25 years ago my Dad died.
It was sudden. It was tragic and it would set my family on a journey that I could never imagine.
The older I get, the less I want to share about him.
Every memory, every conversation is so precious to me.
But I feel the best way to honour him is to share some of the lessons he gave me in the short 12 years I had with him.
- Be generous. One day Dad was dropping me off at school and he found a one dollar bill on the ground. He picked it up and said: “give this to your teacher”. Money was always tight growing up. My parents worked hard and we didn’t have spare change just lying around, but he didn’t see our hardship as a reason to be withholding from others. Whether it was cooking for people or opening up our house to those “doing it tough”, my Dad was generous and allowed my Mother to extend a lot of generosity to those around.
- Be faithful. Dad had a clear routine. He worked as a prison guard, would leave at 6pm and come home at 6.30am the next morning. He watched A&E Biography before work. He shined his boots. He ironed his uniform. He came home, would rest a few hours before doing the errands or school pick-ups when needed. He was also studying a college degree while working full-time and taking care of his family. He was dependable.
- Be like Superman. Dad saved time way by wearing pyjamas under his clothes when he needed to do the school drop offs. I kid you not. When we got home, he would get to his room and take off his clothes to reveal his vintage 1980 pjs set. It used to embarrass me as a kid when I could see his pj pants sticking out of his denim jeans, but he made it work. And he really was like Superman (without the phone booth).
- Be informed. He read The Union Recorder every day, watched the news and read books about history and politics. He talked more about the world and current issues than he did about everyday life. He made us watch documentaries, political thrillers and 60 Minutes, where I learned interesting stores about everyone from John F Kennedy to Winston Churchill. He could hold his own in any conversation with a historian on wars or politician on current issues. Dad was fascinated about all of it and his passion for understanding the world definitely impacted my interests in the years to come.
- Enjoy good music. The Beatles. The Beach Boys. Elvis. Bob Dylan. Rolling Stones. You came to our house and it was likely you’d be hearing 60s and 70s music. Even when we’d put our 90s hits on, he would literally come in and say, “You girls clearly need a cultural education!” and put on one of his old school records. One day, he came into my sister’s room and we were listening to the 90s song Runaway Train by Soul Asylum. “What’s this song called?” he asked. We told him. He stood for a moment, taking it in and said, “I like it, I’ll get me a copy”, then walked out of the room. Wendy and I were shocked, but we shouldn’t have been. He wasn’t stuck in old times. He just liked good music with stories behind it.
- Be an action taker. A few years before he died, Dad started a security business. How did we know? He didn’t tell us, but a box of business cards arrived, uniforms came and people started coming to our house for meetings. I saw him going out for shifts in a security uniform he had designed. Dad would sit with his yellow legal pad and make business phone calls in his pjs while I was doing schoolwork. He never once said, “Rachel, I’m starting a business so that I can quit my job and make better money for this family”. He just did it. Little did I know he was planting the entrepreneurism seed in me that would come up years later.
- Don’t complain. I never knew my Dad healthy. He worked hard and had to rest a lot so he could maintain a full-time job. He was in and out of hospital with a rare kidney disease. But I swear I did not hear him complain – not once.
- Don’t care. Dad literally did not care what anyone thought of him, or how he did life. He worked, he took care of his family and he was very much a home body. He smoked. He wore clothes from the 60s (before it was trendy again). He couldn’t stand hypocrisy or bravado and would be the first to call out “cons” if he saw one. But he had all the time in the world for real people. Only now as a 37-year-old do I get how incredibly rare that is. He did life his way, and he honestly lived to make our lives better. It didn’t matter what that looked like to anyone else.
- Turn to Proverbs. Many times, I would come to his bedroom and he would be reading the Bible, and specifically Proverbs. I would hear him say that it’s just practical and makes sense to everyday life. That one book of the Bible has continued to give me solid wisdom through the years.
- Honour your parents. Every Sunday, Dad would go to see his parents just to visit. Sometimes I would go with him and just sit and listen to him and my grandfather talk politics, history, family history and catch up on life. He genuinely enjoyed spending time with his parents and he gave them time as much as he could in his busy schedule.
I never realised how safe I felt with him in our life until he was suddenly gone.
He left my sisters and I each a Bible he owned and one dollar bill in His will.
One contained wisdom, the other an opportunity.
There is never enough time with those you love.
I’m grateful for those 12 years I had with him, as he gave me a foundation that has helped carry me steady in life.
Parents, take note: the only real legacy you leave your children is how you do everyday life, how you battle its unfairness, what you do with the opportunity in front of you and how you love your family.
And for those of you travelling through the valley of grief… I promise, there is more life and richness on the other side of that walk.
But you gotta keep walking.
Article supplied with thanks to Rachel Reva at Life On Her Terms.
About the author: Rachel Reva is a PR consultant and author with a career that has spanned TV, writing, radio and politics. Born in Georgia, USA, Rachel now lives in Australia with her young family, and is heard every week on radio.
Feature image: Supplied / Rachel Reva and her father