In Memory of My Greatest Teacher

[image_frame style=”framed_shadow” align=”left”][/image_frame]On March 27, at 9:15 in the morning, my sweet father, Jan Peters, passed away. The end of his life was expected, as he had been dealing with health problems for several years and recently had elected to receive hospice care, rather than end up in the hospital again. However, as much as we were prepared…nothing ever really prepares you to say goodbye one last time, especially to someone you have spent your whole life looking up to.

No matter how old I got, I called him daddy. With a gentle spirit and loving words, he firmly instilled in all four of his children the value of hard work, honesty, integrity, loyalty, and the responsibility that each of us had to ourselves to follow our passions. He was an educated man, originally from New York, who met and married my beautiful Italian mother Rita on a whim after casually dating her for less than a year (and really, he proposed in a bar and married her on her lunch hour). She would be the love of his life, with whom he would have celebrated 60 incredible years together this coming October. He never worried too much about financial security in those younger days; he just knew hard work would pay off if a life was lived with purpose. He drove an ice cream truck, had a driving school, rode a Harley, was a wrestling champion, changed his name for stage acting, and even served in the US Navy, but then decided to up and leave New York, with his family in tow (but before I was born), so he could pursue his acting career in California.

[image_frame style=”framed_shadow” align=”left”][/image_frame]Although he had a deep passion for acting, he also had a job he mostly enjoyed that paid the bills. For 23 years, Dad worked for the Conejo Valley Unified School District as an educator, attendance officer and counselor–all time spent with high school kids. My mother also worked for the CVUSD, as a school secretary (as she was called then) and then carried on for many years after she retired, serving as a substitute office manager. Combine their years with my 15 years in the CVUSD and that’s a lot of service! In fact, all of us kids were products of the CVUSD. However, when I became disillusioned with my career path, my daddy was the first to remind me that money wasn’t everything. Along with my husband, Dad was my most ardent supporter, even if he was a little nervous when I gave up my tenure and security in the district to pursue other avenues in education. He celebrated with me, and he cried with me. More than anything though, he was proud of me for standing firm in my beliefs. As luck would have it, my departure from public education two years ago gave me the greatest gift a daughter could ask for: to be present for my parents in their time of need.

Dad was a man of the highest moral conviction, even if he wasn’t a man of religious faith. He didn’t stand for insincerity or superficial behavior, but he knew how to have fun and bring out the best in people. He had a wonderful sense of humor and could make us laugh in even the most difficult of situations. It’s no surprise that Dad kept friends for a lifetime, as his children have. The motto “Work hard, play hard” was embodied in my father. He raised sons who followed his lead in terms of integrity and family values (and sarcasm), and he raised a daughter (me) who waited patiently to meet and marry the kind of man who carried the same level of integrity as he had (no doubt, I did!). Dad was proud that all of his children lived healthy, productive, passionate lives, and that we chose spouses who share our values and love us wholly. Our family grew with our betrothed, as well as seven beautiful grandchildren who carry the same passion, light and love as their parents.

Despite his rebellious spirit, Dad was a meticulous planner. His organization and foresight were traits that we are especially appreciating now. He and Mom even planned out all of their funeral arrangements–20 years ago! They didn’t want their children to carry the burden. When years of health problems finally made my daddy’s daily life too difficult in the past couple of years, he worried most about burdening us. He chose hospice care so he could have control over his end of life… to eat the foods he loved, watch the news, and be comfortable with Mom in their assisted living home. When I last saw Dad, I think we both knew it would be our final visit. After our Saturday lunch, I looked him deeply in the eyes and, as I had done so many times before, thanked him for being my daddy, and told him how very much I loved him. Then I left the next day to take the students on our trip to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, along with my oldest brother Ron and his daughter Rachel (who works for OSA). We got the call on Wednesday, March 27th that Dad had passed away peacefully in his bed, with Mom and his sweet hospice care nurse near his side. Soon after I heard the news, I walked into the rainforest to be alone, and found solace in the beautiful, strong, mossy, and deeply rooted trees. I could feel my father’s embrace in every tree I wrapped my loving arms around.

Knowing Dad’s knack for planning, he probably thought this would be a good time to leave us. He could rest easy knowing that I was doing what I loved, that I would have the following week off to take care of Mom, and that his kids would all be available to deal with what was needed. He loved us in that way.

[image_frame style=”framed_shadow” align=”left”][/image_frame]In response to the Buddhist Koan “The Bodhisattva’s Great Mercy” in the book Bring Me the Rhinoceros, author John Tarrant wrote something that has brought my husband Todd and me great comfort. He wrote: When all the stories about how to live fall away, what is left might be the real. But what about the human experience of the real? What to call it? What accurately describes it? What if the word might be love? When there was simple seeing, that would be love. Catching a ball, that would be love, and picking up a child also. This would make love more basic than any other experiences, placing it underneath everything else, at work in the blind night and the black earth. If this were true, it might make sense of the great intimacy and contentment you can feel just breathing and walking under boughs, walking through a spring morning–through the whole body, as the koan puts it. Sometimes it is hard not to feel linked in a great net. 

So Daddy, here’s to your love. May I continue to embody your spirit, compassion, and integrity, and honor this world with the loving manner in which you lived.

Your Sweetheart,


Note: My father’s charity of choice is One Spark Academy. Nothing would have made him prouder than to know we are making a difference in the lives of children, and that we remain successful. In lieu of flowers, our family is asking that any donations you wish to offer be made to One Spark Academy.