THOMPSON: Spending quality time with aging parents worth every minute | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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THOMPSON: Spending quality time with aging parents worth every minute

 


OPINION


We’ve all made decisions we regret. I’ve had my share, but spending time with my dad before he died wasn’t one of them. My dad passed away 23 years ago from lung cancer. During the last months of his life…I drove a few hundred miles to spend time with him…often sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of the home he built.

My dad was a man of few words. A gracious Southern gentleman…he could have been a character in a Tennessee Williams book. But, I found over time that when he had something to say…it was worth hearing. I became a better listener simply being around him.

He didn’t start a lot of conversations…but any topic I brought up that last year of his life he answered directly… always looking me in the eyes. I knew it was the truth…the man wouldn’t lie…not even to spare his feelings or mine. He often told me, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

I don’t think he knew the quote was from one of America’s greatest humorists, Mark Twain. He did not read much…but he was far from ignorant. Even as an adult he struggled with reading…a holdover from his intermittent schooling as a child in rural Southern Georgia a century ago.

He compensated for his lack of formal education by being a great listener. He paid close attention to those fortunate enough to be well-schooled in the arts and sciences…in life. I have no doubt that dad thought the wit and wisdom I knew as quotes from Twain and Churchill and Shakespeare…came from one of his early bosses, Clark Sims, or any number of other men he came to know, look up to and listen to as a young man.

His dad - my grandfather - died when dad was just four years old…a victim of the so-called Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. By the time he was 9 years old, dad was working full days in the fields, helping scratch out a dirt-farm existence for his widowed mother, himself and his siblings.

Both dad and mom - and my sister 13+ years older than me - knew a different life than my brother and me. We were born and raised not knowing the sacrifices they knew and lived. There was never a Christmas without lots of presents for my brother and me. In contrast, my dad told me he once got an orange for Christmas when he was a child. Even as children, my parents knew work…my brother and I knew play.

When my brother and I worked…it wasn’t to keep the family afloat. By the time I was a teenager…mom and dad not only encouraged our saving, they had socked away enough money for university degrees for us. There was money enough between mom’s and dad’s work to meet all of our needs and wants.

Looking back at those times sitting with dad on the front porch, I remember most the simplicity of his life. Besides family, he most appreciated those things that he always said were free for everyone to enjoy.

“All you have to pay,” he would say, “is attention.”

He took delight in a glorious red sunset…a thunderstorm racing across his favourite fishing lake…the Summer sounds of crickets chirping and the sight of a thousand fireflies at dusk floating skyward from tall grass…a covey of quail flushed by one of his hunting dogs. Simple pleasures for a man who always did what he had to do for his family…and never regretted it…or felt at all like life was unfair to him.

His fondness for all things simple extended to music. He loved country music…Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline. Their songs were straightforward…aimed at emotions of folks who knew firsthand hard work, struggle and sacrifice…and a little bit of happiness.

I didn’t fully appreciate what he heard in the music he loved until I got older. When I listened to Patsy Cline’s songs…her words and her ability to purr or growl across five octaves…I finally understood why her tunes resonated so with folks like dad and mom…people who weathered life through good times and bad. Dad died at age 85 - too soon - but I knew him. Truly.

Years later, I would spend time with mom…asking her similar probing questions…listening and getting to know her on a different level. She lived to be almost 96…dying peacefully in her sleep. Once again, I’ll never regret my decision to engage her…finding out that she was much more than mom.

The purpose of this column isn’t to reminisce about my dad and mom…I do that often…remembering their character, integrity and humanity. No, the reason I am writing this is to recommend to those who perhaps haven’t yet done so…to sit down with your parents and grandparents.

Spend time with them…but not just another weekend visit or drop-by for dinner. Really engage them. Ask questions…probe like a journalist. If they ask why, simply tell the truth…that you want to know more than you do about them. What made them who they are, what challenges did they face, what were their dreams, what were their happiest and most disappointing times? Get to know them on a different level.

You will find it life changing. Really! And years later, when listening to them is long past…you’ll never regret your decision to learn more about people who not only helped make you who you are…but had lives apart from you.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.


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