On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking about Dad. My guess is that most of the fathers out there will think, at some point today, about the man who played that role in their lives and who provided the personal examples, good and bad, of how to be a Dad.
I say good and bad because there aren’t many perfect Dads outside the black-and-white world of ’50s TV sitcoms. Dad wasn’t a perfect father, and neither am I. We all approach the job differently, drawing on our own experiences, aspirations, and fears, and we all make lots of mistakes that we beat ourselves up about.
But here is the thing: the missed baseball game or the seemingly unfair discipline or the harsh comment tend to fall away over time, sent skittering down the memory hole, and the perspective changes forever when you personally tackle the tough, infinitely challenging job of being a Dad. When you understand how easily parenting blunders can be made, those blunders tend to be forgiven, and a big picture emerges that is a lot more balanced.
My Dad has been gone for many years, and when I think of him now I think mostly of his attitude. Kish and I often quote, with a chuckle, two of Dad’s favorite sayings — “finding your niche” and “doing your own thing” — that Dad inevitably used, after first clearing his throat with a rumble, when he was told of a child’s decision to follow an unconventional life or career path. It was a remarkably easygoing attitude for a man who experienced the Great Depression as a child and who was himself highly motivated to achieve traditional financial success, but Dad really meant it. I always appreciated that approach, and I’ve come to appreciate it even more as the years have passed.
There are deeper elements to that attitude, when you think about it. It is rooted in trust and confidence and understanding: trust that his kids would eventually find our way to a good and fulfilling life, confidence that he and Mom gave us a sufficient grounding in appropriate behavior that we wouldn’t end up in a biker gang, and understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all path to happiness. It is a liberating attitude, too, for both parent and child. The parent isn’t frazzled by constant worry about whether their child will measure up to their own definition of personal success, and the child isn’t burdened by the ever-present specter of parental disapproval about this decision, or that.
Thanks, Dad, for that lesson — and Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there.