Before we get started…
You should know that I am an apprehensive writer (maybe that can be a story for another time). My colleague, John Staumont, has encouraged me to blog for several years. In keeping with my “Dream Crusher” role in our partnership, I have resisted his good advice. I recently joined the #4OCFPLN on Voxer where I have discovered a treasure trove of ideas, discourse, and inspiration about teaching, learning, and leading. A few days, ago, Jamie Leach proposed a blog challenge and since then members of the group have written several spectacular posts. So to John and everyone on the #4OCFPLN I say thank you. Thank you for encouraging me, for inspiring me, and for helping me believe I could pull this off. One of the members in the group says, “What’s ordinary to some is extraordinary to others.” I’m not sure if this story will stand up to that, but I do know it matters to me and it shapes who I am and how I relate with others. Lastly, I want to give a special thanks to Jennifer Ledford for the inspiration I got reading her Teaching for Him post.
Chris and My Dad
It was just after 6:30am on Saturday, July 23, 2005. I was approaching the freeway on ramp on my way for a round of golf. My phone rang and I saw that my friend Omar was calling me. That was unusual. It was much earlier than I’d expect him to call on any morning. “Hey O, what’s up?” I said cheerfully into the phone. The words I heard next rocked my world, “John, Chris died last night.” I couldn’t believe it. We were only 37 years old, surely there was some mistake. My buddy from high school, gone? This couldn’t be. The friend who who was with me through thick and thin for the previous 21 years, gone? No way. My compadre (we were both godfathers for our respective son’s baptisms), gone? I could not accept that. Chris left this world due to an undiagnosed heart condition. At his funeral, I read Who Packs Your Parachute, the story of Charles Plumb and shared a little bit about Chris to the audience to highlight the special qualities about him. He packed my parachute in countless ways. I learned so much from him. I wanted everyone in the church to know how I saw him and what he meant to me. I am forever thankful to him and I miss him dearly. Looking back, I realize that this was my way of making up up for not telling him what I felt.
Fast forward to 7:30pm on October 11, 2011. My mom, brothers, sisters, and I were standing around my dad’s hospital bed. We were holding hands and praying as my dad drew his last breath. Cancer took my dad not long after his 74th birthday. He fought it for over a year so there was time for all of us kids to talk to him about what was coming. My dad grew up in a different country and in a different time. I loved my dad and he loved me, but we didn’t speak the words “I love you.” That’s just the way it was. The way we communicated changed some in my dad’s last months. I told him that I loved him and he reciprocated. I knew that saying those words and opening up wasn’t easy for him. Whether he responded or not was less important to me than telling him what I felt. The fortunes of everyone in my family changed for the better when my dad made the sacrifice of leaving Colombia, his native land. He didn’t know a word of English and had spent most of his life in the army. Coming to the United States had to be an unbelievable challenge. I needed him to know how thankful I was for the sacrifices he made for his family. I needed him to hear me tell him that I loved him. Who did I have to thank for that clarity? Chris of course, he was still packing my parachute. Had I not told my dad how I felt and how thankful I was, my regret would be too much to bear.
Why am I writing about my dad and Chris? Why am I posting this on a webpage about Educational Leadership? John S and I believe that nearly everything we do is related to leadership. I am writing this story because I believe that everyone is a leader regardless of titles. I am writing this because each of us has the power to pack someone’s parachute. I am writing this because everything we do should start with our why. For me, my why is about relationships and connections. My why is about being my best self and encouraging others to do the same. My why is about optimism, hope, and possibility. My why is about changing the world one tiny step at a time. The lessons I learned from my dad and Chris are aligned to the work I do at my school. I can acknowledge, be thankful, and praise others. Every minute of every day is an opportunity for me to make the world a better for each person I encounter. Each student, teacher, staff member, and parent can be raised up or torn down by the way I choose to relate with them. So, what do I choose? If you don’t know, than I have done a great disservice to the memory of my friend and my father.