Reminding Ourselves that Values Start at Home

I feel fully confident when I make the assertion that my father is the only man on the planet who selects a freshly laundered and pressed button down shirt and khakis to wear when he cleans the gutters. I stand mesmerized, as one does passing an accident, watching him, hard at work, while globs of wet gunk shoot across his bald pate–like a meteor crossing the skies–past his glasses, landing on the front of his red and white striped oxford. But, most marvelously of all, is the moment when he sets down his equipment, picks up his keys, and heads out into the big world to join friends for lunch—with it never occurring to him to change his clothes. I defy you to surpass this example of sartorial splendor.


Now, while it’s true that we all lack common sense on occasion, after a lifetime of knowing my dad, I continue to be stunned by his daily deficit of this important life quality. I don’t know what to make of it; few things confound me, anymore, but my father’s behavior tops the list. It’s so random and there’s no thread of bizarre logic to follow—he just does all this stuff that makes zero sense! Do you have someone like this in your life? How does it make you feel?


Back in the 1980s, there was a fantastic New wave band called Talking Heads that put out a concert movie entitled Stop Making Sense which includes classics such as Once In a Lifetime, Take Me to the River, and Burning Down the House. If you haven’t seen it, you should, because it’s terrific; but then, I’m a child of the 80s so it all makes sense to me.  In the song Psycho Killer, David Byrne croons, “You start a conversation you can’t even finish it. You’re talkin’ a lot, but you’re not sayin’ anything.” These are lyrics all re-booters understand, whether we’re the ones feeling as though we’re talking in circles or we’re in the front row of someone else’s absurd performance. What do you do? Do you get up and walk out? Do you close your eyes and pray for it to end? Do you start yelling at the person to get off the stage? What do you do when nothing they do makes sense?


Of course, your answer will depend a lot on the context in which the absurdity is occurring, but one of the most important questions I have learned to ask myself when exasperated is, “How important is it?This is the key question I ask when struggling to manage my reactions. Ultimately, my goal is not to be bothered by folderol such as my father’s wardrobe choices, but the first step in achieving this is learning to control and channel the irritation I do have so that I’m no longer surrendering to the urge to criticize. Far easier said than done, my friends! Now, my temperament is most likely very different from yours—I suspect I struggle more with impatience and irritation from inefficiency than others do—so it wouldn’t surprise me if most of you are more unflappable when it comes to such matters. But, as I have progressed through life, I am realizing ever more that one of the very core re-booting skills to have is patience and tolerance for those around us, even when we don’t understand them.


Politicians and theologians and their ilk dedicate plenty of time to preaching about acceptance, justice, and compassion—which is fine—but it all starts at home. How patient and tolerant are you of your family and friends? Of your coworkers? Can you forgive them their sins? Those people who ignored an effort you made towards them, who strongly disagree with your approach to things, who hurt your feelings by haranguing you about something you haven’t achieved, can you forgive them? Are you patient with their intolerance of you? All the theoretical tolerance and compassion and forgiveness in the world for people you don’t know pales in comparison to the challenge of your living these same values on a daily basis, where it counts most. We will never fully understand the choices of another, and they will never fully understand us, but what’s important in who we are as people starts in how we behave at home. Remember that.


So, as ridiculous as it is for my dad to push around the lawnmower in his oxford shoes and navy blue pin-striped trousers, I remind myself that he’s tidying up the yard. I bite my lip to keep from being snide; one of these days, I hope no longer to notice.




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3 Responses to “Reminding Ourselves that Values Start at Home”

  1. Jim Patterson Says:

    Your Dad learned this type of activity from Oliver Windell Douglas from Green Acres. He used to farm in a suit……in fact he looked quite dapper with his shovel or raker. The best dressed guy in Hooterville.

    What else can be said……………


    Oliver Wendell Douglas



  2. dignitarysretreat Says:

    I loved Green Acres! Manybe it’ll all fall into place if I watch a few re-runs…

  3. helenga Says:

    I love this! I would actually argue that it’s important to notice your Dad’s somewhat different approach to casual wear lest you find yourself wearing a ball gown to vacuum one of these days and thinking that’s hunky dory! If it makes you feel any better my Dad’s at the other end of the spectrum and obsesses over any spot (real or imagined) he finds on his shirt. 🙂

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