Today was my Dad’s 99th birthday. Amazing! He actually is an amazing man but it wasn’t always something I recognized or allowed myself to experience as his daughter. His inner qualities of perseverance and independence combined with personal habits of exercise and a healthy diet are the primary reason he is still going strong at this point in his life.
When I recently took a course in Positive Psychology, one of our assignments was to write a letter to someone in our life that we were grateful for, who was responsible in some way for being a significant person in our life and I chose my father. This assignment fell into the category of having positive relationships in your life to sustain feelings of happiness.
The second part of the assignment was to read the letter to that person, ideally face to face. Ugh…that definitely made the assignment take on another whole level of intimacy and courage. . But then I thought, how lucky am I that I get to share with my father what I admired about him? I mean, really, how many people are given that opportunity. So onward I went with the assignment.
What I admire about my father is his love of learning and continuing to stay sharp through self-study ie: having textbooks of all categories on his kitchen table that he studied from every day. He reads all sorts of books, poetry, science and medical journals just for pleasure and out of curiosity.
He taught me a love for the earth, especially gardening. In my childhood he cultivated acres of strawberries and grew all sorts of vegetables. While working a full time job in a paper plant as an engineer, he worked his gardens in his “free” time. Whenever spring comes around and I get that urge to get my hands in the dirt, I always feel very connected to his farm spirit
When my Dad was home there was music on all the time. He had vast collections of albums spanning a broad mix of classical composers and music from the big bands and swing era. He would often sit back in a chair, close his eyes and tap his foot to the beat or swing a finger in the air. When he was feeling especially joyful, he would grab my mother around the waist and try to get her to trip the light fantastic around the kitchen. She would giggle and tell him he had two left feet. But the attempt would put them both in a more light-hearted mood. Although I am not a musician, I do love all sorts of music and especially love to dance when I get the chance. Becoming a musician is still on my to do list.
My older brother Bob and I talk about how good we really had it to grow up with the family we had. We didn’t always think so. My Dad could be gruff and impatient, but in the grand scheme of life, I am very grateful for the home, the love and the family life that was the foundation for who I am today.
My father still lives in the home I grew up in. For the most part he takes care of himself without much assistance for someone his age. We are closer now than we have ever been. I consider it a great privilege to be able to spend time with him, talk about his life when he was young, growing up in Lowell with my grandmother Margaretta who was widowed when she had 3 young boys. We talk about the war, current politics and everything else he seems to know so much about. He never ceases to amaze me and inspires me to prioritize taking good care of my brain and body.
It was difficult to read my letter to him. I got very choked up and so did he, but I am so glad that I had the chance. We often assume that important people in our lives know our true feelings, but they may not and it certainly strengthens your courage muscle to do it face to face.
Having positive relationships takes more than just courage. It also takes commitment and being responsible for the quality and integrity of a reciprocal experience. So whether it’s a parent, a friend, one of your children or a colleague, there is an inherent benefit to putting in the effort and reaping the reward of developing positive relationships in life.
From Pursuit of Happiness.org
The top line: “People who have one or more close friendships appear to be happier. It doesn’t seem to matter if we have a large network of close relationships or not. What seems to make a difference is if, and how often, we cooperate in activities and share our personal feelings as well as provide support to a friend or relative. Simply put, it’s not the quantity of our relationships, but the quality that matters.”