Things I learned from my Father
This Father’s Day my dad is 84 years old, and he has been a father for 50 years! So, to honor this special anniversary, I decided to reflect on some things I learned from my father.
1. Brains don’t get you very far: My father has a genius IQ. Not that he ever told me. I learned about that much later in life from my mother and other family members. Nonetheless, he always impressed on me that smarts are such a miniscule part of what makes someone a success. He used the adage, “Ninety-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration.” That always stuck with me. I learned that it is wonderful when something came easy to me—like reading and poetry—but I learned it was equally rewarding to conquer something insurmountable—like statistics or chemistry—by sheer work and will. Success in the face of failure is one of the best things a child can learn. It was the impetus to try something new, challenge myself, and stretch beyond my comfort zone.
2. Thirst for Knowledge: Some of the most vibrant memories I have of my father are with him surrounded by books. Whether he was reading the Encyclopedia Britanica for fun or studying theology books for his seminary classes to be a deacon in the Church, he was always consuming information. Today he is still like that; his car is littered with audiobooks on a range of topics from football to St. Augustine, and his bookcases are bursting with an eclectic array of reading material. This love of learning rubbed off on me. I am rarely at rest doing nothing with my mind. Even when I clean the house, I listen to audiobooks or watch some documentary. Learning feeds my soul.
- 3. Balance: My father is an attorney and a Deacon in the Catholic Church. When I was younger, her was a sole practitioner working 12-15 hour days. Nevertheless, Dad was always home for dinner and family time. If he needed to do more, he would go back to the office when it was close to our bedtime. And, on the weekends, he never lacked for some project to work on—fixing sprinklers, replacing screens, mowing lawns. At the same time, my father knew when it was time to rest. He spent several hours in his room on Saturday afternoons resting, reading, or watching some ball game. Then, he would get up and finish his projects he had had started in the morning. Balance. This also included his nightly ritual of sitting on the driveway by himself drinking a beer. It was his down time. It took me a while to get the hang on balance, but I now know that an empty vessel is useless. I need down time to reflect on what is important, make meaning of my life, and ponder the tough issues.
- 4. Humor Makes Life Worth Living: Although one would think my dad is nerdy, he can be a hoot when he wants to be. He can be showy and dramatic and deliver a punch line to a joke like a pro. When I was little, it was embarrassing the way he would talk to perfect strangers (like waiters) and make jokes. He and his brothers—whom we all affectionately call “The Uncles”—made our childhood memorable.
Every Christmas, the Uncles would make elaborate, hideous homemade awards out of wood, paint and auto supply parts. All 17 cousins sat on the floor in my Aunt Bonnie’s living room while the aunts cozied up on the couches waiting for the show to begin. There were annual awards given out such as the Miss Flamingo Award (to the niece who grew the tallest that year), the Miss Ugly Award (that no one wanted), and the Miss Mouth Award (that I eventually retired). But, there were also special awards like the Granny with the Gun Award for my grandma who got caught checking out my cousin’s new firearm.
As we grew older, every wedding was a treat. The rehearsal dinner was a show where the Uncles put on some ridiculous play about the couple getting married, complete with props, songs, and costumes. Audience participation was a must. For instance, my cousin Sue married a cop who was also very handy around the house, and the skit took on a “Tool Time” theme about making a doughnut carrier for his cruiser. The Uncles stole the show with their stunning dance moves to “Bad boy, bad boy, watcha gonna do?” Not your average rehearsal dinner.
Those are some of my fondest childhood memories. And, I try to make a point of being silly and funny with my own children as much as possible, even embarrassing them in public every once in a while to give them unforgettable memories.
5. Faith, Hope and Love: There was never a time in my life where God and the Catholic Church was not important. My parents, both staunch pre-Vatican II Catholics, made a point of raising us as upstanding Catholic children. We went to mass every Sunday at 9 AM, every holy day and every holiday. We attended Catholic School and learned all our catechism lessons. We said grace at dinner, lit the Advent wreath in December, and went to confession on a regular basis. But, those were all the externals related to religion. What was even more important was that they gave me a spiritual foundation to know that I was loved, unconditionally, for no other reason than I was a child of God. I learned what faith in something unheard or unseen could do to a person, and how hope can start powerful movements. My dad taught me that the best way to say thank you to God was to talk to Him and incorporate Him into my life through church activities and works of mercy. And, I learned by experience that there are always people in need and it was our duty to help them the best way we can. This faith, hope and love triad is so key to my human experience. Without it, I don’t think I could have made sense of my mother’s death, or dug myself out of a deep depression, or know that God has a plan for my children. It is what gets me through daily life.
Happy Father’s Day, to a wonderful father, teacher, and example. X0