A friend asked me recently, "How do you want to be remembered?"
I guess I've thought about that a few times. I will turn 58 next month and admit that this question has moved to the forefront when I'm making plans for the future. I found myself asking my wife the other day what she thought.
"Well, first of all, you'll be remembered as giving, kind, and generous," she said.
That was nice. I'd like to be remembered that way. "Would they see me as successful?" I asked.
"Yes, of course. Success is measured in many ways," she added. So I wasn’t financially successful. That's okay. I never thought of that as a part of success anyway. So, how do I want to be remembered?
Over the next few days I made it a mission to evaluate who I thought I was and what others thought about me. As outgoing as I am, I could never begin asking my friends and family, "What do you think of me?" I thought that would be too egotistical. This wasn’t going to be easy. The more I thought about it the worse I felt. The more I asked myself what others thought, the more I believed it wouldn't be good.
Then I came across a note I had jotted on an index card sometime ago:
"Don't worry about your reputation. Reputation is based on opinion, how others judge you based on their ideals, prejudices, and self-image. Worry more about your character."
When I was in grade school, my teachers would often tell my parents that "Bob is quite a character." It was often followed by, "He's a charmer."
"A charmer." Do I want to be remembered that way? It sounds phony, fake, and someone you shouldn't trust. Okay, so this whole thing was worse than I realized.
Then I thought it would help if I learned about how my friends saw other people. I began by asking questions about family members who were no longer with us.
"Uncle Joe was a great guy!"
Okay, "great guy" sounds good.
"Grandpa was tough, not a very warm guy, but you knew you were loved."
"Tough, not very warm," doesn't appeal to me.
So I turned to what my own grandfather referred to as the "list of people who no longer need to pay taxes."
"Loved by all." "A good father." "A community leader." "…will be greatly missed."
These were all nice things, but used repeatedly to the point that one could apply them much too generally.
I guess it was all this nostalgia and remembering that finally brought me to the place where I'd find the answer I was seeking.
I was driving through a small town where I grew up and saw the sign for a restaurant I had often gone to with my children. I had a few extra minutes, so I pulled over.
"Do you need time to look at the menu?" she asked.
I always ordered the same thing, but thought I'd give it a glance. I was right. I wanted my usual eggs, crispy bacon, home fries, and toast.
I was about to place the menu down when I noticed something unusual. On the back page was a large picture of a dog. No note or explanation below it, just a picture of a dog. When the server returned, I placed my order and said, "Tell me about the dog."
She smiled and said, "Oh, that's Jim’s dog."
"Jim still owns the place?" I asked.
"Yes. He has for 31 years. His dog died last year. He really loved that dog," she explained.
"I remember Jim. I'm glad he still owns it. He’s a great guy," I said.
Then she said something that I needed to hear. "Jim loves people. But he really loves animals."
She added with a laugh, "Anyone would be lucky to be Jim's dog."
That was it! That's how I want to be remembered.
After all is said and done, after I've lived a full life trying my best to be a nice guy, a good father and husband, I want someone to say, "Anyone would be lucky to be Bob's dog."
No ego there. No need to measure my success in terms of money or things. Simply that I was good enough to be loved by a dog and that dog would be lucky to be loved by me. By the way, for Father's Day I got another dog. That makes three…Ricky, Lucy, and Phil.
That's a lot of love!