While traveling with my editor, Shelby, last week she suggested I do a Memorial Day post about my father for today. I sighed and said okay I’ll stock up on Kleenex and get right on that. Don’t get me wrong. I love writing about my father and have done so several times since his passing in November 2008. Shelby even admitted that she’s emotional too when reading those posts. I guess that’s a good thing, but I decided to try a different approach today. Let’s see how this goes. I’ve been Kleenex free for a whole paragraph so far.
Parents as mentors
I’m one of the very lucky few in this world that won the “most awesome parents ever” lottery. No, I really did. While I’m pretty certain I don’t measure up to my parent,s I do know my children learned at least one thing from me that I learned from my parents – a work ethic.
My father and his brother owned a retail furniture company my grandfather had started. I watched my father get up each morning, do exercises, go running (before anyone knew what a running shoe was) and then head off to work six days a week. When I was in the fourth grade, my mother went back to teaching full time and continued to raise the five of us. (Yes, I’m the youngest spoiled rotten brat and that should explain a lot if you know me.)
I grew up knowing work was important and something both my parents did to make life better for my brothers, sister and me. They made sure all five of us had the opportunity to attend college and helped to whatever degree they could at the time. That’s another tradition my wife and I are trying to follow with our two children; and I have no idea now my folks helped five of us get through college.
Write your own story
All five of us were encouraged to pursue an education aligned with our life goals. At no time did our parents ever suggest, “you should be a doctor” or “you should be an accountant” or “go to business school like I did.” That turned out to be a good thing as fate would have it. My three brothers joined my father in the family business after college, but that only lasted as long as the late ’70s and early ’80s when the economy in Milwaukee meant the end of our family furniture business.
I’d chosen an education focused on printing and the graphic arts industry, and that served me well upon graduation. By the late ’80s and early ’90s however, the printing industry had become a tough place to make a living. Fortunately, I had the life experience of growing up in my family. I watched what was happening to the industry and adapted and changed to make sure I could continue to make a decent living for my family.
Watching my parents’ story growing up helped me; but in the end I needed to adapt and write my own story, which is something I continue to do today. Recently, I’ve even caught myself trying to influence my son to choose a certain course of study as he gets ready to attend college. It’s time he writes his own story.
What’s the Memorial Day connection?
At 48, I’m the tail end of the baby boomer generation. We’re the ones whose parents fought in WWII. Those surviving members of the greatest generation are now in their late 80s. It’s up to my generation who were raised by these amazing folks to carry on as much of their legacy as we can. The most fruitful and successful years of this country’s history up until now was driven by them. For the greatest generation, it really was about selflessness and self-sacrifice first. Lots of us give those terms lip service but do we really live the ideals?
The WWII memorial opened in 2005, but by then my father was in no shape to make that journey. Perhaps had he been able to catch a ride on an honor flight it could have worked out, but instead when my family visited the memorial on a very hot August day in the summer of 2005 we took lots of pictures and brought them back for Mom and Dad to see. As I viewed the memorial, I remember thinking that all we hold dear in this country came at a great human sacrifice. In the U.S., it’s Memorial Day and in between bites of your burgers and hot dogs please take a moment to remember what the holiday is really all about. Honoring truly great and heroic folks who allow us to live free.
It was both fun and somber to share these pictures with my parents. And now, I share them here with you.
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