Looking back, I realize my whole life has been walking in the shadow of my father, gazing up at him with awe and admiration, seeking his advice, his sound opinion, his funny comments, his warm hug.
Today we celebrate fathers and fatherhood. But really, every day we should be celebrating those people in our life who make us who we are.
A few years ago, as my father hit his 70s, it occurred to me that I live close to family for a reason. If we are this geographically close, well then we should spend more time together. And so Dad and I set out to make a weekly lunch date, which we have more or less stuck to for the past several years.
One week he pays, the next week I do. We talk about business, marriage, parenting, the idiocy and beauty of the world. We talk about family. We laugh. We are honest. We hold nothing back from one another. We are our truest selves when we are alone together.
I tell everyone that my father is my biggest business adviser, and it’s true. After decades as a leader in the scrap metal business, he has vision and clarity about the way people behave in business and the moves one makes to expand your company’s reach.
But most of the things I learn from my father are the things that go unsaid. He worked in a field that he loved, never considering it work. He has never cared what anyone thinks of him. He was close to his children before most fathers took the time. He sees people as they are. His favorite line, “Out of your mouth, printed.” (Watch what you say.)
I would not be the person I am today were it not for my father. I think about this as I raise my four children, noticing whom they look to for guidance and inspiration. My children have two fathers, one biological, one by choice. I am grateful they have the balance of these two personalities and the unconditional love and acceptance of my husband to offset whatever may be lacking from my ex.
As a parent, you both make indelible marks on the children you raise and then, every day, you get a chance to start anew. Children are incredibly forgiving. If you yell at one moment, you can still recover and nurture in the next.
What children teach us as parents is that we have no control and lives are so precious, we cannot take them lightly. Children are a gift given to us for such a short time – we have the power, truly, to wreck them for life or to arm them for anything they have yet to encounter.
I hope I’m doing the latter. And I routinely check in with my father – and my mother – to balance intellect against emotion. It helps to have a good example to guide my course.
As we age, we realize how selfish it is to be a child. We aren’t given a choice, brought into this world on someone else’s whim, directed on to their path and meaning and worldview. And then, after about 18 or 22 years, we take flight, never looking back, careening between the clouds and the horizon toward our own destinations.
Our parents wait behind, hoping for a call, some recognition, a chance to spend time with us once more. We give them glimpses and conversations, but never fully give them ourselves. We focus on our own lives, and often, what they’ve done to wrong us. Young adults are so easy with blame – not realizing how hard it is to be a parent, how hard it is to let your child go.
And most adults continue on in some selfish fashion for most of their adult lives until their parents suddenly need them. In America, I’m ashamed to say that we’ve created a society where most people can’t be bothered, so they put their aging parents in a home for someone else to look after them.
It is often a quick demise for if there is no love in caring for a person, young or old, it is hard to find the will to go on.
I’m glad to say that I see the pendulum swinging slowly back the other way – people slowly taking their aging parents into their homes, nurturing them with the unconditional, patient love they received as children.
It surely is a cycle of life. The best part of adulthood is the appreciation you eventually stumble upon for those people who brought you along over the years.
So on this day, I must say a hearty thank you to my father – to my mother, too, for without the support of a loving marriage, a father simply cannot be born. I love you both. And always will.