Making the best of one lap in life

By Todd Franko

I’m a dad in progress, as I’ve said.

This week’s work session involved death.

In the realm of fatherly discussions, I was expecting the sex talk to be more challenging.

Death snuck up on me, or, in this case, the discussion of it snuck up on me during a car ride home this week. It wasn’t forecasted. It just happened.

We were discussing a friend’s relations with his grandparents, and it reminded my son of his late grandparents.

Like a Florida thunderstorm, the emotions poured.

And still like a Florida thunderstorm, it was over.

But in the days afterward, the storm stayed with me as I wondered how “dad in progress” handled it.

I also chatted with a friend who’s a counselor. She proclaims, in a tongue-in-cheek way, to be a “pro at grief.”

I got props for not shutting down the conversation.

Too many people, she advised, often make the mistake of shielding kids from death.

“They need to accept loss and change,” she said.

By not exposing kids to certain things, we actually develop fears in them, she believes.

It’s important to simplify the topic for kids, but still address death, she said.

There are triggers everywhere, and that our discussion came up in a chat about someone else’s grandparents was no big surprise.

She encourages memorials, tree plantings and honoring special days such as birthdays and even death days.

My discussion approach did not go that way. But what I did do got the death pro’s OK.

My manager mode, not dad, seemed to naturally engage, and I tried to turn a negative into a positive. Then in bumbling dad mode, I then made it a negative again, then a positive, then a ...

I encouraged him that it’s OK to miss his grandparents, but do so in a way that evokes smiles, like discussing the time that Grandpa was the silliest or deciding what Grandma did that you liked the most.

Then, I just threw out there that death happens — that I won’t be around forever, and neither will he.

As I said it, I paused. As a kid, that’s my only memory of the death talk; the gained knowledge that I, too, will die some day.

I remember thinking, “That’s a crummy rule to make. Who the heck did that?”

Like navigating downtown Pittsburgh, I was unsure where to go next with my fatherly chat. The manager in me returned, telling me not to stress death, but life, and its one chance.

And I pulled the “that’s why I’m tough on you” card.

Yes, I did. I’m sorry. I know what you’re thinking. It’s Sunday — don’t swear at me. I did so in a fatherly way.

I was thrilled this summer when our oldest seemed to stake first claim in our neighborhood youth lawn-cutting services. He set a goal. He established discipline. He built a business.

Part of me hoped my jerklike tendencies helped in some way.

Our conversation closed with that example, and how pivotal the lawn-cutting was in maximizing moments, minutes and months.

Remember those who no longer walk with us, I said. But let them also be a reminder that your turn at life happens just once.

Make it the best lap, because it’s your one lap.

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