Home>Highlight>The O’Toole Chronicles: Advice from Mom — Be Fearless

Kevin J. O'Toole, right, is joined by his parents and Assemblyman John V. Kelly (R-Nutley), second from right, at his swearing-in as a Cedar Grove councilman and deputy mayor on July 1, 1989. (Photo: Township of Cedar Grove).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Advice from Mom — Be Fearless

By Kevin O'Toole, December 07 2021 12:01 am

I was talking with my Dad the other day and he said something that really struck home.

For some perspective, my Dad takes care of my Mom who is essentially bed ridden as dementia continues to rob her of a normal day.  As my Dad recently commented wistfully, not exactly living their golden years as planned.

My Dad is a saint, a true practitioner of unconditional love, and he has taught us about compassionate devotion and familial dedication. He insists that caring for my Mom is not an obligation or burden—my Dad, with his Irish pride bubbling, said: “She has taken care of me my entire life and this is least I can do for my life partner.” Wow!

On this particular morning, he was regaling me with stories of the past, many of them detailing the life- long love story with my Mom.  As the story has been told, they met during his honorable service in the Korean War and he told me about the day he took my Mom from her second home in South Korea (first being North Korea) and boarded a ship to head to their new life in America.

My Dad reflected and mused about what my Mom was thinking about as she boarded that military ship to leave.  She was a young women who, a few years earlier, literally fled her native country in 1951 at the age of 13, managed to make a living working for the South Korean Army washing clothes, met an American soldier, and marries him in her then hometown, Seoul, Korea.

On their day of the departure, she was leaving behind everything she knew, everything she loved, the land, the food, the culture, her remaining family members, her religion and more. I dare say I know few today who would make that sacrifice. Incredible.

My Dad thought about that moment, when they left Korea together, possibly forever, and said my Mom must have been terrified after making this monumental and life-changing move.  I thought about it for a moment and said – “no Dad, she wasn’t afraid, Mom was probably fearless like she has been in every endeavor of her life.”

He agreed and we unfolded story after story of this brave woman’s life – she lived, often alone, in a military base, teaching herself the language and culture, raising 7 imperfect kids, and herding 10 grandchildren.

My Mom was present in every facet of her kids’ lives, school mom, den mother, maker of our clothes and provider of everything. She divided her time to be at as many of the kids’ activities as humanly possible. She dealt with a spouse who worked two and three jobs, and she managed to keep the home front going. She dealt with adversity and challenges on a daily basis, but she remained even keeled and calm.

Throughout it all, I never saw fear in my Mom’s eyes. Not when she balanced the checkbook and wasn’t sure whether the bills would be covered. Not when she stood in the face of real estate agents, who denied her housing.  Not when she oversaw the education and discipline of upstart children.  Not when she buried her third child at the premature age of 49.  Not when her husband was hospitalized and sick with cancer or heart issues.  Not when her lifelong spouse was facing unemployment when his employer of 26 years stole his pension and went bankrupt.  Never not once did I see fear in my Mother’s eyes.

I have been told that I am a lot like my Mom, but I know that is overstated—I should be so fortunate.

I look in my Mother’s eyes today, I still see a fearlessness and more importantly, I see joy.

My Mom is as tough as they come and I still marvel at her fabulous journey and it got me thinking about tomorrow’s leaders and what they face and how they deal with real fear.  I often hear back from some readers that a story or anecdote is appreciated. I hope that this story about my Mom inspires a few. I think it helps if we all have a dose of perspective.

My story today is aimed at the future leaders – be fearless.

Sadly, too many of our leaders are often fearful and real opportunities are too often wasted. This is not news to many. Often times, today’s leaders want to play it safe or are afraid to do something uncomfortable or brave.  It is easy to keep doing the same and color within the political lines. It is hard to dare to be bold and different.

We have many problems today – race relations are strained, economic conditions seem far worse, educational opportunities seem out of reach for too many, our communities seem more divided than ever, and this pandemic is forever changing the lives that we used to know.  People are afraid and scared and it does not seem like it is getting better.

As I’m often reminded life is short and today is the time to be bold.  Today we extend the advice giving and take some advice from Mom – be fearless.

Thanks for the life lesson Mom!

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