Like many if not most of us, I pretty much took my parents for granted from childhood through early adulthood. There were two major life events that made me realize how much I owed them and how much I loved them.

The first major life event (or events) was the birth of our two children, Logan and Julie. Born one week less than a year apart, some called them “Irish twins.” My mom gave us a rocking chair, where I rocked and lullabied our babies, just as Mom had rocked and lullabied me.

While rocking and singing and “talking” to our babies, I felt a deep transgenerational love. I knew, I sensed — I could feel it in my heart — that as much as I loved our children, my parents had loved me. I never really appreciated how much my parents did for me, and how much they loved me, until I had children of my own.

The second major life event (or events) was the death of my parents. Mom was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1990, the same year I met and married my (second) wife, Carrie. Mom died in October 1992, a week before her 64th birthday. Our son Logan was five months old, and Carrie was three months pregnant with our daughter Julie.

My mom and dad raised seven children. They were married almost 45 years. After Mom died, Dad’s health deteriorated, and he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 2007 at age 80.

I have two particularly vivid memories of my parents, and they both involve a movie. On a Sunday afternoon in 1975, my live-in fiancée and I went to see the movie Jaws. We were high on marijuana, oh my. There was only one movie theater in Jeffersonville, Indiana. We were buying popcorn and soda when my folks arrived to see the movie, too.

Holy paranoia, Batman! We’re high, and there’s my parents!

I sheepishly and briefly nodded at my parents, then my fiancée and I scurried off to a dark and remote corner of the theater. I hoped and prayed my parents wouldn’t seek us out and sit with us — and they did not.

Dad didn’t seem to care that we avoided or snubbed them, but my mother, bless her heart, was hurt and offended. To this day that memory triggers a huge sense of shame and regret. High or not high, there was no good reason why we couldn’t have sat with my parents and watched the movie together. It was stupid and wrong for me to avoid them. Oh, the shame, the shame—

The second vivid memory dates to maybe 1988 or 1989 — not long before my mom got sick with cancer, and not long before I met my second wife. My parents invited me to supper; afterwards we watched the movie On Golden Pond.

Henry Fonda won a Best Actor award for his role as Norman Thayer, a crotchety “old poop.” Katharine Hepburn won a Best Actress award for playing Ethel, his dear, devoted wife. The elderly couple spends every summer at their cottage on Golden Pond in New England. Norman, like my real-life dad, was a serious and seasoned fisherman.

Jane Fonda plays their estranged daughter, Chelsea. The reasons for the estrangement are unclear. At one point Chelsea tells her mother that, even though she lives thousands of miles away in California, she still feels like a child who is dominated and controlled by her father. Eventually Chelsea reconciles with her father Norman.

It was a case of art imitating life. My parents, while experiencing the vicissitudes of old age, were still deeply devoted to each other. Moreover, they forgave me — the wayward son — for the foolish misbehaviors of my misspent youth, and they blessed me and embraced me with their deep parental love. My folks and I were reconciled at last.

And so I have touched on two universal truths: One, everyone loves their children — though different cultures have different ideas about parenting. (In Scandinavia, there is an emphasis on a democratic relationship between parents and children.

In Sweden, a child has the lawful right to access their parents’ bodies for comfort, and must be allowed into their parents’ bed. In Spain, children don’t have early bedtimes; they stay up with their parents and socialize until the whole family goes to bed.)

My mom was a strict disciplinarian. If we disobeyed or broke the rules, punishment was swift and sure. Dad was much more tolerant and easygoing — unless he was really angry, at which times it was best to hide.

Both my parents were people — and like all people, they were flawed. They were not perfect people, so they were not perfect parents. Yet in a way, I can say they were perfect parents — because they loved us and cared for us to the best of their abilities. They did their best and then some, I am sure.

The second universal truth is that, as long as our parents are living, we tend to take them for granted, at least to some extent. After they are gone, we wish we had done more for them when we had the chance, while they were living.

My mom got sick and died before my parents could retire. Before my mom’s untimely illness, they sometimes talked about retiring to a lake, where my dad could fish to his heart’s content. I like to think that I’m living that dream for them.

Dad and I sometimes got up at 2 or 3 a.m. so we could be fishing on a lake at sunrise. You had to be on the water at sunrise — a belief and tradition I still practice today.

I live one mile from Nolin Lake, as the crow flies. I can walk out my door and have a good fish on the line in less than 15 minutes. Indeed, I’ve done that hundreds of times, and it always makes me think about my dad, and how happy he would be living here so close to good fishing.

I’ll turn 69 this month. There is scarcely a day that goes by when I don’t think about my parents. I often think about my grandparents, too. My maternal grandparents, Grandma Dee and Pop, were incredibly hardworking people — so much so that they rarely watched TV. There was, however, one notable exception. On Saturday nights, they always watched The Lawrence Welk Show.

My wife’s maternal grandma always watched The Lawrence Welk Show, too. So now, unless there is something more urgent and compelling, my wife and I watch Lawrence Welk almost every Saturday evening. It’s not our kind of music, but it makes us feel close to our ancestors, so we watch it. We know the names of all the performers.

It’s no wonder that ancestor worship, or ancestor veneration, plays a part in practically every religion. The older I get, the more I revere and appreciate my dearly departed parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. My ancestors — especially my parents — are a constant source of love, strength, inspiration and guidance.

I hope that, after I’m dead and gone, our kids will feel the same way about me.

Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at

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