Dec 21, 2014

A Gentle Man's Rules

As lived by William F. Leen

There's no doubt about it.  Dad was a gentleman of the old school.

He dressed well. . .

Dad in his senior year of high school looking sharp as always

And  in his younger years, especially, he was positively dashing.

Dad in one of his World War II photos, a gentleman in uniform

Working as a commercial artist in the fifties and early sixties, he would have fit right in the world of Mad Men, at least visually. . .

Dad (second from right) during his years as a commercial artist working in Cincinnati doing advertising art work for companies like Kroger and Proctor & Gamble.  We still have his portfolio and his talent is incredible. 

But far more importantly, Dad was a gentle man. . .
Dad with the love of his life, my mother-in-law Carol.  At the time this photo was taken Dad was a small business owner, having started his own commercial art supplies store, Sterleen's, which he ran successfully until the early 1990s,

Still a class act at 84, in the summer of 2007 with Babs, his elder daughter
 Bill Leen lived out the gentle spirit of Christ.  He understood that "life is more than food and the body more than clothing."  And when his daughters, his wife, his friends, the people whose lives he touched talked about him this past month at his visitation and funeral and in the times in between there was little talk of his personal sense of style or what a charmer he was.  Instead we spoke of his love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, patience, and self-control.

Herewith four rules of a gentle man as lived out by my father-in-law, Bill Leen:

Keep your counsel

Dad wasn't a big talker.  Of course he was uninterested in gossip but even beyond that, Dad wasn't one to volunteer a lot of advice.  He didn't moralize or pass judgement.  His wisdom was lived out, quietly and without commentary or exposition.  He listened well, which made him easy to talk to.  As a result I don't have the the typical postmortem regrets about "things I never told him."  What I do regret is not asking him more questions, drawing more from that deep well of wisdom I know he had.
Dad at his 90th birthday party last summer enjoying conversation with his best friend since they were in high school, Charlie Whistler.  He later told Barbara he chose to spend most of his time with Charlie at the party because he knew that Mr. Whistler didn't know anyone else there.  A true gentle man.

Be of service

Though Dad was always gracious in receiving help from others, he didn't really care to be waited on.  He didn't want to put any one out or trouble anybody.  Instead he wanted to serve, he wanted to be of use.  He wanted to carry his own weight and pitch in to help you with yours.  Even as he advanced in years he remained determined to help himself and help others.  Whether it was carrying bags from the car on a visit to our home in Columbus or doing the dishes, Dad lived to serve.

A gentle man at work. Dad raking the lawn the day of  his 90th birthday party, June 9, 2013

Treat people as people

In these heated days of #ferguson you'll find folks on every corner who claim they don't see race.  But Dad never said those words, and yet I believe he was one of the few people for whom this was actually true.  I found in him (and in his family) a true obliviousness about race.  Not once did I find even a hint of reservation about me being his son-in-law.  I see his influence in his daughters, both of whom have always seemed to find color irrelevant in way that is almost odd in comparison to most people.  And Dad's indiscriminate spirit wasn't limited to race.  No matter your socioeconomic status, social position, or personal foilbles, Dad seemed to do more than just be nice.  He seemed to genuinely view all people as valuable and worthy of his time.

Dad at 82 with his daughters and me, summer 2005.  I imagine many 82-year olds would have looked askance at the long-haired black fella who snagged his oldest daughter, but I never got even so much as a disapproving vibe even during the years following the photo above when that hair grew out into full on dreadlocks!

Live well by living simply.

As far as I can tell Dad didn't have a bucket list.  He didn't spend his time rushing to have this or that "big life" experience.  His greatest adventure was as a soldier during World War II where he moved with the Allied troops from North Africa to Italy to France, along the way having once-in-a-lifetime opportunities like shaking hands with Pope and being billeted on the Champs Elysee.   But since then he's lived a quiet, simple life.  I think he understood that  the best memories don't need a spectacular backdrop.  Dad was both very hard and very easy to buy Christmas presents for (he truly disdained birthday gifts, and his habit of giving his wife a gift on his own birthday is legendary).  He didn't seem to want anything, which meant finding the perfect gift was nearly impossible.  But he was also very gracious and appreciative for whatever he received and so in this sense buying a present for him was easy as we knew he'e like whatever we got him.  As long as I've known him, Dad was the picture of contentment.  He was content with simple food (peanut butter, crackers, raisens, walnuts, crarrot sticks) and ate only when he was hungry.  I can't count the number of times we went out to eat and Dad politely declined to order anything.  He didn't need to eat or drink in order to merry.

Dad at 84 clowning around at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Summer 2007.  A trip to Cincinnati with his family brought Dad as much joy as a trek around the world. 

A gentle man's true riches: Dad with grandson Elijah above, December 2008 and below with Ezra in March 2013.  The boys loved their PaPa, and he loved them back.

During the homily at Dad's funeral, Pastor Baldwin noted that the world would take little notice of a man like Bill Leen, but in heaven he was a star, a celebrity.  And this rang so true to me.  Dad was a star, and stars are often eclipsed by the glaring, gaudy, short-lived lights of this world.  But they shine on nonetheless, into eternity.

William Frederick Leen
June 5, 1923-November 26, 2014

1 comment:

Mai said...

Such a beautiful & inspiring post! Thanks for sharing :)