Six Life Lessons My Father Taught Me

Dad with Mom last year

My dad sitting with my mom in the dementia care home where he lived with her the last year of her life.


Yesterday I received the dreaded call I’ve been waiting for.

My 94 year-old father was found lying unresponsive outside the door of his tiny apartment in his assisted living home. 

First responders had intubated him–a procedure that violated the wishes of his DNR. As his co-medical POA, I drove to the other side of the state to oversee his extubation and, possibly, his final breaths. He remains stable but in a greatly diminished condition, apparently ravaged by a stroke.

My dad was a brilliant man. He served in military intelligence alongside General Eisenhower during World War II. He was a cryptographer, or code breaker, and was at the signing at the Little Red School House. He had a highly successful career as an engineer and consultant in the automotive field.

But those accomplishments didn’t seep into my life. His everyday life shaped mine.

My father’s routine habits helped form my values.

  • My dad taught me that tithing is where gratitude and stewardship begin, then overflow into deeper giving. Dad gave his tithe to our local church, but he also gave to numerous missionaries and indulged my mother in her “ministry of lingerie” to missionary wives who were home on furlough. (My mom believed in purchasing personal indulgences of those in ministry that they would probably never treat themselves to.)
  • My dad taught me never to leave the house with taking a little extra cash to share with someone in need. Almost every Sunday that we went to church, my father had a $50 stuck in his Bible to give to a family in need. In later years, he’d take twenty dollar bills to the senior care community where my mother was enrolled in an Alzheimer’s program, and hand them out to anyone he thought could use them.
  • Dad taught me to care for those who are less able to care for themselves. He was always clearing snow for widows, raking an elderly neighbor’s yard, or mowing the church lawn.
  • Dad taught me that love never quits. He never left my mother’s side during her long struggle with Alzheimer’s. He even moved into a dementia-care home with her, refusing to leave her side in the final stages of her disease, when our family could no longer care for her in our homes.
  • Dad taught me that love wears many faces. When I was a teenager, my dad’s stoicism frustrated me, and I often felt abandoned. As I grew into adulthood, I came to understand his love language was different from mine. I also learned that he was influenced by Asberger’s and has difficulty expressing emotions. But dad always showed love by providing for us and seeing that our every need was met. He also struggled to show shy and childlike affection in his later years, in a valiant effort to grow.
  • Dad taught me to keep a heavenly focus. No matter how hard things got, Dad always talked about heaven and what a good life he had. He exuded gratitude and was confident of his heavenly home for eternity. No matter what things may have looked like around him, Dad kept his eyes fixed on his final destination. His example has encouraged me–especially this past year in my own health challenges.

Sometimes the most influential lessons we teach are communicated in small things: faithfulness, tenacity, hope.

Caring for others changes us. It makes us more like Christ. Thanks, Dad, for showing me how to live more like Jesus.


What life lessons did your father teach you?


5 thoughts on “Six Life Lessons My Father Taught Me

  1. Beautiful! I am so sorry about your dad’s stroke. What wonderful life lessons he taught you. My 96 year old dad died last year of pneumonia. He was a wonderful man and taught me many similar things. To love Jesus. To be kind to others, including my brothers and sister. To be patient with mom. To reach out to neighbors. To welcome people, especially latecomers, to church and help them find their place in the hymnal. The love of learning. The love of reading. To fix things and use them as long as they will last. To take care of my things to make them last longer. To be generous and giving, in tithing and other ways. Just to name a few.

  2. This brought me to tears as I think about what you are going through with your dad and what a wonderful man he is. My husband, mom and dad all graduated to heaven 6 years ago. My dad taught me to always do the very best that I could, to be on time, to be faithful, to be a hard worker and to love missions. He was an introvert and had a difficult time expressing his love, but I never ever doubted that he loved me very much. I am his only daughter and he always told me I was his favorite daughter.

    May God wrap His arms around you and your dad and hold you both very close during this time.

    • Thank you so much, Candy. I’m so sorry for your many losses. How precious to be certain of your father’s love. I have no doubts of my father’s either, and it is such a gift. Blessings and prayers to you. — Shelly

  3. Shelly, this has been a long road for your blessed father. Thank you for sharing more of his life and legacy. Mine has been “graduated” since 2003. Things he taught me: find work that you love and get involved in making a difference in the world through it. He tried to tell me to choose one thing – as you know, that didn’t work, as I love doing so many things. But he, like my mother, taught me faith, service, resilience, creative problem solving, and yes, writing and speaking. And I am forever grateful for acquiring his “designer eye” – he too, was an engineer with John Deere. I found my outlet as a graphic designer and now through life and health re-design as a coach. He, like your father, was an exemplary caretaker of my mother, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions. What a legacy that has left in our family, down through the grandchildren. A demonstration of a forever love. Bless you, as you walk through this time.

    • Thank you so much, Jean, for sharing a bit of your father with us. He has truly left a legacy in what I know of you. Hugs across the miles. –Shelly

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