It’s almost Father’s Day weekend again! A year ago, I was on a fourteen hour three-leg “red-eye” flight from Florida to Oregon to be with my dad. After speaking with him by phone nearly every day during his month-long stay in the hospital, I wanted to spend more time with him and try to help my nearby siblings encourage him as he was discharged into a rehabilitation facility. His excruciatingly painful and debilitating back surgery left him unable to walk and care for himself.

Thurlowe Gingerich, my dad.

I’ve been reflecting on this past year and what I’ve learned from my dad through this experience. Even though he spent three months in a rehab facility, he finally was able to go home. Even though he couldn’t stand or walk for nine months, he now can do both with the help of his walker. Last week, he drove his car again for the first time in a year.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my dad:

Attitude Determines Altitude – There were times when my father wanted to give up and just die because the pain was so severe. There were moments when he wondered aloud if he would ever get out of his wheelchair. But most of the time, he chose to refocus his attitude and make the best of the situation and not spend his entire life focused on the “what ifs” and the worst-case scenario.

Perseverance Pays Off – While visiting him again over the Christmas and New Year holidays, I watched my dad strain with every ounce of energy as he grabbed a wall bar and barely pulled himself up out of his wheelchair to stand for 30 seconds and then lowered himself down, totally exhausted and in pain. But, repeated 30-second attempts progressed to 60 and then 90 seconds of standing. Just a couple months ago, I remember how he celebrated on the phone because he was able to stand 3 minutes, and then 4 minutes and 5 minutes at a time. And, the same with walking – one step, two steps, 10, 25, 50 and more.

Dennis and his father last summer

Determination Inspires Others Over the last year, my dad has had several physical therapists. One of those therapists, Katrina, was very inspired by my dad’s attitude, perseverance and determination during her three-times-a-week sessions. She left the company that provided the home-based physical therapy covered by my parent’s insurance. Yet, months later, Katrina still continues to volunteer a few extra sessions on her own time because she wants to participate in the improbable comeback my dad is making.

Stay Focused on the Goal – My father has focused on being able to walk and drive again. I found it interesting that he declined the offer of a free electric scooter that was made available to him. He expressed his reason. Dad felt getting comfortable driving around in his scooter would cause him to settle for less and he would lose focus on his goals. Instead, he reasoned that using a regular wheelchair would remind him to stay focused on what he was working toward.

When I really stop to reflect and remember, my father (who turns 84 next week), has always exemplified these kind of characteristics throughout his life. As a farmer and businessman, he’s had a lot of practice overcoming obstacles, setbacks and difficulties. And really, we all tend to live out our older years just like we lived our younger years. So, are you living life now with the characteristics that you want to exemplify in your later years? If not, why not make changes starting today?


QUESTION: What is one area you want to grow in so you are better prepared for your later years? Sharing it with us in the comment section below.



7 responses to Learning From My Father

  1. Terry Frith on June 16, 2013 at 7:34 PM Reply

    Very encouraging story!! What a wonderful father’s day story and what a great dad you have!!

  2. Janet on June 15, 2013 at 11:32 AM Reply

    This one brought back the week before my Dad died..He was a custom cabinet maker and worked in a shop on our property..He was almost always at home for any thing that would come up. He worked from sun up to sunset in the shop..The week before he died he was sitting in the shop, and was not so happy, he could no longer do what he loved. He shared stories with me that I had never heard before, and now will always cherish.At the time I just enjoyed his company not realizing he would be gone in a week. Make sure you do the time with your parents, listen, and don’t miss something very important they need to say.. I was glad I was there that day, and I know he was too…

  3. Jean on June 14, 2013 at 11:35 AM Reply

    Thanks Dennis for this great tribute to Dad. He really is a trooper and I admire his courage!!! I am sure you can imagine how much time he puts into strategizing how he can do little things to improve his independence and strength. :>)

  4. Rod Partington on June 14, 2013 at 9:19 AM Reply

    Wow, what a timely blog! My Dad passed away 14 years ago today.(June 14, 1999) And like your Dad, mine had major health issues and incredible painful hurdles to overcome also. He had a rare bone disease (not related to mine. Ironic though!) when he was a kid that left him crippled and deaf. But he was an amazing man. Like you, he heavily influenced me with his never say die and lean on God and keep going positive attitude. He was one of the most intelligent men I have ever met. He could give NASA scientists a run for their money. Growing up, people would always feel sorry for me (or pick on me) because I was being raised by 2 deaf parents (who were raising 5 kids. He wasn’t suppose to be able to have children, but that’s another story.) We lived in a small crowded house and we didn’t have a lot of material possessions. But the fact is I was absolutely blessed with amazing, encouraging parents. I miss him dearly, but I know he is with God, happy and pain free. One day we will meet again.
    I just said a prayer for your Dad and family.
    God Bless.

  5. John M. Miller on June 14, 2013 at 7:07 AM Reply

    Dennis, it’s good to read of this account of your father and my friend’s journey back to a higher level of functioning. I’m a two years and a couple of months behind him on the calendar. You’ve done an excellent job of telling his story and drawing out principles that can inspire me and others as we complete life’s journey. Thanks.

    • Dennis Gingerich on June 14, 2013 at 9:38 AM Reply

      Thanks for sharing about your father, Rod. I’m sure you do miss him.

    • Dennis Gingerich on June 14, 2013 at 9:39 AM Reply

      Thanks John. I sent my dad your comments. Blessings.

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