Honor Thy Father

Happy Father’s Day! I watched Meet the Press this morning which was a tribute to the life of television journalist and lawyer Tim Russert who died suddenly two days ago of a massive heart attack. For an hour, I basically mourned as I listened to his friends and felt their genuine love for this man. It deepened my own commitment to live a meaningful life and reminded me of the importance of the work I do on behalf of the American Heart Association.

NBC’s Tom Brokaw did a masterful job at leading the tribute conversation at a time which I’m sure is hard for him personally given his close relationship with Russert. At times during the show, political consultants/commentators James Carville and Mary Matalin were holding hands consoling each other. Mike Barnicle (MSNBC News) talked about Russert’s “love of family.” Maria Shriver (formerly with NBC News) talked about how he was a “father” and mentor to many, including herself. Betsy Fischer (Executive Producer, Meet the Press), Gwen Ifill (PBS) and Doris Kearns Goodwin (Presidential Historian) also shared personal stories. Because of his working-class background and experience as a politician himself, it was clear that Tim Russert had a special combination of empathy for the everyday person and foresight in how to ask tough yet fair questions of our public servants. Through all of the thoughtful commentary on his life, the one thing I kept on thinking about was his family – his wife Maureen, son Luke and his dad Big Russ. Losing a husband at such a young age is heartbreaking, losing a dad is really hard – and losing a son, must be unthinkable.

My family is coming up on three years since my dad’s passing and I still feel his presence so strongly around me. This morning, I wished him a Happy Father’s Day out loud because I believe his spirit lives. That feeling is so strong that sometimes I still can’t believe he’s physically not here. It’s a little strange not to participate in the Father’s Day ritual of making a Sweet Banana Bread (which served as our cake) and trying to determine yet another gift (and be more creative than a tie or shirt). There is a little bit of loneliness that comes with that. (Read more about dad in “The Power of… AUTHENTICITY.”) Nevertheless, today I’ll honor my brother who is the father to my dear nephew, Daniel – and reach out to my close friends who are dads. I send prayers to the Russert family for their loss and for this first Father’s Day without their main man.

I read a few books at a time, and one of the books I’m reading right now is How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama translated by Jeffrey Hopkins, Ph.D. In providing a context for practicing morality, His Holiness offers an overview on the process of dying:

The process of dying involves a serial cessation, or dissolution, of the four internal elements: earth (the hard substances of the body); water (fluids); fire (heat); and wind (energy movement). In ordinary life, these elements serve as the basis for consiousness, but during the process of dying their capacity to support consciousness decreases beginning with the earth element. Each step in this dissolution actually increases the capacity of the next element to support consciousness.

He talks about how the transmission of karmas from one lifetime to another occurs at death through a very subtle mind of clear light. Except in extraordinary meditative states, the subtlest, or deepest consciousness manifests itself only when we are dying. He also talks about how a person’s motivation in action is the key to determine what type of karma accumulates, and thus the nature of your rebirth.

Whether you believe in Buddhism or not, this brings up a number of interesting questions. The first is: “What really happens when a person dies?” I used to be afraid of cemeteries, but now I have a sense of detachment from them. I understand that cemeteries are simply resting places for the human body. This is why I am not extremely compelled to visit my dad’s grave site. Why should I go out there if he’s already with me? I believe that spirit lives which is why I feel my dad’s presence everywhere, all of the time.

The second question is: “Does your current life affect your death and beyond?” I can’t tell you, from personal experience, what exactly happens after death – though there are obviously many religious and philosophical points of view on this. However, I do believe in the accumulation of goodwill, or karma (or whatever else you want to call it). How you live today affects your tomorrow, and seeing death (either a loved one or coming close yourself) can be a strong motivator for living a purposeful life.

Ask yourself: “What is my motivation for life? If I were to die today what type of karma would I have accumulated? Who did I inspire? How would I be remembered?” Today, as we honor dads, think about who you can “father” and what types of relationships you are building. Have gratitude for your creator – spiritual and earth-bound. Show empathy to those around you and allow your actions to accumulate goodwill. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama said:

Eating, working, and making money are meaningless in themselves. However, even a small act of compassion grants meaning and purpose to our lives.

With Purpose & Power,