Lessons From My Father

Everyone thinks their dad is the best. The difference here is that I know my dad is. While his gifts are many, I’ll try to highlight a few. My dad taught me what it means to be a true American. Nobody loves his country more than him. 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 dad taught me the meaning of generosity. He’s the most giving man I know. Truly giving. Without expecting anything in return. Throughout his life he has given to every member of his family quite generously, to include his own father, siblings, kids, grandchildren, church, and various other organizations. When he was in Korea he gave bountifully and continuously to orphanages. This I admire greatly from a man who grew up poor, with nothing.

My dad never complains. He has lots to complain about. With multiple health conditions, to include congestive heart failure, diabetes, severe narcolepsy, cataplexy, and a degenerative back, he surely has plenty to complain about. At times he 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.

My dad has taught me about forgiveness. He has never held a grudge that I’ve ever known or heard of. He certainly has experienced circumstances in the past that most might consider unforgivable, but has never once held anything against anyone. He is the first to give second chances and the benefit of the doubt. Abandoned by his own mother when he was young, he never was angry or resentful towards her. He just kept on moving forward. No use dwelling in the past.

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.

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.

My dad taught me the value of hard work. He always earned what he received and never expected anything to be handed to him. He worked hard in everything he did so his family could have nice things. But he was also quick to save, saying, “Hard times are coming.” As a boy, he worked laboriously on the farm, learning this trait from a young age simply out of the need for survival, and never considered anything different. This quality never wavered. He never expected anything to be given to him that he didn’t deserve or earn.


As a counselor, I had already graduated from college when I realized I had followed in his footsteps. Funny how I went through all the motions without the insight. True parental modeling in action.  Today at work we participated in an activity that involved identifying characteristics we admire in others. As a result, we learned that the same characteristics we admired in others actually described our own values.

If I had to chose a physical characteristic that most stands out to me of my Dad’s, it’s his hands. They are steady and strong. Stronger than anyone I’ve every known. They are also soft and comforting. Just his simple touch exudes a feeling of security and loving warmth. His hand on my shoulder or arm makes me feel safe and closer to him. If I had to describe him to someone who didn’t know him, I’d tell them he’s a cross between Billy Graham, James Garner, and David Letterman. He looks like both Billy Graham and James Garner and has he sense of humor of David Letterman.

I won’t pretend to be half the person my dad is. 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. Sometimes you come across a really good person. Truly good. Inside and out. Bruce Gilland is one of a kind. There will never be another one like him.


Dad and his cowboy.


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