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Monday, April 28, 2014

My Dad, Remembering a Life Lived Well

Remembering Leon, My Dad

I apologize for being away from the blog for the last several weeks….but not really.  My aging father, for whom I have been primary caregiver, entered the hospital and then left life here to be with Jesus in glory.  So I have been very busy with all the things that surround such events, and the blog has had to wait.  Though it doesn’t have anything to do with divorce, I wanted to share some things with you today. 

When my uncle passed away, my cousin wrote an incredible tribute to his father, listing a few pithy life lessons he had learned from him.  It touched me deeply.  Though it may not be as profound, I thought I’d share a few similar thoughts about my father I wrote the day he died.  They are life lessons he exemplified, taught and valued.  I was privileged to share these last few years with him as caregiver for my mother and him, until he passed away earlier this month, at the young age of 94.  Maybe some of his lessons will have meaning for you, as well.  (They are in no particular order.)

1)       Dad believed life was sometimes hard, not perfect or fair, and that the task of life was to face its challenges head on, making the wisest choice you can, and then doing the best one can do at each given task.

2)    Dad believed you followed through on your commitments.  And he firmly believed that God and family are the most important commitments.  He was married for 67 years, and he was at worship and Sunday School every single Sunday unless there was a MAJOR reason he HAD to be gone.  (He even attended the Sunday before he entered the hospital the last time.)  Health issues made it hard to get to do all he wanted and see everyone he’d like, but he loved all his extended family dearly, even those he didn’t get to see very often.

3)     Dad believed in being fair, honest and hard working.  He wouldn’t charge the outrageous prices his competition would charge, because he knew money was precious for regular folks who worked day in and day out at jobs.  He kept busy working on things his entire life, even planting this year’s garden a week before he died, as well as sending hand written birthday and get well cards to people he knew, and some he didn’t, even while doing physical rehab after hospital stays.

4)     In his business practice, he was customer oriented with old fashioned values.  Many a time we shot family pictures for people on Christmas day, or interrupted our Christmas Eve celebration to go open the story long enough to get somebody the film they needed and had forgotten to buy.  And you NEVER, NEVER, NEVER kept a customer waiting in front of you while you talked to another on the phone, nor dared to close the store in their face at 5:02, just because they were a couple of minutes after closing time!

5)     He believed waste is wrong.  Growing up in the Depression, he hated to throw any food away, always finding a way to use leftovers for turkey soup or whatever.  He cleaned his chicken bones until they looked polished, and would find a way to repair anything at least 10 times before he would waste money to buy a new one.

6)    He reminded me just the other day of the importance of generosity and of helping other people, a lesson he had learned from his father, who told him, “Don’t ever turn a man away hungry.”  He tried to be generous, and cared about people whose lives were hard.

7)    He believed you do your best to make things right with others when a relationship is broken, but that you can only do your own part…other people make choices that are sometimes foolish, and you can’t live life FOR them.

8)    He believed in humility, and was never very impressed with people who were impressed with themselves.  He tried to make a difference in his community, even attending a Board meeting for the local museum a couple of weeks ago.

9)    He loved beautiful things (which was regularly demonstrated in his profession as a photographer), and ALWAYS appreciated when somebody did anything nice for him.  He liked the flowers in his yard that came from bulbs my sister gave him, and he loved seeing the beauty in nature every day.

10)  He believed life is meant to be lived, and that we are each here for a purpose designed for us by God, and the greatest thing we can do in life is try our best to follow the purposes God designs.  Therefore, he made a regular practice of reading and studying his Bible.  Many a time I walked into his rehab unit to find him reading from the scriptures, and in the last few weeks, he would pull out notes he had taken about questions he wanted to discuss with me. 

This does not even begin to describe my father, but they are things that have been important to me.  A survivor of the Great Depression and years of combat in World War II, I think the greatest achievements of his life had to include the lifetime commitment of his marriage, sharing special memories and thoughts of the wife he missed, since she died just over a year ago.  And I would have to include the great courage he showed in facing the challenges that come with age, and the diligence with which he approached every exercise assigned for his recovery. 

I only hope that when my time to go arrives, there will be those who have even half the esteem and high opinion of me that people who knew him had for my dad.  I don’t know if they can hear us in heaven, or would even have access to blogs written on the internet, but if somehow you can, then dad, thanks once again for being such an incredible father.  I miss you every day.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Divorce isn't Always What It's Cracked Up To Be!

The STUPIDEST Reason to Divorce

(AKA:  “Wives are always curvier on the other side of the bikini”   OR  “Everybody else’s husband is more romantic and thoughtful”)

Maybe you know somebody who thinks along the lines, and is, therefore, contemplating divorce.  All too often people who choose divorce do so because they think something else would be better or easier than the life they currently have, maybe based on somebody else that seems attractive to them, or based on the fact that they know people who have gone through divorce and “come out okay.”
The core of this is the same principle as the silly old adage, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  The truth is, grass gets greener when you water and nourish the grass in your own yard.  If you decide to move fields instead, you are going to have to start from scratch preparing soil and planting a new crop of grass!!!  The illusion that a different relationship would be so much easier is often based on the fact that each of us only sees the externals of another couple’s relationship or divorce experience.  Also, when one has a casual friendship with another person, that relationship artificially seems easier than one’s marriage only because it is not a relationship in which one has tried to form a home, raise children or any of the other life tasks tied in with a marriage relationship.  Of course it will appear easier!

In the spirit of a great show I enjoy, “Mythbusters,” I’d like to address some of these issues and dispel a few of the myths, perhaps in a short series of blogs.  And the first myth I’d like to tackle is the illusion that, “somebody else went through divorce and did okay, therefore I ought to do it, too.”  

Do you REALLY believe those people went through divorce unscathed?  

I don’t dispute that people do recover from divorce in such a way that they can move on in life, and do so very well.  But most pay a very high price to get there, and few would say they would ever want to do it again. 

Perhaps it might help to share some of the inside world of divorce, the world that every divorced person automatically knows deep down, but rarely is able to share effectively with those who have not gone through the experience.  Following are a few categories that are some of the personal costs of almost any divorce.

Loss:  That is the dominant word for the experience of divorce.  

The loss of years of work and effort to build a home and marriage.  The loss of plans and dreams for a future that have developed over time.  The loss of significant financial resources and security, as it all is thrown into upheaval and jeapordy through expenses, division and court orders.   And for many, the loss extends to areas like loss of joy, innocence, self-confidence, the ability to trust (especially members of the opposite sex)…maybe even loss of faith.  Unless the person is one of the few who incredibly manage to maintain a very good friendship with your ex, also lost is access to shared memories, no longer able to reminisce together about such things as the birth of your child, their first steps, the first home you purchased, or all the others things that only the two of you experienced.

Jaded:  That is the next word that ties with divorce.  

There is an ache in the soul that divorce creates.  Many individuals have memories that haunt for many, many years.  Skepticism can be a result, with a cynical attitude toward marriage and weddings, as well as members of the opposite sex in general.  There is often self-doubt, in the form of questions:  Could I have done more?  Did I leave too early? Was it all my fault?  Could I have prevented it, what if I had done such and so?  Is there just something wrong with me that makes me unlovable?  Will I ever be able to have a healthy relationship?    ….and each question has to be answered. 

There are also many life opportunities that are robbed with divorce.  While staying temporarily at the home of friends (after my wife filed for divorce and our marriage ended after 19 years of marriage), I noticed a nice tropical tree in their home.  Commenting on it, they told me it had been a gift they received for their 25th anniversary.  

It instantly struck me that I would probably never have a 25th wedding anniversary, and there was an ache in my heart I remember even today, some 16 years later.  

(I was wrong, by the way, now ten years into my second marriage…there IS hope for 25.)  

Though each time I see an announcement of a couple celebrating their 50th, I do realize that is fairly unlikely for my experience. 

A similar ambivalence arises when you are around happy couples whose lives and homes seem so joyful, and you wonder how yours went so wrong.  All of these things create a sense of failure or remind you that your first marriage failed.  Difficult feelings that also have to be worked through.

And there is often a sense of emptiness, a sort of uncertainty in life direction, as if you have been thrown totally off life’s track, and are unsure if you will ever be able to get back on again. 

In the next blog I will describe some things about how having been divorced impacts a second marriage.  I don’t know how well somebody who hasn’t experienced divorce will really understand the things I am describing.  But even when divorce removes someone from an abusive and awful relationship, I believe it is never without some very painful costs…at least not in any situation I have even known.  One of the wisest comments I ever heard came from a good friend who had long been divorced and remarried.  She said to me (as near as I can quote), “I don’t think you ever really get over it.  You do move on, but I’m not sure “getting over it” is an accurate description.”

TL:dr  Divorcing to get out of a bad marriage in order to be happy, thinking it would not be a big deal, is a dangerous myth, as illustrated in the blog.