Being human

My dad taught me a lot of things. He taught me the Golden Rule; he taught me not to litter; and he taught me to be kind to others (because you have no idea what they might be going through).

The Meis clan, around 1940. (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Dad is on the far left (he's about 15)

The Meis clan, around 1940. (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Dad is on the far left (he’s about 15)

And though he passed away 6 years ago, he recently bestowed upon me another valuable lesson; he taught me that no one is perfect.

That sounds kind of silly because I should have known that by now. I’ve heard it countless times throughout my life. I just didn’t think it applied to everyone.

Let me say that again: No one is perfect.

Some people think they are. And some, like me, strive to be. And Christians will tell you that the last perfect person died on the cross. But I wonder if Jesus was even perfect. He was a man, after all.

I read a passage last night that put it in better perspective.

“We are here to learn. We came from perfection. But we are not perfection. The purpose of life is to experience every aspect of it; the messy, the painful, the joyful, the frustrating, the disappointments, and glory. All of it.”

We all suffer from the same disease. It’s called “Being Human.”

We hate making mistakes because it is painful. When we make a mistake, many of us are shamed because we did not do it right the first time. But if we did, what would be the point of life?

My dad was far from perfect, and to be honest, I never really thought much about it. But in my heart, I thought he should be. He was my dad, after all. He was my hero.

I put him on a pedestal and when he fell off, I condemned him for it. But that wasn’t his fault. It was mine for ever putting him there in the first place.

I think everyone goes through that with their parents. If we are lucky, we see that they are like everyone else. They make mistakes. They don’t always do what we think they should do. And though they might make us angry or frustrated or sad, we need to find a way to forgive them.

There is another thing my dad taught me: “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”

But how can you forgive, when you don’t always know that’s the problem?

 

 

 

 

Time passages

September 6 is the 5th anniversary of my dad’s death.

Me, my dad, and Grandma Meis at my high school graduation party.

Me, my dad, and Grandma Meis at my high school graduation party.

When I asked my brother if we should do anything to commemorate it, he said, “Well, you can if you want, but most people do that on the person’s birthday; not the day they die.”

But I don’t care. I think paying tribute to  a loved one is important, whether it’s on the day they were born, or the day they died, or the day they entered sainthood.  It’s all relative.

I never knew my dad. I knew him, but I didn’t really know him.  He was Dad; the man of the house, the tall guy who went to work, who taught me how to drive, and gave me cash when I needed it. But now I know he was so much more.

There are some things I knew about my dad. Everything else I’m learning as I copy his life story onto the computer, a project I started about a month ago.

My dad was everybody’s friend. Well, I’m sure he had a few enemies, but none that I knew of.

He was generous to a fault.  He gave what he could, because for a long time, he couldn’t. My mom is still getting letters from different charities asking him to contribute. If he were here, he would.

My dad was an actor. His was active in the community theater and had parts in “South Pacific” and “Guys and Dolls,” as well as other productions.

He was on TV, too, becoming the face of Weinbrenner-Drusike Ford in the ’70s, and had bit parts on “Tell it to the Judge,” a local TV show.

My dad was a writer, a wonderful writer.  I only read a few things he wrote, but he never shared his story, until now.

Another sound recorded on my relatively unblemished memory was the old Jewish junk man who made frequent trips down our alley with his horse and wagon in the summertime. His horse wore an old hat with holes cut out for its ears.

Long before I could hear the creak of groaning wheels and soft clomp-clump of hooves in soft alley ashes, the warm summer air carried to me Mr. Golad’s sad, low litany of monotony: “Rags? Old rags,” Old Golad intoned. “Rags…old rags…” And I waited for the magnificent parade to lurch slowly past our place.

Sometimes the trio paused-horse, wagon, and Mr. Golad-and I could see both horse and human were in state of semi-siesta. The junk man comfortable in the shade of the umbrella, horse content to occasionally startle a fly with that fantastic control of its skin muscles, until the old man clucked gently and the wagon creaked along down the alley toward 16th Street,  until the warm summer air covered up his unforgettable song:

“Rags.  Rags? Old raaa-a-a-a-ags.”

I would listen for a long time before it would evaporate into silence. Or perhaps it would simply blend with the burr of a bee and my attention would turn to this busy bug invading some unsuspecting blossom.                                                  

                                                                                                —Thomas P. Meis

My dad lived his life to the fullest, and when he died, he left a hole in a lot of hearts.

I just wish I would have realized sooner that he was more than just “Dad.”

But at least I have the opportunity to learn the rest of the story.

 

A belated Father’s Day gift

My dad was a good father. He worked hard to take care of his family. He overcame obstacles in life that might have turned an ordinary person into a cynical disaster.

My father, Tom Meis, who died in September 2008.

My father, Tom Meis, who died in September 2008.

But my dad was not ordinary. He was exceptional. And he spent his entire life proving it.

Like most fathers, my dad taught me many lessons about life. He taught me to treat others as I would like to be treated, to try to see the good in people, and to take good care of my car.

But most of all, he taught me how to love.

My dad was my hero. He was quiet, friendly, and funny. He was dedicated, loyal, and a little stubborn. He didn’t care what others thought of him, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because everyone who met him, loved him.

We didn’t have much money and life in our house was always chaotic, but my dad was a firm believer in Faith, in Hope, and in “keeping peace in the family.”

My dad always encouraged me to do my best. Whether it was being a good parent, doing my best at work, or just dealing with people, he shared his wisdom without preaching.

I inherited a few of his traits and talents, and the lessons he taught me only enhanced what was already there. His talent for writing, his compassion, his desire to help others; these are all a part of him, at the very core of who he was.

Several months ago, I wrote about a manuscript I found that belonged to my dad. The hundreds of pages aren’t in any specific order and it’s been difficult trying to make time to read it.

I later found out that the manuscript was therapy for my dad. He had his knee replaced in the ’90s and spent his hours typing up his life story. I was thrilled that I was able to find most of the pieces of this puzzle but a little ashamed that I haven’t picked it up and looked at it since.

There is always the “I’ll do it tomorrow, this weekend, next month….”

As I pulled the box out of the closet this morning, it occurred to me that the best gift I could give my father this year would be to finish what he started, to be able to show the world the hidden talent my father possessed.

The following is an excerpt from my dad’s manuscript, a scene he remembers from his childhood:

“Another sound recorded on my relatively unblemished memory was the old Jewish junk man who made frequent trips down our alley with his horse and wagon in the summertime. His horse wore an old hat with holes cut out for its ears.

Long before I could hear the creak of groaning wheels and soft clomp-clump of hooves in soft alley ashes, the warm summer air carried to me Mr. Golad’s sad, low litany of monotony:

‘Rags? Old rags,’ Old Golad intoned. ‘Rags…old rags…’

And I waited for the magnificent parade to lurch slowly past our place.

Sometimes the trio paused-horse, wagon, and Mr. Golad-and I could see both horse and human were in state of semi-siesta. The junk man comfortable in the shade of the umbrella; horse content to occasionally startle a fly with that fantastic control of its skin muscles. Until the old man clucked gently and the wagon creaked along down the alley toward 16th Street; until the warm summer air covered up his unforgettable song:

‘Rags.  Rags? Old raaa-a-a-a-ags….’

I would listen for a long time before it would evaporate into silence. Or perhaps it would simply blend with the burr of a bee and my attention would turn to this busy bug invading some unsuspecting blossom.”

This just might be the greatest gift I could ever give my father.

Well, that, and the love only a daughter could give.

My father’s footsteps

My dad, while he was in the Navy, around 1944

My dad, while he was in the Navy, around 1944

Freezing rain and sleet fell in Eastern Iowa last Sunday making travel treacherous for many. Some ventured out, but found it difficult to maneuver the mess the ice storm created. I choose to stay home and get some much-needed housekeeping done.

Since it had been a while, cleaning the storage room would be my first task. I began sorting through the boxes, each one filled with days gone by, mementos of events that our family held dear. 

I came across a lone folder. It didn’t have a label on it, and I thumbed through it to see if it was important.

The faded words, “when I was a boy,” stood out to me, and I realized that it was my father’s manuscript.

He started writing his life story many years ago when he had knee surgery. My mother told me it was great therapy for him as it filled the hours that he spent laid up.

He continued writing even after he healed, asking his brothers for editing advice, both of them giving it back with their critiques.

But as hard as he worked on it, he was never able to finish it.

As I skimmed through the folder, I caught glimpses of his life that I didn’t know about, and it was as if I was learning who my father was in those pages.

He had been in a car accident when I was 4 and he wrote about how he wondered why God gave him a second chance.

He wrote about the colorful characters he encountered while in  the Navy, and how that experience “broadened his horizons.”

I set the manuscript aside to read later and sifted through other boxes to see what treasures I could find. Photos, scrapbooks, old newspaper clipping; it was evident that my father cherished the memories he made.

In the same box I found stories and poems that he had written as a boy. They are faded and hard to read, (one story, titled, “Bunny Paradise,” I can’t wait to read) but seeing where he started and his passion for the written word, brought me closer to him, even though he has been gone more than four years.

The last box held baby books of my brothers and sisters, but at the bottom was another folder with more of the manuscript. I was excited as I looked through it, looking at the last page to see where he was in the story. But it ended in mid-sentence.

Disappointed, I gathered what folders I had and went to investigate. My mother told me that the manuscript was scattered; my brother had some of it, and more of it could be in other boxes. It might take some time, but I’m confident I’ll be able to find them.

Later that night, as I read the first few pages of his story, I saw that he was not only a talented writer, but a wonderful story-teller. Reading the adventures he had as a boy and the time he spent in the Navy showed me what a passion writing had been for him.

Though I have my work cut out for me, it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to walk in my father’s footsteps.