Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lessons Learned from Dad

Tomorrow is Father's Day, a holiday filled with conflicting emotions.

One of both searing loss and indescribable gain.

It has been 16 years since I celebrated the day with my father and 14 years that I've celebrated it as one.

This paradox is clearly evident each June when I walk past aisles of heartfelt greeting cards or thumb through Father's Day sales fliers.

I am blessed to still have in my life my father-in-law Harry, a second father for sure and someone with whom I share a history of nearly 21 years.

And yet that history, while rich and treasured, is not the same as the 27-year bond I had with my own father.

The latter is filled with all the "firsts" in my life...with the stories told and lessons shared. It is one that has provided guidance in my adulthood and an appreciation for the challenges and sacrifices needed for parenting.

This history, like the one I am creating with my children, is one of my most treasured possessions - an intangible gift that presents itself almost daily as I fumble through the motions of fatherhood in an continuous effort to "get it right."

My Dad would be the first to admit he wasn't perfect...that he had his faults and failures. Yet what defined him as a father, in part, was perseverance. As a father, he tried...always...from the first child to the sixth.

He worked hard, provided for his family, loved us unquestionably and loved my mother even more.

I know he would be happy to know, despite the passage of time, that I have remembered well some of the enduring lessons he taught me, such as:
  • The importance of faith in one's life. Dad went to church with us, made us complete our religious education - even when we balked as teenagers - and lived his life with a strong and understated faith that guided him through the most difficult times.
  • The value of hard work. As an electric company lineman, my father worked a physically demanding job for 36 years. He endured terrible storms, bitter cold, scorching heat and even the Great Flood of 1987. It took a toll on his body and there were periods when he hated the job, yet he continued on because that's what husbands and fathers do to provide for their families.
  • That it's okay for a man to show emotions. My father was a child of the 1930s and grew up with expectations of manhood quite different than my own. Men from that era were expected to be emotional rocks...solid, dependable, unshakable. And Dad embodied some of that. But he also was affectionate with us and my mother, giving strong hugs and telling us often that he loved us. He also was not ashamed to cry, particularly as his cancer journey neared an end.
  • You can lose your temper and still be a good father. My Dad had a quick temper, especially during my younger years, and would express his frustration with a loud voice that sent us scurrying. As a father of half the number of children he had, I now keenly appreciate his response. Yet I always knew, no matter how angry he got, that he loved me. I hope my children know the same about me.
  • Marriage is not easy and requires constant attention. My parents were married for nearly 40 years, a number that seems somewhat inconcievable by today's standards. Their years together were not without challenges and they had their disagreements. Yet I remember few of them and they were never violent, scary or disrespectful. They worked through their differences quickly and moved on without resentment. This lesson, and my wife's similar approach, has allowed us to weather our own occasional storms during 18 years of marriage.
And, finally, this gem:
  • Children grow up fast and time spent with them is priceless and fleeting. My parents put in the time...at practices and games, at concerts and special events, at parent-teacher conferences, at the kitchen table helping us with homework. They made it a priority to know our friends and what we were up to. They were there...actively engaged, involved and supportive. And while we may not have always acknowledged this gift at the time, I am deeply thankful for it now.
And so, on this Father's Day, I expect to be sitting with my wife and children at a softball field in my father's hometown, cheering my 13-year-old daughter as she and her teammates try to win a tournament championship.

I know my father will be there too...and I can't think of a better place to be.

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