When you go into a store to buy a card these days, it's interesting that many of them start with: "What is a Dad?" or "What is a Wife?" or "What is a Husband?" It may seem like the greeting card companies are helping us to define what we already know, or it could be that they are helping us with words we cannot express.
As I was looking for one for my father, I encountered one such card. I read what was inside and, while it was nice but a bit cliche, the truth is that it didn't come close to capturing "what" my father is or has been to me. I don't think any one card written by someone else could accomplish that.
I am sure that many fathers are mythic figures to their sons as mine was (and is) to me. I looked up at him and saw a towering guy who had fought in World War II, became a New York City cop, and then started his own business. When I was growing up, I had pictures of him in his uniforms (both Army and NYPD) in my room and always wondered if I could ever get close to being anything like him. I still have one picture of him (when he became a sergeant) right over my desk, and often I glance up at it when I need a little inspiration.
When I was little, my father was my whole world. Don't get me wrong, I loved my Mom, but even she told me I would follow Dad around like his "little shadow." Dad has told me as well that he couldn't go anywhere without turning around and finding me there, watching him and what he was doing. This started when I was very small, around two years old, and continued for a long time.
I have never realized it before, but what I was doing all that time was taking mental notes. I remember when I was five watching my father build closets in the basement. I noticed how he measured the wood, used the saw, hammered the nails, and it stayed with me. When I finished building a room in the garage last year, I saw myself in the mirror holding a few nails in my mouth as I was hammering, and it dawned on me that even the way I was doing this was just like Dad had done. I guess all that shadowing was good for something more than just spending time with him.
There are many more examples of how I do things like him now. In fact, I have saved money over the years, being able to do jobs in the house because I watched him. So whether it's installing a ceiling fan, fixing a faucet, putting in a new toilet bowl, changing a fan belt in my car, or painting a room, it all comes down to what I learned from him.
When I go about doing business or investing or even when I am balancing my checkbook, I call upon things Dad taught me. More importantly, when something happens with my son or daughter, and I hear myself talking to them, I sometimes am repeating verbatim what he once said to me. I catch it maybe when I finish a sentence, and I turn around, smile, and feel that connection to my father that makes me want to pick up the phone and thank him.
My Dad worked very long hours in his real estate business. He did this in order to provide the best possible life for us. Of course, that means he wasn't always there for dinner. He sometimes worked on Saturday and Sunday because he used to say, "When it's your business, you cannot take time off."
My father not only taught me that work ethic, but he also showed me that he could still make time for me. If I had a baseball game, I'd see other parents there, and I would be in the outfield and feel sad and all of a sudden I'd look up, and he would be sitting in the bleachers. I don't know how he did it, but he found the time to be there. He always did.
As a kid I often heard "No" when I asked for something. I didn't get everything I wanted, and this taught me that I had to earn the right to things by helping out around the house, doing well in school, and being a good person. Sometimes I faltered, but he never stopped loving me and always showed me the way.
When I was a teenager, I never got anything just handed to me. I wanted to buy a car, and he said I should work for it. I did get a part-time job at 15, and by the time I was 17 I had enough money to get that first car. I am glad he taught me that invaluable lesson about earning things and not just getting a handout. Later on, if my car broke down, my Dad would show me how to fix it. He always helped me when I asked, and he never qualified his help with an opinion on what I was doing right or wrong.
When I was dating girls and brought them home, my Dad never said anything about them. He knew I had made a choice and he respected that. If I got serious with a girl or had a problem with one, I never hesitated to turn to him for advice. Only then, once I asked, did he get involved and tell me what he thought.
As I was deciding what to do with my life, I always had an opportunity to go into his business. It would have been the easiest thing to do, but I saw another road I wanted to take (to be an educator and then a writer), and Dad may have been disappointed, but he never let me know or discouraged me from taking the path I wanted to take. I was thankful then and respect him more now as I look back on it because he gave me the freedom to be whatever I wanted to be.
Even now, as a man with two children, I still seek my father's advice whenever I am not sure about something. We talk about everything, and I can always confide in him and trust him. He has and always will be the best friend I have ever had, and now as I see myself with my own son, I understand all the things he did and find I am doing them too. I hope I can be as good a father as he has been, and I think I have a chance because I had such a good teacher.
So on this Father's Day, I just have to thank my Dad for everything he did and still does for me. I thank my father for having the courage to say "No" and the strength to show me the right way is not always the easy way. So, when I bought my Father's Day Card, it was a simple one, and I am inserting a copy of this article inside it. Happy Father's Day, Dad!