For Father’s Day, I thought I would contemplate 10 lessons that I learned from my father. My relationship with him is good, and he is still alive and kicking. Like many sons, I generally don’t convey those things I appreciate about him often enough and tend to focus on the negatives far too often. The negatives are minor things, annoyances really, which means that I’ve been quite lucky to have a dad like him. So here they are.
1. Joy in simple things. My dad has always had a knack for his pleasure in those things that are attainable. If we drove past a hill or he saw a sunset, it would be “marrrr-vel-ouusss,” “breathth-taking, or “PHENOMENAL!” This is still the source of much derision from me and the rest of the family. Geez dad, it’s just a hill, and the sun sets every day! But my dad’s got it right. To be on Earth and alive is a miracle: the views, the smells, the things that touch your skin like a cool breeze or a firm warm hand. These are all gifts of the present for us to behold and enjoy.
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
2. Instinctive Ability to Offer Help (Especially in Crisis). In many ways, you might think of my dad as a “busybody.” He is always wanting “to help.” This can be a tough trait for others to swallow. There is a joke about this: “Hello, we are from the government and we are here to help.” More often than not, such help is not desired and even resented. It does not bode well for one’s popularity. Many times, I would see my father offer his help without even a hesitation, “Hello, my name is Bob and I am here to help.”
So why is this such a great trait, then? Well, have you ever watched one of those hidden camera shows where an actor plays someone in need and people just walk by? Maybe you’ve heard of the murder of Kitty Genovese, where 38 onlookers reportedly did nothing while she was brutally attacked and murdered? This is not an uncommon occurrence, and is called the bystander effect by psychologists.
Well, if my father is anywhere near in situations such as these, this would NEVER happen. My dad is the antidote for the bystander effect. On numerous occasions, when everyone else around would freeze, he would jump into action. He has been a hero several times over.
3. Indifference to Money, Property and Power. I will confess, that I have had times when I have resented this trait in my father. At times, I have wished that he would have been a financier, a marketing or entrepreneurial whiz. He is creative, hardworking, and is dedicated to serving others, but financial or positional gain never seems to be the object. Again, I have spent my lifetime trying to undo this teaching, because I thought I knew better…that money and prestige matter. As I age, I am discovering more and more that, beyond a certain level, money doesn’t matter, that he is right, that in fact as long as I have basic necessities (which I do), more money and bigger jobs does not bring happiness. In fact, these things may very well be a barrier to that which will make us happy. He has known much longer than I have that pursuit of money and power, means mortgaging what really brings happiness: the present moment. Time is far more important than money.
4. Faith. He has both an unwavering faith in his God, and a general trust in humanity. His faith that we are all bound together by grace makes him a trusting man…too trusting to be sure. When dealing with individuals, I find that the average human is kind and good-intentioned. My dad has showed me this through his dealings with people. At times, he is naively optimistic about those around him. On more than one occasion, I have seen him joke with people, displaying his inability to conceive of how sinful people can be. In one instance, I remember him making a joke one time with a neighbor lady about her husband, “Where has he been, having an affair?” Of course, her husband was indeed doing so, but my father couldn’t even conceive of such behavior. In this misstep of decorum with her, he revealed his innocence of mind.
5. Strict Standards of Conduct. We are all human. Dad is human. He has faults for sure. He can be the most annoying man on Earth. However, being annoying is not a sin. This brings me to my point. My dad has always been a beacon for me as a man who has avoided sin with every fiber of his effort. I have never known him to be impure or lascivious even in thought or intemperant (that means drunk). He respected my mother (and still does), and never raised a hand to her. He has controlled that natural aggression which all males possess, and I can count on one hand the times it seemed like he would resort to any type of violence upon someone who has confronted him. He would get angry for sure in his younger years, particularly with my stubborn nature. After he lost his temper, he would openly express regret to me. He would apologize for his anger. All of this remains the same in him today, but much better. He has improved…not all of us will. Like all of us, he has had transgressions. Where he is different is that his sins are consistently venial, and his remorse for them is as if they were mortal.
6. Love for his Family. It is tough for me to express this one, as this trait in him is as simple as breathing. I should honor him more for this, but this is so ingrained in his psyche it would be like admiring him for eating. He would sacrifice everything for anyone in his family. Growing up, I just thought this was how things were. As I matured and experienced the world, I learned otherwise. Men abandon their duty to their family everywhere, at times it seems that this is at epidemic rates. Just because my dad makes it look so easy, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be honored for it.
7. Energy. To this day, my father who is nearing his seventh decade on Earth, has energy to be envied. He remains busy serving others, even in his retirement, and he accepts no pay for it. All of the previous things I have mentioned–lack of greed, desire to help, faith, and joy–are to be admired in my father, but add ENERGY and now you have something. Nowadays, we have terms for this like ADHD and hyperactivity. They didn’t have those terms when my father was a child. He has told me that it brought trouble into his life when he was a child. As an adult, he has vectored that energy into service, and I hope to carry on the legacy with this trait that I seem to have inherited from him.
8. The Child Within. My father could play with me for hours, when I was a young child. He can sit and play with my children and goof around with them just like he were one of them (trust me, we don’t let him forget that). I can’t do it, not like him. I really have to try to get down on the floor and make Lego spaceships, dress dolls, or play a board game. My mind is too far in the stratosphere, pondering existential matters, concerned with big people things. I will never forget how my father played with me when I was young, and I will always be grateful that he plays with my children like a child, because we have appreciated that time. It has made us feel both loved and valuable. It has made us (my children and I) feel as equals in our society, not as beings “to be seen and not heard.”
9. The Gift of Gab. In conjunction with my mother, he has always had the ability to engage in long conversations with me, friends, and family. I think this is a generational thing. A talent borne of a world without 300 channels on television, and no smart phones. I suppose my point is that he and my mother together can make the hours pass into the night with conversation…they both have the gift of gab. I cherish the evenings just sitting around talking with my elders, my parents. I wish my family could do more of that, with nothing but our own conversation entertaining us. I’ve included my mother here, because they make a great conversational team…they tag team off of each other. This brings me to my 10th and last lesson from my father…
10. How to be a Husband. My dad modeled for me all that it takes to be your half of a marriage. He showed that it was work, and he showed that it was rewarding. He argued with my mother right in front of us kids, then apologized, then they made up like nothing happened. I needed to see this to know that marriage was a microcosm of life, that it was an agreement to pacify our violent nature through love. He made sure anniversaries, birthdays, holidays were special with well thought-out gifts for my mother. He cleaned house with us on weekends before it was cool for men to do so. He had opinions, and then let my mother’s opinion rule the day because he knew that the husband must also “love, honor, and obey.” There was never any question that he and my mother were lifelong partners. Familial bonds are eternal, and this starts with marriage. His view on life is to serve, and that started with serving his wife, with only one condition: that it would be forever.
So, to my dad I dedicate this entry. I am grateful for his lessons today, and hope that like all fathers, he has a happy Father’s Day. He is a man of virtue, a man who asks the question “How should I live?” Simply by taking the time to ask this question has made him virtuous. He has known for a long time what Socrates knew, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”