The Greatest Lesson My Father Ever Taught Me
6 years ago today my father died while vacationing in Mexico with my mother. I was 7 months pregnant and my parents were covered in sand when he died. We don't really know what happened to my father. One moment he was swimming in the ocean with his friends and the next, he was lying unconscious on the sand while paramedics performed CPR and drove him to the nearest hospital. My mom told me he was still wearing his bathing suit when he died. The next several days were absolute chaos for my mom. She needed to figure out how to transport his body from Mexico back to the states and manage to inform the entire family that my father was gone. I don't know how she did it. I guess strength is a trait that runs deep in our Mexican blood. After my father died I was flooded with memories of him. My mind was desperately trying to grasp onto something tangible that would make me feel closer to my dad. But memories can only go so far during a time of so much grief. What really provided me with the comfort I was looking for was remembering all of the things my dad taught me. I found solace in the fact that my father's spirit could live on for many generations through his lessons. After flipping through the mental rolodex of life lessons from my father, one particular lesson stood out...
This is the story of my dad's greatest lesson.
He gifted it to me only 6 months before he died and today, I want to share his lesson with you.
It was 2011 and my dad was about to pay thousands of dollars to hire an attorney to handle my divorce. My mom, dad and I had just pulled into the parking lot of the law firm and the 3 of us were getting ready to get out of the car when my dad said to my mother, "Go in. We'll be there in a minute." My mom opened the passenger door and left without saying a thing. My dad signaled to me to move to the front and take her seat. I promptly switched seats and sat next to my dad. I looked at him with a huge knot in my throat and felt shame the weight of 1,000 boulders. I wanted to die. There I was sitting next to my dad, about to enter a law firm with him so HE could pay for my divorce because I was too young and stupid and broke to handle it myself. There have been several "low" moments in my life and this was definitely one of them. I was sitting there bracing myself for a lecture on how immature and irresponsible it was for me to get married at 18 and how much money it was going to cost him to "fix my mistake" but instead what my father proceeded to do, is an experience I will never forget.
"I want to play a song for you," he said.
"It's a song by Frank Sinatra called That's Life. I want you to listen to the lyrics."
My father wasn't the best communicator so he loved communicating his thoughts and emotions through songs and Hallmark cards.
"Ok" I replied, totally relieved and slightly confused.
That's Life started playing in his car and my dad began to candidly sing along to the lyrics.
I watched him bob his head to the music and I thought to myself, "Is he seriously doing car karaoke to Frank Sinatra right now!?"
I smiled and my guard went down.
The song began...
That's what all the people say
You're ridin' high in April
Shot down in May
But I know I'm gonna' change that tune
When I'm back on top, back on top June"
My dad was melodically waving both of his index fingers around like an orchestra conductor. I could tell he really liked this song and had listened to it many times.
"In life you're not always going to be at the top. Sometimes you're going to be at the bottom and that's ok. That's life."
The song continued.
He said, "Listen."
"I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king
I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race"
"Sometimes you're a pawn and sometimes you're a king. But you can't let these identities define you because rarely do you stay a pawn and rarely do you stay a king. Life has seasons and seasons change. You can't quit when the seasons change. You can't quit just because its winter."
"Listen" he said again.
"That's life, I tell you I can't deny it I thought of quitting baby, but my heart just ain't gonna buy it And if I didn't think it was worth one single try I'd jump right on a big bird and then I'd fly"
"You are about to start a new season in your life. You can't quit if your life becomes more difficult. Like the song says, you just have to pick yourself up and get back in the race."
"Ok, mija?" he said.
"Yes," I nodded with tears gliding down my cheeks.
We let the song come to an end. We hugged in the car and we both left that parking with our heads held up high.
6 years later, I still reference that day in my dad's car whenever I need a jolt of strength. I remember the lyrics and I like to play the song on Spotify when I'm about to do something that requires an extra bit of courage. That's Life still brings tears to my eyes when I listen to it because my father's energy will forever be seared into the melody and spirit of that song. I can still hear his voice trailing slightly behind Sinatra's...
Today, my dad and I want to share this song with you to remind you that when you find yourself flat on your face, pick yourself up and get back in the race because life is a marathon worth running! Regardless of whether you've become a pawn when you were once a king, or you are now a king when you were once a pawn, life is never permanent. The ebb and flow of life is what makes it exciting and worthwhile. Don't give up when things are hard, and don't get too comfortable when things are easy. The impermanence of it all should keep you smiling, vigilant and on your toes.
Because That's Life, my fiend.
Gracias papa. Te amo, y te extraño.