“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” — Albert Einstein
When I set off to Bali for a six-month writing sabbatical in the summer of 2014, I planned to end my trip by spending Christmas Day on the beach drinking piña coladas. It was one for my bucket list — and a beautiful white sand beach on the Indonesian island seemed like a perfect setting to soak up some sun over the holidays while sipping on a sweet, tropical cocktail.
Life is not always kind. Sometimes it is just downright cruel. Never in a million years would I have anticipated being back home in Canada on Christmas Day, grieving over the sudden loss of my father.
It happened so fast. It was difficult to process everything. I wasn’t ready or prepared to say goodbye, but I’m not sure more time would have fixed that. I have comfort in knowing he was surrounded with loving family, and many good friends, right to the end. We even got to open some Christmas gifts with him on December 22, in what would turn out to be his last full day before he passed. This gave him, and us, a small moment of joy.
The expression “salt of the earth” comes to mind when I think of my dad. He was an honest, stand-up kind of guy. A natural provider who was fiercely loyal to his family, and always there to help others without asking anything in return. His love was tacit, but present in everything he did.
With dad, actions spoke louder than words. The key to my father was not in what he said (or didn’t say), but in what he did. I came to learn over the years that he showed his love through actions, and his actions were almost always guided by a strong moral compass. My dad’s gift was his integrity. His life was grounded on a core set of values that he tried to live out every day: hard-work, fairness, family, kindness, and stability, all come to mind. His wasn’t a flashy life, but a deeply rewarding and highly principled one.
Three days after my father died, my family gathered together for Christmas Day. To pay tribute to my dad’s spirit of playfulness and love of the outdoors, we drove to a small secluded beach at a lakeside park not far from my parent’s home in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. On a cold and clear afternoon, with piña coladas in hand, we honoured him with a short Irish blessing and a reading of the poem, He Is Gone, by David Harkins. It was a fitting way to pay tribute and bid farewell to my beloved father.
One of the stanzas in that poem reads, “You can remember him and only that he is gone, or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.” It’s a poignant message about finding your way forward after the loss of a loved one. Taking the poem to heart, I spent several days after Christmas contemplating how to honour my father’s memory and keep it alive in my life. During this time of reflection I kept coming back to one thing — my dad’s gift of integrity.
My father led by example rather than proclamation. Through his actions, he taught me what it means to stay true to your values and to live a life that’s guided by a higher moral code. What better way to pay homage to his memory, I thought, than to model this way of living. I would stake claim to my own values and then take deliberate steps to live them out in my daily life. There was just one problem: I’d never thought about my values before. I wasn’t even sure how to go about identifying them, let alone how to live a life based on them.
This is an excerpt from the The High Road, my upcoming book that will help readers discover a deeper sense of purpose and live happier, more fulfilled lives. The book weaves together practical research results with real-life accounts of people who are walking the talk. It also draws on my own personal stories and anecdotes. I invite you to have a sneak peek at the book’s introduction for free. If you’d like to get updates on the book, enter your email in the box above and click Sign Up!