Remembering My Dad

Jim Banner as a young man

Jim Banner as a young man

My father passed away June 22nd after a long battle with Parkinson's. He was 78. Here's a written version of what I said at his visitation. 

Losing someone to Parkinson’s is a very long goodbye. So when the end finally came I felt relief as much as sorrow. I think many of us did. And I think that’s ok, I know that’s what my Dad would say. He would want us to be relieved, to be happy, to celebrate his great escape! He never wanted to be a burden on anyone, most of all my mom. But accepting that reality was the hardest thing he ever did. Jim Banner was a proud, independent, active and strong man. To be robbed of that in his prime was devastating to him and to everyone that knew and loved him. It was devastating to me. But in the end, Parkinson’s was a gift in many ways to my father. He became a better man because of it. He was proud and it taught him humility. He was a leader who learned to follow. He lead conversations and then had to learn how to listen. The transformation wasn’t easy on the physical body but it did wonders for his soul. Parkinson’s made my father a better person. 

I share this with you because I know my Dad would not want me to get up here and spout any watered down BS. He was, on the whole, a very honest person. His email signature for years was “truth over harmony”. Although the tone might have been off I can’t deny the logic. If we value harmony over truth we whitewash reality and eventually reality always comes to back to bite us. My father once said something to me after he caught me in a lie, he said “you can lie to me, but don’t lie to yourself, once you start lying to yourself there is no-one left and you lose touch with reality”. That really stuck with me and I am challenged by it daily. Telling yourself the truth might be the hardest thing to do. But dad was great at calling BS when he saw it, even when he had to call it on himself. 

Dad had a temper, especially when he was younger. That was another unexpected gift that Parkinson’s gave him, and us. It mellowed him out. But when he was younger, during my time at home, he could really unload on us kids. It could be scary. This was something handed down from his father who had a horrible temper. Dad battled that all his life and shared with me that he struggled with that more than anything else as a parent.

One time he really gave me a tongue lashing for something dumb I’d done. Probably left his tools in a state of disarray after working on a go kart or something. But he knew he’d gone too far. After I’d slunk away to my room I saw a piece of paper slide under the door. He wrote me a sweet note apologizing for his outbreak and asking for forgiveness. He did that, in different forms, a few times.

One of the things I will miss most about my dad is our long conversations. They really started in high school. I have memories of sitting in his home office, talking well past bed time. He would talk about anything- girls, marriage, school, politics, etc. Once he told me that he was still processing experiences he had as a child. That really stuck with me. Most of all he made it safe to open up and talk about myself.  He showed a genuine interest in my life. I didn’t feel talked down to or judged. He wanted to know what I was doing, what I found interesting. I felt understood, accepted and loved. 

As some of you know, I’ve played music since I was about 12. My dad didn’t really understand my music making in high school, and who can blame him, we were terrible, but he always encouraged me. If I wanted a new guitar or amplifier he would match me on funding it. If it cost $200, I had to come up with $100. This taught me the value of work and saving money but didn’t put things too far out of reach. 

I can still see him walking down into the basement of our house with a decibel meter during one of my high school band practices. He would point at the needle shouting “120 decibels!”. But my parents would let me throw parties with hoards of high schoolers running amok all over the house and yard. Mom and Dad would lock themselves in their rooms praying for daylight. Later he gave me a space at his business to play and record music. Now that I look back I can see that maybe he’d just finally had enough of the 120 decibel rock and roll. But at the time I thought it was pretty awesome to have my own “studio”. He was, on the whole, a pretty cool dad. 

He was always supportive. When I started my first business he gave me a $20,000 loan that I paid back over many, many years. He was always willing to help if he could. He had a soft heart even if he sometimes fronted like a tough business man. 

When I was in my teens and 20s I was often told by friends and family “you are looking so much like your father”. And I hated it. Like most people at that age, I didn’t want to look like anyone but myself. But as I got older those comments became less offensive to me. Now I am honored to remind people of my father. I hope that I am honoring him in how I live my life. How I love my wife- remembering how he loved his wife, his “lovey”, grabbing her rear in the kitchen while she cooked. How I love my kids- remembering whoop de dos (essentially throwing a young child waaay up into the air and catching them right before they crash to certain death), fireworks and wrestling “strongest boy in the world” where he would pretend I was incredibly strong and could throw him across the room. How I run my business- seeing how he treated his employees with care and respect. How I treat others- remembering a constant stream of foreign exchange students, homeless dinner guests, foster children, international students, friends, family, etc etc.

Jim Banner was a powerful example of someone committed to living a meaningful life. It was an example that affected me deeply. I know that example impacted many more than just me and my siblings. I am sometimes surprised by how many lives he touched. But I shouldn’t be. That was just his nature. He truly cared about other people and lived that every day. He always pushed me to consider someone else’s perspective. To not assume. To challenge my biases. To walk in someone else’s shoes. In that area I continue to strive to honor my father’s example. I love you dad.

The Trouble With Hope

Hope is usually considered a good thing. But I’ve come to see it as dangerous and even narcotic. Similar to nostalgia. 

When someone is hopeful they are usually longing for something not present. This can fuel dissatisfaction with the present. Hope can be the never arriving train. Always pulling you towards a better future. This can sow discontent. 

There is a healthy role for hope. When we are desolate, it can console. When we feel lost, it can show the way. But it can also trap us. We can get lost in an idealistic future that never comes. 

We must decouple hope from desire. Wanting something creates attachment which leads to bondage. We become enslaved to a future (mostly) out of our control. We should instead wish for good things to come for ourselves and others but not desire them. It’s a subtle but important nuance. Desire is carnal, it takes us over, it’s possessive. Wishing is more like a prayer, it’s spiritual and etherial, we can let it go. 

Hope is a tricky one, we must avoid its traps.

Next Level Care: Friend Over Friendship

What does it mean to truly care about someone? I’ve been struggling with this for a while and here’s where I’ve arrived: real care means being there when no-one else is and it means giving someone the feedback they need to grow. 

The first one is easier. Being there for a friend when they hit rock bottom. We become the safety in the storm. It can be draining but it is also rewarding to know that we are truly helping someone. And when we have been there ourselves we know the deep solace it brings to have someone there with us, telling us we aren’t alone and aren’t crazy. 

But being there isn’t as easy as giving a friend or colleague the feedback they need to grow and see themselves, and the world, in a new, transformative way. That kind of care is at another level and I’ve come to think of it as “next level” caring. When we get out of our comfort zone to help someone we care about become the person they are meant to be.

We all need honest feedback to grow. It’s a critical nutrient. It’s like sunlight. But we rarely get it. And this essentially starves our emotional and spiritual selves. Which leads to an internal atrophying. Just like eating sugar when we need protein, we ingest our own beliefs and fears which alienate us from a larger reality and limit our potential. Although we can break through with learning and reflection there is nothing as effective as having someone we know and trust tell us the truth. One honest conversation can do more than a year of meditation. “You only talk about yourself, why don’t you ask me about my life?”, “Don’t you see that you are an artist? Stop fighting it”, "You are being manipulative, stop it." There is an authority that comes from a trusted external source which can uniquely disrupt our internal narrative. If you want to change your life, change your internal narrative. That may mean you also need to change your friends.

Next level caring means valuing the person, the friend, even more than the friendship. 

I want to be that kind of friend and I want to have that kind of friend. I feel blessed to have many people in my life that can be that kind of friend to me, even when I don’t “want” it. A friend that can tell me their truth about my life. Unvarnished, real feedback and insights. I want to give and receive next level care.

Be Kind Again

Our country, and our world, is swimming in hatred and anger. The cause is entirely self-inflicted. We’ve backed ourselves into personalized corners of reality. In doing so, we’ve weakened our natural abilities to empathize and connect with other humans. This isn’t a right or left, old or young thing, it’s all of us. At least all of us reading these words. Which is part of the problem.

Surrounding ourselves with those that disagree with us will help, but it’s no silver bullet. Quitting the internet is not the cure, but some distance is healthy. We must return to kindness. Assuming the best in others. Seeing the potential not the threat. And we must do this both online and in-person. The internet needs to become more human. Otherwise we, or it, will not survive. 

We must remember that our world is more prosperous, safe and accessible than it has ever been. The roar we hear is artificially amplified and mostly fiction. And it is obscuring the real pain that fellow humans experience every second of every day. There are real problems but we lose them in our personalized roar.

Let’s not value our personal safety over the critical need to stick together. Let's find and fight a common enemy, not each other. 

Humans can choose how they behave. Let's use that power. Let’s be kind again.