Lessons from My Father-in-Law

Hello, dear friends. Just as soon as I wrote about all of the joyful things going on in our lives this summer, something sad happened. My father-in-law passed away unexpectedly.

A few weeks ago today we were standing in a funeral home saying goodbye to a deeply kind and loving man. It was a tough experience, but I wanted to spend a minute remembering his life, which was so well lived.

He was an incredible father to my husband, a playful and fun Papa Don to our children, and a sweet father-in-law to me…making me feel like part of the family from the moment I met him.

We all learned so much from Don, and these are a few of my favorites. >

{I love this picture of my in-laws. Such a beautiful couple.}

{ONE} Teach everything you know

Don was a teacher at heart. So anything he was passionate about, like dancing or cooking for a crowd, he would learn to do it so well that he could teach others. It wasn’t in a know-it-all kind of way, either. He was humble about his gifts and sincerely wanted to share what he knew.

He was a dance instructor with my mother-in-law, Polly, for nearly 60 years. Teaching in studios, at colleges, and in their basement for private lessons, they’ve probably had 90% of the residents in Lincoln, Nebraska in their classes. It’s hard to go anywhere in town without someone introducing themselves as a student of theirs. They’d share how learning to dance brought them confidence or happiness in their lives. Many students, including Don and Polly themselves, met on the dance floor.

Don also loved cooking for people. He got such joy from serving up a stack of hot cakes or a plate of burgers and fries. He owned a restaurant for several years and then moved to the Nebraska State Fair where he had a food stand. Through these experiences, he also taught my husband and his sisters how to cook, count back money, and most importantly, treat people with attention and care. As a true gentleman, Don taught by example.

{TWO} Don’t settle for a desk job when you’re a dancer

Don knew himself well, and he understood the importance of finding happiness. He tried working at a desk job selling insurance for a short time, and he quickly figured out that wasn’t for him. It was probably decent money and consistent work that supported the family, but he wasn’t happy. So he moved on. I admire that level of honesty, courage, and faith.

I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves in a situation where we weren’t completely happy, but it was easier to stay put or we were too scared to move. Once Don left that corporate job, I’m sure he had plenty of challenging moments. He was willing to work through it, though, because he enjoyed the freedom he had from being his own boss. He enjoyed just being himself.

{THREE} Be generous with your compliments

One of Don’s more endearing qualities was his love of food. He would enjoy a meal and offer the most adoring compliments to the chef, and then he’d remember that meal for years. I’m not exaggerating. I served him a pot roast during one of his visits. Two years later, when he was celebrating his 80th birthday, all he asked for was another serving of my pot roast. He and my mother-in-law drove all the way down to Arkansas for that meal. Talk about the ultimate compliment.

I also loved how he would compliment Polly. Whether it was her cooking or the way she dressed, he always had a kind word to share. One of my favorite and most recent memories was when he asked Polly to play a song on the piano for the family. He told all of us how beautiful her music was, and he wanted to be sure we all had a chance to hear it. As she sat down to play, I looked over at Don, and his face was beaming with pride, love, and adoration for his lovely wife. It melted my heart for the both of them. True love in action.

{FOUR} Every gesture matters

As I listened to each family member share stories about Don after his funeral, it was clear he made each person feel important. Even when he was a young, busy father, he took time to have one-on-one breakfasts with his daughters, and he’d play basketball in the driveway with his son. He loved surprising them with gifts at Christmas and cars for their 16th birthdays. And even the small gestures, like helping with their homework, were deeply appreciated and what people remembered most.

As I joined the family and got to know him myself, I had similar experiences. Don would always take time to chat and ask how things were going. He remembered that I liked half a packet of Truvia in my coffee when we came to visit, and he’d serve it up with the most delicious donuts in town. Don’s whole life was spent loving his family one memorable moment at a time, and that’s quite a beautiful way to live.

{FIVE} Always remember to laugh

Since my husband was the only boy in the family, Don would call him his favorite son. He loved that joke. In fact, Don was full of jokes. He was always smiling and laughing. That’s something my kids adored most about him. They would play countless hours of card games and dominoes and laugh pretty much the entire time. And I loved that sound echoing through our home. Just thinking about it reminds me not to take life too seriously. It truly is short.

Even though we lived far away, Don never felt far from us. He was such an important part of our lives and made an effort to stay that way. We’re going to miss him dearly and deeply, but we know he’s in eternal peace now.

Don, we love you so much and promise to live life to the fullest, just as you did.

All my love,

Kate, your favorite daughter-in-law šŸ˜‰

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