Father’s Day is approaching. And whether your father is living or deceased there are lessons to be learned from his life. For some, the insights are extremely positive. For others, the memories are more painful, frequently bracketed with “the last thing I want to be is like my dad.”
What life lessons have you learned from your father? Have you ever written them down? If not, I urge you to take a few minutes this weekend and do so. As a counselor once drilled in my head “God wastes nothing.” That includes both our joy and our pain…assuming we are willing students.
My dad died in 2010 at the age of 93. And he was a gem of a man. Although his contributions were many, the qualities that stand out to me about my dad, and the qualities I want to emulate, are not accomplishments, recognition or degrees. They are qualities intrinsic to his character.
Here are five of the greatest lessons I learned from my dad:
1. “Life by the inch is a cinch.” That was one of my dad’s favorite sayings. It’s a catchy little phrase. To my dad, it was more than an adage. He lived it. It was how he earned a PhD. in chemical engineering from Johns Hopkins University while carrying a full-time teaching load as a professor at the Naval Academy. His “inches” included driving from Annapolis to Baltimore three nights a week (an hour each way) to attend class. FOR SEVEN YEARS. My mom said he would often get home and then stay up until 4 am to grade papers on those nights. I wouldn’t call that a “cinch.” What a lesson about breaking a big goal down into tiny pieces and making baby steps of progress. Eventually, you will likely accomplish the big goal if you don’t get discouraged inch by inch.
2. Live with an attitude of gratitude. And don’t complain. He’d probably be mortified that I am sharing this, but my dad lived with a colostomy for over 30 years. His colon cancer was caught in the very early stages in his early 60’s. Despite the hours a day that “bump in the road” necessitated, he never complained. Rather, he often expressed his gratitude for all of God’s blessings in his life.
3. Treat everyone with honor and respect. It’s the reason that the staff at the retirement community where my parents lived for their last 15 years came in on their days off to see my father as he was dying. In the military world, where my dad spent his entire working career, rank is literally worn on one’s sleeve. For the majority of my dad’s tenure at the Academy, he was in significant positions of leadership. But whatever his position, he embodied humility. A perfect example: when leading the effort for building a major new science facility at the Academy, my dad called in the janitors and asked for their input on flooring selection. He wanted the people who would be responsible its maintenance to have a voice in the decision.
4. Maintain childlike enthusiasm for life and learning and adult-like commitment to hard work. Not many people keep playing golf after becoming legally blind. My dad did. He figured out how to mark his golf clubs and golf balls so that he could play using his peripheral vision. I loved taking him out to the golf course when I would visit. He was like a child at Christmas. And he sunk one of the longest putts of his life about three weeks before his death at age 93. And a hard-worker? Whew! For 10 years after earning his doctorate, he worked a second job. Why? Because he didn’t want to be in debt. It’s what allowed my parents to pay off their mortgage in 5 years.
5. Be thoughtful to the ones you love. A beautiful example is a gift my dad gave me for my 50th birthday. I had developed an interest in gardening, finally realizing that the exquisite outdoor beauty my father had created at my childhood home took a lot of work. He had just turned 90. And he was determined to find the perfect gardening book for me. So he took a shuttle bus to the local mall and found his way to Barnes and Noble. (This is not so easy when you can’t read signs due to blindness) He found the desired book. He wrote a beautiful inscription in the book (again, not easy when you can’t see) and had it wrapped. Then, he took the shuttle bus to the post office and mailed the book to me. The message reads: “ Dear Jody, May all your plantings thrive, be beautiful and as beautiful as YOU. Happy and Blessed 50th. Love and prayers, Mom and Dad.” Although his writing is hard to decipher, it’s a message that I will always cherish.
What about your dad? What life lessons have you learned from him? One way to carry on your father’s legacy is by consciously embracing the positive attributes and refusing to emulate the negatives. Here’s to all the dads…and all we have learned from you. Thank you. May God bless you today and every day.
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