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30 Days of Thanks: Dad

30 Days of Thanks: DadWhen I decided to write a blog post about being thankful for dads, I asked my mom to help find a photo of me with my dad when I was young.  A few days after the request, she told me she was having a hard time finding one.

What? How can that be? I have so many great memories of me with my dad. How could it be hard to find one photo of the two of us from the days when my dad was the only man that mattered?

She told me there were photos of me with my other siblings along with my dad, or photos of me with both my parents, but surprisingly no decent photos of just me and my dad. Although I was initially disappointed to learn that, it made me realize what I knew all along.

Maybe there are fewer pictures because my dad was busy doing everything he could just BEING a great dad. He was juggling the responsibilities of me alongside my five siblings and numerous pets, not to mention my mom and a full-time day job. Throw in there some additional schooling while we were kids, and I wonder how he ever had energy to keep up.

But he did keep up, and then some.

No matter how long or busy his day was, or how early in the day or late in the night I asked, he was there. Sometimes being there meant helping me understand my often-procrastinated math homework (accompanied by a stern sentence or two about such procrastination, of course). Sometimes it was playing a little basketball or tennis. Sometimes it was giving me a ride to a friend’s house when I was too cool to hang out at home. And sometimes it was just hanging out, listening to his old records. (This also explains why “Wooly Bully” always reminds me of him.)

When he wasn’t doing all of that, I can only assume he was the one behind the camera, capturing all of the precious moments with the family he loves.

Maria Morris and her dadMy dad is the most patient, loving, intelligent and level-headed person you will ever know. He’s equally comfortable having a beer with you in the backyard or sipping a glass of wine at a black-tie event. He’s the kind of guy you can’t imagine would have ever had an enemy his entire life. He’s the person you know, even during your snotty teen years, is a man you will love, respect and admire for the rest of your life.

As an adult, my dad’s impact on my life has not diminished. Instead, it’s evolved into exactly what I’d imagine he wanted for me during those formative years. He is a constant influence, a little "Dad voice" in my head. Sometimes it manifests itself as my own voice when I tell my own kids to turn off the lights or direct them to something other than the “good printer paper.”

But more often, it’s the voice that guides my decisions, big and small, day in and day out. When I think I’m too busy to throw a football around with the kids, I think of that time my dad spent with me. When I think about a significant career decision, I try to imagine how my father would approach it. When I decided to marry my husband, you bet I made sure he was good enough to pass the Dad test.

And when I think I don’t have time to drive one and a half hours to hang out with my dad, I remember all of the time he spent making me who I am today.

I honestly don’t know the kind of person I’d be if I had a different father. As his daughter, I naturally possess some of his traits. But I also have the privilege of having grown up with him, which means learning from the best teacher on the planet.

And I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

Childhood lessons make impressions for life

Steve O'DellI grew up in the insurance business and have a dad who’s been an agent with another company for 30 years. I started in the business when I was 22 and joined American Family last year. My dad taught me the true role of an insurance professional.

As a kid, I would watch him interact with customers after school, and I even tagged along with him to funerals. At the time, I was often bored, but as I got older I started to see and understand things differently. He was, and remains, a trusted adviser in the community.

I grew up in a small town, so my sister and I would walk to his office after school and do our homework in his conference room. I was about 10 or 11 years old at the time – old enough to have a very basic understanding of what insurance is (mostly auto insurance -- when there’s a car accident, an insurance company pays to fix it).

One day, I got a very real and emotional understanding of what my dad did for a living. My sister and I walked down the hall to his conference room and passed his office on the way. The office door was closed, but I could hear voices of adults and small children. My sister and I could hear muffled sounds coming from his office. It sounded like a woman crying and little kids whimpering. 

When his office door opened, I peeked down the hallway to see who was in there with him. It was a woman and her two children (3 and 5 years old). The woman was very emotional and you could tell she was crying. Her kids were holding onto her pant leg, while my dad gave the woman a big hug.

After they left, I went into dad’s office and asked him why the woman was crying. My dad had his back to me in his chair and as he turned around I realized he was pretty upset as well. He looked at me (I’ll never forget the emotion in his face) and said, “Son, that woman and her children lost their husband and dad in a car accident last week. I just told them that the mortgage was paid off, the cars were paid off, the kids’ college was paid for and mom could stay home and raise the children.”

Dad later told me the man who died hadn’t told his wife he had purchased such a large life insurance policy. Apparently, Dad greeted the woman at the funeral and told her she needed to come by his office when she was ready. She thought her husband had enough life insurance for the burial and maybe a little more. She had no idea there would be enough to pay off the mortgage, cover the kids’ college educations and supplement her income.

That experience has always stayed with me. It’s not only a reminder of how precious life is, but how important life insurance is. I believe it’s my job to bring up the subject with all my customers, educate them about life and provide life insurance options to meet their needs.

I still get a little emotional telling this story – even though I’ve told it a thousand times!  

30 Days of Thanks: Who Inspires You?

30 Days of Thanks Everyone should have a Lynn in their life.

I’ve known Lynn for 20 years, from the time I was a green college graduate, moving to a small town in northern Wisconsin to work as a reporter. Lynn was a few years older than me, established as a career woman, confident, and a ton of fun. 

Recognizing I didn’t know anybody in my new town, she swept me up in her circle of friends. She encouraged me to join a bowling team. She invited to join the group for the annual apple festival in Bayfield, Wis., where we dressed as apple slices and paraded around town. (NO ONE ELSE was wearing costumes, by the way.)

This is one of the things that inspires me most about Lynn: She sees people who need a friend, and she becomes one. She puts others first, always. People are drawn to her because of her positive, sunny nature. 

In 20 years, I’ve never heard her say a bad word about anyone. It’s just not in her DNA.

Lynn taught me to be playful and not take myself too seriously. She showed me how to cross-country ski. We had winter picnics in the middle of the frozen Wisconsin River, waving to snowmobilers. She hosted garden parties where crazy hats were mandatory.

Quickly, our friendship deepened. We became a support system for each other, rooted in a shared faith and similar values. She’s always cheered me on as I’ve worked to grow my career, encouraging me to go bigger and singing my praises to anyone who’ll listen. 

She inspires confidence. 

During a particularly rough patch for me, she took note, telling me, "you’ve lost your drive." I explained why. Her response? "That makes sense. You'll get through this and be back on track in six months." 

Lynn was right – I found my drive again and started graduate school.

When I see her, which isn’t nearly enough, I'm energized. I'm inspired to think bigger, act bigger and set bigger goals. She's inspired me to be that mentor and friend to younger women, to help them forge their paths. I hope I've been one-tenth as impactful for them as Lynn has been for me.

So when someone asks me, "who inspires you?", sure, I’m inspired by Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and other successful women. But it’s my friend, Lynn, whom I turn to for energy and motivation.

So who's the Lynn in your life, and what inspires you most?

30 Days of Thanks: 'Me Time'

30 Days of Thanks Me TimeI’m grateful for me time – time to relax, reflect and do things I enjoy on my own. Time to reconnect with my inner spirit and remind myself to breathe again, which I sometimes find I don’t do enough at my desk during the day.

It can be as simple as a nap on a Sunday afternoon snuggling with a kitty or two. Sometimes it’s more artistic: Listening to music, playing my violin, making handmade Valentines or designing photo books. Other times it’s more athletic: Going for a run, doing yoga or dancing in my living room.

Me time helps me recharge those batteries so I can be attentive, focused and strong – at work and at home.

No matter what I’m doing during me time, it often elevates me to a place where I can reflect on and appreciate my life. I think about how grateful I am for my family, my friends, my job and my co-workers. Me time also allows me to slow down and notice things that pass me by in daily life. Like how beautiful the colors of the changing leaves are this fall.

It’s really easy to allow others to influence how we spend our time and what we do. And that’s OK sometimes. It’s fun to spend time with others. And we all have responsibilities to our jobs and our families to get things done. But time to ourselves is good for our health and helps us be better people – it allows us to nourish our souls, explore interests and reflect on what we’re most thankful for.

30 Days of Thanks on FacebookEditor's note: Give yourself permission to practice gratitude! Each day during November, American Family Insurance will share ideas for showing appreciation for the people, things and events in our lives. We hope you use these 30 Days of Thanks as an opportunity to share your gratitude. Visit us on Facebook this month for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks. 

30 Days of Thanks: 8 Creative Ways to Show Gratitude

Show gratitude with these creative ideas.Mom always told you to write thank-you notes. But how about these creative ideas to show your gratitude instead?

Say it sweetly. Few things say thank you like homemade treats. Even if you slept through 7th grade home ec class, there are plenty of easy recipes to help you show your heartfelt gratitude.

Extend an invitation. Remember how good it feels to be invited? Say thank you to someone special by asking them to join you in something they enjoy – a long walk, a movie marathon at home, an afternoon at the driving range.

Make a phone call. It’s simple, but in our world of texts and tweets, a phone call can be a truly genuine way to remind someone how much they mean to you.

Use your talents. Showing gratitude becomes easier – not to mention more personal – when you utilize what you do best! If you have a way with words, write a heartfelt poem. If you’re musical, send a short video clip of yourself singing a message of thanks (they’ll love it!) Draw a picture, wash their car, cook them breakfast in bed – the possibilities are endless.

Bragging rights. Let’s face it – who doesn’t enjoy basking in praise delivered in front of others? Show your gratitude by giving a friend a shout-out on Facebook, or writing your colleague a five-star review on their LinkedIn profile. Who knows – your public display of gratitude may help them get that promotion they’ve been dreaming of!

Unleash your inner artist. Chalk a message on the driveway, hang a homemade banner over the front door, or write your thanks in a yard of freshly fallen snow.

Step up. From everyday tasks like walking the dog to bigger gestures such as housesitting for a friend while they go on vacation –  offering a helping hand is a powerful way to show your gratitude.

Picture this. No need for a lengthy letter when you can show your gratitude with a photo! If you’re thanking someone for a gift, be sure to send them a picture of you using it. Grateful for a great friendship? Make a photo collage of your favorite memories together, and give it to your bestie to show them how much he/she means to you.

In what creative ways do you say thank you?

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