Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lesson #3: "Marry Well."

To know me is to know my dad. I'm Ed's son. So much of who I am, so much of what I do, has been formed by my dad. These posts are a series of reflections on some life lessons my dad taught me. They are based out of the eulogy I did for my dad's memorial service on April 7, 2010.

Life Lesson #3 - My Dad taught me how to marry well. How to love passionately, and how to show respect to women.

My dad loved my mom deeply. He wrote her love notes, did little acts of kindness for her, bought her cards. Dad was always thinking about what mom liked or what would make her happy.

And they were very affectionate.

And I liked that. Their affection for each other always made me feel lucky to have them as parents.

Years ago, I was at an outdoor craft festival and I was standing at one of the craft booths. There was an older couple at the next booth over and they were holding hands and showing affection -– at one point they started kind of dancing with each other. I heard a person at my booth say to another – “Aw, isn’t that sweet. I love to see older newlyweds. I bet they are on their honeymoon!”

Well, those newlyweds were my parents, and they had been married longer than those people had been alive.

My dad respected my mom. Growing up, my dad always made it a point to honor my mom to me. He was never threatened by mom’s intelligence, and my mom is one smart woman. Dad would always say to me, “Paul, marry a smart woman, smarter than you. And when she corrects you – you will hate it, you will complain... but she is probably right -- so listen to her.”

Mom, don’t get a big head.

Laura, you can skip that part.

But my dad cherished my mom. He called her “the love of his life” and he said it often, and wrote it regularly, and meant it always. He he said it in front of me. And he said it to me. And he said it to mom.

And his little boy was watching.

I watched and I learned from my father what it meant to be a man. That being a man was about commitment over competence. Loyalty over luxury. That being a man had less to do with strength of body and more to do with strength of character.

My dad realized (as I realize BTW), that he married up. Our wives are both WAY out of our league. And knowing many of my married male readers -- you did too! And out of thankfulness, he lived a life of service to mom.

My dad didn’t know it, but he was imitating God.

The book of Ephesians, chapter 5 begins, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Then down at verse 25 it say: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."

There are a lot of people who seem to focus on Ephesians 5:22 -- "Wives submit to your husbands." But that is not the central message of this text. In fact, the husband's call to submission and love is so much greater than the wive's in the passage.

Dad was not a perfect husband... but he wanted to honor mom. And he taught me an important lesson: Marry Well.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lesson #2: "Being wanted is more significant than being needed."

To know me is to know my dad. I'm Ed's son. So much of who I am, so much of what I do, has been formed by my dad. These posts are a series of reflections on some life lessons my dad taught me. They are based out of the eulogy I did for my dad's memorial service on April 7, 2010.

Life Lesson #2 - Being wanted is more significant than being needed.

Some of you may know that I’m a magician. My dad was a big part of that aspect of my life.

Dad took me to conventions, bought me equipment, helped me create and critique my shows. He taught me the business end of magic: how do book and log shows, how do talk on the phone and interact with people. Most significanly for my life today, it was my dad who Dad taught me how to speak in front people and how to have a "presence" before a group.

I started doing paid magic shows when I was 9 years old. By the time I was 12, during the Christmas holiday, I was doing school assembly shows, weekend banquets and dinners. I often would have as many as 6 or 7 shows on a weekend.

The problem was that I needed to get to these shows. Obviously, at age 12, I couldn’t drive.

I needed my dad to drive me to the shows.

If you think about it, at that stage of my life, I was totally dependant on my dad to do the things I wanted to do.

Over the years, many times during those trips, he would say to me: “Paul, right now you NEED me to go with you to these shows. You need me to drive, to help you move equipment. You are dependant on me. But one day you won’t NEED me anymore. One day, you will be able to do it on your own. And my goal as your father is to make you independent so that you don’t need me. But then, maybe you will ASK me to go with you because you WANT me to go.”

See, being wanted is much more significant than being needed.

Being wanted involved choice.

Being needed is a kind of obligation.

Being wanted is about free will. It's an act of love. A choice of presence.

I can still remember the first time when I was able to drive and ASKED my dad to go with me. Not because I needed him... but because I wanted to spend time with him.

My dad taught me that love, isn’t really love, if it is not freely chosen. If it is simply out of obligation.

He taught me that being wanted is more significant than being needed.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Johnny Ace Palmer is one of my all-time favorite magicians. If you are not a magician, you probably have never heard of him (although he has been on TV several times). But among magicians, he is one of the best close-up performers in the world.

My dad and I met Johnny probably 30 years ago. He was a just a local kid performing in a Magic Convention talent contest in Columbus. No one knew his name. He was far from famous. In fact, one night after the evening activities were over, dad and I were going to our hotel and we walked past this car in the convention parking lot. And Johnny was sleeping in his car. He didn't have enough money for a hotel room.

So dad and I invited him (and his animals -- doves and peeps) to stay with us in our room for the rest of the convention. We took him out to dinner with us, hung out with him. If you have ever seen me do the trick when my ring vanishes and it appears back on my finger... Johnny taught me that one (and btw, does it MUCH better than me!)

Months after the convention we opened the mail and there was a small check from Johnny -- trying to pay us back. My dad returned it to him... in shreds... with a note saying something like, "We hate to return this check to you, not because of the current value of the check, but because we believe the signature will be really valuable some day."

Years later, when Johnny had become famous, he was headlining at the same convention where he slept in his car. Dad and I were there -- and Johnny returned the favor. He saved me a seat right up front. After his show, there was this huge line of people (including me) waiting to get his autograph. He saw me there and called me to come up with him. That night, he took dad and me out to dinner and introduced us to all his famous friends -- for a young magician like me, this was one of the highlights of my life.

I sent Johnny an email to tell him about my dad's death. I was not sure he would remember us and not sure how he would respond. But almost immediately, he sent a return email. I'm including our correspondence below.

Honestly, I have had trouble grieving my dad's death. I haven't cried much at all. Until today, I haven't really felt much emotion... any emotion. But the gift of this short email exchange is that it somehow opened me up to feeling again. And I cried.

I cried because I wanted to tell my dad something... and I realized I could not.

Maybe I've moved out of "denial" - I didn't realize I was there. But in an odd way, it feels really good.

I miss my dad. I would have loved to have read him this email exchange. Instead, I let you read it.

On Apr 17, 2010, at 8:28 AM, Paul Risler wrote:

Hey Johnny

Hope you are well. I'm hoping you still remember me... my dad and I met you years ago at the Magi Fest... which I hear you are coming to next year! I'm buying my tickets. :)

Hey, I wanted you to know that my dad died in early April. He had been getting sick for a while... bunch of stuff wrong... so although it wasn't expected, it was anticipated. In fact, one of his "last request" is that we go and see you. We had talked about coming to see you at the Magic Castle this April if he was doing better and then he went back into the hospital. He died the week you were performing.

I wanted you to know how much he loved your magic... more than that... how much he appreciated you. I just started getting back into magic this year (went to the Magi-Fest in Feb for the first time in probably 10 years or more -- and without dad). So it will be weird going next year.

Anyway... hope you are well. Just wanted you to know.

I still may come out and see you sometime. I will call to make sure you are actually around. :)


Paul Risler


Dear Paul,

You and your dad are fondly remembered.

Your note is much appreciated.

As you probably know, instead the appearing at the Magic Castle the week that includes April Fools Day, I am performing this week. Tonight, I will dedicate my first show to you and your dad.

It will be great to see you at the Magi-Fest.

Please do come visit; whenever you are able.

Once again, thank you for the note.

100% His,


Friday, April 09, 2010

Life Lesson #1 - Everyone needs a "Secret Store"

To know me is to know my dad. I'm Ed's son. So much of who I am, so much of what I do, has been formed by my dad. These posts are a series of reflections on some life lessons my dad taught me. They are based out of the eulogy I did for my dad's memorial service on April 7, 2010.

Life Lesson #1 - Everyone needs a “secret store.”

When I was little, dad would take me to a convenience store. It was about a 10-minute drive from home... out of town, over a bunch of windy roads. The funny thing is that we actually drove by several stores to get to it; I always thought that was strange.

But this wasn’t any store.

This was the “secret store.”

Now, there really was nothing secret about it. Of course, Mom knew about it. She also knew when we were going and how long we would be there, what we would buy (usually chocolate Yohoo and something called a "Slim Jim" – an oddly-flavored meat product with a shelf-life just 15 years shy of a Twinkie). So the secret store wasn’t really much of a secret to anyone.

But, of course, to a 7-year old boy, everything is much cooler if it is a secret.

In fact, we had secret stores, secret snacks, secret sandwiches, secret adventures – which I honestly only realized the other day that our "secret adventures" now seem remarkably like pulling weeds on the back patio of our house. (Wow, our secret adventures were actually my dad violating child labor laws. But at the time it seemed fascinating! And it was a secret!)

So Dad and I went to the secret store... because everyone needs a secret store.

Of course, only in college did I discover the real secret.

The real secret was not the store.

The real secret was the 10-minute drive from home; out of town, over windy roads. Just my dad and me. I found out later that the store was partially chosen for that very reason. Another investment of his life into mine. A break in our lives where, for 30 minutes or so, a dad had the undivided attention of his little boy.

And so now, every Saturday morning, the tradition continues.

Now, every Saturday morning that I’m in town, since my now-5-year-old daughter was 3-months-old, I’ve taken her out to breakfast.

She calls it the “House of Breakfast.”

It's really a secret store.

And the secret is, of course, that it’s a 15-minute walk.

And I grab my daughter’s hand... and I feel that little hand in mine. And I pray that time would stand still.

She jabbers on about squirrels and worms and about her pretend friends...

At least that is what she talks about for now.

But one day it will be about boys, and body image; peer pressure and life plans. One day she may need to talk to her dad about hard things and will need an opportunity for that to happen.

And it was my dad who taught me how to create the kind of space for that kind of conversation to happen.

One of the things I appreciated about my relationship with my dad is that we lived with no regrets. When my dad died, there wasn’t a single thing I needed to say to him that I hadn’t said a dozen times. There wasn't a single thing I needed to hear from him that I hadn’t heard over and over.

Maybe that was the real secret of the secret store.

Life Lessons from My Dad: An Introduction

So this week I did my dad's funeral.

Yeah, that was strange to write.

To know me is to know my dad. I'm Ed's son. So much of who I am, so much of what I do, has been formed by my dad. He was my best man at our wedding. He was my greatest cheerleader. My dad was my hero.

As I write these words, I'm sitting alone in a hotel room, wearing one of his favorite shirts. Honestly, one of my hopes in writing these posts is simply to grieve. To make my dad's death (and life) real. To process with my words.

Because my dad died on April 2, 2010 (Good Friday), I really haven't had the chance to let it sink in. Between Easter services, caring for my mom, doing the funeral, officiating a wedding this weekend (and having to be "on" for all of this stuff), I'm not sure I have really grieved. Who knows, maybe I won't grieve in the way I expect. I've been around death enough to know that everyone grieves differently. But, for as much as I was honored to be the "pastor" at my dad's funeral, in some ways I felt cheated from just being "son."

So I write these words as Paul: Ed's son.

First, let me put this out there: Eulogies, of course, are meant to accentuate the positive. It only makes sense. Even the word, “eulogy” is from the Greek meaning, “Good Words.”

So to begin with...

I just want you to know that I’m not going to write about the time when I was 9 and he lobbed a shoe across the room at me to get my attention (I had drawn on the wall with a marker). Or the way he repeated himself over and over - giving the same instructions; telling the same stories. Or that dad could be a bit stubborn at times. Or that he labeled everything – I mean everything - with blue painter's tape (notebooks, bottles, boxes, antifreeze, detergents -- you really have to see it to believe it).

And I’m certainly not going to talk about my dad having at least 100 spiral notebooks laying around the house in various locations -- with random phone numbers, maps, drawings of things he wanted to build, rough drafts of letters he was writing or cards he was sending, lists of medications, restaurant recommendations, newspapers clippings... all often in the same book, but neatly written with little tabs on the sides to section everything off; tabs usually made of blue painter's tape.

I’m not going to talk about those things.

Okay, a few of those idiosyncrasies might sneak in every now and then.

So I want to start by writing the obvious: my dad wasn’t a perfect man. He had his faults. He had imperfections. I'm sure he didn't always treat my mom as she deserved. I’m sure many people could even look at the way he parented me and find fault. He wasn’t a perfect man, a perfect husband, a perfect father...

But he was perfect for me.

I believe that, in my dad, God gave me what I needed to be the man I am now. In profound ways, much of the best of who I am, came from my dad. My dad was God's first act of grace to me.

So I invite you to give me some of what is the most important thing you have: your precious time. The moments you spend reading these posts over the coming weeks you will never get back. They will be lost forever.

But my hope is your life will be enriched by me giving you glimpse of my dad and what he taught me about life.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Dad's Eulogy

Eulogy \ˈyü-lə-jē\ - from εὐλογία, eulogia, Classical Greek for "good words."

This week I did my dad's memorial service.


As a part of that, I was asked to do a eulogy. A eulogy is different from a funeral sermon, in that a funeral sermon is about God and God's action in a life. A eulogy is about the person. It's intended to honor the person and their life.

Good words about my dad's life.

It was actually pretty easy to write. In fact, I had to cut in down quite a bit. So I have decided to make a bunch of post about lessons my dad taught me based on this eulogy and include stuff I cut. This may take awhile. It's going to be a series longer.... maybe longer than my series on Revelation! (Okay, probably not).

These are going to be long posts. Honestly, I don't expect you to read them. I think if you do read them, you will understand more about me. I think you might even learn a thing or two about life. But I post these for me.

It's time for me to start process this week and I started blogging years ago as a means to do that. So I invite you into my thoughts. My past. My life.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Ed Risler: July 8, 1933 - April 2, 2010

I'm glad I listened to your stories over and over.

I wish I could listen to them again.