Every other week, Paul Ollinger investigates how redefining success can help us lead better lives.
My dad died the other day. He left this world while napping in his favorite recliner surrounded by his children. He was 93.
Despite my love and commitment to my father, I have shed zero tears over his passing. I promise I’m not an unfeeling monster (I cried at least once when I took my daughter to see Wicked). It’s just that, rather than sadness, I have found myself overcome with a profound sense of gratitude for his presence in my life and for everything he taught me.
Nobody chooses their parents. And nobody chooses how long their parents will live. These are functions of randomness over which we have no control. Though I did nothing to deserve or affect it, by being “assigned” to Bea and Billy Ollinger, I won the parental lottery.
I was born to two parents who loved their children and dedicated their lives to educating and preparing them for life as adults. My folks were smart, kind, and decent human beings who put their kids before their professional ambitions. They prioritized Catholic school over material possessions (and air conditioning). They stayed together for 55 years because, well, that’s just what you do. And they created a loving home where, despite the occasional chaos, I knew I was safe and part of a tribe.
In this way, I experienced the greatest privilege I or anyone can receive or give: the gift of dedicated parenting. Thanks to good medical care, I savored my dad’s presence in my life until I was 51. I was able to see him dance at my wedding 13 years ago and watch him get to know and love the two children who arrived a few years later.
Dad’s longevity was never a sure thing. He survived two wars, two heart attacks, prostate cancer, decades of congestive heart failure, and, when I was nine years old, a brain injury that could have killed him. I can’t begin to get my head around the advantages — logistical, financial, emotional — I reaped because of this good luck.
I think he was aware of his good fortune and radiated that gratitude in his own…