I normally do politics, snark and hyperbole, but today I want to talk about my dad.
Growing up, he was always the guy who guided, taught and loved. He was also the disciplinarian, but never mean or hateful. There were rules, and they were to be followed. When they weren’t, the consequences were swift, sure and – most importantly to me – pre-determined. I never wondered what would happen if I did x or y. Things were clear in our house.
For all his discipline though, my dad’s really a big softie. Every father tells his child ‘this will hurt me more than it’ll hurt you.’ Every son knows that’s crap. With my dad though, you could tell he hated having to be mean or hard. I was a pretty good kid growing up, so it was rarely necessary to maintain good order, but when it was, he hated it.
My dad is one of those guys men want to be and women want to marry. Both he and my mom will tell anyone who asks (and even some who don’t) that each of them hit the jackpot in the Spouse Lottery. They’ve been married almost 40 years, and still absolutely believe that. It’s made the hard times easier, I’m sure.
When my parents got married, they were both young (early 20s) and – as all newlyweds are – excited about their future. They had a very hard time having kids, and it got to the point where the doctors worried about mom’s safety. My dad could have responded in one of two ways. After all, he didn’t sign up for all the doctors, medicine and heartache that came with their troubles. Instead of breaking their marriage, though, their shared tragedy made it. I’ve never met a man more dedicated or loyal to his wife. Ever.
They adopted a boy and a girl, several years apart, and loved us more than I realize even now. I was adopted at 33 days-old, and have always known my birth-parents exist. I’ve never really had any desire to meet them or learn any details about them. It takes about ten minutes to be a father. It takes a life time of dedication and love to be a dad. I know my parents – they raised me.
People say you’ll never understand the love a parent has for a child until you’ve had children, and I’m sure they’re right. What I do understand is that I have made more bad decisions, mistakes and flat-out screw-ups to frustrate and infuriate the Dalai Lama. Through all of it, my dad has been there – sometimes upset or concerned, but always there. He has never stopped loving me.
When I was on the way over to the Persian Gulf on my first tour, our squadron’s Skipper called us all together and asked us to write our obituaries. For me, at 22, this was a monumental concept. Death? To say I was disconcerted would be an understatement. He went on to say that he had didn’t mean to imply we wouldn’t all be coming home, but that we should wrap our heads around the fact that all of us would eventually die.
“What do you want people to say about you?” He asked us to think about that, decide, and if we needed to, to make changes in our lives. I thought about his question for a long time (for me, anyway). I’ve always shot from the hip, so to spend two days on anything was entirely foreign. Eventually I got there though, and the answer was so easy it’s a little embarrassing that it took me as long as it did. I know precisely what I want people to say about me when I’m gone.
“He was almost as good a man as his father.”
Happy Father’s Day, dad. I’ll never be able to express my gratitude adequately, but I’ll never stop being grateful.