Fathers’ Day and all such holidays remind us about key people in our lives, and encourage us to pause to appreciate them. I have been traveling memory lane this past week.
My dad was not an easy man. His own childhood was wrought with challenges, growing up the oldest son of an alcoholic father whose drinking induced violence against anyone within range of his fists or his rifle. Growing up with incredible instability and turmoil at home, I believe my dad determined to never lack control of his environment ever again.
Dad was exacting, moody and unpredictable.
His temper flared frequently, and my being the outspoken and bullheaded (not easily controlled) soul that I am, I often got to experience “the short end of the stick,” quite literally. But there were a lot of good things I learned from him that have shaped who I am. For those things, I am eternally thankful.
From my dad I learned to love to learn. He was a teacher, and had an ease of explaining things to even the most learning challenged of students. We, my siblings and myself, knew education was to be valued and we never questioned whether
or not we would go to college. It was a given. Like brushing your teeth, speaking respectfully, and sunrise. I knew my dad thought I could do whatever I set my mind to, not that he always appreciated it, and I believed him.
With the love of learning came the love of books. Once, we (siblings) won a prize for selling the most yo-yos or some other mundane school fund raising project and opted to get a box of books instead of the TV that could have been ours. This was a big deal, since our home did not have a television. Oh, the keen distress when the box of books arrived and was so small. In my mind, an equal exchange of value between books and a television should have brought us a truckload!
Dad could read out loud in such a way as to transport the listener to any location the author dreamed about. It was his way of keeping the lunchroom calm at school, with every child listening raptly while they ate. We were often disappointed when the book was closed and we had to go to recess. Those books gifted me with a love for words and flared my imagination, filling me with a desire to create new worlds of my own.
I learned to love music. Dad had a remarkable voice, taught us to sing in parts, and exposed us frequently to his collection of classical music. Of course, my taste in music didn’t always coincide with his. We both survived.
My father loved to travel. Weekends found us frequently wandering through the countryside, taking side roads just to see where it led.
We camped at every opportunity, hiking and learning to love nature. Dad could name any bird or plant. While not caring to learn the details, I picked up on the awe creation inspires.
The summer of the first lunar landing, dad took us on a cross-country camping adventure that traversed every state except Alaska and Hawaii. We climbed the trail behind the faces of presidents carved into rock. We watched American Indians do their tribal dances. We marveled at buffalo and bear, witnessed Old Faithful when he still was on the clock, gawked at the Grand Canyon, drove through the center of a giant Sequoia, and watched mock gun fights in old west ghost towns. The Pacific, the Gulf, the Atlantic taught us waves could be ridden or could knock us down. Admiration of our Pilgrim ancestors increased as we boarded the Mayflower replica, amazed that so small a ship could carry so many so far. Marching with a parade through Williamsburg, fife in hand, drove me to read more biographies. There were odd adventures as well, like examining strange shrunken heads at Ripley’s Museums and getting scared half to death at a haunted house. Then always, always there were root beer floats on Saturday night.
We did stop at a hotel for one night and watched history unfold as we sat in front of the old black and white TV, holding our breath along with the rest of the nation while Neil made his giant step for mankind.
That summer probably ranks up there as holding some of my best childhood memories, and it was then my wanderlust blossomed.
Yeah. Dad wasn’t easy, but he did a lot of things right.
The good times formed the things I love, the bad times made me strong. I learned determination. I learned confidence in my ability to get things done. Part of that stemmed naturally from my own strong temper and sense of justice, my stubborn resistance of anything that smacked of unfair. My urge to fight back was not always to my advantage.
I had to learn that strength does not always need to be right, that it takes strength to keep your temper in check so you do not lose the heart of your children, or alienate your spouse. It takes strength to not have your own way and be happy still. Better yet, to acknowledge your way may not have been the best. It takes strength to not hold resentment.
As I grew older, I learned I am not so strong after all.
But my Father is, and He has promised to make me new, to be my strength. He is very, very strong.
I don’t remember when I learned to love God. I must have been quite young. Perhaps my dad’s ability to take a Bible story and speak it in such a way that it came alive had a lot to do with it.
Words are so very powerful.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!