A few months ago, I lamented my disconcerting habit of waiting until people are no longer with us before I speak glowingly of them, so I’d like to make a small move away from that trend right now.
If I were to describe my father in one word (a fool’s errand if ever there was one), that word would be ‘Duty.’ His first duty has always been to his family, followed inseparably by his duty to God and to work. In so doing, he has been a powerful example and inspiration to his ever-expanding family. He and my mother brought eight children into the world in a little over ten years, and we have all been enriched by his presence.
It’s been said that the most powerful lessons we learn in childhood are the ones that no one ever says out loud, and our family was no exception. Still, there are a couple of specific lessons my father did say out loud that have had a lasting impact. One occurred when I was in first or second grade. My homework one night entailed memorizing a certain passage of prose. After working at it for a while and making little progress, I tried to assert that it was impossible, that I just couldn’t do it. My father would have none of it. He simply told me, in a calm measured voice, that of course I could learn it, that there was nothing I couldn’t learn if I put my mind to it. He said this with no hint of being patronizing and no tone of rhetoric; he stated it as plainly as one might state the current weather conditions. It was a self-evident, non-debatable fact. A quiet, utterly sincere lesson such as this can carry tremendous power.
Another one of his specific lessons came in at least a couple variations. On the subject of troubleshooting and repair (areas in which he excels), his advice has sometimes been stated as “Check the cheap stuff first.” One of the variations he has also employed is “Check the easy stuff first.” Either way, it’s good advice, applicable to most any troubleshooting scenario.
Our family structure was one in which Mom never learned to drive; she stayed home and ran the household, which was an enormous set of tasks in our case, while Dad was the breadwinner. While this worked very well for us, it did put the financial burden almost entirely on Dad’s shoulders. It was thus no small commitment to send all eight of us kids to twelve years of parochial $¢hool. To pull it off, there were many years during which Dad was not only working full-time at his day job; he was also fixing other people’s cars and repairing chiropractic adjustment tables. That last item might have thrown you. To this day, I’ve never known of anyone else who did this as a regular side job, but for my Dad, whose nature leads him to mastery over most any mechanical device, it was a small leap. The fact that one of his best friends from his Air Force days became a chiropractor got him started, by the way.
Another important part of his legacy is the wide variety of professions and lifestyles seen among his children. There’s me of course, the Loop office worker/computer nerd/writer/actor/entertainer. The rest of the family’s pursuits range pretty far – one sister is a registered nurse, one brother drives a truck for FedEx, another sister is a mom with a houseful of kids… plus several more siblings I won’t even get to. Most of us have at least dabbled in the performing arts, which is hardly surprising, considering that both of my parents had a love of music, and both performed in amateur theater in their youth. In fact, they had played husband and wife on stage before they even started dating one another. Maybe the director sensed a chemistry there!
My father once told me that he was very pleased with the range of pursuits and interests found among his children. He told me that he never wanted to be the sort of parent who told his children what to do with their lives – he figured it was our decision to make, and the best he could do was try to provide us with the tools to make responsible decisions.
So for all of the above, plus a hundred thousand other reasons for which there are no words, I offer my very heartiest birthday wishes to my father today!