There’s living. Then there’s loving. What I hope generations say

November 15, 2016 2:51 am

Me and my reasons for living.

Let me pose a question.

What brings you the greatest joy?

For me, as a parent, the answer is loud and clear. For me, there is no debate. For me, I can answer that in an unambiguous nanosecond.

It’s my kids. My offspring. My brood. My Coombs crew.

My children are my air. They are my reasons for living. They are why I exist. They are my greatest pride and joy!

Lunacy, imagining life without them.

Before I was a father, I would have answered the above query in a myriad of ways given my mood, the direction the wind was blowing and the temperature of the day. Needless to say, my answer would change from year to year, month to month or week to week.

But once I had children, this hypothetical, queries answer was instantly clear and is stone cold easy for me.

When Einstein was 16 years old, he imagined chasing a light beam and that thought played a memorable part in his development of special relativity. It is often referred to as his most famous “thought experiment.”

So, let us channel our inner Einstein, conduct our own thought experiment and follow up the thought above with another that builds on it.

If my kids bring me my greatest joy and they are my universe — my most treasured treasure — then what do I want most for them? As they grow older, spread their wings and leave the nest, what do I hope for them? How do I sincerely want my children to grow and develop as they become adults?

When you pose this hypothetical question to others, you will sometimes get answers involving the word ‘successful.’ But that word can be tricky and mean different things for different people.  Some may respond with a superb education, good health, a comfortable life, a big bank balance or a great career.

If this hits close to your definition of successful, good for you. But it is not necessarily what I want for my kids and most I talk to feel the same. Their answers often resonate with my own.

For me, the answer would look something like this:

Kelly, AJ, Kai and Mac, I want you to be truly happy. I never want you to take life for granted. I want you to have a strong self-image regardless of your education, health, wealth or career. I want you to follow your heart and listen to your inner voice that reveals your true life path. I want you to have the moral courage to defend those who cannot defend themselves. I want you to be silly and dance and sing with reckless abandon. I want you to have mostly positive days and the awareness and emotional stability to deal with the negative days that will surely happen. I want you to see the opportunities of self-improvement when you make painful mistakes. I want you to recognize and be self-assured you can bear the pain.

I want you to be able to recognize and understand your personal demons. I want you to have the internal fortitude to chase those demons down. I want you to live balanced lives and never become unhealthily fanatical. I want you to understand that this is your life’s journey and you are the captains of your own souls. I want you to know you may choose the destination, but it is the journey that should be enjoyed. I want you to be humbly confident and treat others with respect and honor. I want you to be strong enough to cope with your self-made messes and not allow damaging addictions to enslave you.

I want you to receive and give unconditional love. I want you to love life. I want you to love yourself as much as you love others.

I have traveled all over the world and the above is one of those universal answers that span cultures, country borders, religious beliefs, genders, age discrepancies, financial status, etc. Fathers and mothers all over this planet want their kids to grow into happy, loving, humble, beautiful humans.

We may all have different beliefs on how best to make that happen, we may all have different methods for the fastest and surest route there, but for the most part, parents all over this globe want their child to be happy, live life to the fullest, extend compassion to all and love who they have become.

I can vividly recall those final few years of my father’s life after his stroke. He was left in a wheelchair, unable to talk and barely able to walk. He needed care 24 hours a day, every day. He could not feed, bathe or clothe himself.

In many ways, he physically reverted to a vulnerable, tender infant that needed continuous care, love and protection.

I knew that my father’s mind was still very much alert and working. We would watch baseball together as he sat reclined in his favorite chair and he still understood each minute, nuance and strategy. I would comment on this or that item and he would move his head in agreement or disagreement. His body language and facial expression showed disgust when he believed the umpire made a bad call and he beamed with satisfaction when his team would win.

I could tease and joke with him about memories only he and I had in common and I knew by the twinkle in his eye and the smile on his face, he was right there with me in nostalgia.

Poignantly, this was the most painful part of my father’s last few years here on Earth. His mind was alert as ever and yet, he was trapped in a fragile, weak body that would not allow him to communicate with others as he once had. And for my father, an eloquent masterful communicator in his day, this mental imprisonment was painful, awkward and agonizing. On top of that, his physical existence depended on the constant care and attention of others.

This must have humbled him like no other hardship imaginable.

I will be forever grateful for my mother’s strength and endurance in caring for my father the way she did during those final few years. She, tangibly, was his guardian angel and showed me what unconditional love patiently looked like day in and day out. There were times I would be helping my mother and I would literally cradle my father in my arms and lift him from his recliner to his wheelchair, wheelchair to toilet, then from toilet to wheelchair and finally, from wheelchair to bed.

When I would pick him up and hold him in my arms, he would look at me with a panicky, nervous expression and terrified, frightened eyes, asking me if I were strong enough to hold him. His eyes would say, “Art, I am scared; please do not drop me — I am nervous and afraid.”

In all my years, I had never seen fear and concern like that on my father’s face. It made him human, vulnerable and more of a hero to me than ever before. For me, it was the culmination of a relationship that meant everything to me. It was he and I coming full circle.

I would look at my now physically meek and timid father and verbally assure him that I had him. That I would not drop him and that he was safe. I would gently lay him down on his bed, help adjust his pillows the way he liked and then carefully pull the covers over his frail frame. He would look up at me and give me the kindest smile.

My father and I, full circle.

Often, I would take a moment, pull up a chair, sit by his bedside and we would talk. OK, to clarify – I would talk and he would smile, wink and nod. But there was heartfelt communication like never before. I had some of the most tender and emotional, moving conversations with my father during those times.

I remember telling him once that it was my turn to take care of him. “Dad, you must have comforted me countless times as a child when I was scared, weak and afraid, but this was now my time to return the favor and care for you in a similar manner.” He would look at me with red, moist eyes, grab my hand, squeeze it tight and smile and nod. I would tell him how much I loved him and that I was so very blessed to have him as a father. I would confide to him my weaknesses and challenges and he would pull me close with his hand, gripping mine as tears would roll down his cheeks. But what would ultimately raise his spirits and generate his greatest joy is when I would say:

“Dad, despite all my challenges, I have a life that is good. I am happy. I am strong. I am blessed. I have a life that is good. I am content, I am cheerful. I am free. Dad, I love me. I am the person I want to be.”

With that, he would smile, cry, squeeze and clench my hand even tighter and hold my gaze with a serenity that cannot be described.

I came to the infinite understanding that this is what he lived his 85 years to hear. This is what he wanted for me. This is what brought him his greatest joy: the knowledge that I had faced down my demons and had emerged on the other side stronger, happier, more content and humble than ever. That I was truly at peace with who I was.

So, let’s keep chasing that light beam and continue the thought experiment: if that is what my father wanted to hear from his son.

(Is this what I ultimately want to hear from my children as I move closer and closer to the final curtain in mortality? Yes, I believe it is.)

Kelly, AJ, Kai and Mac, I want you to know I will never completely let go. I will always be here for you. My hands are strong and I will never let you down. I will never completely let go. Just as my father grew frail, weak and timid, so will I. When that eventually happens, your arms will be strong enough to lift and carry me and I will look to you for love and nourishment.

But for now, just hold on.

You will each have unique individual demons that you must chase and vanquish. I will not be there for all your trials and battles. I promise life will bring you highs and lows. You will feel sadness, there is no question about that. The weak and short-sided father in me would like to fight your fights. If I could, I would take these moments from you. I would gladly carry your pain. But if I had that kind of superhuman, unearthly power, I would have to abstain and allow you to feel the bitter sting of disappointment.

If I took the low times. it would rob you of the lessons learned and dilute the good times as well.

You must feel pain to appreciate joy. You must feel pain to recognize areas for improvement and growth. Ironically, sorrow will bring greater happiness if you recognize and fight through it. But I promise, I am still holding your hand. I am still here supporting you, loving you and encouraging you with the loudest voice possible.

You will find the courage. You need those hardships in life to forge you into the happy, well-adjusted, strong, content individuals I hope to see you become.

The very thing I most want for you: you will find inner strength and will rise and chase your dragons. You will face madness in this life and if you are patient and have faith, you will endure and be victorious.

Our creator has given you each amazing strengths and you have also been blessed with weaknesses that when overcome, will create the best you possible. If you chase your personal dragons long enough, you will be victorious and slay them. This I can promise you.

Never give up. Face the dragons with courage and eventually, you will win.

At that moment, you will know and can look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I have a life that is good. I am happy. I am strong. I am blessed. I have a life that is good. I am content, I am cheerful. I am free. I love me. I am the person I want to be.”

 There will be a sincerity and peace in your conviction that will not be bridled by self-doubt, insecurity and shame. There will be a peace in your contentment that can only come from truly being at ease in your own skin.

These are the words my father yearned to hear from me. These are the words any good parent craves from their children. These are the words that will make it all worthwhile.

I pray that I am giving you all that is necessary for you to find your path. I pray I am giving you the tools needed to have the strength and endurance to chase and slay your dragons.

This is what my father wanted for me and this is what I want for you. I want you to grow to be self-confident, strong, honest, loving individuals who are truly at home in your own skin. I want you to be profoundly happy when you wake each morning and excited to drink in life in all its beautiful messiness.

I want you to be eager to experience life’s greatest joys.

Fall head over heels in love with you. That is not arrogance and self-centeredness. Loving yourself is born of self-confidence. It is OK to be deeply happy and love who you are. Life is an amazing journey. Have the moxie to follow your heart. If you want love, give love. It is that simple. When you are kind to others and place their needs, wants and desires above your own, your heart will be full, your mind clear and your burdens light. That’s how it works.

When you have a full heart and a clear mind, you will find and abundance of happiness.

I have made many mistakes in life. But they do not define me. They have only made me a better person in the long run. My dragons have been chased for years and I still chase them to this day.  Lord knows I take three steps forward and then get knocked back a few.

But I get up time after time and attempt to be positive and move forward again and again.

Sometimes I have questions about the universe and what it all means and I have come to a realization that it as simple as this: my father’s happiness was deeply rooted in my happiness and he did everything possible to put me in the best position to obtain joy. And so it is with me. My joy — the thing that brings me the greatest happiness and the greatest pain — is you. You are my happiness.

Joy is you: Kelly, AJ, Kai and Mac. And it is knowing that I have done all I could to be the best father I could be.

As you journey this globe and mingle with others, look for those who feel, think and act like you. Look for those who accept you for you. Look for those who do not try to change you, control you, play you, shame you, belittle you or hurt you. Look for those who are ready and willing to shed a tear, say “I am sorry,” expose their vulnerable side and allow you the freedom to do the same without judgment, ridicule or cynicism. Look for those who protect you even when you are at your worst. Look for those who you are at peace with who you feel safe with and enjoy being with. Look for those who share your inner contentment and are like you.

Seek a partner who shares your core values. You will feel it. These individuals are easy for you to be around. There is little drama or tension.

Some say opposites attract, providing spice to the partnership and that is what makes a constantly evolving, stimulating relationship. It is true: opposites can create a compelling attraction. Differing views and opinions can generate an exciting connection, filled with new and stimulating experiences. Yet, I would argue that they do not create the longest-lasting relationships.

It is extremely difficult to bring two different worlds together over the long haul.

Look for partners who are generally upbeat and happy individuals. Many people would rather be unhappy as supposed to putting in the work necessary for happiness. Happiness is work. Work is hard. Be cautious of those who are comfortable in a constant state of worry, concern, doubt and drama. These individuals typically play the victim and deflect responsibility. Their woes in life are often everyone else’s fault. They will rarely say “my bad; I am sorry.” You can spot these individuals because over time, they will drain your energy and leave you feeling emotionally lethargic and melancholy. True happiness does not extract energy; it is the source of energy.

Happy people are active, motivated and optimistic. For these individuals, there’s never enough time to accomplish all they want to do.

When finding a partner, look for those who have more alignment with your philosophies than differences. This will create a stronger, more solid union of two souls. If you try to align with others who you have fundamental disagreements with, the binding and unification cannot be everlastingly strong. Competing interest and values will pull and push against each other, creating constant friction and confrontation. One person will quietly try to change the other while the other is covertly resisting. This pushing and pulling will ultimately come to a head and what was once trust, union and love will quickly morph into doubt, division and animosity. There will be a lack of harmony and you will find your relationship being far harder and complicated than needful.

No, look for others with your same values, interest and hearts. When it is right it will feel easy, it will feel right — you will know.

That does not mean you and your loved ones will not face obstacles, challenges and have disagreements. That is part of life. You cannot dodge that one. But it is how you calmly, honestly, selflessly and tenderly deal with those disagreements that will be the mark of two hearts and souls aligned, making a far stronger union and partnership.

Trust will be overflowing; love will abound and you will be far happier in the long run.

Some day you will sit at my bedside and say, “Dad, I have chased down my dragons and I am who I want to be, where I want to be and with whom I want to be. Thanks for never letting go. Now it is our turn to carry you. It is our turn to put you to bed, tenderly bathe you and nourish you. It is our turn to be your rock. Our hands are strong and we will not let go.”

My prayer is that one day, when you are old and your youth has left you far behind, your children will gather around you and say,

“I have a life that is good. I am happy. I am strong. I am blessed. I have a life that is good. I am content, I am cheerful. I am free, I love me. I am the person I want to be.”

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This post was written by Art

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