Lessons From my Father

I have to apologize about the partially borrowed title… Thankfully my father’s politics haven’t rubbed off on me… He’ll enjoy the title of this post and get the joke if he can figure out how to use his computer… I’m not going to describe eating any weird foods or anything in this post…

You were probably one of the 2 people who read the first post about my childhood and why these lessons maybe mean a bit more to me and why they ring in my head lately as I see me easily able to turn into a true workaholic and even see me not spending the time I could be with my own kids. Our situation isn’t dire. I spend time with them and I’m not separated but the lessons remind me that time is short and I need to get on this now. My oldest is around the age I was when I last really saw my dad as a kid in a healthy father-child relationship. That’s sobering.

Anyway, on to the lessons…

Dads Make a Difference

I can easily sit here and tell you my life would have been different with my father in it. Not just because the negatives I described in the first post would be missing – but because I’m confident he would have actively made a difference in my life. From the simple things like discipline in finishing school, the importance of integrity, to self confidence and enjoying life’s bumps – I missed out on not having him and his personality in my life. Us dads play a role in shaping our children. If we are absent by choice or by circumstances – there will be a difference in our kids.

Time with Dads Make a Difference

I have memories of my dad even from back then. All small things but all memories that tell me he had an impact on my life. All memories that tell me even just the little things made me feel special. Fishing. Going on a family camping trip in the woods (details are sketchy but I remember tents and having fun). Waking up early to play blocks or catch a glimpse of dad on his way to the train station. Playing in the new pool with him.

Insignificant Moments Aren’t Always Insignificant…

“Helping” him with yard work and enjoying that sip of Pepsi (in his absence I realized Pepsi is horrible and am a proud Coke drinker now…) after working hard outside – always and still tastes better.. I think he had a beer while I had my pepsi but to this day – and I’ve never told anyone this – every.single.time I have a sip of coke after working outside it reminds me of dad. It always did, it always does and probably always will. Growing up and as an adult I’d instantly have my mind back on our house and him when I have a sip of coke after working outside on a hot day. Came to mind yesterday after stacking wood for awhile, in fact. It’s a good great feeling. I remember being happy, at peace, laughing, feeling unburdened and just having fun and knowing my daddy loved me. It was a moment. Looking back – it was something stupid. Something silly. I’m sure to my dad it was just something to do after yard work. For some reason it stuck for me and was a memory that I’ve cherished. So… As dads, we don’t need to focus on big events, on looking for significance or trying to force meaning… We just have to be there and enjoy each day… The kids? They’ll drive significance from extremely ordinary events – if we share them with ’em.

Divorce Does Affect Kids

I remember standing at the top of the stairs screaming and crying with my sibligns at 5 or 6 as he was packing his bags and leaving. I remember how great it was on the weekends he would come over as they were separated, but before allegations came out.. I remember us kids running after his car laughing when he’d leave, but so torn and sad on the inside. I remember being confused and having no way to express that confusion. All I knew is that dad wasn’t here always anymore and it felt weird.

Time is a Precious Gift

Dad had 6 or 7 good years with me.. The first 2 were spent with me as a strong willed brat then a strong willed motor-mouth (I know what you all are thinking…) He enjoyed himself, I don’t remember a single bad memory of my time with him from the few I have of those days. I remember him being patient and laughing… He had only 4 or 5 good years with my brother and not even that many with my sister. As a busy dad who sometimes gets stuck in that “I’m providing, that’s important, once we get ahead there will be time” trap this lesson stings the hardest… It’s a Biblical lesson, too… Our days are numbered – make the most of them. It is so easy to get caught up in this project or that thing – but for 12 more years I have a daughter that lives at home.. For 14 and 16 more years I have sons that live at home. I see the pain my dad is still stuck with. I see the pain that was in my life for so long and even still there in pockets because I didn’t have him. I couldn’t know him as a kid and have to get to know him as an adult…

This lesson is probably most important… The time you have today – the time I have today – could be the last day. TODAY is the most important day and your kids – my kids – are going to remember what we did with them on this day.. They are going to remember what we didn’t do with them on it, too. Lately if I were to watch a video playback from their eyes, I think I’d see a lot of the cats in the cradle song playing back at me. I think I’d see an ambitious dad who thinks he is doing right to serve his family financially by trying to be the best he can be in his career field when…

Kids Don’t Want Perfection – They Want Dad.

My dad at the time was a disability processing clerk for the state, I believe. He’s a supervisor now and he’s risen up the ranks but he didn’t live, eat and breathe work – He wasn’t his job. He wasn’t his career. He was Dad who had a job but then was Dad at nights and on weekends. That’s what our kids want. US… Being awarded twice as a Microsoft MVP is a cool honor, but having my daughter draw me something just because she loves me should be what electrifies me – it does, but sometimes I get so busy I miss enjoying that moment. Hearing my middle boy talk about his love of “sea creatures” beats talking at a conference and being on the receiving end of the youngest’s remorseful kisses and hugs after a frustrating moment beats any compliments on a session evaluation. I don’t know what my dad would be willing to give up to get those moments back, but I bet it’s a lot. So those of us dads who have those moments in front of us and ahead of are the lucky ones. We need to enjoy them, even on a day we may not feel like enjoying it.. Even when a customer’s world is falling apart.

My dad would literally have friends of his get pictures and updates of us for him. He even told me he sat in our woods a couple times just to watch us play… Sounds creepy? Not really, he lived for those moments and risked a lot to just witness them. Those of us who still have access to our young kids? We risk missing the blessing we have right in front of us… One of my dad’s biggest pet peeves is deadbeat dads.. Dads who have the ability and legal right to enjoy their kids but choose not to. He has hindsight. He knows they are going to hate what they missed out on and it frustrates him. I don’t want to be beaten up by hindsight on the things I could have done better with my kids someday, neither do you.

Dads Make Sacrifices for their Kids

In his case he agreed to bottle up his desire to see us as I mentioned yesterday. He gave up on his desire to enjoy us because he didn’t want to hurt us. Just hearing my dad talk about fatherhood, I can tell that was something he was looking forward to his whole life.. Looking back at his family, I don’t blame him. Family is everything to them. His sacrifice is one I understand but one I can’t begin to imagine having to make. He allowed himself to be crushed and have his heart torn out just so we wouldn’t be crushed or wounded further by a screwed up judicial and family court system.

 If you can’t laugh at yourself, you shouldn’t laugh at all..

I’ve somehow managed to inherit my dad’s literal sense of humor. His sarcasm. His sense of being a practical jokester… Even though he wasn’t in my life as a kid I’m stuck with his genes – even balding the same way. He loves making people laugh. I mentioned in the last post he has one arm… Every winter he holds a “Left handed glove drive” at his office. Everyone who had unmatched gloves left over are encouraged to bring him their left gloves.. Sometimes he’ll have a coat on, with his left sleeve limp and quickly shove it into a closing elevator door, scream out in pain and eventually let folks in on the joke… I don’t know if I’ve gone a visit with him without a series of jokes and at least one practical joke on his younger sister (Trisha was and is tortured by her brothers, but they do it in teasing love) or his niece. We share some pretty off color jokes. Not dirty jokes, just inside jokes about our situation. Things that probably sound off to those who don’t know us but we can take 15 years of crap and get miles of laughter from them.

 My Dad had Dreams –

I’ve talked to my dad about his perspective over the past couple years in particular. Some of the things he’s revealed to me through those conversations and some of the little things I’ve heard him say have me realizing I really have a special dad and I would have felt loved, wanted and cared for my entire childhood with him in it. I have so many more lessons that involve my siblings lives but I’m not going to go there. I do want to share a few of the things I’ve noted from talks with dad, though. These are about the dreams he had and the things that struck me…

He can’t watch weddings (real or on TV) without having to stop watching at one part.. He can’t stand to watch someone walk their daughter down the aisle because he knew he’d likely never get to.

He dreamed of being a destination house for us and all our friends.. He used to imagine weekends of us and all our friends hanging out using our pool, with him cooking hotdogs and hamburgers for everyone – watching us have fun, giving us a hard time, undoubtedly.

He imagined being at our graduations, being there for the birth of our kids, etc.

Basically all the things that we can take for granted became hopeful dreams in the absence of us. He talks of living a lot of those dreams through my own kids – his grandkids – I just hope his health maintains, he’s able to retire soon enough and he’s able to allow himself to get close enough to them through the scales of pain he’s built around his heart.

I could keep going. I won’t. The biggest lesson of all – the theme here, I guess – is to just appreciate what you have… You may not have it forever.

4 thoughts on “Lessons From my Father

  1. Trish

    Mike …. you could have titled this “A Love Letter to Dad” as that is just what it feels like. One of my silliest memories of you and your dad was how he taught you to shake hands with people while bent over, arm stretched out behind you – through your legs! We used to laugh that he had a dog – not a son – with all those little tricks he taught you!

    Thank you for reminding us that the best gift we can give our kids is time. I wasn’t so great at this as a single mom, but, I am here today and so is my son. It is never too late, until it is.

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  2. Pamela Mutch Stevens

    Michael your tribute to your Dad is beautiful. I have known your Dad most of my life because our families were so close. He lived with us when his mom had polio and that is another story. I then lived with my other family including your Dad. When I moved out to get married, my aunt told me Phil cried. There is such a sentimental side to your Dad. He always played Santa and called my kids at Christmas and was so believable. I think they just recently figured out it wasn’t really Santa. You probably don’t remember but we had a family event at our house and your dad armed all you kids with pots and pans for a march through the house and out to the pool. One of the worst Christmas’ ever was when we spent it with your dad in the hospital when he lost his arm.
    I love your Dad and he has the gift of making people laugh even when I am sure he was torn apart inside. I too hate watching daughters dancing with their dads at weddings. I did not get to do that. My Dad died when he was 44. You have been given a precious gift, your Dad.
    Many times we don’t get second chances but you did and realize how lucky you are. My husband Jay was involved in some of his legal work but you are right about child molestation. During the time that went on, every single child that said something happened to them the social workers encouraged and had the child believing that things happened that didn’t. Jay said that not once in North Shore Hospital during that time did anyone come back with the answer that the parent was not guilty. If a child said something it must be true. That did not help your dad’s case at all. A GAL was appointed to check the entire case. She did not one thing.
    I visited you at your home in Burlington and watched your father interact with you kids. He is up there in one of the ten best dad’s ever. I am so glad you are all reunited and it reminds me of the Luther Vandross song which I can not listen to without crying because it is all about second chances. If you can imagine how much your dad loved you when you were little he was proud of all the funny things he taught you to do. He brought you everywhere. You were and are loved.

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  3. Holly C

    In the circle of Life, Father’s day comes once a year. The ads start pushing us to think about our father’s and you have been given the time and the WISDOM to reflect. Thank you for sharing your story…for every word is true. I believe it is never too late to start, but that we must START to be aware of the bigger picture or parenting. Our struggles are unique but every day if we TRY to do the best we can for our kids, we will succeed. Little things mean a lot. Writing is cathartic, I hope this helps you as much as I know your family and your Dad cherish it.

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  4. Pingback: Lessons From My Dad’s Family | Open Mike

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