Tough Cookie (3-min. read)

Dad B in Uniform Gazing

My dad is, as one of my aunts calls it, a tough little knot. A real tough cookie.

At 85 years young, his resilience and sense of humor are fully intact. He wakes up each day happy as a clam. And that’s despite being a reluctant widower; dementia creeping its way in; and painful arthritis in a bad knee joint.

He’s my hero. One of my go-to, lifetime role models of how to take a hit and keep moving forward.

We all know life can be beautiful, and that it also can be hard as nails. One moment everything is running pretty smoothly and we breathe deeply, grateful for the smooth ride. Then we blink, and life goes awry. A child is injured, a spouse loses a job, someone dies unexpectedly.

Through all of his tough moments, my dad has been tougher. He has great faith in God, never worrying about anything.

Dad’s resilience has always been there. It’s in his stories of leaving the familiarity and solid love of his childhood home to attend college. How he earned 40 cents an hour as head waiter in the dining hall of Virginia State University to pay for college. How he endured more than he may ever tell us as the only Negro officer in the Army Corps of Engineers in Hanau, Germany, circa 1953. How he refused to give up his seat on trains below the Mason-Dixon line when ordered to do so several times because of his skin color.

Or, how he never wavered but stepped up even more as a husband and father when my mom became ill for many years. How he got out of bed early as always the day after mom died suddenly and, even in his deep grief, never shut down. How, 5 years later, he did the very same thing when my brother – his only son and first-born – died after a short battle with cancer. How he has allowed us to lovingly, but firmly, uproot him from his life and home over 300 miles away to be with us for his own safety and our peace of mind.

Dad’s mornings begin with reading the comics (“the best part of the newspaper,” he says) and tackling the crossword puzzle. He finds something to laugh about every day – a genuine chuckle that really tickles his funny bone. Whether it’s Dagwood’s shenanigans in the Blondie comic strip or the latest antics of presidential candidates on TV, Dad finds the humor and runs with it. When leaving the house, his first observation is always, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” When exiting the senior center he enjoys each week, he leaves everyone smiling by saying farewell in at least four different languages. “Good evening! Auf Wiedersehen! Arrivederci! Adieu!”

His physical body slows him down tremendously, requiring use of a walker to get around. Moderate dementia messes with his memory and moods, especially late in the day. But his spirit? Nah. That resilience and yes-we-can positivity that have always been inside of him still show up brightly, clearly, each day.

From where I sit, those qualities allow Dad to keep it moving when many of us would rather fold up, hide under a rock, or check out. After all, isn’t it easier to throw our hands up in the air and surrender when we feel a situation is “just too hard?” Or stay in bed all day when the world is throwing its hardest jabs at us? What about those moments we do the bare minimum because we believe “this won’t matter anyway?”

I’ve had plenty of those moments. I’ve lingered in Woe-Is-Me Land when I felt pummeled by life’s demands, heartaches and more. I’ve hung my head in despair, feeling defeated after making some silly mistake–again. And I’ve certainly been impatient with others when completely exhausted.

We all have those days.

Yet, we know we cannot control everything that happens to us, especially the tough moments. We can only control how we perceive those moments, and how we react to them. I’m learning every tough moment is really a chance to stretch and grow my own tough cookie-ness. That there’s a bit of wisdom in honestly seeing tough moments as necessary travel companions from time to time on our life’s journey. Because they build our muscles of courage to keep on going, our resilience, and even our ability to chuckle when we’d rather sit down and cry.

Dad’s example reminds me to look up and out, not down.  To keep pressing on. To remember we can actually conquer anything with divine faith and sheer will. And to be a tough cookie who can still laugh when tough moments come knocking on our door.

In what areas of life do you need more tough cookie-ness?

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17 thoughts on “Tough Cookie (3-min. read)

  1. Pingback: Adjusted Expectations | stretch & grow

  2. Maria

    Wow, this blog is in such perfect timing in my life. Thank you for sharing the strength of your dad with me as a reminder to continue to be a tough cookie.

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  3. Demetria

    Karin, what a blessing to have such a wonderful example of strength and perseverance to call dad. Thanks for allowing me the pleasure of meeting him and getting to hear some of those wonderful stories. I love your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. stretch&grow Post author

      Demetria, thank you so much for reading and for lending such a sweet listening ear recently to Dad. He loves sharing his life stories, especially with an engaged listener. Hugs, 🙂

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  4. K. Russell

    Karin, thanks for this month’s edition that’s, well, like a Hershey’s Kiss – a small, wonderful treat that excites that senses and leaves you smiling. In fact, in our household we look forward to your posts so much that we literally race to see who can read it first. Unfortunately, I lost this month as my lady beat me to the punch! Ultimately, though, we both won because of your beautiful, uplifting writing. Thanks also to your Dad for being a “tough cookie” and setting a positive example for all to emulate. I’m looking forward to next month’s Hershey’s Kiss….and this time winning our small mini-race here at home :-)!! Hampton Hugs to the Dancy Family….

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    1. stretch&grow Post author

      Kevin, I’ve always known Monica can outrun you. 😉 We love and appreciate all the Russells for your steadfast love and support. Huge HU hugs from our hearts to yours, 🙂

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  5. Kyri Harris

    Thanks for sharing so much of you and your family. I love stretching and growing even more from your blogs.

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    1. stretch&grow Post author

      Kyri, I’ve always looked up to you and your tough cookie-ness as a lifelong friend. 🙂 I see it in so many facets of you – from how you support friends and family, to the entrepreneur blossoming from the inside out. Thank you always for your encouragement and loving feedback, 🙂

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  6. Mary Weaver

    I love this. Yes he is a lovely person that raised wonderful children. Everyone loves the Deacon and really admire the whole family. I understand the caregiver issues but be encouraged. We love your whole family.

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    1. stretch&grow Post author

      Mary, that family love is so very mutual – we send our love to all the Weavers as well. 🙂 Thank you for your encouragement and understanding of the blessings and challenges that come with caregiving.

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  7. Shelly Smith Redd (Fernwood Farms)

    Taking care of a loved one with dementia can be very challenging yet you’ve risen to the occasion so I’d say, “You’re one tough cookie yourself.” I’ve found that with age I’ve grown into being a “tough cookie”. It was surely a process and one that I’ve never taken for granted.

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    1. stretch&grow Post author

      Shelly, your encouragement and vote of confidence are so appreciated. And a hearty amen on how becoming a tough cookie is quite a process that takes time. Big Fernwood Farms hugs!

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    1. stretch&grow Post author

      It takes a tough cookie to know one – and YOU, my friend, are certainly that and more. I’ve always admired your quiet strength, Dondra. Big hugs until I see you again! 🙂

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