What We Can Learn from Our Fathers

This Sunday is Father’s Day. A day that is set aside for celebrating and honoring our fathers. Whatever your personal circumstance, there are things that we can learn from our fathers or the father figures in our lives that will help us to not only be better people but also help us to decide who we want to become and how we want to influence others. My father was a good example to me and had many characteristics that I admire.  His example taught me a lot about strengthening relationships and influencing others for good.  Here are a few examples of things I learned from him that have made a real difference in the way I interact with others.  

Be supportive. On one occasion my father showed up at my junior varsity football game with my eight-year old and three-year old sisters in tow. He walked up and down the sidelines looking for me to probably say, “Hello.” I was so embarrassed that I ran into the game and replaced the player who started ahead of me at my position. I played a number of downs before the head coach realized that his starting player was standing on the sidelines. The coach promptly pulled me from the game and cussed me out. Luckily my dad and sisters had returned to the stands. Years later as I looked back and laughed at my behavior, I always knew that my father cared enough to support me by attending my activities.

Speak kind words. My father went out of his way to talk to everyone. When we were with him, it was often quite frustrating to us because he would take so much time to offer compliments and encouragement to others. No matter the location: grocery store, work, or some community activity, he would take time to speak to those he knew, introduce us to them, and then strike up conversations with those he didn’t know.  It always amazed me that he could recall people’s names and details about them, even if he didn’t know them very well. He was also a very positive and upbeat person. I think the only time I heard him say something negative about someone was when a guy ran a red light at a four-way stop and almost hit us. He chuckled when I asked him what a “screwball” was.

Work it out. Even though my dad seemed to be able to talk easily with others, there was an underlying tension that existed between my parents. Ironically, my father was open to talking to us about anything, but there were some things that evidently he and my mother could or would not discuss. Perhaps it was the lack of conversational skill to handle a tough topic, or perhaps it was the generational norms which dictated that there were just some topics that one didn’t discuss. My siblings and I never knew entirely what the issues were, but we knew that they were a strain on my parents’ relationship. Considering our own relationships, it is well worth the effort to learn how to talk about what matters most to us and prevent potential problems and concerns from harming the relationships that we value most.  

Prioritize your life. After my father’s funeral, I was approached by an attorney who had known my father for many years. He said to me, “You know, your father was the premiere expert in worker’s compensation law in the State of California. He could have worked for any of the largest law firms in the state and made a ton of money. But he told me once that he decided to become a judge because he wanted to be home with his family.” I was surprised at this revelation because my father had never really talked about this career decision. His choice of a career reflected a deliberate priority that he had made about what really mattered most and he worked hard at in for over 49 years. While everyone’s priorities may be different, it is important to put a high value on the relationships in your life. The ROI is worth the effort.  

Be generous. Growing up we had two fig trees, one large avocado tree, and two lemon trees in our back yard. My father would have us pick the fruit of these trees and then together we would place our harvest in small, brown paper bags. Then he would take us up and down in the neighborhood giving the fruit away. He made a special effort to visit those who were widowed or those who could get out much. Giving away the fruit was an excuse for visiting others and bringing them some cheer and attention that they otherwise might have not received. Because he included us in this activity, we learned to be kind and understanding toward the needs of others. And, we always left these visits feeling like we had made a difference to someone else.

Be still and observe. I had the opportunity to sit with my father by myself as he lay dying in the care center. My mother was too distraught to witness his final moments and the rest of my siblings were traveling, hoping to see dad one last time. As I sat there, the care takers in the facility came by to visit him one by one. Although he could no longer speak, they quietly entered the room, took his hand or kissed his face, and then expressed their love to him. One woman came in and took his face in her hands and spoke lovingly to him in Spanish. Afterwards I asked her if he could understand her in Spanish. She laughed and said, “He has only spoken to me in Spanish since he has been here. He is a good man, always so fun and caring of others.” I was shocked. I knew he spoke French, but I never knew that he was fluent in Spanish. It was amazing to me to see the outpouring of the feelings of others and to learn something that in all the years of living with him I did not know. Seeing the impact my father had on these people increased my admiration and love for him even more.

It’s easy to become so busy and preoccupied with all we have to do that we don’t stop and reflect on our relationships with others.  Are we taking notice of our interactions? Are they generally positive or are we making some mistakes that we could correct? We could all spend more time reflecting, appreciating, and celebrating those with whom we regularly associate. May this Father’s Day be such a day for you. Happy Father’s Day!