3 Life Lessons I Learned From My 3 Parents

Don’t let real or perceived handicaps stop you from achieving your dreams

My father, Richard was born with no fingers—just a thumb—on his left hand.

His mother, Mary, insisted he learn how to do everything a “normal” little boy would do, like making his bed, buttoning his shirt and tying his shoes–no easy feat for a child with my dad’s disability.

When his friends came to see if he could play, Mary would say he could play just as soon as he put on his shoes and zipped his jacket. Often, his friends tired of waiting and left before my dad had finished.

But Mary’s “tough love” paid off — my father learned to not let his disability stop him from doing anything.

At a young age, he showed natural artistic ability, sketching and painting everything from dogs, boats and houses, to swirling, expansive modern works. He played baseball, golf and tennis, and was a straight-A student at St. John’s Preparatory School in Massachusetts.

He attended Catholic University, studied architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design and then received a Fulbright Scholarship to study abroad. He declined the scholarship and instead accepted a position at Robinson, Green and Beretta, an architectural firm in Providence, RI.

In his early thirties, he became one of RGB’s chief designers and youngest vice presidents and showed amazing talent, designing things like St. Jude Church in Lincoln, RI and Schneider Arena at Providence College before dying at the age of 36.

The Lesson: Don’t let handicaps—real or perceived—stop you from pursuing and achieving your dreams—don’t listen to naysayers and never, never give up.

Be the wizard

In 1972, my father died after falling and fracturing his skull during a friendly relay race at my 3rd birthday party.

My mother, Valerie, was widowed at age 32 and left alone to raise me (3), my brother (8), and my sister (11). My mother had to quickly learn to do things she’d never done before—things like writing a check, balancing her bank account and finding places she’d never driven to on her own.

These things sound simple to us now – but back in 1972, they were usually handled by the man of the family.

My mother has always been a strong, intelligent, independent lady, so learning new things didn’t take long. But she took one big life lesson with her: the more you can do for yourself, the better.

Since then, my mother has always taught us to be self-sufficient, to learn how to do as many things as possible, to not be like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz — to not go SEE the Wizard, but instead, to BE the Wizard in our own life.

And she didn’t just teach us to be the Wizard. Nope, my mother has spent her adult life teaching others to be the Wizard through her volunteer work at adult literacy and heart health programs, and as a bereavement counselor with Hospice of Rhode Island for over 15 years.

The Lesson: Learn how to do anything & everything you can—between books and the Internet, it’s never been easier to be the Wizard and to teach your children and help others do the same.

Live life with no regrets

About 10 miles from us, there was a man named Brendan, a widower with a 5 year old daughter. He belonged to the same country club that we did and a mutual friend set my mother and Brendan up on a date.

It wasn’t long after that that they decided to get married, not because theirs was a whirlwind love affair, but because they had a common goal: to provide a loving, nurturing, safe life for their children–us. My mother and Brendan were married in 1974 and honeymooned in Bermuda.

My life was never the same after that and I will forever be grateful to the man I came to call my father–he was as “real” as the Velveteen Rabbit.

Brendan was a handsome man, a hardworking man and the smartest person I’ve ever known. He received his undergraduate degree from Providence College and went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Fordham University with a Masters in Economics. He knew literally everything – he was a human encyclopedia with a powerful vocabulary. He had the Irish gift of storytelling and he made any party more fun. He worked as a salesman for a Massachusetts steel company and worked his way up over the years, finally retiring as company President at the age of 71.

He was a kind man, an unbelievably generous man. He loved me, my sister and my brother as if his blood was running through our veins. He provided for us, put us through school and took us on more family vacations than a sane man should have. He was funny and sweet and the best father a girl could ask for.

Brendan died in 2004 from a short but devastating battle with kidney cancer. He died at home, surrounded by my mom and the four of us kids.

He had lived a full life—he was well educated, had traveled around the world and had achieved great professional success, yet the thing he felt most fortunate about was that he had the one thing he’d always dreamed of — a big family.

He died at 78 years old with only one regret, which he shared with my mother about a week before. He said, “I just wish we’d taken the kids to Bermuda with us on our honeymoon.”

The Lesson: Do everything you’ve ever wanted to do. Say ‘I love you’ every chance you get. Know that it’s never too late. Live each day to the fullest, without regret so when you reach the end of your life, you will truly be at peace.

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Heather Allard

Heather Allard is a mom of three kids + one big rescue dog. She's a wellness buff, an essential oil educator with dōTERRA, and a self-professed “entrepreneur to the core”.
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82 Comments

  1. Tamsen Horton

    Heather,

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I can feel your love for your parents through your words. Stories like yours are what make this beautiful thing called life the beautiful tapestry that it is. I am thankful that you had them as parents, absorbed all that they instilled into you, and are now sharing it with so many of us. You are an inspiration to me.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks, Tamsen. I’m a lucky gal to have had such amazing parents. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Lisa Consiglio Ryan

    Heather, I’m in tears; you wrote such a beautiful post. I feel even more connected to you. Thanks for sharing a part of you. “Be the wizard. Be the wizard.” Beautiful.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thank you, Lisa! Though there has been tragedy in my life, I choose to look at the blessings. 🙂 xo

      Reply
  3. Lisa

    Heather,

    This was such an incredibly honest and moving article…thank you so much for sharing.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Oh, thank you Lisa! I think I’m most proud of that post. It took me so long to get it just right. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Susan Giurleo

    Heather, this post was absolutely beautiful and such a wonderful testimony to both of your fathers and you mother. In so many cases those of us who were blessed with wonderful families (and I count myself among them) take them for granted and don’t acknowledge the connection between their gifts to us and our adult successes.
    And I can totally relate to Brendan’s regret of not bringing all of you to Bermuda. We take our child on every trip so as not to miss sharing experiences or memory building together….

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thank you so much, Susan. I consider myself so fortunate, not only to have/had such wonderful parents, but also that I realize how wonderful they were/are.

      We take our kids everywhere too…and shower them with love. 🙂

      Heather

      Reply
  5. Ali Davies

    Heather, this is a lovely read. Thanks for sharing this. So much food for thought and great lessons.

    Reply
  6. Renee

    Oh my, Heather, what an inspiring post! This underscores the important role parents play in society raising their children. Look at the life lessons you’ve learned from your parents. This causes me to pause for a while and really think about my life and my role as a mother? Am I creating the the generation I want to grow in old? The goal is not necessarily to be the perfect parents with the smartest kids but to take up the mantle and teach important life lessons! Thanks

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks, Renee. 🙂 I’m so fortunate to have such wonderful parents. I think you’re right about not being perfect parents, but instead teaching important life lessons.

      xo,
      Heather

      Reply
  7. Cheryl P

    ……words I live by EVERY day. This was a great read and it made me cry. Something many people assume I never do. 🙂 Both of your fathers sound like men I try to shape my sons to be. Wonderful. I miss my father every single Dad and Father’s day since he passed away in 2006. I enjoy every day a little more after losing my parents — and appreciate all they taught gave me -especially my perseverance and a big sense of humor 🙂

    Thanks for this. It’s great.

    Reply
  8. Sarah Hopkins

    Wow this is so incredibly powerful and heartwarming! What an INCREDIBLE tribute to your family Heather. I am so happy to have came across this today, thank you 🙂

    Reply
  9. Wendy

    Don’t let anything stop you! Be the wizard! No regrets!
    What a beautiful tribute! Thank you for sharing and inspiring us all!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      You’re welcome, Wendy. Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Upscale Downhome

    Absolutely beautiful tribute to your family!

    Reply
  11. Mary Witt

    Just now reading this post. Wow, you had 3 great parents. Thank you for sharing them in such a way that I *felt* his comment about the honeymoon.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks, Mary. 🙂

      I DID/do have 3 great parents.

      Reply
  12. Jenifer Gallagher

    Beautiful! The photos you chose are also just wonderful. It’s really awesome that you’ve articulated these reasons to appreciate your parents. Shouldn’t we all take the time to do that? I love the phrase “Be the Wizard.” And that concept is one I really connect with and try to balance with the practical need to delegate 🙂

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks, Jenifer – I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      Reply
  13. HobokenMommy

    The part that resonated the most with me was that his dream was to have a big family. As much as I want my own business and to be financially free in my life – having a big, loving family has always come first. The rest was a close second. 🙂 I find nothing quite as fulfilling as the love of family, but of course – one has to have the rest to make it balanced.

    Reply
  14. Gina

    What a touching and inspirational story you have. No wonder you’re so strong and successful! I loved hearing about your parents, all three of them. I hope your children know how proud you are and the lessons they taught you. I appreciate you sharing it with your readers!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Aw, thank you Gina. 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

      Reply
  15. Diana Gailing

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful, very touching post. It is a blessing to have such wonderful, loving, strong and inspirational parents like yours. It is nice that their influence has shaped your own life – you learned your parents important lessons, ” You are the Wizard who teaches her children, and you help others to do the same”! Thank you so much, Heather!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Hi Diana,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post – thank YOU for your thoughtful comment. 🙂

      Heather

      Reply
  16. Jasmine

    Thanks for sharing so much with us here. It was hard to read but very insightful – you shared so much wisdom. I had to wipe away the tears a few times but I’m glad you posted.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      You’re welcome, Jasmine. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Sorry about the tears. 🙂

      Reply
  17. Melissa

    Heather! Wow! I usually breeze thru the ezines that come my way and sometimes skip over them for weeks but one accidental click today and here I am! I believe things happen for a reason and I just want to tell you how moving and inspirational this was to me. Thank you SO much for sharing and lifting us all UP with you.

    Melissa

    Reply
  18. Dean Harrington

    Wow, what an inspiration! Thank you for sharing it with us, Heather.

    What strikes me is that if either of your three wonderful parents had been given the pen and had the chance to author their accounting of this I bet it would shine as brightly and lovingly on you and your siblings as it has shown on them.

    God’s hand not so invisible is alive and well in this story, that’s for sure.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks, Dean – and you’re welcome. I’ll never be able to repay my parents for the wonderful life they’ve given me, so this is just a very small way to express my gratitude to them and hopefully stretch their lessons further. 🙂

      You’re right – God’s hand is most certainly alive and well in this story and in my family’s life.

      Thanks for stopping by! 😀
      Heather

      Reply
  19. Rori

    Great post of concepts everyone needs to be reminded of now and then. Although the majority of my 16 years as a parent has been as a single mother and there were days that Being the Wizard was too hard – I am thankful everyday for how the hardest times have helped mold my boys as they grow into young men. I know it would have been easier with someone else there, but they learned invaluable lessons about self-sufficiency and being your own wizard they would never have had if our family had been different.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Hey Rori,

      My hat’s off to you – being a single mom is no easy job. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

      Heather

      Reply
  20. Elizabeth Lewis

    Thank you for sharing this, Heather. What an powerful story and message.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks, Elizabeth – glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      Reply
  21. Patty Weltin

    My daughter, Olivia, was diagnosed with a rare disease called Hypermelanosis of Ito. She was developmentally delayed, her hands and feet are deformed, and last week she had spinal cord surgery to untether her spinal cord. When she was in second grade she was tested for learning disabilities. The testers told us she would never get into a private school, she would never do math, she would never go to college. Through my tears, I told them they were wrong. From third grade on Olivia became an honor student. In middle school she attended PCD. She was an honor student with an A in advanced math. She was bullied so we moved her to public school. Even the bullying didn’t break her. She graduated from middle school with the Presidential Award. Today, Olivia attends LaSalle Academy where she is an honor student and a member of their Division one JV tennis team. Like your father, she is an inspiration. I try to urge all parents to trust their own instincts about their child. The “experts” don’t know a child the way the parents do. Olivia’s recovery from surgery has been remarkable. She continues to do what she does best, overcome the odds.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Hi Patty,

      Thanks for sharing your story – Olivia certainly IS an inspiration. 🙂 I’m so glad to hear of her success.

      Your story reminded me of Jon Morrow’s story – you can read it here. http://www.copyblogger.com/fight-for-your-ideas/. You’re absolutely right about parents trusting their instincts.

      Thanks again.
      Heather

      Reply
      • Patty Weltin

        Thanks Heather. Another great inspirational story. I’m going to pass it along to Olivia.

        Patty

        Reply
        • Heather Allard

          You’re welcome, Patty. 🙂 I thought you’d like it.

          Heather

          Reply
  22. karen

    *sniffle, sniffle*
    Now I know where you got Brendan’s name.

    Ultimately, it’s all about family, isn’t it? We strive to be successful because of “family” and yet, sometimes, we become blind to the “why’s” in the process sometimes and neglect them. We have to stop and think.

    And this post was a great reminder.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Karen,

      Yep, that’s how Brendan got his name. 🙂 My girls have my maiden name as their middle name in honor of my “first” father.

      You’re right – it IS all about family. I’ve been learning from Alexis Neely about how to build a business around my family so that they are NOT lost in the shuffle of entrepreneurship. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help Mogul Mom readers do the same. 😀

      Reply
  23. trish harrington

    Inspiring. Thanks for sharing these wonderful lessons.

    Reply
  24. Alison Golden

    What a touching blog post, Heather. And how you loved all your parents and were loved by them 🙂

    I think the one that most resonated with me is family first and biggest and brightest. It is what I am trying to do combining family with my own personal goals instead of separating them off into separate compartments.

    I shall remember Brendan’s words – taking the kids on honeymoon 🙂

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Hi Alison,
      I’m trying to do the same – keeping my family at the center of all that I do. Family is everything. 🙂

      Heather

      Reply
  25. Kelly Nowlin

    Heather,
    The number of comments you’ve already received speaks volumes to the fact that people connect and open up when you, yourself, share from your heart, making yourself vulnerable. You have dug deep on this one and shared a touching story and beautiful tribute to two fathers in your life. I truly admire them (and you) as well. I have a father who has a big heart but lacks the ability to truly use it to connect. When my kids were babies, he told me once that “[he] would come around more often, once they were a bit more ‘functional’.” He’s missed so many moments. My take away is to try and be “in the moment” as often as I can, especially with my kids. I find that traveling with just my husband and kids puts us all in present with each other and can create moments that will be remembered and cherished for a lifetime. I’m so glad both of your father’s got this. I suppose I get it to, thanks to my father who doesn’t.

    Reply
  26. Tashi

    Thank you so much for this post Heather! What an amazing family you have. Your story has really encouraged me…I have been a single mum now for just over a year, it has had its challenges. I had breast cancer last year and struggled throught that alone, my dad who I had been estranged from died and I had to do all the funeral arrangements without the help of my brothers, my daughters father decided to move country and be a non-participating parent in all ways to our daughter…but through all this my awesome stepdad has reached his hand out to me and helped me fulfill my dream of creating a website for children. This week has been a challenge, but your post has reminded me of what I started out to do – BE A WIZARD! Thanks again Heather – I so appreciate your blog!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Hi Tashi,
      You’re welcome – thank YOU for sharing your story, too. I’m so glad that you have a “Velveteen Dad” and that you’re a wizard. 🙂

      Wishing you MUCH success! (Keep me posted!)
      Heather

      Reply
  27. Sparky Firepants

    This really touched me, Heather. Thank you for sharing these stories and the lessons behind them.

    The lesson that really resonated for me was “the more you can do for yourself the better.”

    I’m a big believer in pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. That’s right at the core of running a business. Sometimes you have to get creative to get stuff done.

    Getting help and advice from others is important, too. But I believe that if you can learn to help yourself first, the rest comes easier.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      You’re welcome, David – I’m so glad you enjoyed the stories and the lessons. We entrepreneurs ARE the Wizard every day, aren’t we? 🙂

      Heather

      Reply
  28. Kathleen Schmidtke

    Feeling overwhelmed (the taxes still aren’t done, lacrosse season is starting, haven’t touch my business in weeks and have a big barn sale coming up) so what am I doing sitting at the computer reading…..well, sometimes you end up reading just what you needed to hear that day. Thanks so much for sharing your stories – time for me to re-focus on the priorities!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks, Kathleen – I’m so glad this post was just what you needed to hear. 🙂

      Reply
  29. Kara Rosner

    Hi Heather,
    Your stories are truly inspiring and brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing some of your personal life. These lessons are indeed motivating and came at a time when I needed a little inspiration! Thank you.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Kara,
      I’m so glad this post came at just the right time for you. 🙂

      Heather

      Reply
  30. Traci Bisson

    Heather – this is one of the most powerful posts you have ever written. I applaud you for being able to write what was in your heart. Thanks so much for sharing this with me and all your readers. Your philosophy on life rings very true with me!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Aw, thanks so much, Traci. That means a lot coming from you.

      I learned at a very young age that life can change in the blink of an eye and that family is everything. I never take that for granted and appreciate everything I’ve been blessed with. 🙂

      Reply
  31. Rebecca Meekma

    Hi Heather, Great blog post – exactly what blogging is supposed to be about – personal, touching, thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing and giving us all some unspiration. Rebecca

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Hi Rebecca,

      So glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      Heather

      Reply
  32. Iris Mishly

    Heather, tears came in my eyes when i finished reading this post.
    so inspiring!
    These amazing stories about amazing people! Your parents and Brendan choose the fearless path! that is something i will take with me.

    b.t.w – your blog is wonderful!

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      I’m so glad you got something out of their stories, Iris. 🙂

      Thanks so much for the compliment – glad you’re enjoying TMM.

      Heather

      Reply
  33. MaryAnne Melo

    Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful and moving stories of your life..inspirational! We are the lucky ones to be able to say we had inspirational parents..

    Reply
  34. Crystal

    What a great post, and I love that you focused on what your dear fathers left behind for you (and for all of us!), and not on being left behind, which is where I got stuck after my (ex)father-in-law passed away on Thursday.

    What you talked about is what’s most important: The legacy of the quirky, wonderful, odd, lovable men we were doubly blessed with 🙂

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Crys,
      I’m so sorry for your loss. Believe me, it takes time to focus on the legacy and not the loss. Give yourself that time. 🙂

      Reply
      • Crystal

        Thank you…and I promise I will 🙂

        Reply
  35. Courtney

    Wow – what a wonderful story with important lessons from your two father figures and your strong mother. What a great example of family. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks for stopping by, Courtney. I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      Reply
  36. Maggie @ Maggie's Nest

    Beautiful, inspiring post. Thank you! The last lesson really stuck with me – don’t put anything off, do everything you want to do, etc. It makes me think of my fiancé’s readiness to start trying to get pregnant, and my reticence about it, not because I don’t want to have a baby – I DO!!! – but my fears get in the way: let’s just sock away a little more money first; how will I work AND be the kind of totally present mother I want to be?; maybe we need to clean up more debt first; etc. etc. Your post reminds me that the timing will never be perfect, and that “if we leap, the net will appear” to support our family. Thank you!

    Reply
  37. Darla Arni

    Heather,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I use stories so much in my speaking and writing and one of my favorites is about my mom. No matter what happened in my life my mom would always say, “This too shall pass.” If it was a good thing that happened it meant “Appreciate what you have while you have it.” and if it was a bad thing she meant “Hang in there, this time will pass.” I hated that phrase; it was so predictable and, well, it was so familiar I didn’t even pay attention to it. When I got older I told her how much I hated hearing “This too shall pass” and she would just laugh and tell me the day would come when it would make sense to me. After my father died, my mom managed to live on the farm by herself for several years but after she was diagnosed with dementia she moved to an apartment and then to the nursing home in the town where I live. She is 84 years old and has not known me for years, but she still has her spunky spirit and never complains. “This too shall pass” comes to my mind a lot now and I am so glad she drilled that into my head so I can, in turn, say it over and over to my daughter. It’s not only a coping skill, it’s a family tradition!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Oh, I love that, Darla! My mom says that, too! (Is your mom Irish? LOL.) One of my favorite songs is “This Too Shall Pass” by OK Go.

      Thank YOU for sharing your story. I love it. 🙂

      Heather

      Reply
  38. colette

    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt post…I’m a little teary from Brendan’s honeymoon comment! How thoughtful of him to have had that regret…and what a life well lived, that this was a biggie to him. I’m inspired.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      You’re welcome, Colette. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Brendan was such a wonderful man – I named my son after him. 🙂

      Reply
  39. Carla

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing this very personal and moving piece. It all resonates with me. I love “Be the wizard.” So simple but profound and so very necessary to keep in mind. And the bit about the honeymoon made me smile because my husband and I always wanted friends to join us on our honeymoon, to let the celebration continue with the most important people in our lives. It’s easy to see where you get your drive and passion from =)

    Reply
  40. shona cole

    oh that is beautiful. made me choked up, especially the third. I love stories of good people who live life well and fully despite everything. I want to live few regrets, how beautiful that he wanted more of his kids. Thank you for sharing your family history with us.

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thanks, Shona. I choke every time I read it. 😉

      Heather

      Reply
  41. stephanie

    Thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like you had, and still do, a very special family. Great lessons & very inspirational.

    Reply
  42. Heather Hill

    Thank you for sharing that beautifully written, personal lesson with us. One that we need reminded of frequently.

    Reply
  43. Catherine Choi

    Heather,
    what an inspiring and heart wrenching but ultimately beautiful post. I now understand how you got you mojo – the strength you derived from your own pain. So glad to have “met” you on this journey…

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Thank you, Catherine. I am so lucky to have inherited my parents’ mojo. 😉

      Heather

      Reply

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