Gary’s End-of-Year Letter

Dec 19, 2022

A few days ago my dad asked me to bring my clippers along for a visit to the assisted living home where he lives with my mom. He told me they both needed haircuts, as their on-site barber had retired. 

I have the very good fortune, along with my siblings, to be a support for my parents with the challenges of daily living. Bearing witness to my parents aging is joyful and also challenging. Dad and mom are 94 and 93, respectively. My mom lives with dementia and experiences more bad days than good. Dad cares for her with the same steadiness that has always defined him, with loving and quiet assistance and reassurance.

The request to cut their hair suddenly became poignant when I reflected on the recently-discovered photo above. We had come full circle. I love this photo because to me it beautifully captures dad’s caring nature, a snapshot of his gentle and handy skills in action. I easily imagine the sound of the buzzing clippers. My dad’s hands were always steady, whether holding clippers, tools to repair cars, prune trees, build a house, or plant and tend vegetable gardens. He had a tool for every need and occasion. His home workbench was his studio of possibilities.

I’m perhaps 18 months old when this photo was taken, so likely in 1965. Dad had set me upon our dining table in our SeaTac home to trim my once-blond hair.

Fast-forward to 2022. When I arrived with my clippers at their assisted living home, I showed him the photo. Immediately upon seeing it he said, “You know, my dad cut hair to earn extra money during the Depression. We were all taught to use clippers and scissors. We had to know how, because people needed it.” 

In his reminiscence, I found common ground in the wise words of our featured speaker Chukundi Salisbury at the recent Companis Showcase event. Chukundi reflected on what “showing up” for his community means to him.

“What I would say about showing up, is to show up in the right role. Often times we … think what we know is best for people. (But) How we show up is how we listen, and determine what people need. It’s how people need you to show up,” Chukundi said. 

Sometimes that means playing a support role, instead of being out front, offering solutions. Listening to my dad’s simple request, to bring my clippers, was all I needed to do. It’s how he needed me to show up. 

Listening is also at the heart of our work at Companis. It’s a lesson we learn over and over again. Fully showing up requires constant reflection of words, actions and plans. That’s what we strive to do in our volunteer placement and support work. Reflection is one of our core values. It’s countercultural to the fast-moving and impatient tempo in this time of instant communication and rapid reaction. It informs action, and we’re committed to building reflective practices into how we show up for our neighbors. 

Chukundi’s words also spurred this reflection: My dad is an excellent listener. His gentleness is rooted in quiet observation which informs his actions. For my siblings and me, he’s still teaching us how to be in this world, and how to show up. 



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