Lessons I learned from mom and dad



My parents were both born in 1928, three days and 200 miles apart, Dad in Indianapolis and Mom on a small farm outside Troy, Indiana. These days I have considered often the lessons I learned from them. How different their lives were from ours. They were young children during the Depression and polio scare, and teenagers during World War II.

When he was 6, Dad and his younger brother Mick lost their mother, Margaret Hayden Mattingly, to cancer. His father William Robert I, according to the story, worked throughout the day, but he drank most evenings leaving two small boys in the care of a kindly friend of their deceased mother.

Mom, the second of eight children, lost her one-year-old brother Albert to a childhood illness when she was five. Six days before her 12th birthday, her three-year-old sister Theresa Rose died. Both my parents experienced heartache and uncertainty at a tender age. Yet, that did not deter them from embracing life.

They met on a blind date while Mom was on nursing rotations in Indianapolis. We heard that story many times. Dad, a consummate city boy, couldn’t identify one plant from another when he visited the family farm. However, his good nature and card-playing abilities endeared him to my Hagedorn grandparents; and on April 7, 1951, William Robert Mattingly II and Elizabeth Louise Hagedorn committed themselves to 62 years of marriage.

There were seven of us, five boys and two girls. Later, my high school friend Theresa became the unofficial eighth. Her mother died when she was in eighth grade, and her father had been absent since her first grade. While her older sister was a wonderful surrogate parent, Theresa enjoyed the liveliness of our large household.

Dad was a principal in the Indianapolis Public Schools. Mom was a nurse for 50 years at various Indianapolis facilities. Our home was full of books and music: classics, pop and musicals. When they retired, Mom learned to watercolor; Dad dabbled in woodworking. Their example encouraged us to be lifelong learners.

Our parents were rational, faith-filled people. As an eighth-grader, our brother Tom had back surgery and was confined to a body cast for two months. Mom and Dad never intimated about the uncertainty of his recovery. Instead, we were encouraged to treat Tom as if he was like us, carrying him outside to play sports while lying on a wheelchair bed. Mom’s only warning, “Don’t drop him!”

At the age of 59, both our parents experienced serious medical crises. Mom spent two months in a hospital battling a rare form of meningitis. Returning home, she had a few months’ reprieve before Dad required major bypass surgery. Within days, he encountered a myriad of complications. Doctors put him into a medically induced coma and gave him a 5% chance of survival. Fortunately, he had a multitude of prayer warriors (and a dedicated medical team), and after seven months in the hospital, he lived another 22 years. He and Mom continued to travel, enjoy family and play golf.

Mom and Dad embraced life with all its uncertainties. A friend once asked my brother if we were concerned about our parents (considering their age and health issues) taking a three-week cruise around the southern tip of South America. His response, “No, we would rather them live doing what they love.”

I have thought about that comment during this COVID-19 outbreak. I am not advocating throwing caution aside. However, I believe we must find a balance in our concerns. Recently, a friend texted that she was not leaving her home until “there was 0% risk” of contraction! That comment reminded me of another time when an elderly neighbor, while watching television in the safety of her living room, was suddenly staring at a car that had crashed through her wall.

Life offers no guarantees. None of us want to die or lose a loved one. But, do we wish to live under the confines of fear? God states over 70 times in the Bible, “Be not afraid.” This pandemic calls us to examine our faith in His promise. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1-3). God desires our total trust in Him. That confidence alone offers the peace we crave in these disturbing times. Let’s pray that we can trust.