It’s strange, the seemingly instinctive progression of how we view our fathers. I remember counting down as a child until dad would walks through the door, attacking him with pent up vigor upon his return.
However, as we grow in our independence, our stubbornness blossoms as well. Somehow in our unadmitted immaturity, our own wrongdoing pales and bitterness seeps in as we fixate on just how imperfect our parents were.
And then, our own parenting journey happens. We realize quickly just how little we know, just how imperfect we are as well. I’m no different. Just these first six years of parenting have left me exhausted in frustration with a lack of direction on more than one occasion.
It’s in these moments that I’ve now found myself reflecting on the way I was raised. It wasn’t that my parents were ever perfect in all of their methods, but, as chief decision maker of our home, my father’s motive was always trustworthy and pure. And, as the memories flood, and, enlightened by each passing year, I realize that some of the greatest life lessons were ones my father instilled in me all along the way. For instance:
The success in effort
From the time I was a child, I was never a top notch athlete. In fact, far from it. I collapsed from dehydration in the first 10 minutes of one of my cross country races. Often, I finished among the last handful of stragglers.
I remember the first time I ran a mile, struggling to breath, lungs burning, tears in my eyes and managing to squeak out my frustration with him and his coaching methods. Jogging along, my dad would chuckle, “Nah, this feels good!” Every time I would feel the discouragement creep into my throat, he would insist, “think about all those people, the hundreds, thousands, millions who will never try. You’ve beat them all!” When I would finally stumble across the finish line, he would clap and cheer, pound my back with sincerest of enthusiasm, hoisting me up, saying: “You did it!”
He never acknowledged the time on the clock, it’s as if it didn’t exist. My effort, my strength and my resolve were what he commended. Where many dads prioritize ribbons, public acknowledgements, records or fame, that was just never priority to my father. My dad raised us with the clear understanding that competition with ourselves was of paramount importance.
Respect is earned, and most of the time it’s earned through saying very little at all.
Unlike many of my friends, and much to my naive frustration as a teenager, my dad never got too involved with boyfriends growing up. While some fathers spent hours on golf courses or bonded over dream cars with their daughters’ love interests, my father had no interest in befriending the 16- and 17-year-old boys who hung around for periods of time.
However, between three of us girls and the years of “special friends” coming and going, there were times where he did evaluate a situation and determine that a certain young man had crossed a line. Each time, my dad had one response. A phone call was placed. It was always sent to immediate voicemail. (Caller ID had just been invented.) His message consisted of two sentences. “Hello, this is Mr. Taylor. Please call me back.” That’s all it took. Of course the phone calls were never returned, but the point was made. The transgression was never repeated.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my dad, from the beginning, put the protection of his daughters’ hearts first. Holding the title of “the cool dad” in any pubescent male’s eyes, or his children’s for that matter, would never compare to the respect he earned and maintained through saying very little at all.
Additionally, when husbands married into the family, there was no “former favorite” to compete with or hurtful bonds to break with young men who’d fallen in love with our family. His loyalty was preserved for the young men who would become as his own sons one day.
Family is first.
My dad’s professional years are full of awards and accolades. However, walking into his home office library, you’d never know. Where some men’s walls are filled with their proud accomplishments, titles and evidence of their vocational success, Dad’s trophies are his family.
Frames in his office are filled with photos of his wife, his daughters, his nine grandchildren, even the photos of family dogs. My dad also wasn’t one who splurged on the expensive toys he could have for himself when we were growing up. He invested in memories he knew would be priceless for his family. While those around him might chose designer lines and shiny showy cars, he chose camping trips and rented pontoon boats. He could have splurged on golfing trips or extravagant adult excursions abroad. Instead, he took his family into fields of the backwoods, building bonfires that grow taller in my memories and casting squirming wormed fishing poles in ponds of rural countryside.
He taught us to hike, ride a bike and swim. He read aloud, sometimes for hours, from books that instilled these principles of strong family.
Dad continued to teach this lesson beyond the circle of his immediate little clan when three young men came to him separately, asking him for his daughters’ hand in marriage. They each report he requested them to consider one thing above else, simply, in word and practice, to treasure family foremost. While passions, careers, even friends can come and go, he challenged us each to prioritize and nurture a close knit family which will never go unrewarded.
My father has never claimed perfection in his role of father. In his humility, he tends to choose subtle roles, contributing to others’ successes in quiet, often unrecognized ways. When he gives input, he’ll never claim it’s perfect, but it’s always purposeful. He’s always understood that we will make our own choices, choose our own path, so his wisdom has never been just for simple questions of the moment. No, his guidance has always been focused, directed for generations, his legacy. And, every years that passes, I’m more proud to be a part of it.