by Satu Runa // June 16th, 2019
On the first Father’s Day since my father’s passing, it warrants reflection on his impact on my life. I’ve spent the last ten months grieving, reflecting on who he was, and how important his influence was to the world and to us as a family. Today, I think of how much of his personality and soul resides in myself.
To understand my father, you need to understand Finnish culture. He was a farm boy who ventured on to become a world-renowned cardiologist. He lived through WWII, and the Winter War between Finland and Russia (1939-1940). He started his new American life in Minnesota. Following a visa mishap and a new job opportunity, he continued his journey in Nova Scotia- where he met my mother. A renaissance man, he loved composing poetry, tending to orchids, piano, travelling, and woodcarving. Towards the end of his life, he battled an exorbitant amount of physical pain due to cardiovascular disease, the subject of which he was an expert. He knew exactly what was going on inside his body, to the final moments.
I knew my father as someone who had strength of mind. He never let the little things bother him, and he seemed to handle the big things in stride. On the surface, one might think that nothing ever bothered him. But he had the most open heart, and he cared deeply, about everything.
I watched him closely in the final decade of his life. There were only a few hours in the day where he had enough strength to do his tasks, and he never wasted a moment. After giving up alcohol and having the most disciplined, heart-healthy diet, he trained his mind to handle emotionally painful things- in the style of the stoics. This helped him overcome the physical pain and boredom in his final years, when he couldn’t see well enough to read books or newspapers, and became nauseated by computer screens. But the human body and mind can only take so much pain and boredom, and even the strongest among us succumb to it eventually.
It was his unwavering support and belief in me that carries me day to day. I was raised to be the best version of myself possible. It felt like I had ultimate freedom and independence from day 1. I grew up in a safe, isolated, Nova Scotian cove with few neighbors. I was allowed to wander- anywhere- by myself. My father never questioned my ambition. He never made me second guess my pursuits or my career choices. He never tried to control me or tell me how I should be living my life. He simply provided me with the bedrock of having trust in my abilities. He never pressured me to find a husband, have children, or get married. I was unencumbered by such demands. He encouraged me to pursue meaning through my life’s work, and I couldn’t be more grateful for this fabulously feminist input of my Silent Generation father [note: he didn’t start out this way, I credit my mother for shaping him up. It was she who threatened to leave if he wasn’t on board with her getting her masters, in which he quickly changed his mind. By the time I came around, he was perfect! Thanks Mom]. It could also be the fact that he was a raised on a farm. In agricultural families, everyone works and everyone’s job is equally important. Ego must be set aside for survival. He had pride- for his family and his work, but he had absolutely no trace of an unhealthy ego.
He passed on to my family what is arguably the most valuable export of Finland: sisu. There is no word in the English language for “sisu,” but loosely translated, it comes to this: When you are up against the wall, here comes a third wind: the will to carry on, against all odds, to persevere with absolute courage in the face of extreme adversity. In other words, guts. The Finns have it. It is ingrained in us. I am beyond thankful for this beautiful energy he has passed onto us. This is what has prepared me for unforeseen obstacles: battles, sickness, pain, failure, death, and the unknown. But I never have self-doubt. I may doubt certain choices, strategies, or others who fail to see my strengths, but I never, ever doubt myself. I am simply tasked with finding ways to make myself stronger and sharper in every way, for myself, and thus, for the betterment of humanity and the loved ones around me.
I am one of the lucky ones. I may not have anyone to call anymore to say, “I love you, Papa.” But it doesn’t stop me from being proud to be his daughter, to carry so much of him in my heart, in my expressions, in my soul. It takes a lifetime to strengthen the mind, but I got a fabulous head start, thanks to my awesome dad. I keep going, because he did. In the face of extreme adversity, I march on, because of what I am made of, and because of who I am.