So much has healed around my father and my relationship since he had Alzheimer’s and since he passed in March. But for a long time, our relationship was tough as turkey jerky. He was certainly always a champion of my music and writing, but it often felt like nothing was good enough. Because he tried to control the world with his mind (and keep us, his kids, from getting hurt), I was always concerned he lived a tortured life. And that for all of his prosperity he always seemed so focused on everything that was wrong. I was seeing his life as half full (still, half full of Johnnie Walker Double Black, but half, nonetheless).
But then I had a magical reading and session with healer Liz Donahue last week. My last question was what she could tell me about my father’s life and if there was anything I should know for closure. We barely had any time left in the session, and normally I would not have imposed on her to take extra time, but I've been learning how to ask more lately.
“Your father had to hold a sharply angled personality line in order to achieve his life’s purpose, which was to change the paradigm of education on the planet. He had to take one for the team, in a way.”
Because I had always assumed he had achieved what he did in spite of his personality. Hearing that made so much click, like a really huge second hand coming to life after being stuck in the same position for years.
Liz also explained that my family’s purpose is about education and changing the ways in which education happens in our culture and how people are educated. I had always thought of my life as separate from “the school,” as we’ve always referred to the College of Westchester, which my sisters run today, but hearing this made sense, too. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I teach as well and how that’s a way I honor my dad, whose biggest passion was teaching. God knows I've been a student for most of my life, but hey, best case scenario, who isn't?
My father bought the Westchester Business Institute in the ’60s when it had only nineteen students. He built it into a two-year school which put the student first and was geared toward people having flexible schedules (many students work full time and have families) and reasonable financial aid options. Eventually it was accredited and now offers Bachelor degrees as well. I worked there as a teen, too, helping my sister Nancy in career services and loved it. When my sisters cleaned out my dad's house recently Nancy took all of his ties to the school to give to students for job interviews and work. That makes me feel really good to know the students have a piece of my dad with them.
When I told my sister what Liz had said about my dad changing the paradigm of education she told me she wasn't surprised and has been thinking about that and how suddenly now she hears the bigwigs at Harvard and whatnot talking about putting the student at the center of their education, and how our dad had talked about that our whole lives.
Liz also said my dad was very pleased with himself and his family, “well done,” he accomplished more than he had set out to do in this life, that my Uncle Mac helped him cross over and my mom was there to meet him. There is still integration and healing to do, but there are lots of roses, a beautiful tribute, and a lot of peace.
And now I feel more integration with my own purpose as well as how my dad and my relationship fits together in the grand scheme of things. I feel really lucky for so many reasons. But most of all that I was able to spend so much time with my dad before he passed and that our relationship improved so much. And I can appreciate on such a deep level now how much I learned (and continue to learn) from him. I was always afraid of being tough because at times he was too tough, but now I borrow some of that toughness and decisiveness when I need it. It's in my blood.
Recently I was playing music with my husband and our friend Steve (the three of us are in a band together and it’s a big part of why we moved to Boise). I was so thrilled with the resonant melody flowing from my hands onto the 1973 Rhodes electric piano. My heart swelled with pride for a moment and I realized it was my father’s pride I was feeling. We had a huge connection with music and now it’s as if I can just play and know what he would feel about it. It boosts my confidence and makes me feel tender as a day old puppy (which, granted, isn’t hard to do because I am generally tender as a week-old puppy).
And because I could not possibly write a piece for Ernie without mentioning Bing, here’s one for my dad. We used to sing this together sometimes. Well, really, he would sing "Put it there, pal," to me often (while putting his hand out for me to slap). I hope he knows I’m singing it in my heart to him all the days. I feel he does.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.