I met my father when I was 20 years old. That sounds odd since he was there guiding and nurturing me practically every day of my life since I was born. When I say I met him really I mean I first started to understand him beyond the typical father-son relationship.
There I sat in my unair-conditioned room with the DC late-June heat beating me down, trying to figure out where I was going to come up with $30 for my phone bill. I was unemployed and had spent all my money on school books, eating out and partying. Now the single bill that I had in name was due and I had no clue where the money to pay it was going to come from. That’s when all the things about being a man that my father had tried to teach me started to come into focus.
When I was younger at least once a month I’d see my dad sitting at the kitchen table pouring over a stack of bills. No matter how many checks he’d scribble out the stack never seemed to get smaller. But he kept plugging away. He never publicly grumbled (okay maybe a little). I imagine there were times when he mentally ran through the sacrifices that he had to make for his family and hoped they were worth it in the long run. That day in June I understood that the salt and pepper-haired man sitting at the table was making all sorts of sacrifices for my benefit. I understood that if I was going really be an adult I’d have to start making sacrifices too.
My understanding of my father grew deeper once I bought my first house. Whenever my father was fixing things around the house he’d always drag my older brother and I to watch and “assist”. He even called us his apprentices. I suspect my brother paid much closer attention than I did and he did far more apprenticing than I did. So the first time I was faced with repairing something on my own versus calling a repair guy I nervously decided to fix it myself. I must have been paying closer attention to my dad then I thought; somehow I soaked in those lessons my father was teaching and got the job done.
Becoming a father was another thing pushed the door further for me. Now I have two little people I have to coach to adulthood. I imagine at various points in my life I made my father crazy, just like my kids do to me. Having kids does that to you. Over the years my father showed me compassion, occasional patience, and a firm hand when necessary goes a long way in child development. He also gave me enough room to grow and develop and enough rope to hang myself. I try to apply those lessons to my daughters in the hopes they’ll grow to positively impact society like the three children my father had a hand in raising.
Growing up I never saw my father as a hero. I always loved and respected him but I’m not really sure why he never appeared as a towering hero to me. Was it because he was genuinely humble and really unafraid to show his human flaws? Maybe he was too busy running from his office to soccer practices, offering advice that was often ignored and keeping the household together that he didn’t have time for pretenses. Now that I better understand him, what he was doing and what he was trying to teach me I realize he truly is heroic.
Happy Father’s Day!