Lessons Learned from My Parents

I’ve spent a lot of time creating posts on this blog that share either personal or collective lessons that have been learned by philosophical minds, political leaders, great scientists, and unforgettable artists.  On the personal side, I’ve paid tribute to my grandparents by sharing the lessons I learned from spending the hours after and between school with them, growing up.  Many of these people I’ll never meet, and my grandparents passed away many years ago. 

Today’s post is more about celebrating longevity and life by reflecting on the two people that have influenced and shaped my life the greatest, the people I love and look up to the most…my parents, Dominick and Nancy.  Today is their 38th Wedding Anniversary – a symbolic opportunity for me to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned from my parents. 

Stand Up for Yourself:    

I think this is a lesson a lot of parents plan and try to teach their children.  Much of the time, it comes as overreaction and misguided as a sense of entitlement, or a “the entire world is out to get me” victim mentality.  My parents didn’t overrreact, and didn’t instill a sense of entitlement or victim mentality in me.  When I was very young, being picked on by a group of kids in school, my father taught me how to stand up for myself.  I only had to do it once, and kids that may have been bullies later became good friends. 

But I want to look at this lesson much deeper.  Standing up for myself didn’t just mean in the most stereotypical sense.  It meant having integrity and pride in myself, compassion for others, and standing up for other people too.  I watched them do this, growing up, and they conveyed it through their actions.  When I look at certain choices I was asked to make in life, a few in particular where I was pressured by others with influence to do something that defied my instincts, I had the strength to say, “No, I won’t do it that way.”  The only way I could do that is by relying on inner strength and knowledge of Who I really was.  This was a foundation they showed me how to build and it’s a structure I’ll hopefully have with me for my entire life.  That’s a tremendous gift they’ve given me. 

Real Strength Is Quiet:            

This is a lesson I’ve definitely learned from my mother.  People often equate strength with volume; loud, domineering, controlling.  When I think of what real strength is, I think a lot of my mother.  She’s a day-to-day reminder of one of my favorite sayings, “A rich man doesn’t need to tell you he’s rich.”  I think you can apply this to many qualities; happiness, success, confidence, and strength.  My mother has always worked.  When I was little, she worked part time following her bliss as an interior decorator, and then took a series of more administrative roles, one of which she’s still at to this day.  She works hard, and without an ego, supporting everyone else around her while asking for very little in return. It’s gained her the respect and admiration of her co-workers.  Unlike her son, she doesn’t often become the center of attention (sorry Mom) but is happiest when everyone she cares about is around her and is happy.  When they’re not, she’s there to the rescue.  But it’s subtle, not aggressive or abrasive, it’s on their terms — what they need, and is never about her.  Much like in her professional life, she asks little in return. 

To me, this embodies inner strength. The strongest of us can give and give and give because we have so much strength of spirit and courage in our heart.  I hope someday to have even half of her strength.  It’s a goal I aspire to with people, to remove myself, my ego, my needs from interactions and relationships.  I find that when I do, I see progress around me, collaboration, joy — and love.  Maybe this is what it’s like to see the world through her eyes. 

Don’t Give Up:                        

Personally and professionally, I went through a very rocky few years — not that long ago.  If my mother was about subtle support and careful guidance, my father was direct and motivating. We don’t see eye-to-eye all the time like most fathers and sons, but he’s still the first phone call I make in crisis, and the first place I look for guidance and most importantly…hope.  I probably used him as a compass as much as I did through a rough road because I watched him successfully navigate his own when I was younger…

In the early 90s, during another economic recession, my father was out of work for eighteen months.  As a graphic designer by trade, he was in his prime at that time, with not just creative, but sales experience as well.  But work in that industry was scarce at that time, and many of the positions he interviewed for he was told he was “overqualified.”  He did whatever he needed to to find work, taking a whole bunch of short-term jobs in and out of his field.  For a good stretch of months, he drove a truck for a good friend’s company.  In that period, he’d not only struggle to find work, but would also lose his father to a heart attack.  Ironically a few weeks earlier, my grandfather gave my father a similar “don’t give up” pep talk as he’d often give to me years later, and my grandfather assured him that things would get better.  Eventually they did, his hard work paid off – he found a great job that was perfect for him, was surrounded by supportive co-workers that are, to this day, some of his best friends. 

This stretch in his life taught him many lessons, but it taught me many as well.  Lessons I wasn’t even aware I had learned until only a short time ago.  Life is struggle, and all of us will face adversity.  My parents’ strength was tested during that stretch severely, but they stuck together, worked through it and persevered. 

The World Is Always What You Make of It:

If there’s one current, or mantra running through all of these lessons and reflections on my parents, it’s probably this one.  It’s one of my mother’s favorite sayings and for me, it speaks greatly to the idea of controlling our own choices.  From the time I was very little to now being an almost 33-year-old man (Dear God), she’s challenged me not to shy away from adversity, but to deal with it, make the most out of it, and find the silver lining deep within it.  It’s an innate sense of optimism, an ability to laugh at life, to face it’s challenges without ever losing yourself in them. 

My parents can be silly, they’re thoughtful, encouraging, and reliable — not just for me, but everyone in their lives.  They’re both meticulous, taking pride in themselves and the home they’ve built together.  They’re best friends who have each other’s back and anyone they care about.  They’ve taught me that life or the people in it aren’t always perfect, they remind me that they aren’t.  But as their only son, I realized that even though they or their life hasn’t always been perfect, that they’ve always made the most of it.  I think because of who they are and all that they do, they sometimes think they’re being overlooked.  But I know that’s not true, because I’m always looking at them…and I’ve always respected, cherished, and loved everything I’ve seen. 

Happy Anniversary to Dom and Nancy.  I know I don’t say it enough, but I love you guys so much.

Your son,

Dan

~ by Dan Fabrizio on April 3, 2014.

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