns, new houses, countless neighbors, classmates at schools, patrons at churches, all acquaintances who I knew were destined to one day disappear into memory’s rear view mirror. This knowledge helped me take people, especially the good ones, less for granted. I think we all knew we’d soon enough be alone again and starting over. No matter how many times we did it, it never got easier. Each time was as challenging as the first time.
I claimed the best pieces of most everyone I met and kept them close: cool quirks, clever phrases, good music, nuanced views and ideas on things and, as I rode on down the road in cars, flew to the next towns on airplanes and walked down those new streets, I slowly and earnestly made those details my own, in preparation for whatever was coming next.
That may be the very best we can do.
Embrace change. Take our time. Do our best. Enjoy the ride. Gather tools. Leave a helpful trace behind for those who follow.
Granted, learning to adapt is more difficult for some than others. I am grateful that it was built into my way of life for me. Life does not stay the same for long for anyone.
Dad never said it but it was implied: Change is the only thing that ever stays the same. Make friends with it.
He used to say, “Chad, always leave the place better than you found it.”
Also implied with this statement was the notion that we’d both arrive at and leave a lot of places, which meant leaving our share of improvements behind. This gave dad a sense of accomplishment, in helping others in ways only a new set of eyes and ears could offer.
If anything is true about the man who is no longer with us, if you ask the people who spent his last days with him, he embodied this to the very end.
Farewell, dad. Thanks for the tips. Safe journey.