Family Memoir Writing

Life Lessons from Dad

Study hard, be smart.

Weigh the pros and cons of your decisions.

Stand on your own two feet.

Hard work is a key to success.

Dream big.

Love what you love with passion.

When you fall off a horse, get right back on.

Laugh a lot and often…

and you’ll come out on the other side just fine.

That’s my dad and me, college graduation 1988. Today would have been his 78th birthday. Life is fleeting — perhaps that is the biggest lesson of all.
Community Family

An Open Letter to My Family about the Election

To My Family,

I am writing to you today to ask you to think about the America for which our fathers and grandfathers fought wars.

My grandfather, above, fought and died in World War II, participating in a worldwide conflict that battled the evils of Hitler and the Nazis. My uncles, aunts, and cousins have served in the U.S. military throughout the years, including time in the Pacific Conflict and the Vietnam War. Each of them fought to preserve a way of life in America that valued freedom for all, that supported a melting pot of cultures and ideas, opinions and beliefs. They fought for the rights that allow you to believe what you believe, and for me to believe what I believe.

I think a lot about my grandfather these days. About the people in our families who believed in the American way of life before we were even born — and what they would think of where we are now as a country.

With all of that in mind, I am writing to say this to you: Donald Trump does not represent the America that our fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, worked hard to protect and serve.

I’m not talking about politics, here. I’m not talking about the rhetoric or our differing opinions about the hot-button topics. I’m talking about the man who is supposed to be leading and representing the United States of America.

Maybe, if you look hard into your heart, you will see that Donald Trump does not act in ways that unite us or bring us to common ground; that he does not promote the basic principles of our good and hopeful country; that he does not represent the values that we were taught as children, or the ones you have worked hard to teach your own children: kindness, respect, the Golden Rule.

I know you might doubt that. I know there are people and media outlets and memes that portray someone like me as the enemy and Donald Trump as a person you can respect and support. But I would encourage you to do some soul searching.

Do some actual searching, too. Watch real, unedited videos of Donald Trump in action. Listen to his speeches and read the actual transcripts. Listen to the words he uses and the things he says about people — people like me, your family. Then ask yourself: is he a good man? is he an honorable man? is he a honest man? is he a man of faith and right action? does he speak and behave in ways I would want my children to emulate?

At the very least, I encourage you to do what I do: fact check, read other sources, listen to the folks who don’t just say what you want to hear. No one is perfect, I know that. But you have to ask the questions: is this true? is this for real? Challenge the concept that our issues are black and white, all or nothing, good or bad. Check yourself when you talk about “Us versus Them” — you might actually love some of Them. I do.

I love you. And I have watched you worship your god, practice your faith, love your family, raise your children, and do the best that you can for your community since we were young.

If you think voting against Donald Trump changes the things that are important to you, changes your values — I would beg to differ.

Voting against Donald Trump is standing up for and honoring goodness, compassion, integrity, honor, love…and the United States of America.

Family Memoir Writing

The View From Here: August 31

The View From Here: August 31

The view from here today is this: a shelf in my office. A still life snapshot: longtime friend Winne the Pooh, introduced to me by my Dad when I was a baby; my UMass diploma; the when-in-Paris photo with my friend DeLinda; a Wonder Woman mug; and the very last photo I have of my Dad.

He died less than two weeks later, August 31…twenty-five years ago today.

I always think: I’m glad I asked him to take off his sunglasses that day, because you can see his eyes in this photo. How they connect up with his smile, mirror his laugh.

I always think — if I look hard enough — I’ll see an angel hovering above our heads, hidden in the shadows, waiting.

I remember that day: a cousin’s wedding, the whole family together for the first time in 20 years, his laugh while he played on the floor with his great-nephew, the feeling of not wanting to leave, of wanting just a few more minutes with him.

Now it’s a photo that says more than I can ever tell you. And it sits on a shelf, next to the love he introduced, next to the education he encouraged and the travel he inspired. On a shelf, and on shoulders strong enough to carry all of that forward.

And more: me, Wondering through this life without and yet so very much WITH him. Every day.

©2020, Jen Payne