What’s Your Epitaph?

Posted on February 6, 2014

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“The most important thing a father can do for his children is love their mother.”  Theodore Hesburgh

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”  Winston Churchill

“It’s only the giving that makes you what you are.”  Ian Anderson

“What do you want on your tombstone?” Tombstone Pizza

I notice recently that The Four Tops are touring with The Temptations.  It is hard to imagine The Four Tops without Levi Stubbs (who died of cancer in 2008) on lead vocals.  Two of my favorite cuts by the group came on their first album after departing Motown for ABC-Dunhill; they were “Keeper of the Castle” and “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got).”  This is a post mostly about the former.

Someone recently shared with me about a family member who, after his death, was most remembered for being verbally abusive to his wife.  This seemed a rather sad epitaph, a disappointing summation of a life.  It seems a reasonable question to think about how you would like your life to be remembered.  Another man shared with me that one of the ways he helped build resilience in his life was focusing on what I real and what is important.  It is important to keep the end in mind.

…Which segues back to “Keeper of the Castle.”  The song was a top 10 hit in 1972.  In the early 70’s, the war in Vietnam[1], civil rights[2], ecology[3], sex[4], and drugs[5] were still the focus of popular music (apart from the ever popular songs about relationships).  Here was a song that was calling men to focus on being good husbands and fathers as their highest priority in life.  Men were admonished that they were “the keeper of the castle” obligating them to provide for and guide their children and “be a good man to your lady.”

Live it down, there’s a lot of us been pushed around
Red, yellow, black, white and brown[6] with a tear of their own
Oh, can’t you see while you’re pickin’ on society
That the leaves on your family tree are callin’ you to come home

You’re the keeper of the castle, so be a father to your children
The provider of all their daily needs
Like a sovereign Lord protector be their destiny’s director
And they’ll do well to follow where you lead

Oh, in your head, you don’t believe what the good book said
You’re gonna strike out now instead, ’cause the world’s been unkind
Put through thick and thin whatever shape your heart is in
You only have one next of kin better keep ’em in mind

You’re the keeper of the castle, so be a good man to your lady
The creator of the sunshine in her day
Tend the garden that you seeded be a friend when a friend is needed
And you won’t have to look the other way

Many clients who come to see me have come through childhood trauma[7] and abuse.  One of the things I appreciate about many of these is their courage and their commitment to give their children better than they had.  We have an opportunity to change the family legacy, but that does not happen by itself.  It takes an intentional effort (and often therapy) to do it.  How do you want to be remembered?  What is the legacy you want to leave to your family?  May I suggest figuring out this thing called “marriage” as a good place to start?

“The most important thing a father can do for his children is love their mother.”  Theodore Hesburgh


[1] E.g. “War” by Edwin Starr, Imagine by John Lennon

[2] “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, “Power to the People” by John Lennon

[3] “Mercy, Mercy, Me” by Marvin Gaye

[4] You could do this whole list off of Marvin Gaye songs.  “Let’s Get It On.”  “Go All the Way” by The Raspberries.

[5] “Hi, Hi, Hi” by Paul McCartney is about both sex and drugs.  “One Toke Over the Line” by Brewer and Shipley.  “Mama Told Me” by Three Dog Night and “The Needle and the Damage Done” by Neil Young were anti-drug songs.

[6] You might need to pardon the use of colors as racial descriptions.  At the time it was still politically correct and was intended to be inclusive.  There was a cartoon at the time called “Kid Power” that used colors in their theme song intending to be inclusive.

[7] The emotional scars of a lack of emotional safety in childhood are traumatic.

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