Archive for January, 2014

one less pillar

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Father, brother, son, grandfather, husband, doctor, veteran, community leader, donor, founder, supporter, leader, owner, pilot, skier, cyclist, volunteer, neighbor, friend, mentor. These are all titles Frederick carried with ultimate humility.

For every generation, life has its cycle. As children we look up to our parents, as adolescents we work to wiggle away from them, as young adults we marvel at how they survived raising us, and as we get on in our own years we see and appreciate the contributions they made, when we didn’t see them make them, even when it was right under our noses.

When we lose someone like a parent, maybe not our parent but someone who was a parent who was near to our lives, the loss throws us off balance. I think the off balance time is a good thing, it helps us to be aware just how much they were helping hold us up in our own lives.

I’m a little off balance, having learned that my former father in law Frederick passed away on Saturday. By all accounts it went the way he wanted it, a simple nap that he didn’t wake from. He’d lived a long life, over 9 decades, seeing enormous changes in the world around him, being part of making a few communities, being comfortable with most changes that didn’t reduce his own choices. Its a little hard for me to separate the pain we were going as a family through from the enjoyable conversations Frederick and I would have. He was interested in everything, old wisdoms, new technologies, old places, new ideas it all interested him.

He was an optometrist by training, and would talk with his patients to learn more about how they needed their eyes, how they used their glasses, making little adjustments to the fit and lens design so that the patient would often never know how good they were being treated. His ability to get people to talk about themselves kept life interesting for those around him, whether they were Kiwanas, someone on a chair lift next to him, or the person fixing his car, Fred could talk to them, and get them to talk about themselves. It put people at ease, and made people feel good, feel like they were important. Thats a gift that many who are loud attention grabbers never give to people. But Frederick did that.

He would think a lot too. I remember him showing me a water pre-heater he built for his laundromat. He would run the hot water being drained from the machines through a trench filled with stones that the incoming cold water pipe was laid in. It was a clever energy saving measure that he invented. Recycling heat, recycling cans, riding a bicycle wherever he could, those were all ways the kept his part of the world a little healthier, and by including us in the activities, he kept us healthier too.

He was an inventor in the shop too, helping my youngest build a robot out of lumber leftovers. That robot (Fred? Frank? Robbie?) stood in the yard for years, he built a dollhouse that I think is still in use, and was always finding some way to repair things himself, washing machines, pinball machines, motors, pumps… I learned by watching him every now and again, mostly watching him play with my children, taking them places, and getting them to talk… and listening.

He was a man you could trust, I never saw him use his success as a power over anyone, he was a faithful man, but I never saw him use his faith, or the words of his God as a weapon, I never saw him denigrate others in the name of righteousness, i never heard a slur from him, I think all these things make me believe he was wise, and helped me understand that tolerance, kindness, and living a principled life were the keys to being a successful man.

He accepted his grandchildren, and was proud of each, not comparing them but enjoying their gifts and individuality, again, wisdom.

He knew difficulty and tragedy, things that would have humbled any of us to the point of shutdown, but he had the incredible strength, to recover, to help and be helped by the ones he loved.

I think experiencing those big challenges in life puts each of us at a crossroad, some of us turn to anger and oppression grounded in righteousness, some to humility and kindness grounded in timeless teachings, that’s Fredericks’ road I believe.

I failed him once. He called to ask my help to stop the anger his daughter was directing at both himself and his wife. A misplaced sense of loyalty made me side with his daughter, a mistake I apologized to them both for years later but I still regret it. Cruelty in any guise is unacceptable, she should remember that, we all should remember that.

I think to celebrate his life, we could look at issues through a less strident lens, stereotype less, individualize more, judge less, accept more, it would be easier on us all too, just ask, what would Frederick do? And then do that for others, Frederick will smile on you.

Be good to each other, don’t pick on anyone…how does it read? Judge not lest ye be judged.