My Father’s Answer to everything

Not long ago, I asked my father for his most important life advice. My first question was: ‘What’s the key to a lasting happy relationship?’

He answered: ‘Find someone you can laugh with and cry with, whom you love and respect, and who loves and respects you in return.’

Then I asked him: ‘And what’s the key to a happy and fulfilling working life?’ 

And he answered: ‘Work with people you can laugh with and complain with, whom you love and respect, and who love and respect you in return.’ (He always said the word ‘complain’ with a mischievous grin.)

And a third time I asked him: ‘And what’s the key to a happy and fulfilling life as a whole?’

And he answered: ‘Fill your life with people you can laugh with, cry with and complain with, whom you love and respect, and who love and respect you in return.’

That’s exactly how he lived his life. Even during his last few days in hospital, he had the nurses in the palm of his hand. As soon as a nurse walked in he would sit up and say: ‘You’re in danger!’ She would look back aghast – and in a grave voice he would explain: ‘You’re so lovely that men will fight over you. You’re going to have to learn to deal with that.’

His other piece of worldly advice was, ‘Rules are meant to be considered, not blindly followed. Always think for yourself.’ 

My father passed away peacefully in his sleep on 6th March 2019. It was the saddest day of my life. And each day since has been the saddest day of my life. 

As I reflect on his words, they reveal an even greater depth than I first realised. To be able to laugh, ‘complain’ and cry with people means to be able to feel our feelings and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. His passing would not be so heartbreakingly painful if our relationship hadn’t brought an equal measure of joy. Pain is the price we pay for truly connecting with each other. Our lives would be empty and meaningless if we had no one whose death would bring us intense sorrow. 

As for my father’s advice about thinking for myself, I’m reminded of the words of psychiatrist Theodore Isaac Rubin: Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.’ 

In today’s world, to think for ourselves is to value kindness over competitive advantage, people over profit, and quality over quantity. The irony is that if we valued kindness, connection and quality, everything else we seek would follow. 

If there was one word to describe my father it would be ‘kind’. As his brain started to falter, so did his motivation to do things. But four magic words worked a spell on him every time. Those words were: ‘Can you help me?’ 

If I said to him, ‘Let’s go shopping’ he’d answer, ‘No, I’m too old’. But if I asked, ‘Can you help me do the shopping?’ he would immediately jump up to assist. If a carer asked him if he’d like to go for a walk, he’d reply he was too tired. But if she asked him to help her post a letter, his tiredness would be supplanted by his desire to help. 

His physical presence is no longer with me. But his words will remain with me forever: ‘Kindness is the healthiest of all habits. And like any other habit, you need to practise it every day to maintain it.’

Showing 5 comments
  • Jill

    Sending hugs and condolences to you, Helena. Saddened to hear of your father’s passing… his vibrant energy lives on in you, your writings and your kindness. Kia Kaha ?

  • Jen

    That is so lovely.

  • Margherita

    Your father sounds like a wonderful and wise man. If only we could all learn to live with kindness, our world would be a far better place.

  • Susan Bushnell

    This is the water of life! Thank you so much, Helena, for your generous sharing of your father’s words and his life.
    Your book ‘In search of my father’ is a life-saver for me and I hope too for my husband who was recently diagnosed with Lewy Body’s dementia.
    I am laughing and crying my way through your so-readable book, which is truly a manual for living with greater awareness, practicality and presence – and much more besides.
    Your comments on the research into the capacity of the human mind remind me of one of my favourite quotes:
    “Man is a mine rich in gems of inestimable value; education alone can cause it to reveal its depths.”
    I know I am feeling stirred and curious to discover more of mine and my dear husband’s.
    Thank you!

    • Helena Popovic

      Dear Susan,
      Thank you for your heartwarming message. Maintaining your curiosity will most definitely help you navigate your way through Lewy Body Dementia. Noticing the small things that make a difference to your husband’s condition can be very empowering. I found very helpful in providing support for me and my father on many levels. One of my biggest lessons was realising that keeping myself well-rested, energised and upbeat was also the best way of keeping my father in the best mental and emotional state. The greatest gift we can give to others is our zest, our enthusiasm and our full attention when we’re with them. Too often I see partners and carers suffering from ‘compassion fatigue’ because they forget to take care of their own needs – not just your day to day physical needs but also your social, creative and fun needs. I wish you all the very best. Helena

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