Dad Taught Me to Climb Mountains

"We must each lead a way of life with self-awareness and compassion, to do as much as we can. Then, whatever happens we will have no regrets." ~Dalai Lama
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In my last two blog posts, I wrote about the Seven Ways Optimism is Good for Your Health and Six Tips for Becoming a Realistic Optimist, even when life throws us painful hurdles. As I described in the first of the two blogs, my dad took myself and my family on an emotional roller coaster ride when he became ill, beginning on Memorial Day weekend of this year, and I chose to remain optimistic that we would continue to have some beautiful moments together. My dad ended the ride soon after Labor Day. Now, I am left with the choice of how to deal with the pain about this incredible loss. I choose to focus on the fact that living until the age of 93 is amazing, that my dad truly lived a full life, and that we did get to experience some more beautiful moments together during the course of the summer. I feel optimistic that my dad lives on in that my brothers and I each carry a piece of him in the way we have chosen to live our lives and the lessons we've learned from him. One of those lessons is to be grateful for every day we have on this earth.

Throughout my life, Dad has told our family all sorts of stories about his service in the Army Air Corps during WWII. Many of the stories were repeated again and again. Surprisingly, we learned new ones in the most recent years. He loved to reminisce about his time in the service. One of the main themes he would bring up in these discussions was about how he had always been in the right place at the right time, unknowingly making life-changing, life-saving, choices that led him away from danger at that proverbial "fork in the road." On one occasion, for example, his unit was almost completely wiped out. He was not with them because of his spontaneous decision to apply for Officer Candidate School and his subsequent acceptance to this school. Dad would often say to me that he valued every moment of life because "I'm living on borrowed time."

Dad was always the picture of vibrance and health, looking much younger than his age and having lots of energy. He was one of the first "joggers," before it became a trend. He always tried to eat healthy foods, based on the most recent research about nutrition of the time. (That was another lesson that we learned from him: "You are what you eat.")

At 79-years-old, Dad was walking five miles per day at a pace that, at 39-years-old, I had trouble keeping up with. When I walked with him, he would always want to talk. I would, breathlessly say, "Dad, I can't talk and walk at the same time, if we go this fast." He seemed to have no problem with doing the two activities together. So, it was quite a shock to the rest of us in the family when Dad had a stroke a few months before turning 80. After he had gone through rehabilitation and returned home, I made a visit to him. Dad was smiling, when he saw me enter the apartment, and he remained cheerful and optimistic throughout our conversation. We were all freaking out that "Mr. Health" had been taken down by a stroke and he was all smiling and cheerful! I remember sitting at the kitchen table with him. "Dad," I asked, "why are you in such a good mood? You just had a stroke!"

He smiled a broad smile and said to me, "I'm happy I'm still here! I'm living on borrowed time!"

Dad kept his optimistic attitude throughout his later years. When I called and asked him how he was feeling, he would answer, "So far, so good. I'm still here!" In the past couple of years, this changed to a very strong and determined, "I'm fine!" Dad absolutely loved his 90th birthday party, surrounded by his good friends and family, and he could not stop talking about his 100th birthday party that he was determined to have. He told me that he didn't mind getting older. In fact, he was proud of his age. Every year, beginning on his birthday, he would say, "I'm almost..." and then give the age of his next birthday. Sometimes, he even jumped a few years!

About a year and a half ago, when he was 91 ½, I visited my parents in Florida, where they stayed for the winter. I sat on the couch next to Dad, who had not stopped smiling since I had arrived, and I put my arm around his shoulders. Dad said to me, "So, how long you here for?"

"I'm here for a whole week, this time," I answered.

Dad responded, "Oh, it's too bad you're not staying a little longer."

"I know, Dad," I answered, "it's always too short."

He smiled. "Because, you know, I'm going to have a 100th birthday party and I would love to have you there!" Dad taught us optimism.

I promised Dad to celebrate his 100th birthday--and in the meantime, I'm celebrating the 93 amazing years he's spent on this earth, and all of the wisdom he's bestowed upon us!

(To read the full blog, go to Dad Taught Me to Climb Mountains on my website.)

In loving memory of Theodore F. Karpel: 1922-2015
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