Lessons From My Parents

Everyone thinks their parents are the best. The difference here is that I know mine are. While their gifts are many, I’ll try to highlight a few. They taught me what it means to be a true American. Nobody loves his country more than my dad. He retired from the Air Force and then Civil Service twice. He is proud of his service and his love for his country runs deep.  He is passionate about America and what is happening to it. He always hangs an American flag in his yard, follows politics closely, and loves to talk politics with others. I don’t know anyone who knows more about politics and the history of our country than him. My mom also served her country. She took care us three kids by herself while my dad was away often (which was probably worse than fighting the war) and also retired from civil service, She retired as a valued employee in the hospital at Travis AFB.


They taught me the meaning of generosity. They are truly the most giving people I know.  Without expecting anything in return. Having given to family members quite generously,  churches, and various other organizations and causes, never did they keep tabs. Both grew up poor and on farms, working hard for what little they had. They aren’t only generous with money. They are generous with time and service. They have spent their lives devoted to each other, God, family, and country.

They never complain. Even though they have a lot to complain about. With multiple health conditions, to include congestive heart failure, diabetes, severe narcolepsy, cataplexy, arthritis and cancer,  I know I would be complaining.  In fact, maybe I haven’t really learned this lesson very well because I complain enough for both of them. At times my Dad can’t walk for days and even weeks from pain. He collapses from cataplexy multiple times daily, hurting himself often. He never has muttered the first complaint. I never have once heard him complain. Not about the weather, not about the decline of his body, not about pain, not about not having something he wanted, not about one of us needing money, not about things not going his way, not about the terrible childhood he had, never about anything.

My dad taught me the importance of humor. Such an wonderful character trait.  He’s the funniest man and can laugh at the silliest things. His laugh is contagious and makes everyone around him laugh. I remember moving when I was young and he would sing in the car, “The bear went over the mountain” until Mom would tell him to shut up. Often, as he declines in health, it cheers us up to see him be able to laugh and joke. He laughs through the pain and he’s laughed through the hardships. His laugh is hearty and deep, silly and fun. I’m glad he’s been able to keep that through the years. Here he is getting his pedicurefirst pedicure at the age of 83 and drinking a mimosa for his birthday.

Mom and Dad both taught me about forgiveness. They don’t hold grudges but certainly have experienced circumstances in the past that most might consider unforgivable, however have never once held anything against anyone. They are the first to give second chances (and third and fourth and fifth), always believing the best of others.

My dad has taught me the value of kindness. I can’t recall hearing him ever say anything mean about anyone. He’s helped many people throughout his life. I remember him going with his friend Homer, from church, to help build another church deep on the back roads of Kentucky. He didn’t know the people but cared enough to spend his days, weekends, time, helping them build a sanctuary of  their own. He was at one time stationed in Baudette, MN while in the Air Force, when they had a radar station that has long since been closed. He had gone back to visit for an Air Force reunion. A man came up to him and said, “You’re Bruce Gilland aren’t you?” My dad didn’t remember him but the man told him if it wasn’t for him he would have never gotten his high school diploma. He expressed his gratitude to my dad. You see, my dad was an education counselor and helped many people obtain their educational goals. Those were the days when you didn’t have to have a high school education to join the military.

He taught me the importance of education. Not by preaching to me about going to college but by doing it himself. I have lost track of how many college degrees he has. My sister and I have inherited that love of education from him. He had to drop out of school in the eighth grade to take care of the family farm and his father who had been shot by his stepmother. When he was seventeen he joined the military and signed up for college. His first degree was a BA in Pre-Law. Pretty amazing, eighth grade to pre-law. He also has degrees in horticulture which explains why he can answer any question about any and every tree, weed, grass, and flower and taught me my love for plants and landscaping. He also has degrees in business, psychology and other subjects I can’t immediately recall. He modeled for us, without demanding we do the same. He let us make our own choices but his example showed us the way. He also taught himself many things. If he didn’t know how to do something he’d just read about it and then do it. In Mom and Dad’s previous house he built a stone gas fireplace from floor to ceiling, and went to a local nature park to pick up some natural stone to put in it for personalization and character. Each one of his yards has been different and beautiful. Full of a variety of landscaping, plants, flowers, fruit, pergolas, decks, etc. There is nothing he can’t give you the answer to regarding building, gardening, fixing, history, politics, you name it he knows it.

Mom matches Dad’s abilities but in other areas. She’s mastered everything from making wedding cakes to sewing wedding dresses. You know when you get a gift from my mom, it comes from her heart. It will be something special, that took hours of work, beautiful to show off. My home and office are filled with her artwork – cross stitch pictures so beautiful  they look like they’re painted. Quilted wall hangings that make everyone stop and ask where I got them. Quilts on the bed that warm not only my toes at night but my heart. Birthday cakes when I was little that had Barbie in the center with her hoop skirt as the cake. Beautifully knitted sweaters people have offered to buy right off my body.  There’s nothing Mom can’t make.

My dad taught me to have dreams. He is full of dreams, always has been. He’s a man who also lives his dreams and brings them to fruition. He’s never afraid to take chances or ask “what if?”.  He doesn’t doubt himself. If he wants do something, he does it, and does it well. He’s had some dreams that never did come about. Not that he couldn’t do it. Time just doesn’t stand still. He wanted to have a picture framing shop and a plant nursery and a family farm. Eventually, before he knew it, it was too late and his body couldn’t keep up with his mind. Some people don’t find much use in dreams. If we don’t have dreams what do we have to look forward to? I’m a dreamer like him, always thinking of the next thing. I like that I’m like him in that way.

Mom and Dad taught me the value of hard work. They always earned what they received and never expected anything to be handed to them. Dad would always say. “Hard times are coming.” Mom always was thrifty and managed money well, never spending frivolously even if she deserved to once in a while. They taught me that if I want something I need to work hard and not expect handouts. It’s not up to the government to take care of me. It’s up to me.


One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my mom is that we never know what someone else has been through unless we’ve walked in their shoes. Even more importantly, not everyone shares the stories those shoes would tell. So even if we don’t know what pains others have suffered that doesn’t mean those pains don’t exist. I also learned from her that we all do the best we can with what we have. It’s as simple as that. We do the best we can with what we have. Nobody is perfect and nobody has the right to judge.

Mom taught me that love isn’t words. Love is action. Anybody can say I love you but few people can truly show it. Mom shows it. Dad shows it. Their actions mean more to me than all the gold in Fort Knox. They taught me what it’s like to be awesome grandparents. I hope one day I get to practice that.

I won’t pretend to be half the person my parents are. But if I am one day, I’ll consider myself lucky. I complain, I’m selfish, I am not always nice, and I can hold the best of grudges. One day, hopefully a long time from now, heaven will have two beautiful angels. Just not now God, because I and my selfishness still need them here on earth.


Dad and his cowboy.


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