My dad rocks. Literally and figuratively. With Father’s Day approaching, I wanted to share some of what I have learned from him. While I am not nearly as successful at putting the following lessons into practice as he is, I aspire to be more like him every day.
1. Empathy serves you as much as the person to whom you show it. I came home from elementary school and shared a story with my dad. A classmates had been telling tales of a neighbor who bragged about being rich and teased others for being poor. The neighbor was then discovered wearing an article of clothing donated to charity by someone in the neighborhood. Not only was he not rich, he was one of the poor people he had been chastising. Isn’t that funny? I asked my dad. He immediately defended the child. Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes, he said. From that day on, I always have and it has served me well.
2. It is possible to work unbelievably hard without complaining. For much of my childhood my dad worked twelve hour shifts at a local factory. He got up around 2am, was at work by 3am and returned home shortly after 3pm. He then often made dinner, did laundry and worked on other household chores. Most days he was in a positive, cheerful mood while he did all this. I took it for granted then, but now that I am a parent, I am in awe of him. Even now, almost 60 years old, he works long hours- five, six, sometimes seven days a week, without complaint. He taught me to work hard and to try to do it with a smile.
3. It is possible to put the needs of others ahead of your own. Whether bleeding from his head after a fall, metaphorically bleeding from his heart in dire circumstances or having the blood nearly cut off to his brain by a baseball size chest tumor, my dad has always put his family first. In every situation, he tries to calm and reassure those around him. He told me years after cancer that he was sure he was going to die when he was diagnosed and he just prayed that it wouldn’t be on Christmas because he didn’t want the holiday ruined for us. He has taught me to give support to others no matter what.
4. You can only be you. My dad always encouraged me to tell the truth and to be myself. He said all you can do is be the best you, you can be. Even now at age 38, I still think of these words when I am feeling less than confident. If only everyone saw me as my dad does, I probably would have more confidence than I need. He taught me that I am fine the way I am.
5. Someone always has it worse than you. My dad often drove this point home. Many years ago, he told me about a refugee father he saw on the news. The man was holding his daughter for the last time before is wife and children fled their war torn country. He said something like, “No matter what I have going on here, it’s nothing compared to what that guy is going through.” He continually taught me to be thankful for what I have.
6. Don’t sweat the small stuff. My dad really doesn’t. Forgot something back at the house? No big deal, we’ll go back and get it. Not sure how to get somewhere? No problem, we’ll take the scenic route and get there eventually. Nothing to make for dinner? No worries, let’s order pizza. Don’t sweat the small stuff, but savor the good stuff. It is what he has always done. He has taught me to strive to do the same.
7. You can be kind and compassionate to others even when you are suffering. My dad has suffered. He has suffered the losses of people he loved. He suffered through chemo and surgery. He suffered the pain of my mother’s mental illness for twenty five years. He has known pain in this life. You wouldn’t know it if you met him. He does not dwell in the unpleasantness of life. He doesn’t take his suffering out on those around him. Rather, he suffers silently, all the while comforting others in their struggles. He has taught me not to let my suffering keep me from being kind to others.
8. Do what makes you feel good as often as possible. My dad was always a busy man, working long hours and taking on much of the responsibility of raising three daughters. But he always made time for music. I often fell asleep to him singing or woke to the sound of his guitar on weekends. Even if it is just a few notes before heading out the door or a song in the grocery check out line, music emanates from him constantly. He encourages me to do what I love, even now. He takes on all three of my crazy children alone to allow my husband and I to experience the live music that feeds our souls. He has taught me the value of giving time and energy to the things that make me feel alive.
9. If you don’t have anything nice to say… My dad doesn’t gossip. You will rarely hear him say a negative word about the people in his life. Perhaps it is the result of always putting yourself in another person’s shoes. If you are in someone’s shoes, I guess you are less likely to stomp those shoes through the mud. He has taught me to think before I speak about others.
10. Dream often. Dream big. Dream little too. My dad is a dreamer. He often shares scenarios of what he’d do with lottery winnings, a house he’d like to live in someday, a place he’d like to visit. He has little dreams too, like a song he wants to learn or a weekend away with the grand kids in the mountains. Mostly, he is focusing on the good, whether it is happening now or he’d like it to happen someday. He has taught me to be a dreamer.
Happy Father’s Day to my dad and to all the dads out there who by their examples have taught compassion, humility, positivity, gratitude, and inspiration to their children. You have made the world a better place for generations to come.
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