My Father Passed Away. This is What He Taught Me
With my 40th birthday last month, I’ve been in a deep process of self-reflection and have been looking back on my own life and all that has unfolded in the past four decades. I, too, can clearly see all of the amazing synchronicity that has led me to where I am at this moment.
Reflecting back on our lives and seeing how everything has happened for a reason is an important and powerful thing for us to do. It’s also essential, although often more challenging, to trust that things are unfolding now and will continue to do so in the future, as they’re meant to. As Steve Jobs talked about in his famous commencement speech at Stanford in 2005:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.”
I had a profound “connecting the dots” moment on my birthday last month. I went out to dinner with my wife Michelle, my sisters Rachel and Lori, and a few friends. Lori pulled out a piece of paper and said, “As a way of honoring you on your 40th birthday, it felt important and appropriate for me to bring this and read it.” She then began to read from a list of 40 life lessons called “Life According to Ed Robbins,” our father, who died back in 2001.
As she began to read from this list, I was both touched and a little confused. After she got through the first few items, I stopped her and asked, “Lori, where did you get that?” She stopped and looked at me, equally confused. She said, “What do you mean, where did I get this? I got it from you – you wrote it when dad died, don’t you remember?”
Amazingly, I had no memory of writing it. But, apparently after my dad died, I made a list of some of his key philosophies and lessons, as a way to remember, honor, and memorialize him. Even more amazing to me than the fact that I didn’t remember writing it (I actually have a pretty good memory in general and especially for stuff like this), was the nature of what I wrote. So much of the advice on the list, which came from my father and what he taught me and all of us, is similar to the core themes of my work – particularly the book I just finished writing.
My father and I had a complicated relationship. He and my mom split up when I was three, and by the age of seven he was in and out of our lives as he struggled with severe bi-polar disorder. This was very painful for me and our entire family, as you can imagine.
Although he was able to get well by the time I was a teenager, our relationship remained challenging for many years and we never had a “traditional” father/son relationship. Although I did learn many things from my dad, I have found myself at times over the past twelve years or so since he died, especially in the past eight since becoming a father myself, hanging onto this “story” that my dad didn’t teach me a lot of things that I wish I’d learned about life, manhood, marriage, fatherhood, and more.
I also find myself wishing he would have gotten a chance to meet his granddaughters, to see me as a husband and father, and also to see the work that I do. He got very sick the final year of his life, which also happened to be the first year of my business, so he never got to see me speak and never got to read anything that I wrote (at least not in the context of the work I do now.)
However, reading this list of life advice and reflecting back on the lessons he did teach me, I’m not only struck by a deep sense of gratitude for what he taught me, but I’m also blown away by the way in which he influenced my life and my work, even more than I’d realized.
Below is the list, which contains a few inside jokes and references to funny things my dad did and said, but also contains a great deal of universal wisdom which I think you’ll appreciate. I feel honored, grateful, and humbled to share with you:
Life According to Ed Robbins
- Speak from your heart
- Wear your heart on your sleeve
- Be passionate and outspoken – do not let anyone stifle your expression
- Have love be your top priority
- Give kind, positive feedback as often as you possibly can
- Remember that you are not your accomplishments – you are you, and people love you for who you are, not what you do
- Remember that it’s okay to cry, in fact it’s good to cry often
- Hugs and kisses are beautiful and greatly appreciated
- Be grateful for your family and always stay connected with them
- Make sure you “kiss and make up” after a fight
- Cheer loudly at baseball games and always stand up when someone hits one you think might go out of the park
- Stand up for the people that you love and be willing to fight for them, if necessary
- Root for all your local sports teams – even if you have more than one team from the same sport near where you live
- Drive slowly and carefully
- Wait for all lights to change before crossing the street
- Talk to strangers
- Appreciate the beauty of where you are
- Never get off the phone with someone you love without saying “I love you.”
- Before saying something rude or contradictory, first say “with all due respect…”
- Laugh loudly and often
- Do not be afraid to get fired up, passionate, and raise your voice when necessary (and even sometimes when not so necessary)
- Take lots of photos of people you care about and keep them organized
- Save things that are important to you
- Be romantic and remember important dates, experiences, and events
- Sing the words to songs that you love
- Read the newspaper and know what is going on in the world, in sports, in entertainment, and more
- Have an opinion on everything!
- Be willing to admit when you made a mistake
- Forgive yourself and others
- Be kind and loving to yourself first
- Tell the truth
- Stay true to yourself
- Appreciate people
- Remember that it is okay to swear sometimes
- Remember that it is what’s on the inside that counts
- Remember that it’s okay to feel down and to feel scared
- Remember that people are the most important things in life
- Remember that there is no need to rush when you are eating, driving, or doing almost anything
- Remember that money is not that important
- Remember that you can bounce back from anything
I love this list and his advice. Both because of the simple and important wisdom of it, but also for what it represents – the synchronicity of life. My 40th birthday has been an opportunity for me to heal, learn, grow, celebrate, reflect, dream, forgive, accept, and much more.
How about you? As you reflect back upon your life and all the twists and turns it has taken up to this point, can you see how everything that has happened is interconnected? As you do this, can you also look around at your life right now (and even out into your future) and trust that all of the dots are connected in some beautiful and magical way, even if it may not be abundantly clear in the moment?
Trusting in the synchronicity of life isn’t easy or even all that encouraged – most of us have more experience with worry and control. Unfortunately, not only do worry and control not work, they end up sabotaging our experience of life and damaging us in the process.
It takes a great deal of courage and faith to trust in the synchronicity of life. And, when we’re able to do so, we give ourselves the opportunity to enjoy life, celebrate the full experience of it, and learn, grow, and evolve along the way. This trust is not a guarantee that everything will work out perfectly, there’s nothing in life that we can do which will guarantee that. However, when we trust that life is unfolding as it is meant to, we’re able to get out of our own way, liberate ourselves from unnecessary suffering, and experience the beauty and depth that life has to offer.
Feel free to share your stories of synchronicity and/or how you practice trusting the synchronicity of life in the comments below.
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