Generally speaking, I’m not a sentimental person. I might tear up during a particularly moving human interest story on America’s Got Talent or at the end of a movie like say The Notebook. (I mean, who doesn’t??) But by and large, I’m a pretty no-nonsense kind of girl. I don’t usually daydream about yesteryear or the glory days. If anything, I’m more apt to look too far into the future than reminisce about the past.
So, when I volunteered to host my dad’s retirement party honoring his 45 years of family practice, my mind went blank. I didn’t really know how to make this family potluck more special than any other.
I called my cousin Allison, who is AMAZING at hosting parties. I mean, this girl makes Pinterest look stale. I confessed I was a little nervous about hosting because I could never come up with the types of cute, theme-oriented decorations like she could. Just thinking about decoupaging or papier-macheing anything makes me break out in hives.
As I blathered on about my lack of party-planning prowess, Allison stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Megan, you don’t need to plan a party like I would plan a party. You need to plan a party like you would plan one. That’s how you’ll honor your dad best.”
Hearing those words was like finding the long-lost key that could unlock my party-planning handcuffs. Hosting a party complete with string lights and aptly themed name plates is her gift. Not mine.
I’m not a decorations girl. I’m a words girl.
That was it! We would honor him with words.
I hopped on the computer and emailed the office manager of my dad’s practice. I asked her if she could get in touch with folks my dad worked with over the years and see if they would send encouraging messages regarding what it was like to work with him that I would print out and put in a little book.
As I read the messages that arrived in my in-box, I smiled knowing what a blessing they would be to my father.
And luckily, I didn’t have to abandon the cute decorations thing altogether because my beyond-wonderful sister, Katie flew in to help. She procured my father’s old medical bag for a counter-top centerpiece, gathered dress-up supplies for a family photo booth and launched the kids into action creating red-cross themed pennants and a map of the world to mark each location where Dr. Rob and Nurse Marilyn have served over the years. Thank goodness for the village!
Towards the end of the evening, we rounded up playful kids and chatty adults and circled around the guest of honor with the express intention of giving him a chance to reflect on the 45-year span of his career. Katie had typed up some questions that she cut into strips and handed out to the listening crowd. One by one, kids and adults alike got to interview Dr. Rob.
We listened as he told us how his interest in medicine sprouted in sixth grade after reading a biography about the famous missionary doctor, Albert Schweitzer and tried to calculate just how many babies he delivered over the years and why he eventually gave that up.
As I reflect on that night, a few lessons settle in my soul….
1. A 45-year commitment to anything is worth celebrating! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before age forty, and this number is projected to grow. In this ever-evolving information age, careers and marriages alike can change or dissolve on a dime. It’s pretty cool to show our kids just how beautifully rewarding it can be to walk long and obediently in the same direction. Perseverance and grit never go out of style. In fact, they are to be praised.
2. Intergenerational community is key. This one is not rocket science, but is often undervalued. My heart smiled as I looked around the circle and saw kids giving Dr. Rob their full attention. It’s quite normal and good for kids to be off playing while adults sit around and chat, but I was reminded that every once in a while we need to pull them in close and connect them (and us) with those who have gone before. Those ahead of us on the journey offer much wisdom as they share what it looks like to live and love and, at the risk of repeating myself, persevere in good times and in bad. Their testimonies light our paths.
3. Honor your people while you have them. I have many friends who have already lost one or both parents — often quite suddenly. The fact that both of my parents are alive and well is not lost on me. We all know we are not guaranteed tomorrow, but so often we live as if we are. It was such a blessing to slow down and honor one of the most important people in my life. To let words of encouragement wash over him while he still has ears to hear and a heart to receive.
4. A successful career is not a one-man (or woman) show. Behind every great person is, often times, an even greater spouse. As my mom sat, basking in the glow of all the amazing things that were said about my dad, I realized that she is and always has been his biggest fan. They moved to Windsor, Colorado for his job. Not hers. She often had to share the town’s favorite doctor with so many other people. He was gone many nights delivering babies or working long hours, always willing to take care of one last hurting soul. During all that time, I never heard her complain about him being gone and she even held a successful career as a registered nurse in her own right. May we also honor the cast of supporting characters because they are often unsung heroes and the glue that holds the whole show together.
5. You do you. That is by far my favorite saying in recent memory! I’ve wasted way too much time over the years trying to do things like others would or perform like they might “want me to.” Gracious. Let’s be done with that, please.
Commitment, community, connection…so many super rich elements in this post.
I’m so happy your family decided to take the time to honor your dad and his brilliant career! I think the world of your dad. He’s kind, generous, tender, and apparently a fantastic doc. He has also clearly loved his daughters and his wife very well. May we always take these opportunities to celebrate and appreciate distinct accomplishments and admirable qualities whenever we get a chance. Congrats to Dr. Rob!
I went to a piano conference this summer and one of the talks was on GRIT. I happened to score low on the grit scale, but that is for another time. I learned that the value of grit is starting to disappear in our culture. What an honor it must be to see this fading trait, so present in your dad! I think that is an amazing example for the youngers in your family, especially in a world that says you should work at it. . . until it gets uncomfortable. I am surely, guilty of being grit-less, but I sure look up to people who have got it! Way to go, Dr. Rob!