What I’ve Learned

I poured an inch and a half out of the rain gauge this morning. It has been a wet season here at the tree farm. We closed out the year at just over 55 inches at the end of December. In January, we’ve had another 9 and a half inches. The ground just won’t soak up much more at this rate.

I’ve been keeping notes on rainfall for a lot of years. It doesn’t mean much in the big scheme of things. I started out keeping records so that maybe I could manage our irrigation use a little better. I also knew that after every single rainy night, my phone was going to ring the next morning and Dad was going to ask me how much we got.

7:00am. I pick up the phone.

“How much rain you get last night.”

“Morning, Dad. Oh, it wasn’t much. I’ve got a half inch in the gauge.”

“Well, I’d take that. It barely wet the dust here.”

Dad was thinking about the pastures and the creek that fed our fishpond. He hated to see the water level low. It bothered him to see the pastures turn dry in June. The rain gauge seemed to be an indicator of how well, or a foreboding of how poorly he would do that year.

I didn’t realize how focused he was until after he was gone. I was going through his desk and found the notes he kept on the economy of the farm. Little pocket notebooks in the top desk drawer. Written mostly in pencil. His left-handed slant. Notes on how much rain. How many tons of lime and fertilizer. Cotton seed meal and how much he paid for a 100lb bag. Diesel fuel and tires for the tractor. The weight of a heifer and how much she brought at the sale barn.

By his own estimation, my dad didn’t make any lasting contribution to this world. “I’ve never done anything with my life but use up a bunch of air,” he would say. Those who knew him would disagree.

I think that most any son, if asked, would say that his father was the one person in this world who had the most influence on his life. I know I would. And I suppose a rainy day is as good as any to reflect on that.

At the very least, emptying the rain gauge makes me think of him. It makes me think of all those brief phone calls. Some of the conversations we had between picking rows of corn or while working a worm on the end of a cane pole. His lessons were brief when it came to words; more complete when it came to his example.

Forgive yourself. You’ll make mistakes. Small ones, and big ones. You’ll do things and say things that you can’t take back. No one makes it through life without a long list of mistakes in tow. If you hurt someone, apologize. If you mess up, own up to it. Learn from all your mistakes. But, most of all, learn to forgive yourself. If you don’t, the guilt will eat at you, and there’s no good that will come from that. To forgive yourself is the first step toward realizing that you don’t have to be perfect to make a difference in this world.

This from the man who, at the age of 30, let a fire get away and burned down the house, literally.

Don’t ever stop learning. No education is a waste of time. If you’re eager to learn, you can find something useful for life almost any place you look. A plumber can teach you something equally as valuable as a professor. You can learn from books. You can learn from experience. You can learn from just keeping your ears and eyes open. Don’t ever assume you know more than the next guy. Be a student your whole life.

This from the man who often said in a tone of surprise, “Well, dad-gummit, I thought I knew just about everything.”

Live out your faith. Being in church on Sunday is a priority. Set aside the time and make it happen. But, most of all, make sure you live out what the Scriptures say. Mow your neighbor’s grass when he’s down with a broken leg. Sit by the bedside of a friend dying with cancer. Be the first to help whenever there’s a need, and the last one to leave when the work is done. The best way to love God is to love people, even the ones who make it hard on you.

This from the man who sat barefooted in his recliner studying the Sunday School lessons he taught week in and week out for 40 years.

Be devoted to your wife. You chose her. She chose you. You don’t have to please anyone else but each other. Life gets hard, but you get through it together. You’ll butt heads sometimes, but you find a way through it together. Some days you’ll be disappointed and hurt, but most days you wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. Stay with it long enough, and there’ll come a day when you know beyond any doubt that it was worth it all.

This from the man who visited his wife every day to the very end, even when she didn’t know who he was.

Give without expecting anything in return. Generosity is not a matter of wealth as much as it is a matter of the heart. Whatever you have is not meant to be kept. Share it. You can give up two hours of your time. You can help a young family who is struggling to make ends meet. You can sit for a spell with an old friend. You can give a child a reason to smile. You can work to help someone and not ask for money. Never, never hold on to anything so tight that you can’t give it away. It doesn’t belong to you anyway. You’re just using it for a time.

This from the man who slipped many a college student a little folding money in his handshake just for the sake of remembering what it was like to be a kid.

For all of my remaining years, however long that may be, I’ll think of him every time I empty the rain gauge. His simple ways seem to be more desirable to me, now more than ever. In my mind, his kind of devotion to life mattered. He made a difference to those around him.

I know he did his best, whether he ever thought so or not. I also know that everything I do is weighed in the balance of his example. Every standard I have set for myself is shaped by his shadow over me. Everything that I am is because of who he was.

No dad is perfect. I’m still working at it, myself.

I put the rain gauge back on its stand. I made a note on my calendar. It’s January 30th. That’s when it hit me.

Dad left this world exactly 12 years ago today.