Years ago while going through my divorce, my therapist suggested I do an exercise about my parents.
I was working through some stuff around my own marriage, as well as the one that had been role-modeled to me by my mom and dad.
The exercise involved taking two pieces of paper and drawing a vertical line down the middle of each.
At the top of one column I wrote “my father.” At the top of the other, “my mother.”
On one of the papers I listed all the traits I liked about my parents. On the other, all the ones I didn’t.
Needless to say it was a very powerful exercise.
One I’ve never forgotten.
I won’t go into my list of dislikes – ‘cuz let’s face it, my parents, like all of us, had their flaws.
They were human after all.
And to top it off, I was an angry soon-to-be divorcee.
So I had lots of shit to work out.
The exercise turned out to be a great catalyst.
And strangely enlightening and healing (clearly what my therapist was aiming for).
What surprised me the most about it though wasn’t identifying the traits I didn’t like in my parents.
But the traits I did.
After reading each column I realized I’d inherited a few precious gifts from each.
My Mom’s upbeat, social nature. Her ability to chat with just about anyone, anywhere! And her love of being the last one at every party (I mean let’s face it, there’s always more chatting we social-butterflies can do)!
Her loyalty to the people she loved. And her superior cleaning skills (Ok, I’ll admit it, I like things being just as tidy and organized as she did – it brings me peace)!
As for my dad, I’d inherited his love of reading (later in his life he always had a book on the go), his passion for warm, sunny places, and his confidence that almost anything could be fixed with a little bit of duct tape (I’ve tried, it can!).
As well as his dependability, and fierce loyalty to the people he loved.
On the very top of my list was my dad’s incredible love of nature.
And that’s when it hit me.
His love of nature was by far one of the greatest gifts he’d ever given me.
I remember as a child my dad taking my older siblings and me on special day trips. To give my mom a few hours to herself.
We would go for long walks in the countryside or along the beach.
My dad would point out the different trees, plants, and sea life and teach us about it all.
Their names, their purpose, how they survived, why each one was a necessary part of the circle of life.
He was a wealth of information. And I was a sponge.
Later as I got older, my dad would take me and our two Springer Spaniels out on our small, blue aluminum boat. I would sit in the bow and laugh as we rode the waves.
And feel free and joyful as the water splashed against my face.
Sometimes he and I would get up extra early and go fishing together.
Out there alone on the water for hours he would tell me funny stories about his youth.
And as always, he would teach me.
About the fish, the ocean and lakes, the birds flying overhead.
How to respect nature.
How to clean and cook the fish we caught.
How to appreciate the simple yet beautiful things in life.
Like sitting on a boat in the warm sunshine, listening to nothing but the waves lapping against the sides. And the sound of the seagulls.
No phones. No games. No gadgets.
Just Mother Nature and us.
This was my dad at his very best.
Sharing what he loved the most. The great outdoors.
My father passed this love onto me.
My passion for nature and the sea is at the very core of who I am today.
Whenever I’m having a bad day or feeling off balance, I know what I need to do.
I put on my shoes and head into the forest or down to the beach.
I breathe it all in.
And within minutes I feel calm, and whole again.
Nature has a way of soothing my soul.
It calls to me.
Maybe it’s my dad calling to me as well.
Telling me that this is where I belong. That this where I’m at my very best, too.
Sometimes I wonder if my dad ever realized how significant those moments were to me.
Did he know that our time in nature would become some of my most cherished memories?
That everything he taught me outdoors as a child would help me to navigate my life as an adult?
That his love of Mother Nature would also become one of my greatest loves?
I’ll never know. Because he’s gone now.
But like those precious moments from my childhood, his memory and spirit lives on in me.
As I’m sure it does in all his children and grandchildren.
I’m grateful for those times I had with my dad exploring nature. For how they’ve shaped who I’ve become.
My connection to nature serves me every day of my life.
It helps me to slow down and breathe. To watch and listen.
To get grounded in my body.
And stay connected to my heart. To my soul.
Nature helps me to refocus.
Away from my worries about the future, or regrets about the past. And instead to focus on the here and now.
On the simple things. The birds, the trees, the earth, the water.
On this very moment.
And to appreciate the beauty and wonder of it all.
Just like my father did.