How a Dad helped a kid go solo

It’s Fathers’ Day. It’s the day when more men will open packages of socks and boxer shorts than at any other time of the year.

It gives us pause to say “thanks” to Dad, cover him with sticky kisses, hug him hard, and laugh with him over dinner.

“Dad” has gone through a tough time in the past generation. The men who are in their 60’s and 70’s today had definable roles, community expectations, ways of interacting with their kids that were based on Dad as boss, decision-maker and king.

Today’s “Dad” has gone through a metamorphosis… while his own father likely never changed a diaper, today’s Dad takes kids to the park, does the grocery shopping with little ones in tow, cooks dinner, folds laundry, cheers kids on the sidelines at swimming lessons and tucks in little people after their baths. He then hangs up the towels and wipes out the tub!

It’s a huge shift in behaviour and it’s brought Dads to a different kind of connection with their kids.

So, today I want to take a few minutes to recognize Dad.

My own Dad left his earthly address eight years ago. Recently I was musing in a state of blankness and these words popped into my head:

“Two score years plus one. You are now solo. Fly with care and wisdom and the years ahead will bring much happiness. Love, Proud Father.”

This was the telegram I opened on my 21st birthday as I sat at my news desk at a daily newspaper, miles and miles from home. In those days turning 21 was the portal to adulthood. I’m still amazed that my father took time to write that, and have the telegram sent to me. Its aeronautical theme was because Dad was a private pilot… he loved small planes and the sky and travelling in it. And when I got my own pilot’s licence in the late 60’s, my Dad was there, cheering me on. He was also my first passenger.

And though he never said so, I think he was proud.

Often in our teen years we develop real angst with our Fathers (and our Mothers, too) as we move into young adulthood and get ready to leave the nest. Sometimes that angst can last for decades as we view our parents as out of touch and people who don’t really know us at all.

How wrong we are! As I get older, even though contact with my own father is gone, his significance in my life continues to grow.

Here’s what he gave me:

Trust your instincts.* He regularly challenged me, bet me, tried to de-rail me from the rightness of what I thought I knew. And every time I gave in because I figured he knew more than I did, he’d scold me not to give in, to hold on to what I knew to be right.

Give to your community.* By his example I learned about community contribution. I learned that to give is to gain because to participate is to strengthen our community base. I watched my Dad volunteer to build a fledgling Rotary club, pour a concrete floor in an arena, work to build a house for a needy family, collect contents for Christmas hampers, design newsletters, serve in leadership positions with various groups. I watched him give.

Open your door to someone who needs it.* My parents’ home had an open door, a revolving door, really. I can’t remember a Christmas without extra people who had nowhere else to go. Dad was the kind of person who’d scramble around to make sure there were gifts under the tree for strangers.

If you fall, look not at where you hit the ground. Look for where you slipped.* As I watched my Dad struggle with his own life disasters, a boss whose commitment was truth-impaired, an employee who stole two years’ profits from his business, huge setbacks for someone who was raised to be the financial provider, I learned that disasters don’t kill us. They’re blips on our screen. It’s up to me to pick myself up, dust myself off, learn from an event, bury my bitterness and get on with my life.

Everybody deserves a second chance to make a first impression.* Dad could be judgemental, tough, unpleasant, and demanding, but people in his life always got a second chance.

Make a long list of what you want to do in your life. Include lots of fun. And then do it.* As he was saying goodbye to his earthly life, Dad reflected on his list. It was long. It was ambitious. And it was complete.

Learn constantly. * I think about my Dad at age 35 (he seemed so old then cause I was 12). He had an unbelievable schedule, a wife and three kids that he was supporting, a huge territory he was opening up for his company, and he decided he wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument. He started like anybody does, pecking away a key at a time. And week by week he got better and better. And within a year or two he was really, really good.

Climb up rung by rung.* Buy. Repair. Improve. Sell. Buy. Repair. Improve. Sell. I watched my Father do this his whole life. When I was a preschooler he bought an old camper, and with aluminum sheets, he re-sided it, built in beds and a little kitchen. We used it for several summers. He sold it for more than he paid. And he did that throughout his life.

Laugh. Alot.* Dad was a huge practical joker, which could sometimes be unpleasant for the joke-ee. However, he knew how to laugh, he saw the funnier things in life, and I wish now I’d seen them with him and laughed, too.

What do our dads give us? What are we open to receiving? It’s a two way street that I think often seems barricaded when we’re young. And today, if Dad was here, I’d look into those blue eyes of his, lift one eyebrow in understanding about some funny little thing and I’d say…

Thanks, Dad.