This time last year I was sitting in front of this same computer screen, on this same couch, wading through some similar feelings, trying to discover a new normal. This year, it isn’t my husband’s health scare. My dad died. Suddenly. Completely unexpectedly. While he slept on January 2nd. Another new normal. Another opportunity to lean into my faith and onto our people.
There is already a hole in our family. Minutes after my dad went to be with Jesus, we felt it. But the beautiful thing about a life well lived is that it leaves a legacy and leaves behind something very tangible to hang on to. My sister and I both have boys who bear a part of his name and that is a lovely reminder, but there are so many other things we have learned.
These are some of the words I wrote for his memorial service and I wanted to share them with you. Because the truth is, death is a part of life. We all will encounter it, and MUST do something good with it. My dad was AMAZING, and I want you to know him and what he taught me.
What I learned from Frank Mayo, the Professional:
Work should not be your identity.
My dad had a twenty year United States Air Force career and then went on to work for SAIC until his retirement. He continued to work for them on a contract level even up until his death. That is fifty years of hard earned professional life. My dad was at the FAA building one day, and a younger guy came up to him and said, “You’re Frank Mayo?! You’re a legend around here.” To which my dad replied, “Did you just call me old?” You see, he had made a name for himself. He had earned a spot in the “Hall of Fame of Hard Workers,” but it never defined him. He was home every afternoon at 4:30. He didn’t miss a game or a performance. Never once do I remember feeling like we played second fiddle to his paycheck. Oh my dad worked hard, but that wasn’t what he was about. He truly understood balance and his work was never his identity.
What I learned from Frank Mayo, the Friend:
Make your words count.
Almost every card we have received has spoken of my dad’s gentle, sweet spirit. You don’t earn that recognition by saying every word that enters your head. His words were few, but they were calculated and important. He spoke truth and justice and brought life to the receiver. Sometimes he tried to use his words to be funny. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes he earned an eye roll or two. But sometimes his lack of words spoke volumes. A neighbor told my sister and I a story about sneaking out of the house one night. When she returned home the next morning, she realized she didn’t have her house key. She knew my dad would be up early, so she knocked on the door, told him she got locked out taking out the trash, and asked to borrow the key. My dad quietly got her house key and handed it to her without saying a thing. My dad saw straight through her. He saw straight through anybody. It was his spiritual gift! But he knew those words weren’t his to speak. He operated out of a place of restraint, not indulgence, in so many areas of his life. Especially with his words. He made those count.
What I learned from Frank Mayo, the Pops:
Give memories, not stuff.
My dad became a Pops eleven years ago and he was so good at it. His grandchildren quickly learned his character and what to expect from Pops (Or Pots as one grandson says.He hasn’t mastered that second “p” yet.) The kids consulted him when buying electronics, or after a Virginia Tech football win. They made sure he knew about every performance or event, and the kids knew they could join him for crossword puzzles at the kitchen island. He was super present for them in their lives.
But the one thing that my parents decided to do was to give memories and not stuff. Christmas day and birthdays brought a few smaller things to open, but we all knew the real gift would come in the form of activities and vacations. Maybe it would be a trip to the local trampoline park (with a military discount) or maybe it would be Disney (with a military discount), either way, there would be less clutter and more together. Oh how we are hanging on that now. As a gift-giver and a gift lover, sometimes I can get bummed that there are not more gifts to be opened, but in the grand scheme of things today, I am beyond thankful for the investment of time. Because Pops gave us memories and not things.
What I learned from Frank Mayo, the Dad:
The funny thing about being adopted is sometimes you learn traits from the family that ultimately becomes yours and sometimes… well… my sister and I were dropped into the laps of two of the most disciplined people on the planet and to be honest, we just aren’t. My dad followed every rule and every instruction. When the doctor said “no caffeine.” He didn’t. Period. If the speed limit said “70.” He did. Period. We laughed at him a lot because of it. Might of rolled our eyes a lot because of it. Maybe made fun of him a lot because of it. But the truth is, there is stability and consistency for two girls raised in a home of a disciplined man. His Bible was on the table every morning when we left for school. We knew what time he would leave and be home. We knew his exact routine when he got home, how long it would take him, and that we had ten minutes before we could ask him any questions. We also knew what to expect if we broke the rules. It was a very safe way to grow up. This is one trait of his that I’m not sure I will ever master, but I am grateful for the discipline he exhibited.
What I learned from Frank Mayo, the Husband:
Be all in.
I love that I can say my parents were married for fifty-two years. And didn’t just tolerate each other, they enjoyed each other. There was never a question in our minds who was #1 in my dad’s eyes. Even as they weathered storms and walked through trials, they always presented a united, whole, contention free front. It wasn’t until the last few years that I began to see the times they pushed each other’s buttons, or the little annoyances that got under one another’s skin. It was kind of fun to see, and made this “fairytale” marriage seem much more real and human. But my dad didn’t play around when it came to his marriage. They spoke truth, and love, and worked hard to create the marriage they had. My dad gave my mom the comfort of a husband who was all in.
What I learned from Frank Mayo, the Follower of Jesus:
I don’t know who you are reading this right now. You may have zoned out when you got to this point. But all of the other things I learned from my dad, well they all hinged on this one. And it is the faith he passed on that has sustained us. My parents read the Bible through together last year. My dad read every verse. My dad checked every box. You know, cause he was disciplined. But he was a learner and he knew there was always more to learn about Jesus. This is my favorite thing about my dad. He was a generation changer. My kids know Jesus, because their Pops taught me about Jesus. Even in his death, his life will glorify the King of Kings. Even in his death, people will know the Savior better. Even in his death, people will meet Jesus for the first time. “Well done my good and faithful servant.” (Luke 19:17)
Thanks for indulging me. Thanks for letting me talk about my dad. But honestly, my prayer is that you can learn from his life.
Our lives, and our deaths, are not only about us. But the bigger picture. The greater good. Impacting and encouraging as many people as we can.
I will carry all these nuggets from Frank Mayo for the rest of my life and maybe, just maybe, the space around you will feel differently because of him, too.