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A month before my dad became critically ill in 2010 we had a very interesting conversation about heritage and legacies. It was one of those conversations where I felt like the light bulb finally turned on in my dad’s head. Sadly he felt like it was a little too late for him in many ways but it did turn on when he needed it the most. I think back to this conversation often as I always hope it is not too late for me to listen to others or to provide a living legacy.
Mid-August 2010, my dad, who had been physically disabled since I was in the third grade, was sitting in his room staring out his bedroom window. For once he didn’t have the television on and he was not doing something crafty with his hands. He was just sitting there and staring.
Since becoming physically disabled my dad’s once very active life changed drastically. He did still try to stay active in his own way but it was a shadow of who he formerly was. If he wasn’t busy with some craft project his easy-go-lucky attitude generally turned melancholic. So staring out his bedroom window was a bigger sign to me that he was being more than contemplative.
I remember saying “Hi dad” and his normal reply of “Hi Nic” I then asked him what was wrong.
He told me that he felt like he failed. There were so many things he wanted to do in life that just never happened and so much he wanted to leave for my brother and I but that he had failed in that respect to.
I get my general positive attitude from my father so I tried cheering him up. First reminding him that even though he was currently having a physical setback with his disabilities that didn’t need to define him. That if he put his mind to it he would get over that challenge and we could go road tripping as we had planned to do.
I remember him giving me a quirky smile for a moment before telling me that his “dumpy” attitude that day went deeper. That he felt like he had failed because he no longer had the house we grew up in and therefore he had no legacy to leave behind.
My reply to that was very complicated. While I think we all mourn leaving the house we grew up in, very few of us in this day and age actually get the chance to inherit and LIVE IN that house. Living in my parent’s house as an adult was not one of my childhood fantasies. Even as a child I always had hopes we would move and live somewhere different.
What I had hoped to physically inherit was my mom’s navy blue Volkswagen hatchback. Sadly my mom and dad sold that before I ever reached the age of 16. My next hope was to inherit my dad’s turquoise 1968 Pontiac tempest but that was never to happen either. I wanted to inherit one of their vehicles was because of the many happy memories tied to them. The memories included epic road trips to daily routines not to mention all of the adventures including my mom driving down Thunder Road.
I shared all of this with my father, my actual hopes and dreams and the reality of what happened. That didn’t exactly make him happy because it meant through everything our family went through his dreams were different then mine or my brother’s and he had missed actually listening to those dreams.
I then told my dad that he had already given my brother and me a legacy that no one could ever touch. He had raised us with values and morals. Both my brother and I knew what a work ethic looked like (before his disability took his job away from him). He was an example of how you can have a job you like doing and hobbies you loved.
My dad had a Nikon camera that he used to take photos of all our most memorable moments from christening to t-ball games. He also made cakes for each of our birthdays and most church or school events until his arthritis got to bad. My brother and I know how to change tires, clean spark plugs, how to use a hammer, drill, screwdriver and saw thanks to him. My dad also showed us how to bake cookies and make an awesome meatloaf. My mom and dad tried their best to show us what a balanced marriage looked like when trust was involved.
It was my dad’s love for his hobbies that helped instill a curiosity and eventually a great love for the same hobbies in both myself and my brother. And all of the qualities I mentioned were ones that I hoped I would be able to pass along to my own children some day.
By the time I was finished sharing all of this my dad and I were both crying. He loved that I loved being a photo hobbyist. How he had shared his passion for making cakes. That I was a better cook than he or my mom were or that I could build things, and that I still had other hobbies that I am passionate about.
My father never realized that the legacy he had passed down to us was bigger than a house and meant much more then any material item he could give us. It is true that there are some items I am sure my brother and I will argue over that belonged to my dad but it is all the memories and things that he taught us that we wanted. We wanted nothing more then his time and the ability to pass on the love of cooking, taking photos, and the ability to laugh with own children and grandchildren.
When my dad and I were done crying that afternoon he hugged me and thanked me for opening his eyes and letting him see the size of the legacy he was leaving for us. Little did I know that a month later he would be in critical condition in the hospital or that nine months later when we thought he might finally come home to us he instead would be making a very different journey home.
I am very glad I had that talk with my dad. In some ways I wish that I had had that conversation years earlier but we had that conversation when he needed it the most. When I needed it too.
Each time when I think about the physical things we have (that are antiques) and how my biological line ends with me, I stop myself and think back to that conversation. Any child who comes into my house will ALWAYS be my child irregardless of blood and I don’t want to just pass on materialistic items (although they will still get those), no I want to pass on so much more. I want them to look back on their childhood and remember I took photos, baked cakes, cooked dinner, made awesome costumes, and was there for them! I also want them to learn how to develop passions and hobbies through my passions and hobbies. That is what I want to pass on, that is my family’s living legacy.