The gift of power in my father’s good-bye

Listen well to everyone, but in the end do what you think is right.

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We just celebrated Father’s day and it was an unusual day for me because I had no one to call. My dad passed away exactly four months ago and although I was there, in the ICU with him,  it still feels surreal. He suffered a severe  neurological disease that made him loose control of all his functions towards the end of his life, including speaking and swallowing.

I miss him.  I could have an entire conversation with him simply by looking into his eyes, without saying a word. We were so much alike that we got annoyed about the same little things and we could intuitively understand each other’s thought process. We didn’t agree on many topics and we had heated arguments but I could follow his logic and I am sure he could follow mine. I am his third and youngest daughter and he would sometimes call me: ‘the other piece of me’.

In the last day I saw him, I had told him that I went to visit our old farm house. Despite all the tubes surrounding his nose and mouth I could see a big smile emerging from his eyes. Then, his eyes turned sad and small tears slipped towards the right corner of his eyes. In that eternal moment I remembered a special moment we shared 30 years ago, when  I was ten years old.

In  one of the evenings my dad, sitting next to me on the porch, simply asked: What do you think we should do Steliana? Should we let your sister marry the neighbours’s son and stay in the village?

I was shocked by the question, Why would he ask me? My sister was 21 and he was the father, what did I had to do with that.’

We just bought an apartment in the city and the entire family was moving , but apparently my older sister wanted to stay in the village living with our  grandparents so that she would  be near  her boyfriend.

My dad continued saying that he felt that he would leave her behind while the entire family is progressing towards a better life in the city where we could get better education and opportunities. Still he didn’t want to go against her heart. So, he asked for  my opinion.  He wanted the entire family to help her make up her mind, because we all had to bear the consequences if she would have regrets later. He apparently said to her:

‘Ask them, listen to everyone in the family and in the end do what you think is right’. She chose to stay.

In that evening, my dad made me feel very special, he made me feel wise, smart and mature. I was the youngest one in a family of nine  where the 90- year old great-grandma was still claiming the matriarch role.

Thirty years later, in his hospital bed, during his good-bye my father gave me again the same feeling of empowerment.

He was telling me, with his eyes, that I am strong enough and it is now my turn to navigate through life with the confidence of a parent who knows that leading a family is a shared team responsibility. From him I learned that I need to treat my children with trust and respect and that I shouldn’t micromanage them.

What I learned from the story of my dad and my 21 year-old sister is that Making choices and ‘driving your own bus’ doesn’t mean pushing  the other cars off  the road, it means considering the traffic, your position in it and the speed bumps in the road called life.

This early defining moment had a clear  influence on my work as  an executive leadership coach  especially when I coach  working mothers  who want to  bring more deliberate choice, courage and clarity in their approach to career and raising children.

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