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Dad's secrets to a happy life

I have to drive 13 hours to see my 94-year-old father, so I don’t go often, but we talk frequently on the phone.

I keep him up to date on my garden, my Scrabble games, my work highs and lows, and my latest newspaper article.

My father especially loves it when I tell him about my tennis matches. He taught me to play tennis when I was 12 years old. Back in my high school days, he enjoyed hearing about my tennis victories and losses each evening at the dinner table, as match by match I worked my way up the ladder to become the No. 1 player on the varsity tennis team.

Now it’s 50 years later, and he still enjoys my tennis exploits. So during this particular conversation, I told him about my perfectly matched doubles partner Lonnie, who teamed with me to win every match in our adult tennis league three years ago. Then Lonnie up’n moved 2,263 miles away.

I told my father, tongue in cheek, that my doubles partner deserted me — and for what? — only to be close to his children, his two grandchildren, his aging mother, oh, and a much better job.

My father responded by focusing on my friend’s interesting new life rather than my plight.

My little story had a happy ending when Lonnie came back — using vacation days from work — so we could reunite at the club tennis tournament. We had so much fun we hope to do it again.

This human-connection story led my father and me to the topic of people who write biographies and memoirs. We agreed that biographies are written about famous people, though the definition of “famous” seems to have been stretched considerably in the past few decades, judging from the variety you see in bookstores and on TV.

I commented that more dramatic than the increase in biographies was my perception of the increase in memoirs. I am part of a twice-monthly writers’ group that is full of people writing memoirs. Heck, I’m doing it right now — on a small scale — in order to share a moment of insight. I expressed skepticism to my father about the quality of most memoirs. I doubt that most memoir writers had much of value, insight or interest to share with the world.

At this point in our conversation, my father said something very simple that hit me like a ton of bricks.

“Every person’s life is fascinating,” he said.

I stopped for a moment to take that in.

I realized that my father has lived a happy life, through the inevitable ups and downs, partly because he found ways to appreciate each person. He looked for and saw what was fascinating and unique about them.

He helped me realize that a person’s value comes from being alive and individual, not from being famous, good-looking, wealthy or any of the other signs of “success.”

This is why, each December, my father and mother received a wall full of holiday cards from friends around the world. They loved to stay in touch with and follow the unfolding lives of each fascinating friend.

I realized this is why our family dinner table conversations during my youth were so vibrant. Sure, our mother and father talked politics and culture with us three kids. But what lit their eyes was talking about the people in their lives and in our young lives. Each life held value. Each life held fascination.

My mother and father passed this deep wisdom to my sister, my brother and me. It was lived, not preached.

As I try to decipher a pattern from all these realizations, I believe my siblings and I incorporated this deep parental wisdom into our subconscious. This subconscious perspective has helped us live fulfilling, mostly happy lives. Though very different in many ways, we have all gone through life seeing people as individuals, as worthy of our respect, as someone fascinating.

This can lead to a life of caring and service.

This can lead to a life of sharing and creativity.

This can lead to a life of parties and fun.

This can lead to waking up each day with a positive attitude, looking forward to whom you might meet today.

As one contribution to building community, Peter Finkle is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street. Visit www.WalkAshland.com to see and read about local people, history, yard art, architecture, gardens and more.