Writing Exercise 3 Part I- What I Learned

Remarks about the exercise:

  • As I did today’s writing exercise, I was reminded that there’s been an enduring thread of similar beliefs, values and attitudes in my family from my grandparents to my parents to me.  We’ve all lived very different lives, yet the underlying Happily, I’m beginning to see the same things manifesting in my adult children.   We’ve all lived very different lives, yet the underlying value system has been remarkably consistent.  Even though I’m the first in my family to officially write an ethical will, clearly the importance of doing so is embedded in my family heritage.  All of us have somehow “gotten” the importance of passing on our experiences, values and beliefs to future generations.


  • Interesting to have all these learnings (not comprehensive by far!) in one place and to appreciate the overlaps between people and seeming contradictions within a person (I love the idea of paradox!).



Something I learned from my grandparents…

My grandmother came to live with our family when I was very young.  My brother recently told me that the trip I remember taking to England was actually a trip with my mother to pick up her mother and bring her to Ohio.  I remember being read to by her while cuddled in her bed.  I think I knew Black Beauty by heart.  I can still remember the cover of the book.  I would go with her on shopping trips, walking more than a mile one way.  She was kind to me.  I remember her wrinkled hands.  She died when I was in junior high school.

Hard work.  Steadfast love.  Loyalty.  A woman’s place.  Religious devotion. Kindness.  Showing love by doing things for a person (making food and clothes…).

All four of my grandparents spent their adult lives as farmers or ranchers. Except for my Grandmother Werner, I didn’t know them well. We lived some distance away and in those days a telephone call was only made for a serious reason, never for a mere chat. My Grandma Werner was different. She sent me cards for every occasion accompanied with a letter talking about her chickens or garden or a church dinner. The important thing was that these cards and letters were just for me. At Easter she would send hollow eggs she had decorated and filled with raisins and peanuts. From her I learned that simple things done with love and caring are what a child treasures and carries with them for a life time.

Love – I don’t remember my grandfather actually saying “I love you” but I never questioned it. I was shocked when he died and my mother told me that she never knew if he loved her.

It is tough losing some of your abilities as you get old. I remember the first time he had to ask one of us to cut his meat at the dinner table because his hands weren’t strong enough. At first, he was angry, but then he developed a sense of humor about it. Accepting what you can’t change and learning to be grateful for the abilities and things that you still have is something I learned from my grandfather.

The day before he died, he said ‘good-bye’ to me. I remember saying back “don’t say that”. I ran out into the hall of the hospital and started crying. I was 25 years old. He had come to terms with his life ending. He held on until April 21, the anniversary of the day he got married. I learned that when someone is dying, they often know it. I wish I had the courage to say good-bye. When my parents died, I had learned that lesson and felt the comfort of saying a real good-bye to them.

 Something I learned from my parents…

My dad worked hard all his life.  I learned the value of hard work and also the value of having friends.  It was virtually impossible for him to go anywhere in the city and not see someone he knew.  I think the biggest lesson I learned from my dad to live a life of contentment.

Love and devotion to family

How to have fun

That hurtful action often comes from people who feel hurt or insufficient themselves

What the process of addiction looks like, its progression, its consequences, its to others in their presence

What recovery from addiction looks like, its transformation, its regeneration, its tremendous power

How important amends are – truth and reconciliation

How to reflect someone in a loving way through stories about them told back to them or tremendous power

How it feels to be loved through action

How to love and feel loved at a distance


Unwavering love through the hardest of times

How life can change us from beginning to end

Honesty – my father was sent to a sanitarium when I was born. Against his doctor’s advice, he went to visit his sister-in-law in the hospital and contracted tuberculosis as a result. He had to stay in a hospital far from home for one year. When he came home, fully recovered, he had trouble finding a job because he included his recent bout with TB on his application. After months of being rejected for job openings, he went to see a priest. The priest asked him if he was fully recovered – to which he was able to respond “yes”. It is somewhat amazing to me that the priest told my father that his first obligation was to provide for his family – his wife and three children, and that as long as he could honestly say that he was completely free and clear of TB and was going for regular check-ups, that he should leave out this information on the application form. Shortly after he got that advice, my father was hired as a salesman for NCR. He worked for them for about 40 years and was more often than not, their top salesman. He became the regional sales director years before he retired. This may seem like a strange example of honesty but I feel that honesty is the number one thing I learned from my parents. They brought us up with a very strong sense of religious belief and sense of ethics. For me, the most important thing they did is to live their lives as good human beings. We were never in a situation where they told us one thing but did something else. They were great examples of loving and generous human beings.

Love – both my parents made each of us feel loved, made each of us feel unique. They hugged us, kissed us, laughed with us, believed in us. They tucked us into bed and said “I love you”. My mom often told us we should never go to bed angry – advise I find very helpful even today. I always felt loved and supported. I have met some people who never felt loved and it seems to me their sense of self-confidence was greatly compromised because of that.

Something I learned from my spouse/children/siblings…

I have learned what it means to be loved from my wife Mary.  It is a collection of small words, and acts, and kindnesses.  She checks if I need a specific shirt for tomorrow, says she loves me, and has a gentle touch.

The fun of physical activity

How to play and have adventures

How to make even work fun

How to be in the moment

The value of being (or being with) someone who is willing to talk about anything/everything with openness and personal insight

What it looks/feels like to have someone support you unconditionally, even at some/great cost to themselves

The experience of having my thinking challenged

My mother is 92 and is still full of curiosity and has an opinion about everything. I am so lucky to have her alive and well. She has taught me many things. I cherish her wry sense of humor and have learned it always helps to laugh. She has persevered through much adversity and her favorite saying is “mind over matter.” My father was a cowboy. He rarely spoke directly to me and when he did, his sentences were short,to the point. I longed for something more, something that would show that he loved me. I suppose he did in his way. From him I learned not to let his lack of communication and feeling ruin my life. I vowed to show my love, give hugs when they’re least expected and to tell the people I love that they matter.

My children are a constant delight. As I age, I see them gradually assuming the roles I had for so many years. They teach me to accept myself as I am and to let others step in when needs be. As I see them with their own children, I see myself reflected in their actions.

There is no end to what I learn from my kids. I think my kids were around three years old when I realized I could learn from them. My older son, Brian, is an expert at cloud computing and core technology infrastructure; he competes at race car driving and knows more about cameras, food, technology, and current trends than I will ever know. It fascinates me to see how quickly he thinks and is able to assess things with an objective eye. He is acknowledged as a great leader at work, yet he often says that those who work for him are far smarter and just make him look good. He knows how to encourage and mentor others so they continually strive to be better at what they do. I do know that Brian gives me credit for raising him to be very independent at an early age and supportive in just about everything adventure he tried. He is a caring and loving human being, with a quick wit and a great sense of humor. I am very proud to see him how his life has evolved as a loving spouse, parent, brother and son. There was a time when I wished I was as smart as he is but then I decided it must be very hard to deal with so many people who just don’t know nearly as much as much as you do

Negotiating, listening and putting family first are the things I continue to learn from my younger son, Keith. From an early age, my father used to tell Keith and me that he should be a labor negotiator or a lawyer. Keith had, and still has, the ability to hear the differences between two people discussing something and is able to cut to the chase, often suggesting a solution like, “it sounds like he wants… and you want… so why don’t you…”. I still like to bounce things off Keith when I feel a little uncertain about how to handle a particular situation. Being a very active father is a top priority for him. I raised my kids as a single mother from the time they were three and six years old. His father stayed involved for a few years but then moved onto another life of his own. Keith has several times asked me if I thought he was making a mistake by not making career moves that would increase his salary but would put constraints on his time at home. I just say “Keith, you’re doing just fine and I am very proud of you as my son, a loving spouse, and a very involved dad”.

Something I learned from my grandchildren…

My grandchildren have taught me you’re never to old to play. They’ve taught me to trust my stories and pass them along. When my grand daughter was 6 years old she said

“Grandma, you and me…we’re happily ever after.” That’s a sentiment I share to this day.