How we live is the only way we can communicate why we live.

This past June my friend Keith’s dad, Ted Lopez, passed away from a battle with cancer. In the midst of grappling with this loss, Keith decided to write about how his dad taught him to live with purpose. During his last days, Keith never got to ask his dad what he thought his purpose was. But that didn’t matter. His dad proved his purpose every day by how he lived.

How My Dad Helped Me Understand Purpose

by Keith Lopez

Keith is a guest author on Purpose Speaks and is the Assistant Director for Transition Programs at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO.

In June, I lost my dad when he passed away after three years of battling cancer. While this has been undoubtedly one of the most challenging experiences I have encountered in my life thus far, what follows will not chronicle the aspects of his death, nor my thoughts on the cancer itself, nor the process of how to grieve the loss of a parent. Instead, I have chosen to put into writing how in reflecting on my dad’s life, I have come to better understand the authentic meaning of purpose and how it was demonstrated daily through one incredibly remarkable man’s life.

I recently saw a quote that read “My father didn’t tell me how to live, he lived, and let me watch him do it” by Clarence B. Kelland. This resonates for me with my own personal experience with my dad. He was an authentically good, generous and selfless man who cared more about those around him than of himself. He was the first to bring positivity to one’s day and loved making connections with others. It is through watching him live this way in the three decades I have been alive (and learning about the 66 years he was alive) in which I was able to better understand not only what purpose is, but how one comes to understand it, seeks it out and lives it every day and in every aspect of their lives. Below are three ways in which my dad helped me understand purpose:

1. Your Job is Not Your Purpose

At the age of 14, my dad decided to enter the St. Francis Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio in pursuit of becoming a Franciscan priest. He completed his high school education in the seminary and began his college degree in the seminary as well. In December of 1968, he left the seminary after determining he wanted to see what life was like outside the seminary and returned home to Santa Fe, NM to finish his college degree. While attending college, he majored in English and minored in Spanish, while working in the college’s counseling center.

When he graduated, he completed student teaching and had the idea of becoming a high school teacher. However, instead, upon graduation, he signed up for the US Navy and attended Officer Candidate and Communications Officer School in Newport, Rhode Island. He became the Communications Officer (COMMO) who ran the Communications Department that sent and received messages to and from other ships, aircraft, and shore facilities. He served on the USS Anchorage LSD-36, an amphibious support ship, where he was assigned to Pacific 3rd Fleet based out of Naval Station, San Diego, CA.  He was promoted as lieutenant and would often get his fellow crewmembers involved in the Catholic orphanage in San Diego. His naval experience made my dad interested in the field of Communications. He ended up having 27 years of experience working with Mountain Bell/US West Communications/Brooks Fiber and Qwest Communications.

At the age of 62, my dad pursued his master’s degree, ultimately earning his Executive MBA and upon graduation, he became the Director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos. He consulted with New Mexico business clients in strategic planning, marketing, program management, sales, customer service, and more, to start and grow their small businesses up until about two weeks before he passed away.

Clearly my dad pursued many passions, experiences and vocations in his life, all of which perhaps built off one another. And yet, I would say that seeking to be a Franciscan Priest nor a high school teacher, nor a Naval officer, nor a Director of a Small Business Development Center were his purpose. Nor would I say that every time he changed his job or vocation that he lost sight of his purpose. Instead, each of these positions and opportunities provided a forum for my dad to live out and greater understand his own purpose and share it with everyone he interacted with.

2. Your Purpose is Embedded in Who You Are and Every Aspect of Your Life

Surprisingly (but yet at the same time not surprising), at my dad’s services I met and interacted with the close to 400 people who showed up to give condolences and to celebrate my dad’s life (many of whom I had never met before in my life). They included people who went to high school with my dad, took a class with him, worked alongside him at one point, some of his doctors, and nurses, people who worked at his favorite restaurants that he frequented often, many extended family who we hadn’t seen in years and more.

As I reflected on this, talked to many of these people and shared stories about my dad and his life, it’s very clear to me what his purpose was. It was to make connections with others daily and to give selflessly and ask for little in return. It was his ability to help other’s understand the little things do make a difference and it was his ability to help others create extraordinary and memorable moments out of everyday occurrences. Yes, he may have done it in a variety of ways, a variety of jobs, with a variety of people. But that’s the thing about purpose. It’s not confined to working with one group of people, or in one profession or in one part of our lives. It’s threaded through our everyday if we choose to exemplify it, to live it and work to understand it more fully. That’s what my dad did for the 66 years he was alive.

All in all, my dad’s purpose was not a job, it was not a person, it was not a title or a role. It was who he was authentically and how that played out in his life.

3. Your Purpose Lives On After You’re Gone

Reflecting on my dad’s death I have been able to witness through my siblings and myself the characteristics of my dad that will continue to live on after his death and how his purpose was intertwined with each of those characteristics we were lucky enough to get from him. My oldest brother represents my dad’s quiet nature and his ability to love unconditionally and be truly selfless and constantly show support to others. My second older brother obtained my dad’s bold nature and his sense of helping others to create “adventures” in the seemingly repetitive, every day experiences.

For me, I obtained my father’s work ethic, and for better or worse his ability to immerse oneself into their professional career and his commitment to being loyal to others around him. Finally, my little sister inherited my dad’s ability to understand that it’s the little things in life that help define us, help define our experiences, and the importance of making special moments every single day of our lives with those around us.

Yes, my dad is physically gone, and yet, what I have begun to come to understand what his purpose was on Earth lives on through his four children (as well as the many people who met him throughout his life). We are a continuation of this purpose and have the ability to live it out for him as part of his legacy.

Being home and spending time with my dad the five days before he passed away is a time I will be forever grateful for. And one moment from those five days is impressed in my mind forever. It’s when my dad (in and out of consciousness) called me over to his bedside. It was just he and I in the room and he looked at me and said: “Son, stay strong, pursue your dreams”. I looked at him in the eyes and told him even after more than 30 years, two degrees and working towards another one that I was still trying to figure out what my dreams and aspirations were. He opened his eyes again and said: “That’s ok son, when you figure them out, pursue them.” He then went back to sleep in that single moment.

I believe this was my dad’s way of encourage me to keep seeking out and understanding my own purpose, and acknowledging that even as a grown man if I didn’t know it exactly yet that it was going to be ok. What I know is this: I never got the chance to ask my dad what he believed his purpose to be.

But, I didn’t have to. It’s pretty clear why he existed on Earth and what he worked towards. I hope that as I continue this journey called life I am able to honor and continue to live out my dad’s purpose as I continue to understand and seek my own.

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In honor of Ted, Keith’s family made arrangements for memorial gifts to be made to the Veterans Services Fund at the University of New Mexico. If interested in donating, memorial contributions can still be mailed to the UNM Foundation, Two Woodward Center, 700 Lomas Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87102 or made online at https://www.unmfund.org/fund/memorials-tributes/. (Please include a note stating who your gift memorializes, Theodore “Ted” Lopez.). The funds will be used to support the services provided by the Veteran’s Resource Center @ UNM (http://vrc.unm.edu/).