20 Life Lessons I learned in the 20 Years I Had a Father

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I was blessed to have an incredible father in my life for 20 years. 20 years of laughter, summer bonfires, and foreign dinner experiments I refused to eat. He helped to mold me into the woman I am finally proud to be. I often hear people complaining about their fathers, or hear tragic stories of them never being around. Even though I only got 20 years with my Dad, I know that the 20 years I got were of better quality than some others may have with their fathers in an entire lifetime. In those 20 years I was blessed to have him, our experiences, along with observing how he handled things truly taught me some of the most important life lessons.

1// You Can’t Fix Everything

No matter how good of a person you are, or how hard you try, some situations just are the way they are. I like to fix everything. I’m a “fixer”. I hate going to bed without an argument being resolved, or knowing that something is out of place. I enjoy making customers happy at work, and making sure all of my friends are okay. It’s a bit of a control thing really. I watched my father pass away. And reverting to this “fix-it” habit, I constantly racked my brain to figure out what I could do. And eventually you just realize you can’t do anything. Because you’re just a student. Or a writer. Or in my case you’re just a daughter. A daughter who sat with her father as he died, because that was all that she could do. She couldn’t fix it, and eventually she realized that was okay.

2// Value the Gift of Education and Learning

My father never finished college, and I know that that was one of his biggest life regrets. He loved to learn new things about the world, or obtain knowledge in any form he could. He was constantly watching the history channel, or reading about different breeds of flowers to add to our ever-growing garden. He was often at my university to ensure that my financial aid was working correctly and that I was able to register for classes. I remember visiting him at the hospital, and while I stood next to his bed he said to me, “Don’t let this be an excuse to not do well in school”. Not everyone is  blessed to be able to get an education, and its something I know I took for granted a lot previously.

3// Never Stop Dreaming

I’ve always been a planner, but my plans have always been fueled by the constant dreams I think up in my head. Freshman year of college I was dead-set on studying abroad on a cruise ship. The program sent me a map in the mail, and I remember my Dad sat with me at the kitchen table as we went over the entire route with together, talking about each place I would go. My Dad knew that we couldn’t afford it. But he also knew the value of a dream, and never discouraged them due to the reality of the situation. Dreams are what keep us going. They are what we should constantly strive for and pursue. After my fathers passing I opened one of his many coffee table travel books and found a list he had started of places he had wanted to visit. He knew he didn’t have the means to realistically travel to these places at the time, but he never let go of those dreams, or lost the hope of one day pursuing them. I hope I never lose that sense of wonder either.

4// Laughter is the best medicine 

This is perhaps one of the most over-used pieces of advice out there. And I don’t think until the past year did I truly realize how very essential this lesson is in life. When my Dad was sick, this is what kept not only him, but all of us going. Life really sucks sometimes. It really really does. But you have to keep going. That is all we can do. But how are you supposed to do that when the reality of life can be so incredibly negative? You laugh. You laugh so hard that you feel like you’re about to get that 6-pack you’ve been dreaming of because your stomach hurts so much. When someone around you is hurting, or having a rough day, you make them laugh. And god, did my Dad know how to do this better than anyone.

5// You Have to Put Yourself Out There

I think if my Dad were here and reading this, he would almost be shocked. I often felt embarrassed in social situations with my Dad growing up (but what kid doesn’t really?). In the grocery line he would talk to the little old lady in front of us. When we got stuck in the elevator on a college tour he would make a joke to a group of guys my age. Walking into CVS he would stop to talk with someone he drove in his taxi that one time. There was that Indian man we sat with for an hour at the train stop and learned about his restaurant. He welcomes the Jehovah witnesses that everyone closes the door on, with open arms. At a Halloween party many years back my Dad dressed up as “Captain Corona”. When he went into the ambulance to the hospital the EMT looked at him and said, “Hey! Do you sometimes go by the name Captain Corona?”. (That’s a story I know well laugh about for many years to come) My Dad knew how to make a lasting impression on every person who had the luck of coming in contact with him. We all need other people in this life. We need connections to keep us going. My Dad knew how to make a friend in 30 seconds flat. At his funeral there was a line out the door, as he had enough friends to last him twenty life times. And thats because he wanted to meet every single person he could, and he was’t afraid to do so.

6// Sometimes, Chinese Food and a Kids Movie are the Cure for a Sh**ty Day

High school is a really rough time. (Well maybe not for you, but that probably means that you peaked in high school and that your life is going downhill now. Too harsh? Can you tell I didn’t love high school?) I remember one day I was texting my Dad from chemistry class, and the next thing I knew I was on the couch eating enough lo-mein to last me a week and watching Toy Story 3. And that was totally all I needed.

7// Nature Helps Center You

My Dad was constantly tan, which I think in part was due to the fact that he was always outdoors. My Dad loved to work outside. He built everything in our yard from the stone patio, the three level yard of rock gardens, a full heated fish pond, to our childhood treehouse. He ended many days falling asleep next to the bonfires he often made. During my senior year there were days when I didn’t have class and my Dad would pick me up and we’d go for a hike at our favorite waterfall. Being outdoors is one of the most calming things we have access to. Take advantage of it.

8// Hungarian Goulash is as Gross as it Sounds

Sorry you never got me to try this Dad, but it’s never happening.

9// Life is too Short to Not Laugh at Yourself

My Dad was the best at this, since he was really able to laugh at just about anything. At block parties he would be the first one of the dance floor despite not always being the best dancer. If he fell or did something embarrassing he would be the first one cracking up. You have to make things fun, and not take yourself too seriously all the time. I am incredibly hard on myself and tend to struggle with this (as I’m sure most us type-A’s do). But during those times where I feel myself being extra harsh, I remember his natural ability to do this. And I strive for that.

10// Whoever Feeds the Dog Table Scraps, Wins

Yes, I know. You really aren’t supposed to do this, because they’ll start to beg and plead and will never leave you alone. But eventually someone caves in because the dog is just “so cute”. And that person wins that dogs love and constant affection for the rest of his life. My Dad understood this, and my Dad won.

11// Sometimes Dumb Decisions Aren’t Really Dumb if They Make You Happy

A couple years ago I bought a car from a friend. I didn’t have a license yet. I was actually petrified to drive at the time. So what the heck was I doing buying a car? Well, I thought I was getting a great deal at the time, and that was enough reason for me. I spent an entire hot summer day in our driveway cleaning up that old piece of junk. But I was so excited. My Dad kept coming to check up on me to see how it was all coming along. I now know he thought I was making a dumb choice, but he didn’t really care, because I was so happy about it. He would walk over to me with the biggest smile as I would jump from showing him the newly vacuumed foot rest, to the freshly squeegied rear windows. I remember he just kept looking at me and smiling. And I don’t regret that decision for a second, because it made me incredibly happy.

12// Saving Voicemails and Photos is More Important Than You Think

I like to delete things because I feel like I am cleaning space in my life. I’m sure my friends can attest to this, because my best advice when someone is stressed is to “clean out your emails!”. I tend to delete most of my voicemails and text messages, but I am so thankful everyday that I saved three voicemails that my father had left me. “Hey Sweetheart, it’s just me returning your call. How’re you doing?” I have them all memorized. Because that’s all I have. We haven’t been able to figure out how to watch old home videos yet, (if anyone has any idea how to watch videos from a cam corder from the 90’s, help a girl out) so that’s the only way I can hold onto that calming sound of his voice. I have days where I listen to them over and over. We always hear how people cherish photos and memories. But photos are truly what help to keep those precious memories together. I never would have thought that three voicemails would mean so much to me that I would have a meltdown to the man behind the Mac counter when my phone broke (not one of my best moments). Save what you can, and cherish those sounds and memories while you have them. Close your eyes and listen to your loved ones voices. Remember it. 

13// Appreciate the Small Things in Life, Like Fireworks. Fireworks are Awesome

Anyone who knew my Dad knew he loved to be the center of attention. And what better way to do this than by putting on a firework show for all the children on the street? Something so simple would bring him immense amounts of joy. I’m going to the Poconos for a vacation soon and am already so incredibly excited about the fireworks we will be getting.

14// Don’t be Afraid of New Experiences

My Dad never said no to anything. He would try any food you’d place in front of him. “Want to climb to the top of that restricted lighthouse?”, “Sure!”. A couple years ago he went to see Jimmy Eat World with my brother and danced alongside all the other college aged kids the whole night. My family went to see hair the musical while it was playing in NYC, and at the end of the show they invite the audience to come dance on stage, and he was one of the first ones up there. My Dad was having surgery the same day I had tickets to a concert with my friends. I agonized over leaving him, but he pushed me to go. He wanted me to continue to experience all life had to offer. No matter what the experience is, big or small, just try. You won’t ever regret it.

15// Taking Care of Your Health Is Not Selfish, it is Essential

We are all people, with people in our life who care about us. If not for our own sanity and overall health, then for the sanity of those we love, we have to take care of the bodies we were given. In order to be there for others, we must be there for ourselves first. I know that many parents think it is selfish to take any time out of their busy lives for themselves, but I couldn’t disagree more. I know my Dad wanted to do this differently, because if he had he may still be here. One of his voicemails he said to me “Don’t worry kiddo, I am going to start taking better care of myself. I promise.” Don’t let that promise to the people you love be broken. Start now.

16// Family is The Most Important Thing

I’ve always loved my family. But during the time of my fathers sickness, there was no one there for me more than they were. My Uncle would pick me up at school to drive me to the hospital. My Aunt made me the most killer grilled cheese when I had forgotten to eat that day. My Aunt, Uncle, brother and I danced around the hospital in elf hats on Christmas Day to cheer ourselves up. Or because Meyer’s tend to be crazy. Either one. Family is forever. Cherish them. 

17// The Only Way To Really Watch a Movie is to Have it Blasting as if You are in a Movie Theater,  Along With a Large Bowl of Overly Buttered and Salted Popcorn

This is just how my Dad did it, and while it was a pain when I was trying to go to sleep, I don’t really see any better way of going about epic movie watching.

18// Good Neighbors Make all the Difference

My Dad was born and raised on the same street that I was. His best friends that he grew up with on the street are still here, and throughout our time here, he had become incredibly close with many other neighbors as well. We have shared lawnmowers, backing soda, and many laughs and beers over the years. They would take turns bringing our family dinner while Dad was sick, and were the first ones to visit when he came home. Home is important, and so are the people we surround it with.

19// Christmas is Meant to be Magical 

My first Christmas without Dad was rough, and I think it always will be. But once I have kids, I know I will do everything to make it just as magical and memorable as my father did. He spent days putting up a Christmas village (along with hours of cursing and 12 packs of beer). We would go in search for the perfect Christmas tree, which was usually too big according to moms angry face whenever we brought it home. He would adorn the front of our home with lights, and would constantly have Christmas music ringing through the first floor. We would sit on the couch with the tree next to us, and just listen to the calming Christmas Carol’s that would play for hours. Every Christmas Eve we would have family and friends over, and I remember one Christmas Eve after they all left my Dad took my hand in his and we slow danced in the living room. That’s a moment in time I wish I could just pause and go back to. Although I still get a pit in my stomach when some songs come on, I know that Christmas will forever be magical to me. And that is an everlasting gift I got from him.

20// The Party Doesn’t Ever Have to End

My Dad was well known as “Party boy” which in turn, gave my brother the nickname “Party boy junior”. He loved nothing more than a good crowd of people, and to feel that energy and love around him. He loved to experience life and make others happy, because it all truly just comes down to that. When he was really sick in his last couple days he struggled an incredible amount. I remember my Mom saying, “He just doesn’t want the party to end”. And I’m sure it hasn’t for him. He laughed and enjoyed life until his very last day here. And that’s more than I can say about a lot of people. Remember to smile at strangers, grab a drink, and keep laughing. Keep the party of life going as long as you are blessed to do so.

If you have your Dad around this fathers day, hug them a little tighter, and laugh at their Dad jokes. One day, you’ll actually want to hear them.

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6 thoughts on “20 Life Lessons I learned in the 20 Years I Had a Father

  1. Karen Kent

    This is beautiful Carolyn! Tears over here! you absolutely painted your father exactly how he was. And I know he is so proud of you and Andrew (and your mom) and telling everyone he can in heaven all about you!!! xoxo Karen

    Reply

  2. Heather

    Wow! You have evolved into the confident young woman I knew you were destined to be. Your dad and whole family, are so proud of you! Congrats on starting this blog and as Karen said, you really described your dad to a ” T “! Keep following your dreams! Xo Heather

    Reply

  3. Sue Jordan

    Your Aunt Suzie was one of my best friends in high school. I spent a lot of time at the Meyer homestead. This was a beautiful tribute to your Dad.

    Reply

  4. Laura Buchmann

    What a beautiful tribute to your Dad!! I’m sure he is so proud of you!

    Reply

  5. Williamfito

    Thanks a lot for the forum.Thanks Again. Great. Jerrie

    Reply

  6. Julie Kelley

    Hi Carolyn. I’m Mikki’s sister. We met when you were very young. You did an Irish dance in my brother’s living room. 🙂

    I just stumbled upon this article through a link on your mom’s Facebook page. Wow. Wow. Beautifully written and so moving. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

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