Day 3 writing Challenge:
As President Trump’s impeachment trial plays out in the background, I am conscious of how follow-through is a test, one that everyone experiences as difficult. I now sense that the uncertainty too often stops us from taking on another perspective. Merely stretching our sense of possibility beyond the frame we hold isn’t enough, follow-through is also about stepping and bringing forth a new frame.
My parents taught me that if you expect your word to be worth anything, you have to follow through on your commitments. Its the basis on which trust is established and just as easily broken. I’m referring to statements made to me or that I make and in particular those related to doing something for or on behalf of someone else.
Sadly, this was the subject of the last exchange I had with my Dad. Strong and healthy for his age, an unusual fever had weakened his system quickly, and the doctor advised we bring him to the emergency room. My dad was too big for me to lift and assist alone, so my oldest brother left work, drove 30 minutes and was now on hand to help. He felt we should hurry. Dad took a few steps and needed to rest. That’s when he asked me to do him a favor. He had some library books on his nightstand that were now due back and asked that I return them. My father had modeled respectful behavior and expected the same from us. This respect extended to the library and responsibility for books we borrowed included properly returning them so other readers could enjoy them too. I’ve got my own books I told him, you have to be responsible for yours.
My brother said, don’t worry about it, let’s get going. A few minutes later, Dad’s knees buckled and he collapsed on the walkway from the front door. My brother told me to call 911–no cell phones in those days. The volunteer fire department ambulance drivers told us to follow them. We arrived within minutes of the ambulance and were told to wait in a special room for the doctors. My brother told me this didn’t seem right. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before a doctor told us the incredible news, Dad was gone. There was no chance of resuscitation.
Dad did exactly what he had always told us. When my older brothers had asked him about his plans for retirement or when he and my mom would need help, Dad had told them there was no need. when it’s my time he would say, “I’m going to drop dead just like my grandmother, and just like my dad.” Well, he kept his word, and the follow through on that promise really stung. My siblings and I were in a state of shock for several months.
The strength of my father’s convictions and many of the tales he told of his life made him our living legend. As we got older we could see through some but not all of the things he told us. After all, the depth of his love for us was fully reciprocated, it may be what blinded us to failings in his logic or thought processes.
I credit Dad’s perennial question as enabling of my ability to think past limited options as set by others or ones I quickly dismissed due to uncertainty. I remember telling him that after thinking about choosing a college major I had opted to be safe and get an education degree because I didn’t know what I would do with a liberal arts degree.
Dad asked, “What else are you thinking?” It was his way of opening the door to possibilities that for whatever reason I had given short shrift. After thinking out loud with him my reasons he helped me see that college was a place to explore. He had felt that dreams were worth pursuing, even though in his own life he had not followed through on all of his dreams.
Did he give up on his dreams becasue the situations and circumstances of the depression and his service during WWII were so different? Or did he feel a heightened sense of obligation and assumed financial responsibility for his parents and their needs, later my mother, her desires and later still making more possible for his kids that held him back from pursuing the ideas he shared?
His unbridled optimism for living up to your ideals manifested in his strength of character without showing up in an outward vocational choice. My sense was my Dad used his strength, stature, and charisma, not for his own gain, but to encourage others to succeed in whatever they wished to do. At 6’2″ he could certainly hold his own in a fight, but he worked hard at keeping peace instead. Dad loved prodding each of his children to think differently, not blindly accept what someone told us, and certainly if we followed to be able to articulate in our own words why we were going that way, or with whomever.
Without realizing it, Dad instilled in me the capacity to see more than one perspective. Not just to try walking in someone else’s shoes before judging them, but to also hold my own counsel, and have the courage to think for myself.
I guess if I want to level up, I need to level up with my Dad and then go one step further. Use the framing he instilled in me, that the world isn’t just my oyster but it’s my responsibility to help make it better too. What I do, requires me to advocate for those who can’t advocate on their own.
To encourage and support using the very tools of positivity my Dad gave me, and use the frame as a buoy, not a safety net.
This is not the idea of no pain no gain, or without risk, there’s no reward. It’s the idea that uncertainty is embedded into the way I frame the world, and that frame is as dynamic as I make it.
It’s time to rethink how I’ve thought and understood what it means to frame stretch. I had let my conception hit stasis, and now realize what I need is to keep stretching my conception. As my frame of reference grows and expands, looking past isn’t the only possibility. It’s time to see what else I’m thinking.