Towards the end of the school year last year, my son was working on a vocabulary lesson, and asked me to help him understand what a legacy is. He had looked it up in the dictionary and had the definition.
Legacy: something handed down from one generation to another
He was still confused. “What kind of thing gets handed down?”
Without pause I said, "Well, my dad's legacy is that he helped hundreds of families to live the lives they wanted, and taught thousands of people how to be smart about their money."
I had never defined my dad’s legacy before that moment, so I spent some time that day contemplating the word. The term “legacy” used to be more closely associated with an inheritance, a tangible asset or pile of money that meant that you had done well during your lifetime and wanted to help the next generation. Today, legacy carries a broader meaning- it’s a measure of impact, and hopefully challenges us to consider what we want to leave behind and whether we lived a life that matters.
Shortly after that conversation with my son, Dad was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, his legacy was approaching the end of its opportunity to expand and gather the last bits of evidence to support how it would be defined. Even after his diagnosis, I refused to accept the inevitable result. We would beat this, we would find a way, we would get him back on his feet to get back to life – to playing golf, traveling and telling jokes to the grandkids, as well as taking care of his clients and spending time with his lifelong love, my mom.
This is the first Father’s Day that I can’t thank my dad in person for all of the things he handed down to me – my love of travel, a laser-focus on building a business to serve others, the joy of music. But my dad’s legacy is so much more than a list of ways that he influenced me or any one person. An individual’s legacy is really who they were in this world. After getting to know my dad’s clients over the past few months, I can see part of his legacy through their eyes: his love of life, and his belief that every day was a great adventure, an opportunity to enjoy being alive. The most common thing I hear from his clients is, “I really miss him. We talked about the investments, but I think we talked more about life.”
Soon after my dad was diagnosed, a dear (and wise) friend who lost his dad many years ago said to me, “Ask your dad any questions you have. Say anything you need to, and do it now.” I am a fortunate and grateful adult child who can say that I had all of those conversations throughout my life with my dad, and had very few questions even as his remaining life was counted in days instead of years. He was generous with his love of us, and with his straightforward wisdom about life:
Love your family.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Love your country.
Work smart and hard.
Be an optimist about life, and be positive about those around you.
Pay attention to the man upstairs.
Help your fellow man.
Remember that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
I know it’s part of the human experience to lose your parents, and that loss – while painful - allows us to define even more who we are, and who we are not. Everyone leaves a legacy, whether intentional or not. I will no doubt be reflecting on my dad and his legacy this weekend. Those thoughts will lead me to think about my own, and what my husband and I are teaching our children about life. While Father’s Day may have a new meaning for me this year, my hope is that it also presents a moment to be grateful for the legacy that was handed down, and the foundation that it presents for my family to build our own life adventures.