Life’s Lessons From My Father And Grandfather

During our formative years there are people who have  a great impact in our lives and the way we look at things, usually our parents; although this may not always be the case.

Throughout my life there were a few people who taught me some valuable lessons, out of those people, two men had the most impact in my life… my grandfather and my father.  Anyone who met them could tell you just how different they were in personalities.  Looking back at some of the lessons taught by them, I can see how although their teachings seemed different at first, they really did compliment each other.  Growing up I found their differences confusing yet over time life provided me with the ability to see how both teachings were really two different sides of the same coin.

My relationship with both of them was very different.   I always respected and deeply loved my grandfather; on the other, I mostly fear my father but I also loved him– regardless of our very dysfunctional relationship.  Those type of mixed up emotions are natural within dysfunctional parent/child relationships, as most of us would like to be loved and accepted by our parents.  My relationship with my father only got better much later in life and we were able to achieve closure and mend old wounds.

As I observe the shape my life has taken, I can see everything in life happens for a reason; all things good and bad were part of a much bigger lesson.  As I am learning to embrace all of me, I am capable of seeing just how beautiful life’s plan was for me; all that pain, humiliations, frustrations caused by my own mistakes and by the cruel actions of others were all part of life’s plan to develop my inner self.

There is a saying I like, “In order for a plant to grow beautiful and strong one has to put manure on it”,  manure is nothing but “shit” yet it holds all the nutrients plants will need to grow strong.    Similarly the Chinese and the Indian have long admired the Lotus flower and have used it as an allegory in their teachings; indeed a lotus flower is a very beautiful, exotic, mesmerizing flower. However, one does not find a Lotus flower growing in a pretty garden surrounded by perfect conditions; it grows in shallow, murky waters.  Out of the mud the Lotus emerges with all its beauty and its splendor…it is the same for the human soul!

We all have the ability to love and connect with life at a deep and real level; however, just like consciousness this ability needs to be developed.  People who grow in loving atmospheres are blessed and they have their own beautiful purpose in life but they also have areas in which they too need to grow; areas they may not have developed due to being over sheltered. 

As loss of consciousness took within our society, it erroneously taught us good people can only be found in optimal upbringings.  This is more and more proving to be innacurate….as the great Elizabeth Kubler said “The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths…beautiful people do not just happen.”

Sometimes when people have experienced lack; such as lack of love or material things; we tend to make the mistake of over giving our children everything. By overprotecting we may end up hindering and causing more pain to the very people we intend to protect. Over sheltering and over giving can end up handicapping a child’s personal development, such a child may grow up to be very shallow, unforgiving, resentful or will try to self destroy. 

Thankfully, I have been lucky enough to have tasted both sides of life; the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  That is why, for the most part, the amassing of material or inconsequential things don’t impress me much; I recognize the value of a comfortable life.  I don’t believe money and assets are not important; they are to the extent that they can provide stability, I just don’t let myself get seduce by them. 

Pain has long been considered an enemy when it is not.  Pain is life’s gift; not one we like nor one easily accepted, but if embraced, it can provide us with a precious gift; transformation and growth. 

What I am telling you regarding pain is not something theoretical, is something I have personally experienced by learning to look at pain from a different perspective.   Pain like death is unavoidable; I used to fight pain yet life and its plans kept putting me through it again and again until I’d learned to embrace it.  Of course pain will not ever just disappear, it is part of life’s process and the sooner we accept this, the sooner we learn to change our perception to something more beneficial. 

Life was kind enough to put certain people in my life who guided me; lovingly at times, coldly at others.  At times I hated their teachings, not realizing they were simply trying not to enable me on destructive behavior, instead they were helping me find my own way; of course I would not come to understand this until much later.  Now whenever I am hurting, I stay with the emotion; whether hurt or anger.  I do not deny my anger, nor my pain; I surrender to either in a much healthier way–not defeated but like an spectator.   

I can get tremendously sad or seriously angry (this is okay, so long as you are not hurting others or yourself).  As I came to the realization that holding onto negative emotions for the sake of looking proper to others was only going to hurt me, I have learned to give myself permission to react differently.  

Both my grandfather and father tried to teach me about pain…

My  grandfather was a very evolve spiritual man who changed many people’s lives.  He took in the homeless, fed them, gave them work, educated and loved orphans without making distinctions.  He always sought knowledge of the spirit through all venues provided, not limiting himself to any single belief.  On the other hand, my father was more practical, with a more militarized style of living and thinking.  He was more logical and liked to analyze everything.  As a self made man, he learned to survive and fight.  He was considered ruthless by many and I can’t deny at times his way of handling things seem too extreme yet one needs to remember the great responsibility that falls on one’s shoulders when one is leading. My father, was not as concerned with the spirit, he was more concerned with what was in front of him; having experienced life’s ups and downs; in ways most people can’t even begin to imagine; he became an expert at seeing past people’s fake smiles and  bullshit.

Here are some of the things I learned from both these men; it is by integrating one side with the other that I’ve come to see the “full picture” and its benefits…

1) Family isn’t always blood.  Many of us have heard this phrase before; my grandfather was the man who drove this lesson home for me.  I grew up watching him raise many orphans, they were not just charity to him. Taking them in, was not something he did for others to see or to get something back.  Unlike Canada; where I was raised for the first half of my life, the government doesn’t give you anything for taking children off the streets–you do not get help with education or medical or anything at all.

My grandfather picked children whom he could get literally nothing from; he just understood what it is to feel helpless.  Families who could not afford to feed another child would bring their kids and give them to my grandparents (their house was more like an orphanage).  My grandfather many times employed these families in order for all of them to stay together; however, other times, the parents walked away and left their kids with us.  Those children would then became part of our family.  We all got the same amount of work, we all got treated with love, we all got disciplined (lovingly) and guided without any difference.  My grandfather loved these children and they loved him back.

I remember when there was an earthquake; people ran to the patio to the designated safe part of the colonial style home.  My grandfather by then was very old, in bed with advanced Parkinson’s.  In the whole commotion; with the adults trying to gather the children to safety; one young man named Roberto who must have been 16 years old at the time  had ran to my grandfather’s room and got him out; he carried him on his arms.  I remember my grandmother’s eyes full of gratitude when she saw Roberto carrying her husband to safety.   That young man’s love and loyalty to a man who had treated him like his own son was something which would stay with me.   Where someone else saw a homeless person with nothing to offer, my grandfather saw a human soul, deserving of love and with so much potential. I will never forget that lesson.  I got to see first hand that my grandfather was correct, family isn’t blood.  Family are the ones that love you, who allow you to be yourself and who can argue with you yet still be there even if you have different opinions.  Family does not try to emotionally blackmail you into submission.  Family understands your choices can be different and because there is a genuine love, those choices are respected and accepted without exclusion being the punishment for not conforming.  For me that lesson sunk at an early age and through life I have seen how true it is…family is a much greater concept than blood ties.

2) If you have something to say about someone else say it to their face.  This lesson came from both men, however the one that drove this lesson home was my father, he hated hypocrisy. If he was angry and fought with someone it was done openly, directly and respectfully.  He was not concerned with what others opinion of him were or with making others feel comfortable by walking on eggshells around the subject out of fear to disappoint or be caught in an uncomfortable situation.  My father was a man that grab the bull by the horns. If he had something to say to you, you would know it.  He was no good at faking emotions for anyone.  He had a severe dislike and very little psychological room left for people who laughed too much with someone and then stabbed people on the back; he would call them cowards and untrustworthy.  

3) The truth doesn’t hide.  My grandfather used to say if you want to know who lies between two people, don’t look at the words but their actions.  If you have two people in a room look at who is willing to stand up and who cowards; you will have your answer.  Words and smiles can be deceiving, people’s actions cannot.   It is easy to claim innocence when not confronted by the party one accuses.  Such behavior would not ever stand in a court of law, then why do we tolerate and enable it in other areas?

4) Don’t be afraid to rock the boat.  My father taught me this.   Don’t ever be afraid to stand up because of fear of what others may think of you.  He used to say. “A Lion is never afraid of sheep.  What do you want to be…the Lion or the sheep?  Sheep get eaten, sheep don’t have a voice and can be deceived”. People are the same way, some people like to think and some people like others to do the thinking for them, that way they can avoid responsibility and wash their hands off anything.  They claim they have many friends yet at the end of the day, they have no one because their friendships are dependent of whom they please, unable to be themselves.

My grandfather taught me something similar but in a more peaceful way.  He used to say ” The man who watches a group of men beating  another person but chooses to say nothing or to not get involved, is no less guilty than the ones who committed the beating”.   He used to say people are very scare to confront themselves and their own wounds so they avoid any conflictive situation in order to not lose the illusion of self autonomy, of which they have none.  He used to say “Try to have understanding for their soul but don’t become like them.. don’t be afraid to stand up.   Those who are willing to stand alone are the ones who have always changed this world”. 

Where my father would have gone full guns blazing, my grandfather taught me of Ghandi.   He said Ghandi was a real man of peace and knowledge. At one point the British were hitting Ghandi until he collapsed on the ground; they did this because he was peacefully protesting.  Ghandi would not strike back in the same ignorant/violent way. He did not coward, he did not hide, he stood his ground.  Time and time again he stood up and face them.  He looked at them straight in the eyes until they got the point, he was one man they would not break, bully or intimidate.  Ghandi changed India and he changed many lives.  He did this by a beautiful combination of loving peace and fair action. My grandfather used to say to stand up openly, intelligently without fear of what others may think, is what develops true moral character.

5) Forgiveness doesn’t mean allowing others to continue hurting you.  My grandfather taught me this.  My father lived more by the rule of Machiavelli, which teaches if someone hurts you, in return you should hurt that person so deeply, taking away everything they love, value, cherish…make the punishment so severe so they never think again of lifting a hand against you.  Many ears ago, I would have followed this….

My grandfather taught me the other side of this lesson…true forgiveness does not mean to simply say you are okay and allow others to keep making the same mistakes with you.  If a person truly is repentant, that person will take responsibility for their actions, and expect you to take responsibility for yours; only then can true forgiveness happen.  In a fight there is no innocent party, both sides have some responsibility and both should face it to the extent they are responsible for; only when this takes place true forgiveness is accomplished.  If people aren’t willing to face up, then learn to walk away.  Don’t coward but don’t allow yourself to be hurt either.  Christ taught to love your neighbor as you love yourself, he did not say go love your neighbor first and give everything to him, then love yourself.  The only way to truly love and respect others is by first loving self, respecting self, giving yourself true value, otherwise you run the risk of becoming a hypocrite due to not living in coherency. You can’t give to others what you don’t have.  When you truly love yourself, you accept there are two sides and taking responsibility for your part is natural.

6) Intelligence and a good person cannot be measured by tests or good deeds.  My father taught me intelligence is developed, being able to memorize something doesn’t make you intelligent. Intelligence is the capacity to think for yourself, to formulate your own opinion with all facts having been examined.  My grandfather said knowledge expands your consciousness and when you expand your consciousness and open your heart, is when you can start to understand the wonders of the world you live in.

A good person isn’t measure by how they treat others but by how they treat their family.  Many people are so busy acting nice to strangers, acting understanding. I call it acting because their motivation comes from false ego not from the heart.  If it came from the heart the first thing they would do is show the same compassion, respect and understanding to their own family. 

There are so many people out there who make a habit of acting as if they were here to save the world yet in private their actions can be total opposite; they are willing to lie, abuse and take advantage of others.  As my father used to say lots of people can talk the talk, they can preach, but when it comes time for those lessons to be implemented, they turn the other way. 

Is easy to do the “right thing” if your ego is going to be praised; that is not being good, that is wanting to be popular.  There is a quote about intelligence which has stayed with me and which also helps defines a good person…. “There are 3 kinds of intelligence: The first kind understands things for itself. The second one appreciates what others can understand.  The third understands neither for itself nor through others.  The first kind is excellent, the second good and the third useless.”

7) True faith is trusting the plan of God not talking revenge into your own hands.  My grandfather taught me all of us have different levels of faith and that is more than ok.  If we were perfect we would not be here; it is in accepting this, in accepting our own short comings that we can transcend them.   He used to say there is no greater lie than the one you tell yourself.  If you truly belief your faith is great then you should not take from your neighbor his living simply because you feel hurt but rather trust in God/higher power to balance things out; standing up isn’t the same as being vindictive.  To be vindictive, is a sign of lack of faith or a faith which is not deep and a dark nature.  Personally, I know my faith is one which I am still developing.  I may not do everything right but I refuse to lie to myself that I have everything figured out or that my faith is rock solid; in accepting this, I know I will grow.

Only when something becomes conscious can one transcend it.  I still get angry,  at times I wish I was still the same person I was many years ago….I can see my growth when I allow myself  to feel the anger and know some of the things which have been done to me, won’t be done by me.  I know just like others have hurt me, I too have hurt others. I am also conscious that where I am willing to take responsibility for my part others are yet to do the same.  I am at peace because I know whatever hurts I’ve caused has long been evened out by the hurt others have imposed, so I won’t lower myself to anyone or punish myself for anything which is not mine to own. I know myself enough to know I can get angry quickly when I feel hurt, but when someone is truly willing to move on, I do so without resentment–that much I am absolutely certain about myself.   I am nobody’s fool, neither am I an arrogant ignorant person.  I am willing to work with those willing to do the same openly and without blackmail–that is something both of these men taught me and I am grateful for the lessons. 

To summarize, even if you were raised with erroneous beliefs you can still make the choice to look for the good within the lesson; that is wisdom.  Also keep in mind nobody is perfect, fear and anger are natural, is what you do with it that counts.  You have the right to express your opinion, you don’t have the right to hurt others.

I am thankful for every time I transcend my anger; I feel it, search for the lesson within it and then release it without making myself small.  I am thankful at those moments because I know I have grown, I am still growing and although my faith is not rock solid, I am certainly a long way from years back; this tells me am on the right path…

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By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!

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