Leaving a Legacy: My Father’s Story, in His Words

In My Father’s Footsteps is the title I chose for my Dad’s story in my new blog, Leaving a Legacy.

At one point, I thought about having it published through Amazon, but I wasn’t sure how I would edit it.  While he is an awesome writer, the story he wrote while recuperating from a knee replacement in 1994, is hard to follow at times. He switches channels a lot. (Now I know where I get it.)

My dad died in September 2008, the same year Cedar Rapids had the flood that heavily damaged the downtown area.

He died peacefully, sitting in his favorite chair, eyes closed, a book on his lap. Though he had been in and out of the hospital with congestive heart failure, it was a shock to the family.

As I was helping my mom clean out the storage room, I came across a box of papers title, “TPMLIFE.” As I read the first page, I realized I held my dad’s life story, which he started in 1994.

I gathered all I could find and took them upstairs to my mom, who told me my brother had the rest of the pages. I put them in order and began the laborious task of transcribing them onto the computer, with the intent that I would share them someday with the world.

That day has some, and though I know not everyone will share the same enthusiasm that has driven me to work so hard to put them online, hopefully some of his lessons learned will make you laugh, cry, and think a little bit about your own life.



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?





Moving forward

This summer has been filled with one adventure after another. And I don’t just mean family reunions and trips to the beach.

My dad in 1944, when he was stationed with the U.S. Navy in Seattle.

My dad in 1944, when he was stationed with the U.S. Navy in Seattle.

The truth is, much of my spare time has been spent writing. You wouldn’t know it by my lack of blog posts, but I have been devising a plan to publish a book.

I thought about moving forward with a plan for a local magazine…until I realized that the work load would kill me.

Taking on the roles of writer, photographer, and editor for the Hiawatha Advocate (along with distribution and book work) gave me a taste of the publishing world from the hyper-local aspect.

And though I still maintain the website, it’s not the same.

I miss it. I miss holding my creation in my hands. I miss that feeling of accomplishment after sending the PDF pages off to the printer, knowing that my newspaper had value.

And while I had to be careful not to become too prideful, (the typos humbled me significantly!) I couldn’t help but feel that I was providing a much-needed service to the people of Hiawatha.

Just because they weren’t ready for it right now, doesn’t mean they won’t ever be,

In any case, I accepted that it was time to move on and set my sights on other ways I could satisfy my need to create.

I tried freelance; writing, photography, etc. I have had my own company, Meis Communications, for  over two years, so I thought I would throw it out there and see if I had any takers.

I did, just not in the way I thought I would. I accepted a freelance job with the Marion Times as the reporter for the Marion Independent School District. It’s not a lot of reporting, but it gets my name out there.

But then my need to pay my bills got in my way and I accepted a position at Hibu (formerly Yellowbook) as a pagination specialist. (a fancy name for someone who places ads on pages magazines from all over the country in InDesign and performs QA before the magazine is shipped to the printer…I love it!)

Hibu also has opportunities to submit articles and photos to the local magazine-Cedar Rapids NE, Cedar Rapids SW, and NE Marion. I have submitted an article and photos to the Cedar Rapids magazines.

And with my growing family and other responsibilities, I stay pretty busy.

Some of my followers will remember that I wrote a few months ago about my father. I found the manuscript he wrote about his life story and decided to type it up for my family.

But something happened when I started typing his story up. I realized I didn’t really know my dad. I realized that I had resentments decades old that prevented me from wanting to get close to him, to appreciate all the wonderful things he did for me, to know the man who had so much to offer.

And as I started to read about my dad’s many adventures through life, the walls I had built around my heart began to come down, and for the first time, I saw my dad for who he was; a man who was just trying to do the best he could with what he had.

This father of 10 nearly died in a car accident in 1967 and it traumatized the entire family. I’m not sure if any of us ever really recovered emotional. But it’s time.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of my father’s death.  My only regret is that I didn’t try harder to build a better relationship with him.

That may not be possible, but maybe I can resolve old hurts and misunderstandings.

At the very least, it will provide an interesting premise for my next project.

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.