Lessons From My Father’s Life, and Death
May 3, 2018
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 significant 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 truck 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, CPPC, is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, Creativity, and Midlife Transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule an initial consultation.