“We must not forget that Timothy McVeigh, who committed the worst act of domestic terror in U.S. history, said that he learned to kill in the first Gulf war. It was there that he said he turned into an “animal.” He comes back from war, mentally deranged, and continues to kill. And then the government that trained him to kill, kills him, to show the rest of us that it is wrong to kill. There is something deeply troubling about our logic of redemptive violence.”—Shane Claiborne in "The Myth of Redemptive Violence"
“When a war breaks out, people say: “It’s too stupid; it can’t last long.” But though the war may well be “too stupid,” that doesn’t prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.”—Albert Camus
A year ago today, my dad passed away after a long battle with cancer. I had the honor of delivering a eulogy at his funeral. It was an honor and bummer at the same time.
Rather than lauding my dad with blanket statements of praise or lamenting his death, I told stories about him and how he taught me five very important things. Five things I try to apply to my life daily, at work and home.
Prior to his passing, I had spent nearly 9 months reading Samuel Beckett’s smaller works, one of which was Krapp’s Last Tape (which you should read because it’s short and fabulous). In Krapp’s Last Tape, Krapp, a now 69 year-old male, sits on a dark stage listening to recording from birthday’s past. Each year he’s recorded a tape discussing regrets and events that took place in that year. In this particular year, he basically feels nothing more than remorse for love lost and a life lived in lieu of pessimism. I remember feeling relief that my dad had not lived quite like Krapp had.
Here are the five lessons:
1. If you commit to something, commit 100%.
He taught me this lesson on the golf course around the age of 8. After telling him I didn’t want to play a daunting hole, he took off down the fairway in the golf cart. Like most 8 year olds, I changed my mind, said “Dad, I want to play,” so he turned the golf cart sharply to the left. Simultaneously, I flew sharply to the right, out of the golf cart, doing barrel rolls down the fairway. He circled around to check on me, dusted me off, hiding a grin on his face.
Ask if I was okay and then asked what I learned. Having nothing but the thought of falling out of a golf cart in my mind, I said that I didn’t know. His response, “Make up your mind. If you commit to doing, or not doing something, commit 100% and live with it.”
I never skipped that hole at Sunset Golf Course another round of my life.
2. If you can’t laugh, life will be tough.
It’s simple. You have to find a way to laugh in the face of adversity. For those who knew my dad, they knew he laughed a lot. I remember he used to laugh until he was red in the face, literally, and caused a bit of concern between myself and my mother because we thought he was choking. He wasn’t. He was just happy.
Each year around Christmas, even up to the point where his sickness got pretty profound, my dad watch Christmas Vacation and Home Alone. Each year, it was as if my dad had never seen these movies. He laughed like it was a new experience.
On my wedding day, as I turned to him asking for the ring to place on Sallie’s finger, he started patting his pockets. Scared look on his face, he turned to the guy behind him to see if he had the ring. No dice. At this point, I was getting kind of panicked, until I saw Robin crack a HUGE smile on his face pull out the ring and begin chuckling.
If you can’t win each battle, you might as well enjoy the world around you.
3. There’s no relationship too small to invest in.
My dad had this hard outer shell. He grunted when he didn’t want to do stuff. He sighed when he thought things were silly. But, deep down, there was this incredible servitude natively in his personality.
During my 2nd year in college, I learned that my suite mate, Walter, a barely-english speaking exchange student from Peru, was not going to return to Peru for the Christmas holidays. I told my parents and we discussed what to do, but it wasn’t long before my mom and dad thought we should invite Walter to Christmas festivities. They both went to the store, bought Walter some gifts and had him over.
Four years passed and Walter made it to three Christmas celebrations, about 30 family birthdays, numerous Thanksgivings. My dad taught him how to change a car tire, replace broken headlights. Walter helped me and my dad lay sod in the front yard.
My dad invested in Walter because he thought Walter deserved a good life in Oklahoma. Walter invested in my dad because even though he had a hard outer shell, Walter could see that Robin loved him.
4. Never give up. Persevere even when it’s painful.
I’m a cynical, pessimistic, existential person for the most part. Often times blaming the world’s indifference to me to answer “why.” My dad on the other hand NEVER ONCE uttered the words “Why me?” during his bout with cancer. It wouldn’t have done any good, so he’d say. In his mind, it was much better to see the adversity at hand, persevere and battle regardless of win/lose.
He was this way about most things, really.
I remember one year he coached the baseball team I was on. We were the 2nd to last place team in the league. We had gotten trounced all year long- left and right bruised and battered (for reference, I had to hit 4th in the lineup and I’m far from a power hitter). Those types of seasons end up to be very long and tiring.
In one particular game during the playoffs, there was a rule dispute at home plate between the umpire, myself and my dad. You know where this is going.
My dad ended up ejected from the game, we ended up losing, etc. But the lesson I saw was that my dad wanted us to persevere and fight for what was right regardless of the win or loss we received at the end of the 7-innings allotted. The wholehearted pursuit for victory was as important, if not more important, than anything else in his eyes.
Simply put, don’t ask “why me” and don’t throw in the towel because things are tough.
5. Always love, serve and sacrifice for family first.
I don’t need to elaborate much here. It’s exactly what it sounds like and it’s simply a choice one must make each day.
I remember when I was a young kid, my dad took off a day from work to hang out with me. I had trouble sleeping the night before, tossing and turning and awaiting an amazing day. I remember him walking into my room, a few tears in his eyes and telling me that he had to go to work because someone called in sick.
It was one of the first times I’d felt let down, but that’s not the resounding lesson I took away from it.
The lesson I took away is that it pained Robin to not be able to take care of his family. He really just wanted to love us.
This was apparent during his bout with cancer as he still did his best to take out the trash, fix things around the house and come to our family activities, although he clearly didn’t feel up for it.
I think this lesson has resonated with me the most over this past year. I feel like this with Sallie. It really hurts when I’m not able to provide, take care of and nurture our relationship like I should. That’s a good thing because you can make time, but you can create desire.