Life Lessons (From 2 Old Guys)

My Dad passed away in May of 2018, one week from his 88th birthday. I was truly blessed with this man for a dad. He wasn’t perfect – which makes him even better.  

Then, a cottage neighbour’s Dad – a super awesome and lively fellow – also passed away. I don’t recall his exact age but he was well in his 80’s too. Whenever we’d talk to him over the fence between our driveways, well, it was like talking to my dad in a way.

Both of these men, despite their most recent illness, appeared to live full, healthy, active lives. So, it makes a girl wonder – how can it be that these two men could pass with such a sense of peace and … well … I guess completion is my only/best word for it. Then, this past weekend, in the middle of Jim’s memorial, it came to me. These two men lived with very similar guiding tenants:

Love & Care for the Earth

Both of these men were farmers at heart. When my Dad wasn’t farming, he was teaching his students Geography, taking field trips to places of geographic/ecological importance nearby, taking us kids on camping adventures north and west, and in later years as a farmer again in retirement, he was an advocate for ecological farming. I’ve learned that Jim would spend hours nearly every day picking up garbage in the park or on the small beach at Myles Bay.

Both men instilled this love for nature in their families and well beyond I’m sure.

Do an Honest Day’s Work

Yes, they both worked hard too but this whole working honestly thing seems to be the ringer to me.

When I was growing up, Dad would spend hours at home each night either marking tests or preparing lesson plans for the days ahead. When he retired from teaching he continued to work (probably harder) on our small farm near Hanover, ON. When that got to be too much and my parents moved into town, Dad just changed his work to being of service to others in the community – like cleaning up after bingo at the KofC hall on Sundays. I remember Dad telling me one day that he was going to visit “an old guy” who was currently housebound. I had to chuckle at the idea that my 80+ year old Dad was calling someone else old. It turns out that the man he was going to visit was actually younger than my Dad!  

Jim would get up early each morning to take care of his farm before going to work for the day. Then he’d come home and work some more. After retirement, he created a business. When he was done with that and he and his wife moved north, he worked his land – clearing trails, caring for his home, and generally keeping the neighbourhood tidy.

Neither of these men took the world stage or were successful (by today’s images of that anyway). But I’ll bet you their example and influence has reached further than we can imagine – by putting in an honest day’s work and doing what they could for their families and their communities.

Be Silly … Sometimes

I don’t remember Dad ever really being silly around us, although he did have a sly sense of humour that he could never hide. There are plenty of stories (and a few pictures) that show that he truly could get silly and get up to antics with his friends. From Jim’s memorial – I think he was also like that.

I’m not sure what this does for a person … I’m not the silly type. I don’t even like party games. Clearly though, it provides some sort of brief release from the everyday pressures and responsibilities. I’ll bet it was easier for them to do this with friends than with their kids – I mean how can you ever see your father as an authority figure after you see him in clowning around like that?!

Take Care of Your Body (within reason)

Both of these men were strong, active men right up to their final days. I can’t recall a time in my life when my Dad didn’t do his morning exercises. Maybe when we were on the farm? I guess then his morning exercises were hauling bales of hay for the cows or plowing out the driveway and such. This man wore out a treadmill for heaven’s sake! Even on the days of his chemo treatments, Dad would go downstairs in the morning and do what he could before going to the hospital.

At the same time, I don’t think either of them stayed away from any type of food – they ate well. Good food, grown as naturally as possible and prepared in healthy was the rule of thumb though. At the same time, treats were not only allowed, they were heartily enjoyed whenever available. Ice cream anyone?!

I think this next one is the biggest lesson for me (at least right now)…

Be Open / Trust

My Dad often told the story of how he became a teacher. He had no goal or intention of being a teacher. In fact, he was a pretty aimless young man. Right up to the last days of high school he had no idea what he was going to do or be until one of his friends mentioned he was going to teacher’s college. “Hey! Why don’t you come with me?” That’s how it all started. Dad could tell countless stories of how the right thing showed up for him at just the right time.

At Jim’s memorial his words rang loud and clear to me “things just worked out somehow.”

We get so caught up in planning and controlling our lives. I wonder how many signals I’ve missed up until now. I’ve got to work on this! 

Both of these “old guys” didn’t get caught up in the eternal push to achieve great things. They were satisfied with having good work, raising good kids and taking care of the land they were on and the people around them whenever and however they could. They both seemed to let go of this life satisfied that it had been good … and they were complete.

Would I be so complete?

All of this makes me wonder. Would I be complete? What would it take for me to “call it done” like that?

I need to work on all of these. I suppose the best I can do for now … by way of measuring … is to check myself as I lay my head on my pillow each night and ask if I’d done my very best that day. If my answer is no, then I’ll resolve to do so the next.

P.S. I still have about 1000 lessons from Dad that are still processing through my “I didn’t see it then” brain. These are the tops so far.

P.P.S. Life lessons from Grandpa Armstrong – being kind doesn’t always look like generosity and you can still be kind even if people haven’t always been kind to you. 

P.P.P.S. I miss my Dad.

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