My daddy, he was somewhere between God and John Wayne.Hank Williams, Jr.
A few years ago, one of our team members approached me to tell me she had met a person over the week-end who knew me. As we were connecting the dots, she smiled and told me that when they identified me as a mutual acquaintance, he described me as “an intense guy.”
As I considered his description of me, my mind immediately went to my father – a man who, under certain conditions, I would describe as intense. If that guy had known my father, might he have said “he’s just like his dad”?
In a world where we struggle to find good role models, I grew up idolizing my dad. He was a Vietnam Veteran. He was strong and healthy. He was present. He was always working on something. He could build anything, solve any problem, answer any question, and move through life assuredly. He always created a sense of security in my life. I never saw him falter.
Of course, he did falter. We all do. Life was difficult but I never saw it that way. He made decisions and they had consequences. But what I saw was a man pressing forward without hesitation, without doubt, without fear, and with a conviction and optimism worthy of the world’s greatest dreamers. Even when our family faced its’ darkest days, I never saw them that way. We could, and would, overcome all adversity. We always did.
We are all creations of our parents. Right or wrong, effective or ineffective, we can’t help but reflect their strengths and weaknesses in our own lives. No matter how we may try, their imprint is upon us and their legacy appears in the lives we build in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways.
Today, many people are waking up to their first Father’s Day without their dad. In a eulogy given for his father just last week, a close friend told of his sadness knowing that he would no longer receive late night phone calls from his father to talk Dodgers baseball. My wife is waking to her 13th Father’s Day without her dad, and will certainly share some stories about him today, with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes.
One of my first memories of my dad was a photo taken of him during the Vietnam War. Dressed in government issue, olive drab fatigues, he was young and powerful, a warrior. It is likely that led to my fascination with GI Joe action figures for many years. I was born while he was serving his 13 month tour of duty and never confused him with anything but pure patriotism for his service.
What is the measure of our fatherhood? Of course, it is our children. Our children are our legacy. They reflect us in myriad ways, from the simple to the complex. They often see the world through our lens, even if their lens on it all shifts over time. They inherit many of our likes and our dislikes, as well as our biases. They collect our strengths, weaknesses, foibles, and occasional brilliance into their own version of humanity. They are encumbered and liberated by our tutelage and example. Yeah, it’s complex but it can also be beautiful.
My dad was always there. He showed up. He still does. A fierce family man, we were all taught “family first” and the necessity of protecting one another. Of course, that is who he was, and still is today. Why else would anyone bring eight children into the world? Beyond his measure of fatherhood, his measure of manhood revolved around his family. There was never any doubt where he saw his legacy. There is still no doubt.
Our world today can be a confusing jumble of mixed messages telling us what it means to be a man, a father, a brother, a son, or a human being in the context of someone else’s sales strategy, philosophy, baggage, or agenda. What is success in life? Where does one find meaning? What is our purpose as a man or a father? Some of us can’t even agree on what it means to be a man.
I am blessed to have celebrated Father’s Day with my father last night. Watching him love my own children and grandchildren, I thought: it’s really not that complicated. The things I value most in this world, came directly from my dad. Sure, I love the music he introduced to me as well as our shared faith and political views. I love our country and the pillars of freedom that he represented in Vietnam so many years ago. I am grateful for the adversity he allowed me to face and the chance to grow through it all. I cherish his uncompromising honesty and stout-heartedness; my dad is still a fixed point in an ever-changing universe.
However, it is our shared love for our family that binds us beyond any differences or disagreements we have ever had. Of course, that is what fatherhood is all about. The uncompromising love and devotion to the children, the family, that we helped create. Showing up day after day after day to help them become the best version of themselves. Loving them when they fail as well as when they succeed – being there to help them start again from the bottom and celebrate at the top.
Here’s to all of the fathers out there, doing the best they can. Showing up, win or lose, and loving unconditionally. Thank you for your example, your devotion, and your effort to make the world better, one child at a time. And for those blessed with the joy of grandchildren and great grandchildren, know that your job is not done, and your faithfulness to this call is still very much needed. May you feel all of the peace, joy, and satisfaction of your vocation as father, knowing that the best parts of you live on through your children. Happy Father’s Day!