I will be 48 this year.
That is about the same age my dad was when he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrigs Disease in 1996.
My dad was given two years to live and died almost 2 years later on February 15th, 1998.
This realization that I am approaching an age my dad was when he got the news he had a limited amount of time left on this earth (and much of that time would be challenging) - is playing wicked tricks on my mind and is causing me to reflect more on my life than I did in 2014 when I faced a health crisis.
2014 launched me into the world of doctors, medicines, and surgery. It also made me take stock of what I'd done (and not done!) in life. I was convinced I wasn't going to live to see the year 2015. I started to take a long honest look at my life. How did I get to the place I was? It wasn't a bad place, but it could be much better. At my age, I should have accomplished so much more. What I had accomplished was a-lot of hangovers. A-lot of heart-ache. What I had accumulated were a-lot of recipe books. I also had many diaries so I could journal all of the fun things I did in life. Because growing up, the messages surrounding me were all about "living for the moment" "you only live once" "Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere!"
In 2014, I started tracing my life events, things I had believed, and what led me to believe them. I have learned so much since then, ideas and information I want to share, but have been struggling with the approach.
And then, a few weeks ago, I found a folder filled with my dad's emails to me. After he was diagnosed with ALS, we started to communicate via the internet. We lived many miles apart, but through those emails, I got to know him better than I ever had the whole time I was growing up. That was the only silver lining to the disease that killed my father (but it never defeated his spirit that still lives on).
Four days prior to his death, I had written to ask him what beliefs he would go out on a limb for.
He answered me the following day, writing; "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." He went on to describe his time in the military. How it helped shaped him. How he never realized how important the USA was until he was stationed outside of the States.
Though I’ve always been searching for the “holy grail that explains the keys to happiness” - after a my health scare in 2014, after re-evaluating my life; my personal experiences, my scattered successes and horrible, epic fails, and I realized the answers had been there all along; I had to look no further than my dad. He had provided all the examples I needed – but I was too busy watching movies, reading books, and listening to “experts” because what could my dad…my blue jean wearing, football loving, car racing enthusiast, Three Stooges and John Wayne fan, plain old dad, teach me about the secrets to a good, happy, significant, life? Turns out: everything!
When I was growing up, my father tried his best to be an example of honesty, humor, hard work, harmony, and humility, (all of which lead to happiness) - but I refused to believe that happiness could be that simple (and frankly, it seemed damn boring!). I was busy being distracted, drifting, and under the influence of a society that pushes pleasure, ease, and escape; their ultimate goal is to decay you to save you. And boy, did they have a willing student who eagerly couldn't wait to show how smart, cool, forward thinking, I was!
I know my father worried very much about how I would turn out. He was correct to worry. And I worry about my children. I had a great role model in my father. My children, however, had me, a mother who was trying to be cool, hip, and progressive. I don't know that I'll ever be able to undo the toxic influence that I passed on to them, but I sure can try.
I guess the most honest way to do that, is to start with what I've done, what I was thinking when I did it, and hopefully, my experiences will bring awareness to how our happiness is hijacked, how our confidence is worn down, and how our character and courage have been slowly eroding and what we can do to get back to good.
We all know that life is short. And I've done a-lot of good in my life, don't get me wrong. But what I've come to understand is that the things my dad valued: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, is not just something you think about; it's something that you must protect, you must understand, you must be constantly vigilant. Everything I did in life that was promoted to me as "freeing" and promised to bring me happiness by popular culture/society messages, only hurt my spirit, my heart, and only served to confuse me.
My father had the answer to what was right and true. But I wouldn't realize that until he was long gone. I wouldn't realize that until experience taught me. And I wouldn't realize that until I discovered some hidden jems of books that were not (and had not) ever been on any best-seller list, but supported the values and ideas my father exemplified.
By age 50, my father was gone. Lately I've been thinking I need to do more. Time really is of the essence. I have to stop worrying about perfecting each idea, and creating something funny or entertaining.
I want to payback, pay it forward, and honor my father and the men and women who sacrificed and continue to sacrifice their lives so that others may live in freedom. My generation, however, was sold freedom as "free from responsibility, free from guilt, free from consequences."
That is not the kind of freedom that our Founding Fathers, nor the military had in mind when they created and fought for America.
But it's sort of hard to realize that when, everywhere you turn, there is a company, or marketer, or movie, or book, or magazine, or politician, telling you that freedom is about sex, love, drinking, doing drugs, craft beer, craft marijuana, music, sports, and basically, that if you're not out to have a good time, something is fundamentally wrong with you!
I have come to understand that you can still have a good time, and still have common sense, character, and the courage to make a difference. You can refuse to believe the message that you are broken and need to be fixed. Refuse to be distracted by immediate desire and self gratification. Because the weaker you are, the easier it is to influence and persuade you.
All these toxic things I've done, I might not have done, had my dad sat me down and explained to me why virtue is not a dirty word, and how to be on guard and recognize the things that will lead to unhappiness and sow the seeds of disenchantment. But he didn't do that. And after reading an assortment of magazines from the 30's, 40's and 50's - I realize it's because he had no idea how subtly our happiness/freedom was being sabotaged. My father trusted the books I read, and the schools I went to, and the tv I watched, were harmless. And by the time my father realized I was lost in a world where goodness is viewed as corruption, and corruption is viewed as a path to happiness, he could do little to reel me back in. I am as stubborn as he was. But he continued to set an example. And his courage and character, his sense of humor, his determination, and his common sense, have always impressed me and given me something to aspire to.
And now that I understand not only the mistakes I made, but how I was influenced to believe that vice is nice, I hope to help others to be aware and alert. If we truly want happiness for ourselves and for each other, we need to continue to expose the people and ideas that devalue, exploit, and deceive.
If we don't understand the true nature of things and principles like character and justice and goodness, we can't be expected to live by those principles. When people ignore principles, ignorance becomes a glove in which corruption slips its hand.
I think my dad would be relieved to know that I finally wised up and realized I ignored the principles, I paid the price, and now I'm taking off the gloves.