3 Life Lessons I Learned From My Parents

March 27, 2009 VIP Guest Blogger

Guest Post by Heather Allard

DON’T LET REAL OR PERCEIVED HANDICAPS STOP YOU FROM ACHIEVING YOUR DREAMS

My father, Richard, was born with no fingers—just a thumb—on his left hand. His mother, Mary, insisted he learn how to do everything a “normal” little boy would do, like making his bed, buttoning his shirt and tying his shoes–no easy feat for a child with my dad’s disability. When his friends came to see if he could play, Mary would say he could play just as soon as he put on his shoes and zipped his jacket. Often, his friends tired of waiting and left before my dad had finished.

But Mary’s “tough love” paid off—my father learned to not let his disability stop him from doing anything. At a young age, he showed natural artistic ability, sketching and painting everything from dogs, boats and houses, to swirling, expansive modern works. He played baseball, golf and tennis, and was a straight-A student at St. John’s Preparatory School in Massachusetts. He attended Catholic University, studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design and then received a Fulbright Scholarship to study abroad. He declined the scholarship and instead accepted a position at Robinson, Green and Beretta, an architectural firm in Providence, RI. In his early thirties, he became one of RGB’s chief designers and youngest vice presidents and showed amazing talent, designing things like St. Jude Church in Lincoln, RI and Schneider Arena at Providence College before dying at the age of 36.

The Lesson: Don’t let handicaps—real or perceived—stop you from pursuing and achieving your dreams—don’t listen to naysayers and never, never give up.

BE THE WIZARD:

In 1972, my father died after falling and fracturing his skull during a friendly relay race at my 3rd birthday party. My mother, Valerie, was widowed at age 32 and left alone to raise me (3), my brother (8), and my sister (11). My mother had to quickly learn to do things she’d never done before—things like writing a check, balancing her bank account and finding places she’d never driven to on her own.

My mother has always been a strong, intelligent, independent lady, so learning new things didn’t take long. But she took one big life lesson with her: the more you can do for yourself, the better.

Since then, my mother has always taught us to be self-sufficient, to learn how to do as many things as possible, to not be like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz—to not go SEE the Wizard, but instead, to BE the Wizard in our own life.

The Lesson: Learn how to do anything & everything you can—between books and the Internet, it’s never been easier to be the Wizard and to teach your children the same.

LIVE YOUR LIFE WITH NO REGRETS

About 10 miles from us, there was a man named Brendan, a widower with a 5 year old daughter. He belonged to the same country club that we did and a mutual friend set my mother and Brendan up on a date. It wasn’t long after that that they decided to get married, not because theirs was a whirlwind love affair, but because they had a common goal: to provide a loving, nurturing, safe life for their children–us. My mother and Brendan were married in 1974 and honeymooned in Bermuda.

My life was never the same after that and I will forever be grateful to the man I came to call my father–he was as “real” as the Velveteen Rabbit.

Brendan was a handsome man, a hardworking man and the smartest person I’ve ever known. He received his undergraduate degree from Providence College and went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Fordham University with a Masters in Economics. He knew literally everything–he was a human encyclopedia with a powerful vocabulary. He had the Irish gift of storytelling and he made any party more fun. He worked as a salesman for a Massachusetts steel company and worked his way up over the years, finally retiring as company President at the age of 71.

He was a kind man, an unbelievably generous man. He loved me, my sister and my brother as if his blood was running through our veins. He provided for us, put us through school and took us on more family vacations than a sane man should have. He was funny and sweet and the best father a girl could ask for.

Brendan died 5 years ago from a short but devastating battle with kidney cancer. He died at home, surrounded by my mom and the four of us kids. He had lived a full life—he was well educated, had traveled around the world and had achieved great professional success—yet the thing he felt most fortunate about was that he had the one thing he’d always dreamed of—a big family. He died at 78 years old with only one regret, which he shared with my mother about a week before.

He said, “I just wish we’d taken the kids to Bermuda with us on our honeymoon.”

The Lesson: Do everything you’ve ever wanted to do. Say ‘I love you’ every chance you get. Know that it’s never to late. Live each day to the fullest, without regret so when you reach the end of your life, you will truly be at peace.

heatherHeather McCarron Allard is the mother of three children, Hope, Grace & Brendan and one big dog, The Dude. After inventing & selling Swaddleaze & Blankeaze, her safe sleepwear creations, she began writing The Mogul Mom, a blog that offers free coaching & resources for mom entrepreneurs. Heather lives in Rhode Island in her childhood home with her husband Scott and their children

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Comments (21)

  1. Heather, you never cease to amaze me. I never knew where your determination, resilience, kindness and live-in-the-moment outlook came from, but now I do. Thank you for sharing these life lessons with us all. You have certainly seen your share of pain, but your glass-half-full attitude is so admirable and inspiring. Again, thank you for this. We all need reminders sometimes to live life to the fullest.

  2. Thank you to everyone for not only taking the time to read my post but for commenting so thoughtfully.
    I have truly had an incredible life & despite tragedy, I’ve had incredible fortune in being the child of three extraordinary parents.
    Heather

  3. kerri

    great post. sometimes as parents, we may get caught up in the monday-friday schedule. it is important to remember that we can make an impact and a memory during the “routine” times. thanks for sharing.

  4. I love the “Be The Wizard” motto – it reminds me that we are all in control of our own destiny. Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful thoughts with the rest of us.

  5. elaine mccormick

    what a touching reminder of the really important gifts a parent can give a child. thanks heather.

  6. Now that I’m finished wiping away my tears, I’d just like to say that this is a beautiful story, beautifully written, authentic and moving. It stands out to me in a sea of so much “random” information. Your story is important and needed to be told and I’m so happy that I have this new insight into my beautiful friend Heather. (No wonder you’re so incredible!!) You are truly blessed and I know you are passing along this extraordinary legacy to ur own bunnies!! LUV U!!!!!

  7. Thank you for these inspirational words! I read your post once, then went back, and read it again. I’m reminded to be thankful for those in my life, and more importantly, I’m reminded to let those people know how grateful I am for having them!

  8. Oh, Heather… this is FANTASTIC! I especially loved the last one – “Say I love you with every chance…” these are such important words. I just loved your lessons… it makes me feel like I know you more and more! Considering we live about 12 miles from each other… I think it’s time we meet for coffee/lunch/dinner!! xoxo
    Audrey

  9. Love this – inspiring post. As a parent I think a lot about the lessons my kids will learn…not from the instructions I’m always spouting, but from my life, my actions. I got a little teary over what is a clearly personal account of three parents who did a lot right. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Heather,

    It is truly amazing how transparent this post is…and not only transparent but further how REAL it is.

    Many of the points you made completely resonate with me as I lost my father to a silent heart attack my freshmen year in college unexpectedly.

    My life changed in a matter of 30 seconds, as I saw my dad come off the dance floor complaining that he was short of breath, get up, take a step and collapse…only to die minutes of later before he ever arrived at the hospital. (He was 48)

    As my mother hovered over him not knowing weather to cry or scream, a nurse that was at the event began to to everything she could to revive him…

    Sadly we lost him that night…

    With his wake on my 19th birthday, and his funeral the day before Thanksgiving the emotions and feelings I was experiencing were something that I would never want anyone else to ever go through.

    Despite the challenges of just starting at Boston College, trying to figure out how I would balance the crazy baseball schedule, and new social life…I could have easily given up and headed back home to CA where my mom and brother lived.

    The day we buried my father, was the day I realized just how important a loved one is to your life, and it saddens me to see so many kids take their parents for granted and treat them like crap…not realizing that they ONLY GET ONE SET OF PARENTS their entire life.

    The Thanksgiving ceremony at my grandmothers house in Boston…was completely surreal as we celebrated a holiday that is surrounded by being thankful for what we have, when one of the greatest things we loved was taken from us so unexpectedly.

    It is funny how life works, and how certain experiences that happen to us in our life mold us into who we become as individuals.

    After the entire experience I am happy to say that despite the tough situation I had to endure during my freshmen year in college…so much good has come from it, but at the same time it is bittersweet.

    I am sure you can relate Heather…

    You know…Where you are happy with where you are, but you wish you could have “him” back here to experience all of the joy in your life.

    I live with this reality daily, and even though this is the case it continues to drive me to serve others, and help other individuals get to where they want to go in their life…because after my father died, I had to rely on others to get to where I am today.

    While I am happy with where I am, and have accomplished some great things in my life up to now, (I am only 23), I know I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the tough experience I had to go through.

    Experiences like this truly help you step back and re-evaluate your life with where you are, where you want to go, and why you want to go there…because we all know when we are on our death bed our time will be up, and we won’t be able to go back to change a thing we did or did not do in life.

    In the end the biggest lesson that I have learned going through this whole experience is this…”The greatest things in life aren’t things… The greatest things in life are the things you can’t see, such as the relationships and love you share with friends and family. Because in the end when all is said and done, and when we all have passed on, the only true thing that goes on forever is the relationships that you build with each other.”

    Heather, your post not only made my day…it made my entire week.

    Thank You,
    Scott

  11. Michelle Madden

    Heather
    I have been trying to cutback on how much facebook I’ve been doing but I am so happy I clicked over to this article. So worth reading and great lessons. Definitely one I am bookmarking for future reference–thanks for sharing it!!
    Michelle

  12. What a wonderful list of lessons we should all learn. Your family has definitely had many ups and downs and you are obviously stronger for all of it.

  13. Donna

    Great stories about perseverence and turning things around, in your life.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Donna

  14. Sandy Mincone

    It is amazing the number of silent heroes we never know. I have been a fan of The Last Lecture since Randy Pausch gave in September a few years ago. The lessons he spoke of so brilliantly were so very simple.

    Heather, you have written so simply and eloquently about those same lessons using the heroes in your life. Thank you for sharing those special people, especially today in memory of Brendan.

    I hope we can all at least think about our special lessons and heroes and be thankful for them everyday. I will be sharing this blog with my students and asking them to reflect upon the lessons they may have learned in life.

    P.S. I hope the chocolate cake is tasty!! :)

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