Here’s Looking at You, Dad
I’ve heard stories about when they first met during their Peace Corps training at Notre Dame University. As my dad’s theater voice boomed Spanish words perfectly from the back of the classroom, my mother sat diligently in the front row trying to learn the language while simultaneously fuming at my dad’s easy grasp of it.
Nothing else captures the difference between my parents more clearly.
My mom is serious, studious and a perfectionist. She went to college because that is what was expected. She has never claimed she has any natural talent. Instead she credits any accomplishment to practice and diligence. And she, like her daughter, is more comfortable doing something productive than simply relaxing. That’s not to say she doesn’t take time to enjoy the beauty of the world around her. She does. She just enjoys it more when it has a purpose.
My dad, on the other hand, has devoted his life to ensuring everyone around him understands the importance of joy. While my mom taught me how to persevere, my dad taught me how to make the most of every opportunity.
From what he says, no one ever believed he could go to college. Upon graduating from high school, he joined the Navy because he knew it would take him places that he would never otherwise go. Following that, he did manage to go to college, where he received a degree in forestry. He loved the natural world and recognized what the earth can give people if we treat it right.
And then he joined the Peace Corps and met my mother.
And then he got married and became a father.
As a little girl, I never realized how lucky I was to have a dad who encouraged my mother to be the person she wanted to be, just as he encouraged my brother and me to pursue what made us happy. In elementary school, I never thought twice about the man who spent his free time on the stage and in his gardens rather than succumbing to stereotypical male interests. And as a teenager, I never appreciated all he sacrificed and tolerated for the sake of his family.
Now that I’m adult, I appreciate all of that.
Even though I’ve often questioned how my parents ever got together, I’ve always been grateful they did. I owe my life to them. I’m not referring to the fact that I wouldn’t be alive without them. I’m referring to the fact that I am extremely fortunate that the two most influential people in my life provided me with a sense of balance.
While my mom was my greatest teacher, my dad was my greatest cheerleader. More importantly, they both served as examples of being true to yourself rather than true to societal expectations. And they stood side by side while they each did this in his/her own unique way.
Because of that, they deserve more recognition than I give them.
For example, my dad is celebrating his 49th Father’s Day this year, and I wish I could say I remembered to send his card on time or that I got him a gift that conveys my appreciation.
Unfortunately, I didn’t do either.
So instead, I’m writing these words. I’m sure that is something my dad, who always encouraged me to pursue my interests, my passions and most of all my heart, completely understands.
And if that doesn’t make him a great dad, I don’t know what does.