5 Life Lessons My Father Left Me

fathers legacy

My Dad was a phenomenal parent, the kind that should have had a hundred kids because he was just so darn good at it. He had this gift for turning any ordinary event into a teaching point. Leave it to him to turn even his battle with cancer into opportunities to impart his wisdom. Maybe he knew he wasn’t going to win his fight so he chose to leave me with as much counsel as he could in the time he had left, or maybe that’s just the way he was. In any event, he left me with five invaluable lessons I’ll carry with me the rest of my life – lessons on how to live every day – no matter how many days we may have.

Lesson #1: We May Not Have Tomorrow but We Have Today

Even before my Dad got sick he was a live-every-day-to-the-fullest kind of guy. He didn’t allocate his days into tight tidy allotments. There was no one-third each for family/career/friends – Dad was a 100% man. Whatever he was doing, he did it with everything he had. He approached his cancer treatment the same way.

What I’ll remember most from his chemo sessions was how he made them, how do I put this, enjoyable. Despite their purpose and the inherent unpleasantness of them, Dad found ways to make them fun. He showed me that you can thoroughly enjoy the time you have with the people in your presence no matter where you are and what’s going on around you. All electronic devices were turned off, we brought music, snacks and enjoyed long conversations together and sometimes just sat in silence in one another’s company. He taught me how important it is to give your undivided attention to who you’re with while you’re with them.

Lesson #2: We May Not Be Able to Do Everything but We Can Do This

My Dad was a formidable competitor at tennis and golf, an accomplished marathon runner, internationally renowned radiologist, talented businessman and trailblazer. After he was diagnosed with bladder cancer, he continued to do every activity he’d always enjoyed — until he no longer could. Not once did he complain about his increasing frailty or physical limitations, he just got more inventive. When his mobility was compromised he found tools to help him get around. First he used a cane, then a walker, then a scooter and wheelchair. He was unstoppable. We’d go to the mall, visit local museums, dine out. His life lesson? Do whatever you can, however you can, and enjoy it.

Lesson #3: Don’t Hold Back

Dad was always demonstrative. He was a big hugger and I love you’s came easily to him. Once he fell ill, the rest of the family got better at expressing their affection too. I used to hold back. Dad’s illness taught me not to. Life is so fragile. We never know how long we might have with anyone. Express your feelings while you can. That doesn’t make you weak — it makes you authentic.

Lesson #4: Do Let Go

I’m ashamed to admit the kinds of petty problems that used to consume my thoughts before my Dad became ill. I carried slights, held on to hurt feelings, obsessed about what others thought of me. What Dad showed me is that the only true matters of life or death in this world are exactly those – life and death. Everything else, traffic jams, misunderstandings, idle gossip, they don’t matter. Time is of the essence and Dad showed me we just don’t have the luxury of it to hold grudges or hard feelings. Let it go.

Lesson #5: It’s Never Too Late

One of the few foods my Dad could tolerate was a chocolate milkshake. One night, around ten o’clock Dad decided he’d like to have one. All I could think of was how it might give him indigestion. “I don’t know,” I said to him. “It’s getting pretty late.”

“It’s never too late for a milkshake.” He said.

We piled into the car and went to a hamburger spot that served the best shakes. They were still open. As you might imagine, that late night caper ended up being a wonderful adventure and has become one of my most precious final memories with my Dad. I lost him soon after but I’ve held on to that life lesson – get the milkshake. Because it’s really never too late — until it is.

Photo by photosavvy

27 thoughts on “5 Life Lessons My Father Left Me”

  1. Hilary,

    These lessons your dad gave you are so precious. Talk about living in the moment and bringing your presence to whomever you are with. To be fully present with them. It is such a gift. It can be so easy to be with someone and not be fully there. Why be there then?

    I think your dad taught true love.

    I am sorry that you can’t connect with your dad in the physical anymore. His lessons will live on in you through eternity and you will always be connected with that love. Nice gift!

    I am inspired by your post. Thank You!


  2. I was fortunate to have a Dad as wonderful as yours. He lived a full life of 86, and passed on less than a month ago. There is a point in time when children grow up to realize that their parents are not perfect, that we are all just human after all. As I grew up, I was dazzled by the wisdom of my father, but as years went by I soon challenged some of his views, and our conversations became shorter and shorter. When I lost him, i learned a valuable lesson. Cherish those long conversations. Sometimes those views are only meant to lenghten the talks, and the important thing is to spend the time to listen, because sometimes what is important for the moment is just the talking.

    1. Andy,
      I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your father. I agree! Having conversations with the people that we love(even when we disagree) should be cherished.

  3. Wow, i don’t really comment on post send, but this touched me. Am sorry about your dad and happy he left you enough to enjoy life without him thanks for sharing this masterpiece.

  4. Wow beautifully written! You should be proud of this honor to his memory and its ongoing impact. Having lost my father as well, I appreciate these words more than most and am grateful for the reminder today to keep me focused on my priorities. Your father stands proud watch over you always. Blessings!

  5. What an awesome story Hilary, I was contemplating whether or not to read your post, not because I didn’t think it would be a good one but because of the subject matter.
    I grew up without a father and never knew how it was so have all my life avoided anything having to do with fathers and daughters and their relationship because I had no knowledge of it.
    Anyway, I should my fear aside, I guess it was because it was 4am or just because the photo was a bit compelling. It turned out to be one of best reads.
    What an awesome dad you had and even thought I never had a father I finished this story feeling loved by a man I never knew.
    For once in my life I can honestly say I felt the deep, unconditional love of a father to his daughter through the spirit of yours.

    Thanks for this story and I will never ever again think it is ever too late.

  6. Rose,
    Thank you so much for your very touching comment. I am so honored that you read my article. And, I know my dad must be smiling from above knowing that his love is being felt.
    Thank you! Hilary

  7. Thanks Hilary for sharing these invaluable lessons.

    Although living your life to the fullest is something most people agree on.
    Not many are able to get out of their comfort zone and really do it.

    What your dad really taught us is to think of each day as your last day, and live it accordingly.

    I think this state of mind helps you to forget about your comfort zone, and what you love. Chase your dreams.

  8. Hilary you were lucky to have him as your father. Those were the best lessons what he taught you. It’s much more worthier than any materialistic wealth he could leave. The best part is he didn’t preach you these lessons, he demonstrated by living them himself and taught you. What a person! Hats off to your dad and thanks for sharing these invaluable lessons with all of us!!

  9. Great post Hilary,
    I’m realizing all of the lessons my own father has taught me as we’re dealing with his recent Leukemia diagnosis also.

    Thankfully he’s still here and I’m able to continue learning, hopefully for a long time yet.

    I appreciate you sharing your lessons.

    All the best,

  10. Dan,
    I am sorry to hear about your dad’s diagnosis. But, I very much hope that he is with you and your family for a very long time. Enjoy every day!


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