5 Things My Papaw-My Hero Taught Me Before He Died 6

Without heroes, we are all plain people and don’t know how far we can go. – Bernard Malamud

I was a lucky kid. While I was growing up – if things got too bad at home, I had a safe haven to run too. My Papaw owned 3 homes in a straight line – the middle was a storage house, then my family lived in one and he lived in the other.

The great thing about hopping on my bike and pedaling down to my Papaws house – was that he treated me with love and respect. As far back as I can remember (5 years old), he never belittled the issues I was facing – even if they were trivial. He always shared with me his very best wisdom, adding “boy, I forget more knowledge in a days time than you have learned in your entire life!”.

When I was 14 – my parents and I had moved on from the old shack I had learned to call home – and my Papaw was diagnosed with lung cancer. He lived alone and I couldn’t stand the thought of him dying that way so I begged my mom to let me move in with him – and even though it was extremely difficult for her – she let me.

I spent the next two years learning from my Papaws wisdom and embracing every moment.

I am excited to share with you some of the best lessons my Papaw taught me. The wisdom below is ingrained in me and I know it will resonate within you.

1. Always Work Your Hardest

My Papaw asked my Dad to weld a container for his oxygen tank onto the riding mower that way he could still cut the grass! Don’t be mistaken, he had cancer – but I wasn’t taking care of him – he was taking care of me.

If you do your best work everyday, it leaves no room for questions. Before you fall asleep at night you get to look back on your day and feel proud. He knew that everyone could rise above their circumstances – it didn’t take brains, it didn’t take luck, it just took good old fashioned hard work.

2. Appreciate What You Have

Jeff Foxworthy once said, “If your salad bowls say Cool Whip on the side, you might be a redneck!”.

My Papaw and I used to laugh at that joke because our salad bowls did indeed have Cool Whip branded onto the side of the container. But nowadays that would be called being “green”or environmentally conscious.

Did it bother us to eat out of reused dessert containers?

Not at all!

He taught me how wise it is to save as much money as possible and spend my time enjoying the things I already had, instead of the things I wanted.

If you practice wanting what you already have long enough – you’ll gain an overwhelming feeling of appreciation for life. When you do really want something, you should be patient – this builds excitement. Set a future date that you’ll buy it, research it (to boost your enthusiasm) and set a goal you must reach to earn it.

The anticipation is the fun part – stretch it out as long as possible! Once you get what you so deeply desired it will lose its luster  – unless you’ve already mastered appreciating what you have.

3. Trust Yourself

After a long hard journey and many tough life experiences, my Papaw was left a bit skeptical on trusting the intentions of strangers.

Whether it’s a stranger, your best friend, or your loving family – at the end of the day you have to trust yourself above all others. I’m not just talking about honesty here – but with your big life decisions.

Others are always going to try to “help” – but even their best intentions may be wrong for you. You have to learn to live each day trusting your gut and doing what you think is right. You know yourself better than anyone else and you are the only one who knows what is right for you.

4. Tough Love is True Love

My Papaw wasn’t the sensitive type – he was more of a “built ford tough”, kind of guy. Tough love to me is special – because it typically comes from someone who has trouble expressing their emotions. When this kind of person shows signs that they love you – you know that it’s 100% genuine.

If you love someone with all your heart – that also means you are willing to tell them what they need to hear, even if it makes you look ugly. How could anyone sit around in silence and watch a loved one destroy their life if they truly loved them?

5. Live Life to the Fullest Until You Can Live No More

Up until the moment he passed – my Papaw never threw in the towel on living. My Papaw went grocery shopping a week before he passed! He had to sit down every 5 steps to recuperate – but he refused to give in. He was as strong-willed as it gets and led by example.

He believed the moment that you stopped living – was when you really died.

Seeing someone in the final chapter of their life taught me just how important each individual day is. Sadly, most people don’t get to experience this until they are flipping their last pages. View everyday as a gift and never take for granted the opportunity to live.

In Conclusion:

My Papaw is amazing – and you can be too by working some of his lessons into your daily life.

*This post was inspired by Marc who wrote about 12 things his grandmother told him before she died.

Looking for more daily happiness inspiration? You should read:

How to Be Happy With Yourself: 4 Things to Start Today

How to Be Happy Everyday: Good Vibrations, Acceptance, and Play

How to Be Happy Quotes: 12 Snipets of Inspiration

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  • Amy Swords

    Tj this is a gorgeous post and reminds me of my grandfather. It’s amazing the impact they can have.

    • Thank you. I hope he inspired you!


  • Trivedi Effect

    TJ, I totally agree with all of your Papaw’s points, especially #1,2 and 3. Your Papaw was really special. I know you will forever cherish the years you lived together. Great read. Thanks.

    • Thanks Trivedi,

      I will certainly cherish them and it makes me feel wonderful knowing that he’s been able to impact someone else – through me.


  • CBM

    TJ, my favorite part of your blog is the one below…it reminds me of my husband. I used to wish he could express his love for our kids and me more often and more directly but you’re right, when he did you knew it was for real!!! So very true.

    “My Papaw wasn’t the sensitive type – he was more of a “built ford tough”, kind of guy. Tough love to me is special – because it typically comes from someone who has trouble expressing their emotions. When this kind of person shows signs that they love you – you know that it’s 100% genuine.”

    • Hi CBM,

      Yeah, I am like my Papaw and your husband. It’s not that we don’t want our family to know how much we care, it’s just that being expressive is hard for us. So when we do show some love – we’re not playing around. It was nice to hear that someone can attest to this point.