My Mother: The Seen and Unseen

“A mother’s happiness is like a beacon, lighting up the future but reflected also on the past in the guise of fond memories.” – Honore de Balzac


Mom and Dad (Lois and Leonard), Naples Beach Hotel 2012

     We tend to think about our parent’s life centered around our own. I’m the ‘baby’ of the family (just turned 53 last week) and my mom has said in the past, “How did my youngest get so old?” The ‘older’ boys-Carroll, Tommy, and Paul-arrived on the scene from 1950 up to 1960. We are an American family.

Anita and I have two grown children, Emily and Lincoln. Although they know much about our pre-parent days, there are several years of teenage dating, college, work, living, and the two pregnancies that are revealed in highlights instead of details. When a child asks, “Why?” the parent response of, “Because I said…” is based on history and experience. The art of parenting relies heavily on unseen years that precede the children.

On this Mothers Day, I know many facts about my mom. It is easy to see that she successfully raised four boys. She has been a presence in the lives of each of us and always a supporter of the pathways we have taken through life. Shakespeare wrote,

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man (woman) in his time plays many parts.”

My mom has played all the roles very well–daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, employee (General Electric) now retired, Christian. These are the ‘seen’ roles and responsibilities that she performs daily, and does so very well. But I often wonder about the ‘unseen’ roles that she has played during her years, the thoughts in private when alone, the dreams unfulfilled, the life before me, before my brothers, before my dad, before everything.

Mom had many responsibilities in her family as her mother died after childbirth and she was needed to help raise the younger sisters. She married Harvey Dixon, a local veteran of WWII Constabulary Squadron, at a young age and had my two half-brothers, life was moving forward much like a typical rural Kentucky family in the 1940s and 1950s. I’m surprised I know so few details about her years as a young mom and wife. The story should have continued on with nothing but happiness, but many times life throws challenges unexpected. Harvey was killed in a coal mining accident Feb. 22, 1955 and Mom assumed a new role as widow and single mother of two young boys.

I’ve never once heard Mom say ‘times were hard’ or she ‘had it worse than anyone’ or that she was dealt a ‘bad hand’ in life. The tragedy of the situation must have been unbearable at the time but she never mentions it. This is one of the ‘unseen’ roles which I can envision but not know for sure. I do know that in the following years she met Leonard and in 1959 they married. Two more boys followed in 1960 and 1962 with the last being me, the ‘baby boy that was supposed to be a girl’.

If asked how one goes on in life when faced with tragedy, I think Mom would say, “Pray, trust in God, and live one day at a time.” Ask any of the four boys (men) today and all would say Mom is a steady rock in our lives. Ask the grandchildren and now great-grandchildren and they would say the same. I’ll call her today, like every Sunday, and say, “Happy Mothers Day, I love you!” I’ll realize that her greatness comes from ‘unseen’ experiences that lie beneath the surface expressed as love in the ‘seen’ world.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

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Royal Victoria Military Hospital Netley

The once majestic RVMH. The final demolition occurred in 1966.

The once majestic RVMH. The final demolition occurred in 1966.

For those interested in a bit of medical history, especially military medical history, check out my recent article published in Hektoen International: A Journal of Medical Humanities. The story of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital spans more than 100 years, several wars, and thousands of lives of veterans and health care workers.

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White Coat Notes: End of Life Issues

Here is the link to my recent newspaper article.

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The Field Guide — the start of a book-buying life

The First Step collection

The recent edition from the Florida Writers Association includes my short story titled, The Field Guide. My book buying obsession started at age 15 and hasn’t stopped although now a combination of digital and print editions.

Purchase information is listed below.

Parish, Samuel. “The Field Guide.” The First Step, Florida Writers Associaion-Volume 6. Ed. Mary Burton. Sarasota: Peppertree Press, 2014. 185-188. Print.


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The Economy of American Healthcare

Economy and Health

If you have a few minutes and would like to see an overview of the economics of healthcare in America, then watch the linked short movie. It is produced by We the Economy and it is a light-hearted but accurate take on the costs of our health system.

The video is titled, This Won’t Hurt A Bit. Enjoy!

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Literary Influences: Walden or, Life in the Woods

Independence Day, July 4th, 1845:  Henry David Thoreau (HDT) moves to his cabin on Walden Pond.

Occasionally, Independence Day passes without my remembrance of Thoreau’s great experiment, but most of the time in early July I recall the event. The Christian Science Monitor reminded me this year in the article linked below.

“My house is 10 feet wide by 15 long–with a garret & closet–2 windows one door at the end–and a fire-place.”

“But my object is not to live cheaply nor to live dearly–but to transact a little private business there with the fewest obstacles.”           Thoreau Journal entries–1845

Thoreau had an adequate house for his purpose there, not large but devoid of distractions nonetheless. Thoreau spent most of his writing time at Walden Pond working on A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. It would be his enduring story and musings of the memorable trip with his brother, John, in 1839. John Thoreau died just three years before Henry moved to Walden.

Although A Week on the Concord… is a great read, it was not my introduction to HDT. During my junior year at West Hopkins High School, my English teacher, Carolyn Ridenour, included a few chapters from Walden as part of a survey of American literature. I don’t remember which chapters were included nor any great impact at the time. However, something stayed with me about a man living alone in the woods, writing about nature, reading, raising a garden, and seeking the marrow of life in the 19th century.

The original title page of Walden or, Life in the Woods

The original title page of Walden or, Life in the Woods

I’m not sure of the exact date, but sometime in the summer of 1980 leading up to my freshman year in college at Murray State University, I bought my first copy of Walden. The book cost $1.50 in paperback. I could have read it in a couple of weeks even with the load of college assignments, but I didn’t. I read it slower than any book prior to or since then.

My first Walden a Signet Classic $1.50 in 1980

My first Walden a Signet Classic $1.50 in 1980

Almost every page had bits of wisdom. I underlined and wrote notes in the margins as I worked my way through every page and chapter. It was an unassigned part of my freshman year but one that has lasted greater than thirty years.

Walden 003

Walden– annotations and marginalia in my first paperback copy

My college roommate, John Pryor, was a huge music fan. He had pictures of Ronnie Milsap and Henry Mancini taped to the wall on his side of the room. To balance the decor, I needed something of interest for my bland block wall over the bed. So, one evening while studying in the Waterfield Library I found the section of books by HDT and made four copies of a 19th century daguerreotype Thoreau photo. Later that night on returning to the dorm, I taped my collection to the wall. Thoreau was a nice balance to Milsap and Mancini. It was self-expression–my Independence Day with help from Henry David Thoreau.

Henry David Thoreau from 1856

Henry David Thoreau from 1856

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Father’s Day: My Good Fortune

Father’s Day is here and time to offer a retrospective on my dad. The photo below shows my parents on their 1959 wedding day in Manitou, Kentucky. This was three years before I came into existence. The man in the picture was the same one I knew as a child and nothing much changed about him to this day, other than the effects of more than five decades of aging, which has changed me, too. Someone said, quite accurately, “Leonard has the patience of Job.” That’s a story I’ll tell later, but before that a few thoughts about others that weren’t so fortunate.

Wedding Day

Lois and Leonard Parish, Wedding Day 1959


It’s been interesting to think about the many writers I’ve been drawn to over the years and realize the often painful relationships they’ve had with their fathers. It’s strange because my father and I always had a great relationship and stories of absent fathers, alcoholism, and uncontrolled anger were foreign to me.

No one has written better than Pat Conroy when it comes to telling the story of growing up with an abusive father. The Great Santini was published in the mid-70s and then The Death of Santini: A Story of a Father and his Son in 2013. Times were bad in the Conroy household, but weaving the story of survival through his writing provided the author with some degree of acceptance and love in spite of the scars.

“Without a father’s blessing, a boy’s individuality and personhood are not finished.”–from Death of a Hero, Birth of a Soul by John C. Robinson, PhD.

Receiving your father’s blessing is not something given actively at a single moment in time or written or even spoken. It is something given through a life well lived. A father’s blessing is given daily without saying a word. “Actions speak louder than words,” is never more true than when referring to a father and his children. My father is not a man of many words, but all his words are true, sincere, and never spoken in anger.

Our regional journalist and essayist, Jeff Klinkenberg, recently wrote an article – ‘My dad had an artist’s soul, but a temper that left many scars’- in the Tampa Bay Times. . Klinkenberg’s documentation of ‘real Florida’ is always a joy to read but the story about his father was one of his best as he opened the envelope on his soul. He ends the article with, “He did some monstrous things that left emotional scars. But not for a moment can I consider him a monster. He was more good than bad. He was human.”

“The heaviest thing I have ever had to carry is my father’s fame.” Bogart: In Search of My Father. Stephen Bogart.

Humphrey Bogart was one of the biggest names in Hollywood and remains one of the greatest actors of all times. His son, Stephen, has written a beautiful memoir of growing up in the shadow of the fame of his father (and mother, Lauren Bacall). This was not something I had in my life. I can never recall feeling stress to accomplish something because of pressure from my parents. My parents have always been proud of my path through life, but I realized early on that accomplishments were never connected to their love for me. There was never a shadow of fame in our home.

Jack Kornfield in his book, A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times summarizes the role of a parent. “You look at your children and realize that you don’t own them, and that you cause them and yourself suffering by thinking that you do. Instead, you fully love and care for them and let them live their own lives. And with this simple but profound realization, you become both spacious and more loving.”

Once when I brought home a report card with a C grade, Dad said, “I never brought home C’s when I was your age. Of course, I never had any A’s or B’s either.” He finished his formal education in the 8th grade, but continued his practical education into appliance repair, furniture sales, upholstery, and locksmithing (which I also learned and became quite adept at picking locks). His scholarship was always in the King James Bible; he knew it better than I thought anyone could know any subject.

Robert Bly, although a poet, has written great prose works about becoming an adult and the detrimental effect of the absent father in modern culture and the deficient fathering skills of those who are present. In Iron John he took the Grimm fairy tale and wove it creatively into a modern guide to men on their journey from boyhood into manhood. I highly recommend the book and, if it’s still available, the audio version with Bly’s own vocal interpretation is a masterpiece. His book The Sibling Society expanded on the idea that we have largely become a society of adolescent adults. In the eighteen years since it was published, I find it hard to disagree.

I didn’t realize the depth of immature behavior in adults until I left home. I never saw a grown man or woman complain, connive, argue, lie, cheat, and exhibit overt selfishness until I entered medical school in 1984. And I’m not talking about patients; these behaviors were among students, staff, and professors. Most would say, “You’ve not seen the real world, then.”

Dad’s wisdom was born and cultured in rural Kentucky. His wisdom is centered around the ‘Fear of the Lord’. He imparts his great wisdom by living it. He exhibits all the good characteristics of Buddhism and the Tao Te Ching without having read them. He was present at home as a teacher of wisdom long before the Men’s Movement and Promise Keepers were trendy vogues.

So, now to the story that exemplifies the ‘patience of Job’. A few years ago, Mom and Dad went to Nashville to visit my brother, Paul, the week before Christmas. One of the annual traditions was to go to the Opryland Hotel to see the extravagant decorations and festivities. They decided to drive separate vehicles since my parents were leaving for home after the visit. Around 6pm they left with Dad leading the way in his custom van a few cars ahead of Paul and Mom. In the midst of heavy traffic they lost sight of each other. For anyone who has ever been to the Opryland Hotel around Christmas you know that traffic can be horrendous. This was before mobile phones were welded to everyone’s hand.

Before the short trip, Dad said, “If we get separated, I’ll just park and stay in the van until y’all find me, because if I go inside we’ll have no chance of finding each other. My van sits high enough so you’ll have no problem sighting it.” (famous last words)

The entrance road to the hotel makes a loop around the extensive complex that takes at least 20-30 minutes. Paul and Mom made a full loop in the creeping slowness of the holiday traffic and saw no sign of Dad or the van. So, they made another loop, and then another, and another. Over two hours later, they parked and went inside hoping to find Dad on faith alone. After an hour in the sea of people, no luck at all. By then it was nearly 10 o’clock and they were worried that something could have happened like a car accident or some criminal activity or medical problem. They decided to return to the house and make some calls.

Paul called the police to see if there were any reports of accidents or crime and checked at local hospitals. There was no trace of Leonard Parish. After the futile search, the only thing option was to return to the Opryland after the majority of the people were gone and explore every parking lot that surrounded the facility. He arrived around 1:30am and began the search. By 2am, he spotted a lone custom van with a light on parked in a remote overflow parking area. In the van sat Dad, reading a Gideon Bible. Paul pulled up as Dad got out.

Dad said, “I told you I’d stay put until you found me. Didn’t know it would take this long. Had to use the trash can couple of times. I thought if I went inside to the restroom I’d miss y’all.”

After eight hours of sitting in a van in the winter weather of Nashville at night, Dad was content and acted like nothing had happened. It was a true representation of his personality.

For A Father  by John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us

The longer we live,

The more of your presence

We find, laid down,

Weave upon weave

Within our lives.


The quiet constancy of your gentleness

Drew no attention to itself,

Yet filled our home

With a climate of kindness

Where each mind felt free

To seek its own direction.


As the fields of distance

Opened inside childhood,

Your presence was a sheltering tree

Where our fledgling hearts could rest.


The earth seemed to trust your hands

As they tilled the soil, put in the seed,

Gathered together the lonely stones.


Something in you loved to inquire

In the neighborhood of air,

Searching its transparent rooms

For the fallen glances of God




Father's Day 2012

Father’s Day 2012

I love you, Dad. Have a Great Father’s Day and many more to come. Thanks for teaching me and my family what it means to be a father.

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