Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Professor

This is posted early. I am jumping the Father's Day gun. My Dad is an excellent physician. Before his retirement, he had a wonderful career as a pediatrician. He was wonderful with both parents and kids. When we lived in Toledo it was not unusual for the kids to come over to see if "Dr. Henny" could come out. He would go about his gardening while visiting with the kids. He never talked down to them he just chatted away, listening and taking in the child with the stories and conversation. He genuinely enjoys children and I think his career brought him much satisfaction. His great grandsons enjoy his company. Particularly Gabe who is quite comfortable chatting with Bobo and learning to fish at the Slagle cabin. Gabe's sense of humor and easy smile and laugh are quite fun and he can really bring a smile from Dad.

Dad's career was as a physician to me he is and was always a teacher too. He loves nothing more than sharing knowledge or some skills with others so they can enjoy what he knows and he can do. When my youngest niece was young she would travel to Florida to spend time with Mom and Dad. Of course, she missed school and came packed with work to do while she was gone. Dad arranged that he and Cammy would have school together every day. Dad would make sure she kept her promise to her mom and teacher and Dad was able to enjoy time with Cammy getting to see the student side of her personality and sharing his values. They were close then and close to this day.

Dinner with Dad during the week was always a rush job. Mom would spend hours cooking. Dad would race in after office hours and sit down to dinner. He would share his day and ask us about ours. Sue would spill her milk, Dad would be the target and would change clothes before leaving for the hospital or a meeting. I used to think this was his way of connecting and keeping tabs on his girls. But it was so much more. In retrospect I see his desire for connection but more about using experiences to teach us a view of the world and people that was bigger than we were or are and founded in selfless work and generosity and respect for others.

In my junior year I thought I would spend the summer in Tiffin instead of going home to work. I knew I would need to make money so I hatched the infamous plot of printing a limited number of raffle tickets and selling them to people in the community. The prize being raffled off was me! I would agree to work for 40 hours at whatever task the lucky winner would assign me too. Because there were no more than 100 tickets for sale at $25.00 a ticket purchasers would have great odds of winning 1 in 100. I would make $2500 when I usually cleared $600-800 in a summer's work. I thought it was brilliant. Dad thought it was ridiculous so I won the grand opportunity to spend the summer working in Dad's office. Lucky Dad.

I worked as a receptionist. Let's just say that the partners and other staff were warm and friendly despite my shortcomings. They were incredibly supportive and I learned a great deal that summer. (I did not make $2500.) I saw where education, self discipline, passion, commitment and caring met laughter, pain, illness, crisis, sadness, hope and humor. Measles, chicken pox, sprains, viruses, broken bones, fevers, bad or questionable behavior and lacerations were the rule of the days. Arising from all of this was one experience that taught me a life lesson that informed my choice of work and how I wanted to pursue it and my relationship with those I served.

One day a mom called and her toddler had a fever that wasn't going away. The mom and child came to the office and were seen by Dad. As things unfolded and testing was required the young one was diagnosed with cancer. Forty-two years ago, the prognosis was poor. As I watched the family come for visits and care the sadness of their experience was overwhelming to me. It caused me to ponder life in a way I had few opportunities to do so in the past. Our family experienced such loss when I was a junior in high school four years earlier and seeing it unfold in a similar way was a huge challenge for me. I needed to talk to Dad. I related the story from my experience and told Dad how sad I was. I could tell it was challenging for my Dad as well. After some discussion I finally said "Dad how do you stand it. Doesn't it make you cry?". He sat back in his chair at the table and looked at me. He said"I can't cry. This family has people who will cry with them. They need me to take care of their child and them. I'm the guy that guides them through this and is strong for them. That's my job." I was shocked by this unexpected response but I knew he was right.

Over the years we've discussed people in crisis and considered choices and actions in their lives and our own. Being my Dad's daughter taught me that helping people offers great personal rewards. However helping them is always about those struggling and not about us. It's about being strong enough to risk taking a stand for someone to help them; to put yourself beside them to see them through a crisis or a long term challenge. It's about the ability to care for someone by listening and affirming their strengths to deal with the challenge. That learning changed my life and brought me great happiness. In my jobs I've experienced the wonder of seeing people live through a crisis and become more than their challenge rather than being defined by it. That learning has enabled me to become a trusted partner sharing the road. It's a huge honor to be trusted and to have someone share that part of their lives and I don't take that trust for granted.

I can say how really blessed I have been to be a member of the family I was born into. They are all great people who have carved wonderful careers of purpose and worth to the world. We're not perfect and we have the same kind of highs and lows that others experience. They are people you can laugh with til you cry or cry with until you laugh! I think my siblings and our progeny would concur when I say we have been taught by great teachers through our Mom and Dad. I would have to name Dad as the tenured professor in life lessons with the highest commendations confirmed upon him. Dad you're the best. Thanks for being willing to teach and helping to make me teachable through some 'splainin'!

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