A Father’s Legacy: My Tribute to my dad is a personal blog because every now and then, stepping outside the norm of writing a ‘businessey’ blog is something I enjoy doing. Not only is it therapeutic, but it sometimes reminds me to focus on what’s most important. And, although I love my work, what’s most important isn’t the work, it’s the people in our lives who make ours richer. Last week, my father — the strongest man I have ever known — was ushered into his eternal home with his heavenly father. My life is far richer because of the parents I was blessed with, which is why this week’s blog, is a tribute to my father.
My dad, Wendell “Dutch” P. Garrison, was the 9th of 11 children born to a minister in a small village in Upstate New York. Growing up during the Great Depression in a small town, he knew what poverty and hunger really were, and yet he didn’t complain; he was, instead, grateful. As a matter of fact, I believe it was this experience that molded him into being one of the most grateful people I knew. His appreciation for the gift of life, abiding faith in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and eternal optimism made his life all the richer. He taught his five children (I’m number 4) to be grateful, never wasteful and always generous.
As my family gathered together to mourn and reminisce about my father, we shed tears for how much he will be missed, but we also had many moments of laughter by remembering his funny sayings, and all of the things about him that we loved. At one point I asked the question to my family members (including siblings, spouses and grandchildren): “If you could describe dad/pops in one word, what would that word be?” There were responses like: “stubborn,” “principled,” “faithful,” “trustworthy,” “loyal,” “devoted,” “funny,” “optimistic,” and others that came to our minds. It’s hard to describe him in one word because he was so FULL of personality and life. All of the above words certainly describe him, but for a man like my dad, they cannot begin to convey who he was because he was so much more than a word. What he was, was a man of character who lived with unwavering faith, deep conviction, powerful belief and all of those make me think of three meaningful words:
Dad sacrificed so much to give to others. He worked hard, and never complained about having to go to work; he was instead GRATEFUL that he had a job so he could provide for his family. Never one to complain or think he should be ‘entitled’ to anything; instead his work ethic has been transferred to his children and grandchildren. He sacrificed his wants, needs and hobbies to be sure that his wife and children were well fed and clothed. When my sister and I were packing his things and donating his clothes to other veterans, we could not let his shoes go because they told a story of SACRIFICE. He had grown up having to wear shoes with holes in them, and he lined the soles with cardboard. He didn’t want that for his children, so we always had good quality shoes with no holes in them (unless we put them there from playing sports too hard). His dress shoes were over 50 years old, and he kept resoling them because “there was nothing wrong with them.” Those shoes represent so much more than a pair of shoes, they represent his heart–a heart always willing to SACRIFICE his own needs and wants to GENEROUSLY give to others. He was not a martyr, but a genuinely generous man who was grateful for what he had so that he could give. A verse that I love and one that makes me think of my father is from Proverbs 11:25:
A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
From an earthly viewpoint, my father’s focus was never about prospering monetarily; he instead prospered in the impact his generosity had on others. After taking care of their own children (and many others along the way), it was finally my parents’ turn to enjoy the fruits of their labor during their retirement years, but it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, my mother was stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease in her late 50’s and my father took an early retirement so he could be her primary caregiver. After many long and often lonesome years, the disease that robbed our mother of her golden years and took her from us in 2006, also took a toll on our father. A devoted and thoughtful caregiver of many his whole life, he became the recipient of loving and compassionate care during his final years on this earth by many kind-hearted caregivers.
He was a man who lived life to the fullest, which was evidenced in some of his favorite past times that included: iceskating, bowling, playing board games, roller skating and gardening. My brothers and sisters and I will forever cherish the Christmas spirit he instilled in us by his own love for the holiday. We are also forever grateful that he and our mother made sure we had an annual family vacation at the beach. Often, they had to scrape together and sacrifice throughout the year so that we would get that one fantastic week. Our annual vacations to Cape May, New Jersey continue to be enjoyed by all of us and our children as we journey there each summer to enjoy a week together.
Upon graduating from Bridgeton High School in New Jersey, our father attended Boston University, but his greatest pride was serving in the United States Air Force during the Korean Conflict. He was stationed in Germany, Scotland and the Azores. He worked for IBM for over 35 years where he made many friends. His love for baseball started as a young boy and he continued to play softball well into his 70’s. He was the biggest Philadelphia Phillies Fan (phan), and as a final tribute to his love for his team, his grandchildren lined up and sang Take Me Out to the Ball Game while wearing Phillies hats, and his grandsons who carried him to his final resting place also wore their Phillies hats in honor of him. Yes–it was certainly a tear jerker, but we as his kids couldn’t think of a better way to bid our final earthly farewells.
Dad had a great sense of humor and infectious smile that were thoroughly enjoyed by all who knew him. He was a man of unwavering faith, deep conviction and love for his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, his love of the United States of America and especially his devotion and love for his family.
“Dad,” “Pa,” “Pops,” you will be dearly missed, but as you and mom taught us so well, we know that we will see you both again. Thank you for EVERYTHING and especially taking time to teach us God’s promises.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
(Photo from December 2005 — From Left to right and back to front: my brother, Joel; my sister, Miriam; my brother, Paul; me, Dad, my sister Eileen)