Of the many gifts I received from my father, this little snippet, “this too shall pass,” has helped me through what I thought were the worst times of my life. There were instances when my dad would say this line and I’d think, geez dad, how callous of you. Can’t you empathize for me in an unhealthy way just once and wallow with me in whatever ridiculous negativity I have dug for myself? Can’t you for once say to me, honey I can’t believe the universe has dealt you such a low blow. You deserve so much better than this and it’s only a matter of time before the entire world understands what riches you deserve.
Nope, my dad was not one for blowin’ smoke. Don’t get me wrong, he was a great dad. He’d help in whatever way he could. He’d give you a place to stay if you needed it, he’d pay your rent if you ran out of money. For cryin’ out loud, he paid college tuition for five kids to go to college, a feat no one on our middle class income could do any more.
But did he tell you you were the most beautiful person in the world and that everything would be perfect for you because you deserve at least that? No way.
See, my dad was a post-WWII, G.I. Bill educated electrical engineer. For those of you out there who were raised by engineers, you understand the significance of this statement. Some of these men are WWII vets, but my dad was a little younger than that. He served in the Navy on the tail end of the Korean War.
But many of the same rules apply. Somewhere between a rough childhood rearing by a strict dad, service in the armed forces, and the school of engineering at Purdue, my dad learned what he knew about being a man and a father. That included learning to do what the post 70s era of self-help refers to as compartmentalizing. To some, he may have done this to a fault, showing little emotion to his kids unless he was getting angry. By today’s standards this seems harsh, particularly in this era of helicopter parents who shepherd their kids as though they are lost sheep up until the moment they cut the umbilical cord as they drop them off at their first year of college (I know, I know, way too many metaphors in that one sentence). Conversely, my dad was the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” generation, confident that if we all keep our noses to the grindstone and work hard, we can do anything. The “sink or swim” type of life coaches. “Get in there kid, you can do it. Quit yer whinin’,” were their mantras.
You may have had one of these fathers. Some of my friends and I who were raised by engineers of that generation joke around that we need a support group we have lovingly dubbed ACOE (Adult Children of Engineers). But all joking aside, even with all his faults—and they all have them—I received many, many gifts from my father. My fearlessness, my ability to compartmentalize (although I gotta thank mom for some of that too), my math skills, my love of female jazz vocalists, my wandering eye (oops, I said I wasn’t gonna kiss and tell in this blog), my understanding that life is not fair, and the mantra “this too shall pass.”
For a man who was basically a devout atheist, who did not subscribe to any religion and did not once even mention the word God in my presence, his continual reference to the idea that “this too shall pass” showed him, in my opinion, to be a man of great faith. And this gift is the one I am most thankful for. This gift has taught me that regardless of how bad things seem today, things will get better. That even though I am incredibly depressed and cannot see my way out of this mess, that something will change and it will not turn out as badly as I think.
Faith in yourself as a person, as a father, as an engineer, as an entrepreneur, as a golfer, faith in the physical world that has some rules and logic guaranteed to continue to be true tomorrow the same way they are true today, faith that the sun will again come up, regardless of how shitty today was, faith that the friends you have today will still be your friends tomorrow, faith that your family loves you. These things are the essence of a life of faith to me, regardless of whether we ever put a label on it, divine or otherwise.
I am thinking of my niece today. She has just lost her father. She is 10 years old. Our family are gathered around her to hold her up emotionally and physically in the same way we did for one another just 9 years ago when my father passed. We shed a lot of tears in the days after my dad died. And we did what we could to honor his memory and give him a good sending off. We told stories about times we shared, looked at lots of pictures, wrote down our memories, held each other, laughed and cried. We will join my niece to honor her dad in the same way.
And we will continue to help her hold her father dearly in her heart and be mindful of all the gifts she received from him. And they are many.
As time goes by, the sadness will begin to fade. And even though she will become suddenly overwhelmed with grief when she least expects it, this too shall pass. And the love and understanding of the gifts she has received will take the place of the sadness, giving way to gratitude, and, hopefully, a life of great faith.
I love you Dad.
I love you Syd.