Lessons From My Father’s Life, and Death

by Kim Childs, CPPC

We lost my sweet, salty, quirky, loving dad last month after a heartbreaking battle with COPD. He hung in there long and strong, until he couldn’t, and died just short of his 81st birthday this weekend.

Peter Barry Childs was a Cape Cod native, born into a large Irish Catholic family and raised in Centerville, MA. He went to Barnstable High School and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard, was a volunteer firefighter, and ran a highly respected and successful tree care company for 35 years on the Cape before selling the business to my brother Pete.

A certified arborist, Dad taught us to respect and admire trees, nature, natural beauty, and critters of all kinds. We spent countless family hours on the back deck of the house he built in West Barnstable, where he and his dear “Happy” (aka Mom) created a magical sanctuary full of trees, flowers, flowering shrubs and birds of all kinds. Several years ago, this haven was declared a “Backyard Wildlife Habitat” by the National Wildlife Federation.

Dad was a diehard Boston Red Sox fan who played baseball in high school and – many decades later – in the Cape Cod Old Timers Softball League. I’ll never forget standing outside a Cambridge bar on October 27, 2004, calling Dad as both of us cried with joy for his favorite team’s triumph, as last. Dad also helped me to appreciate music, introducing me to ‪Louis Armstrong, ‪Ella Fitzgerald, ‪and the Beatles before I was even in grade school. As I mourn Dad’s passing, I’m noting some other things I learned from his life, and death:

Pursue your life’s work. The day my father died, I chose to show up for my clients and students. The next day, I gave a long-planned talk on Positive Psychology before traveling to be with my family, because I believed he would have wanted me to. Dad lived his purpose, played by his own rules, and cared deeply about his work as the founder of Peter B. Childs Arborists. He operated the business with integrity and took pride in his work, refusing to cut down trees “just because someone wants a water view.” Dad didn’t quite understand the whole life coach/workshop teacher thing, but he told me that he was proud of my courage and ability to follow my calling. He’d often ask me, “How’s business?” with genuine interest and goodwill, and I know he’s still rooting for me and my success.

Express yourself. Dad didn’t hold back – for better or worse – when he had an opinion. As my brother recently said, “With Dad, you always knew where you stood.” When he was well, Dad sent us kids newsy little notes and cards, sometimes accompanied by newspaper clippings full of his editorial comments in the margins. There were also jerry-rigged gadgets and notes all over the house, some featuring his unique vocabulary words, like “E-shua” (meaning sure) and “yot yots” (people he didn’t quite, um, respect) and “hackers” (often reserved for sloppy tree care companies).

Always apologize. Dad and I hit lots of turbulence in my teens (partly because we both had strong opinions, and partly because he struggled with his own demons), but we later grew to admire each other’s journeys. Dad often expressed remorse for those tough years, and, when we fought in recent years, he’d be quick to apologize for any outbursts, asking, “Are we friends again?” It was as if he knew that time was limited, and didn’t want conflicts to linger.

Be generous when you can. In recent years, Dad’s post box and voicemail box was full of solicitations from the numerous charities he gifted. It kind of drove Mom nuts. When Dad came into a small inheritance several years ago, he shared big chunks of it with us kids. One of Dad’s last acts of generosity was to gift my ex-husband, a fellow workin’ man, with the 2007 Nissan pick-up he could no longer drive.

Pets matter. My cat’s name is Petey, largely in honor of my dad, who had cats and dogs his whole life. In our family, we enjoyed the antics and affections of Peppy, Delphi, Hidey, Duke, Cricket, Rusty, and our sweet golden retriever, Ginger. Dad delighted in their companionship, and wept openly whenever we lost one of these beloved pets. Last month, my brother Mark brought his golden retriever Rex to the Cape from New York, to comfort my mom in her suddenly empty house. One morning, as I was crying, and hugging Mom as she cried, Mark wrapped his arms around us both. Next thing we knew, Rex jumped up on his hind legs and joined the group hug. It was a moment that would have cracked my dad up, and maybe even made him cry.

Let people know they matter. As I read the condolences and remarks of strangers (to me) who lives were touched by Dad, their words tell me that he often left them feeling better about themselves. One of his neighbors called him “the proverbial good guy.” It reminds me of Maya Angelou’s quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Dad had his salty moments when he was triggered, but the predominant word that I hear about him, including from the nurses who cared for him at the end, is “sweet.”

Thanks for making and loving me, Dad. Rest in peace, and be free.

Kim Childs is a Boston-area certified life and career coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and midlife transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or video chat.

23 thoughts on “Lessons From My Father’s Life, and Death

  1. Dear Kim,
    I am so sorry for the loss of your father. He sounded like such an amazing man and touched so many. There is something so special about the bond between a father and daughter. I am with you in thought and prayer. With deep sympathy, Stacey

  2. Dear Kim,
    I’m sending you love and light and much admiration for this beautiful tribute to your dad. I’m sure he was/is so very proud of you for living your truth.

  3. Oh, Kim. I’m so sorry for your loss, but what a lovely tribute! You make his character live on. Even when it’s “time” for someone to go, it’s still sad. I wish you and your family all the best as you each go through your processes. Smooches. Nancy

  4. Kim,
    So sorry to hear of your Dad’s passing. You really give us a true glimpse of what he was like.
    Hope all your dearest memories give you and your family peace.

  5. So sorry for you and your family’s loss Kim of your special Dad. I, too had a special bond with my Dad and I lost him at the age of 81. Your Dad was lucky to have you as a daughter and what’s wonderful is that he knew it! Much love to you, Kim, as you go through this time of memories of your Dad, both happy and sad. Marie

  6. He sounds like an amazing man who will live on in your actions, thoughts, and heart. He must have touched a lot of people’s lives.

  7. Thanks Kim. Lovely. Today is Pete’s Cinco de Mayo birthday, and while on the Jersey shore attending a T’ai Chi Chih retreat, I focused my practice on my brother. He is in my heart.

  8. Oh, dearest Kim. I’m so sorry for your great loss. There are so many things that we don’t want to happen, but we have to accept. There are so many loved ones whom we can’t live without, but we have to let go. No worries, your dearest father is in a very loving place now and watching over you from there. When it’s your time to join him in Heaven, I’m sure the pain of parting will be nothing to see him again. May his soul rest in peace and may God help you embrace pain and burn it as a fuel for the long journey of your healing.

  9. Dear Kim,

    I am sorry to read of your dad’s death in this email, please know I am sending you love and light at this sad time. And, I am so inspired and touched by your tribute to him. You are so walking your talk as you tell us the stories of all the positive things you learned from him. I am especially inspired by the story you tell of him starting a well respected tree care company and how he wouldn’t take down a tree “just because someone wanted a water view”. He obviously had great love for nature and for trees and followed his heart, even when I suspect it wasn’t always easy for him or his family. What a contribution and legacy to leave in the place that you lived your life. I hope I can say that at the end of my days, and you are lucky to have an example of that in your dad. Thanks as always, for sharing, dear Kim – my heart is with you.

  10. Dear Kim,

    I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your Dad, and what a beautiful tribute you wrote to him! To see deeply into another person is one of the greatest gifts we can give. And, you’ve clearly done that for your father in this description of his life and your relationship with him. I won’t soon forget the portrait you’ve painted of the man he was. Please know that I’m thinking of you during your time of loss.

    Sending love, xo

  11. Dear Kim,
    I am sorry to hear about the loss of your Dad. Your tribute to him is beautiful and gave me a real feel for him. He sounded alot like my own Dad in many ways. Capturing the essence of someone who worked to deal with his “demons” is not easy and indeed your Dad should be proud of you and the relationship you both cultivated and appreciated even more over time. It’s never easy losing a parent no matter how much we prepare. Thinking of you and your family during this tough time.
    Dale

  12. Dear Kim,
    I am very sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story. My condolences to you and your family during this time.

  13. I am so touched by each of your comments. Thank you so much for your kindness, everyone! My family and I are moving through this loss as best we can. All good wishes, Kim

  14. Thank you Sis. The world was a better place because Dad was in it, and we were all the better because of it. I miss my best friend. God Bless Peter B!
    MTC

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