Permission Slip

I’ve carried this piece of paper in my wallet for 7 years.  My father, an inveterate list maker, wrote it for me a few months before he died. On it, he suggested ways I might take care of myself, spend money on myself, and enjoy myself.

He’d spent his entire life denying himself and pushing himself to do more, but it troubled him to think his daughter might be doing the same thing. Late in life he gave in to new “extravagances,” mostly things he’d read about in health articles. This included grocery purchases more upscale than his usual canned vegetables and oatmeal, things like nuts, pomegranate juice, fish, berries, and fresh vegetables. These ideas topped his list of suggestions for me.

He’d always straightened nails to re-use and made do with worn out tools. He stapled scrap paper together to make daily planners for himself. But his list encouraged me to buy these things brand new. Even to buy myself an exercise bike!

He wore old clothes, even wore shoes he’d owned since college. He never bought new books. He skipped social engagements (whenever he could) in order to get more work done around the house or yard. He considered electronic gadgets unnecessary, although he was intrigued by new technology. Yet he wanted me to spend more time with friends, go to restaurants, buy books, invest in gadgets.

I’ve never been as starkly frugal or deeply self-critical as my father, but I understand what his list was trying to say —- to himself as much as to me. When we chronically push ourselves, judge ourselves harshly, or deny ourselves we are often unaware that we serve as examples to our children (as well as to our partners, co-workers, and friends).  We reinforce a social template that makes it normal to treat ourselves this way. Too late we realize we need treat ourselves as we’d like our loved ones to treat themselves.

Last Saturday would have been my dad’s birthday.  After a lovely stroll through the farmer’s market with my daughter where we bought grassfed cheeses, perfect tree-ripened peaches, and other delights I spent a few glorious hours listening to podcasts while cooking to prepare for our usual Sunday family get-together. Then, after a walk and some writing time, I sat on the porch with a book. It was another wonderful day in a life full of wonderful days. Thanks for the reminder, Dad.

26 thoughts on “Permission Slip

  1. Just lovely!!! Your father and mine were very similar. His 97th birthday would have been on July 18th. He passed away 2 years ago. Thanks for taking me down memory lane as well!

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  2. Laura – This is lovely! How wonderful for you to carry his ‘to do for you’ list around for seven years!

    On my mother’s ‘would have been’ hundredth birthday, July 15th, my daughter chanced upon a rental house for her next few years, that was indeed a blessing. Now, two weeks later, she is moved in. There’s a long ‘back story’ to this I won’t tell (oh yes I will, she had rented a house sight unseen, only visible to her from Internet pictures (old), and when she arrived it was disgusting. I was there to experience the shock of collapsed living room ceiling over the front door from a saturated roof, carpenter ants acting like they owned the place, a few roaches, scrambled wires, dirty fan blades, etc, etc. Blessedly, she got all her money back! Then found a ‘cream puff’ of a house!) Long live our parents concerns for us, as they live through us!


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  3. My father will leave me with a legacy of self-denial, self-criticism, offering up pain, illness, sadness, etc – the whole gamut of Catholic self-hatred and guilt, in fact! On the reverse of that coin, I also have the legacy of a rich and satisfying life of the mind, an acceptance and celebration of creativity, and a powerful urge to give freely of my time and the work of my hands. Parents have such power to shape the way we grow and learn. No-one teaches prospective parents how deeply their attitudes and examples become embedded in their children. Perhaps they should…

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  4. Thank you for this reminder of a father’s love, even though we may not always understand it when we are young. My father was a raging alcoholic until I was about twelve. When he quit drinking, he was able to relay the teachings of honesty and forgiveness through his own experiences.

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  5. And thank you, Laura, for sharing his wisdom with all of us! I’m gearing up for my seventh year of homeschooling my three children and this reminder to take care of myself is very timely.

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  6. What a brilliant read – my grandfather was very similar. He’d spoil me rotten as a child, but he never treated himself to anything extravagant. I believe this probably stemmed from the need to ration following WWII, but his humble nature has certainly left a mark on my life.

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